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Obama or J.C. Watts?  King or Malcolm?  DuBois or Garvey?  DuBois or Booker T. Washington?  Frederick Douglass or David Walker?

For nearly three-hundred years, African-American leaders have been cast in one of two broad categories: radical or accommodationist, progressive or conservative.  Social and political views  ranging from conservative to moderate to progressive isn’t unique to African-American communities.  It’s a range that people from every ethnicity fit into; it’s a set of ideas and ideals attractive to people without regard to ethnic background.

But there there are at least two aspects to this ideological range that may be fairly pronounced if not unique in the African-American context: racial identity and racial independence.   I was reminded of this listening to the interview with William Pannell.

Racial Identity

Historically, certain parts of the spectrum came to define African-American or Black identity.  The more radical and progressive, the more “Black” you were deemed to be.  The social conservatism and accommodation to segregation of a Booker T. Washington was cast as a betrayal of black identity and equality while the progressive and integrationist stance of DuBois took on the seal of “genuine” Black identity.  At least since the time of DuBois and Washington, conservative African Americans have been ethnically suspect while politically progressive counterparts have symbolized true “blackness.”

The fiery rhetoric of Malcolm X, for example, castigated conservative Southern leaders in various Civil Rights groups as “handkerchief head Negroes” bowing to the whims of Whites.  President Barack Obama faced suspicion not only from Whites but also from African-American groups who wondered why he would announce his candidacy in Chicago on the day Tavis Smiley hosted his “State of Black America” meeting in Atlanta.  Smiley’s panel discussion was dotted with jokes and innuendos questioning the validity of Obama’s claim to blackness.  It didn’t help matters much as Obama ran a presidential campaign that steered a wide course around traditional Black political groups on the left and the right.  Failing to take the necessary place on the spectrum and trod in established Black identity paths, Obama found himself ridiculed and suspected in some quarters.

What’s the point?  Political and social positions are not simply positions on a political or social spectrum if you’re an African American.  Positions on the spectrum are associated with your ethnic or racial identity.  Politics and person are fused together.  Issues and identity determine one another.  I suspect this is either unique or far more prominent in the African American context where such positions had a direct and sometimes deadly impact on persons and community.

Racial Independence

Here’s another thing I suspect is very different in Black versus other contexts: Certain positions and associations also raise questions about an African-American leader’s independence.  To be politically conservative results in suspicions about a leader’s autonomy.  Is he or she “owned” by White counterparts and constituencies?  Whose agenda do they represent?

During his brief and provocative bid to be the next Republican presidential nominee, Herman Cain found himself facing down questions about his blackness.  But had his campaign not imploded, it’s likely he would also have faced some sharp questions and criticisms about his association with White conservatives.  Was he “owned” by those associations?  Was he the new Booker T. Washington?  If Justice Clarence Thomas thought he received a hi-tech lynching during the Anita Hill scandal, the Black community’s treatment of Cain running against a politically progressive African-American incumbent President (stop for a moment to ponder how close we came to living out this scenario unimaginable just five years ago!) would have made Thomas’ hearing a love fest by comparison.  The guilt by association that would have befallen Cain undoubtedly would have created great personal anguish and public ridicule for Cain.  How he would have escaped being viewed as “the White man’s lackey” and “traitor to the cause” inside the African-American community would have been beyond me.

Again, I suspect that this would be unique or at least a far more prominent dynamic inside the African-American community.

The Cost of Black-White Evangelical Associations

I spend the time explaining this dynamic to make a couple points about Black and White Evangelical cooperation.

Suspect identity.  I long for everyone to know something more about the costs African Americans pay in their own communities for cooperating across ideological and ethnic lines.  We all, as one dear brother put it to me recently, “take kicks in the teeth” when we come to the table to work together at reconciliation and cooperation.  However, the kicks African Americans take aren’t limited to the kicks prompted by mistakes or mis-speaking, the kind of faux pax we all make when handling sensitive subjects like “race”.  There are also kicks coming from some who resent or at least question the table itself–whether the “table” is membership in a multi-ethnic or predominantly white church, or cooperation in larger evangelical movements and organizations.  To have your ethnic identity questioned is a “kick in the gut” more painful than most can imagine.  For the gospel, we should and must pay this cost, take this kick.  But it’s a cost nonetheless.  The brothers at the inter-ethnic table are likely taking one for the team.  Awareness of that is helpful.

Suspect loyalty.    This is another of the costs raised by cooperation across ethnic, social, and political lines.  To break free from the Black political and relational orthodoxy means opening yourself to the charge of betraying the community.  That charge comes simply by association in many instances.  And it’s a charge no African American really wishes to face.  Consider the allegations and castigations faced by men like Shelby Steele, John McWhorter, and Clarence Thomas.  Something as simple as arguing the primacy of the biblical gospel over social concerns–something taken for granted in most broader evangelical cooperation–is enough to raise the specter of sell out Tomism for participating African Americans.  For the cooperation to hold and African Americans to play a part, there needs to be sensitivity to this issue of perceived disloyalty back in the home community.  We can’t think that just because we all agree on keeping the main thing the main thing that there aren’t ramifications and perceptions to be faced in more racialized contexts.

Danger of division.  I also want my non-African-American brothers to realize the harmful dynamic of pitting one African American against another.  When two white brothers disagree publicly over a theological issue, there’s likely not a community “back home” trying to decide which brother is “black” and therefore which brother to follow.  Historically, some white leaders have intentionally played one African American leader against another with the aim of dividing and weakening the community.  That’s a history well-known and a strategy much hated in African-American communities.  So, when a conflict between two African American religious leaders takes place publicly, care must be taken not to walk into this troubled narrative and trap.  Inevitably, pitting two African-American leaders against one another is going to result in (1) one of those leaders losing “black” authenticity in their community, (2) one or both of those leaders being marginalized for their cooperation with “outsiders” to the community, and (3) the White brothers who do the pitting being seen as unconcerned about the Black community and unrighteously attempting to anoint the next Black leader.  No one wins.  if you’re from outside the African-American community, think very long, hard, and carefully about ever calling some African Americans to take your position in defense against other African Americans.  It’s disastrous for everyone, and, frankly, you won’t begin to pay the deeper costs over the longer period that your African American friend will.

Stereotypes and caricatures.  As for my brothers who come to the table of cooperation, facing suspicion and questions from some in the community, let’s work hard to avoid stereotyped and caricatured responses to the pressures we feel.  We have to be comfortable with the skin we’re in and with the thoughts we think.  There’s no necessary relationship between skin color and ethnic identity.  Mythic “blackness” can’t be allowed to take precedence over union with Christ and the freedom we find in the Lord.  We’re at that table and sometimes feel the internal pressure to represent ourselves according to black hegemonic ideals.  Resist the impulse, and resist others at the table when they appear to approach you with the stereotype in mind.  Much depends on our enjoying and protecting the freedom to act like Jesus–which means there will be times we sound like we’re against traditional views in the Black community and times where we sound like we’re for them.  Jesus has a way of cutting across every ethnic and cultural way of being.  We need to embrace that reality and pay the costs associated with rejecting stereotypes and caricatures.

This Black Leader or That Black Leader?

You choose.  Honestly, the world is more complex than simply deciding whether you like King or Malcolm, or Obama or Cain.  These names are exemplars of positions that themselves have pros and cons.  And I can’t imagine any meaningful discussion about theological or political differences in the African-American community that doesn’t at some level imagine differing representatives of those positions.  But I can imagine our doing a better job of resisting hegemonic pressure, stereotypes, and divisive discussions that pit brothers and bruthas against one another.  We don’t have to agree about strategy in order to avoid problems of association.

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48 thoughts on “This Black Leader or That Black Leader?”

  1. Fred Zaspel says:

    Good, clear thinking, Thabiti. Thanks much for this. Very helpful.

  2. Dave. says:

    this passive aggressive slam at the elephant room brought to you by ….. Thabiti.

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Hi Dave,
      Thanks for commenting, friend. This is not a “passive-aggressive slam at the ER.” It’s not in reference to the ER at all. If you want to apply it that way, that’s up to you. But what I had to say about the ER I’ve either said a couple months ago or I’ve said in direct communication. This post, as I wrote, grows more out of considering the life and career of men like William Pannell and Tom Skinner, men who spent much of their ministerial lives and careers attempting to bridge Black-White divides in the evangelical world. If you haven’t already, I’d invite you to check the video interview with Pannell and consider some of the points he very diplomatically raised about Black-White differences in the evangelical world.

      I would be grateful if readers would not attempt to find “jabs” where there are none. For two reasons: (1) you might undermine efforts being made to pursue peace, and (2) you might judge unrighteously.

      All for Jesus,

      1. Paula says:

        “When two white brothers disagree publicly over a theological issue, there’s likely not a community “back home” trying to decide which brother is “black” and therefore which brother to follow. ”

        Then avoid those who cause divisions contrary to the gospel. Simple. I simply do not comprehend this desperate drive to please those who pit one Christian brother against another based on skin color. It is evil, and those who do it should be avoided, even if they get the other stuff right. Paul was pretty clear about this kind of thing. Don’t form coalitions with them, don’t chum up with them in the ‘off season’ when everyone is feeling good, unless they repent of their false divisions/false teaching on this subject. This is extremely harmful to the body of Christ.

        Thabiti’s article could be used to argue against the Elephant Room controversy (even though the controversy had nothing to do with race), but because those guys like crawford and Brian Loritts are so deluded as to think this is about race, they will likely look at it as an article written in support of them just as easily… for the very fact that nothing specific was referred to. This is the problem with making a broad general rebuke based on concepts and refusing to name names or give specific examples. Everyone thinks they themselves are in agreement with the writer/speaker and it only serves to throw kerosene on the fire.

        I do see where the suspicion comes from however, because very little was said about the equally horrible messages of Steven Furtick and Perry Noble, which are at least as bad as Jakes’s Word Faith message, and slightly more subtle. Very little is ever said about Mark Driscoll’s errors. It’s very easy to suggest that it is because they are white. And very little is being said specifically to rebuke James Macdonald himself for all this division, when he is the source. Is it because he is white? It would be very easy to slip into that mode of thinking. But I don’t think it’s that simple. These men are all using each other to enlarge their audiences, which each happen to cater to a certain demographic, the reason being that their messages are shallow so they attract shallow people who are looking at those issues as if they are important. It doesn’t matter what their skin color is, really. The message is the problem.

  3. Kevin DeYoung says:

    Thabiti, thanks for being a leader in these important and difficult conversations, and a leader in the evangelical church as a whole. Your point about the cost of black-white associations is especially helpful. I hope the readers here will take it to heart. It’s a lesson I’ve learned and forgotten and need to keep on learning.

  4. Thabiti –
    Thank you for this post. You have stated things that I have thought and felt most of my life, and have done so in a clear, thoughtful, irenic way. I am grateful for your ministry; your voice is much needed in the church today. I wish I could just have a sit down with you face to face and absorb the wisdom that you possess. But, I’ll settle for this blog, I suppose…

    For anyone who might see this post as more than what it is…I just want you to know that what Thabiti is speaking to is real. As an African American, I know the struggle, pain and marginalization he speaks about because I live it everyday. I often joke that someday my “Black card” will be taken away from me…but that “joke” comes from the realities Thabiti speaks of in this post.

    I am grateful that by God’s grace I have a new identity in Christ. I long for the day when all residue of sin is washed away and we all rejoice together at the throne of God – every tribe, tongue and nation.

  5. Todd says:

    America is such a sad reality isn’t it? I find the section titled “Danger of Division” to be precisely what you say it isn’t with regard to Dave’s comment. Maybe it is coincidence or providence or curious timing, but it isn’t unrelated; this is exactly what James MacDonald has sought to do with the Elephant Room…bridge a divide and bring brothers together to discuss as a family some tough issues.

    I am white. And so, I suppose I am simply naive to believe that we could be the church and show no partiality for any reason at all (James 2:1). I am naive to truly believe the words of Paul that, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). I am perhaps even ignorant to believe that Jesus high priestly prayer in John 17 that, “We would be one” could actually be realized in relationships I have with my brothers and sisters.

    I applaud the effort you have made to help those of us who are white to understand what we are doing here and the historical context of Black America. But again, I find it all quite sad. I find the reasons for such division and the suspicions and animosity between blacks and white, black and black and whatever other combos you want to thrown in to be nothing other than the result of hard hearts and deeply rooted sin. Let’s call that out. And repent.

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Hi Todd,

      Thanks for stopping by and leaving a thoughtful comment. There is much that’s sad about America, and there is much sin remaining in every Christian heart–not to mention unredeemed hearts. On those points I completely agree with you.

      Like a previous reader, you seem to want to make connections that, while they may be appropriate to you, are not the point of the post. Every post this week will take up some question pertinent to African-American Christians and the Black Church. For example, tomorrow’s post will ask the question, “Is the Black Church Dead?” and post a panel discussion on that topic held at Columbia University. I wrote all these posts while stuck 13 hours in LAX after missing my flight Saturday morning. If there is a connection in my mind, it’s stemming from being in multiple meetings over the last two weeks with various leaders from Atlanta to L.A. discussing the state of the Black Church and doing a lot of soul-deep wrangling over these questions. Believe it or not, we discuss these things without reference to the ER and we’ve been discussing these things a long, long time before such events.

      You’re free to make applications any way you want. I’m simply writing out of my own recent and long-term experience. I hope you won’t harden your heart toward me for doing so. And I hope you won’t miss the point because you’re hearing things I’m not saying.

      Grace to us all,

  6. Kevin Gwin says:

    Thank you for an extremely well communicated article. It shares the struggles and tensions that exist for Black leaders in the church. I pray that many will come to understand a bit of what many leaders and layman face in their pursuit of Biblical Christianity and Christian care for ones community. Grace and peace to you.

  7. Eric Lockhart says:

    “It’s disastrous for everyone, and, frankly, you won’t begin to pay the deeper costs over the longer period that your African American friend will”

    Thanks for this thought.

    I attempted a few years ago to build some bridges between a church I was pastor at in a rural part of a Southern state. We both faced opposition and racism, but I guess I never considered the fact that it would ostracize that pastor or make him less “black” in the eyes of his community and even family. I was probably, much to my shame, more concerned about the way I would come across in the community, good and bad, than the opposition he would face.

  8. Hannah says:

    I can’t tell you how thankful I am to have this explained so thoughtfully and from a Christian perspective. It is extremely helpful and I am looking forward to the next articles. Thank you for sharing your wisdom.

  9. Matt Jacobs says:

    Dear Pastor Anyabwile:

    Thank you so much for this post. It joins your message at the 2010 T4G and your book on the decline of African-American theology as writings that have given me much to think about. I sincerely appreciate your thoughts, and your perspective is invaluable to me.

    I simply hate that we have to have discussions like this. I hate that we have a white church and a black church. I hate that there is “whiteness” and “blackness.” I confess that these sound more like childish rantings than intellectual thought, but they come from a sincere and frustrated heart.

    I would love to hear/read your thoughts on how to remedy this situation. Frankly, I’m not sure there will be a “remedy” until Christ returns. I don’t think the majority of people today of any color have an understanding of who Booker T. Washington or W.E.B. DuBois were and, sadly, I think there are too many folks of all colors who personally prosper by the continuation of racial hostility and, therefore, perpetually fan the flames.

    The idea of “blackness” and “whiteness” would seem to have more of a secular origin and perpetuation. Yet, unfortunately, it seems that this idea has leaked into our churches enough that it causes even Christian brothers and sisters (of all colors) to think along these lines that so clearly disregard Paul’s words in Galatians 3:28. At the same time, I think our much more secular younger generations have much less racial animosity toward each other. What are your thoughts on this? What are the active ways we can be addressing these issues in the short-term? The long-term?

    Thank you, again, for your thoughtfulness.

    Blessings to you,

    1. Thabiti says:

      Hi Matt,

      Thanks for the engagement, the food for thought, and the great questions. I appreciate your spirit in it all.

      First, let me say I completely agree with (or lament with you) the difficulties surrounding “whiteness” and “blackness.” It’s a frustrating and sometimes hazardous topic. In my experience, it generally feels like there is much more room for failure than success in discussing these things. Sigh.

      Second, at the risk of being misunderstood or pilloried, let me take a crack at trying to offer some answers to your excellent questions. This, obviously, is one man’s opinion but I hope some will join me :-)

      1. As difficult as it is, I think we have to abandon the category of “race” as a way of defining ourselves and interpreting reality. “Race” is a social construct that has no objective/ontological reality. It’s killing us to continue racializing our world. Time to do the hard slow (generations?) work of redefinition.

      2. Such redefinition requires discussion. So, we’re likely to lament things a while longer because of continued discussion. But without the discussions (and prayerful study!), we can’t work at shared re-definitions. We can have these talks in public and private places. It won’t be without risk, but the reward of ridding ourselves of this problematic label will be well worth it.

      3. Encourage the use of our freedom–especially if we’re Christians. Kirk’s comment below is essentially correct, though I think he misses the point of step 2 above. At the end of the day, we must “put on Christ” and it must be Christ that lives in us. And because Christ is who He is, perfect in all His ways, that means living like Him will decidedly mean not living to natural ethnic and cultural dictates and preconceptions. To follow Jesus we have to break rank with the world, including at times the world of our host cultures and backgrounds.

      Here’s the thing I’d want to emphasize when it comes to this: No one feels like breaking ranks when they feel like they’re not being considered by the “others” they’re trying to connect with. And there’s a corollary: No one is helped to see where they need to break ranks if they don’t listen to the insights or critiques of others.

      If we’re not listening to others, we’re simply listening to ourselves. Which likely means we’re playing the same ol’ ethnic, cultural, and “racial” tapes over and over in our heads. That creates blind spots. Let’s again use Kirk’s comment below as an example. There’s so much exasperation and indifference in his comments that I’m sure there are African-American readers who say to themselves, “Do you see? Why bother? They don’t listen?” When that happens, Kirk and the hypothetical reader both retreat to their assumptions and disengage. It’s possible to land on the correct conclusion (one in Christ, pick up your cross, etc.) in a completely defeating way, in a way that dismisses the other and feeds our own flesh.

      4. We must not only think differently about ourselves but we must summon the Spirit given resources to live and act according to the new identity. In one sense this is nothing more than Christian sanctification and living applied to ethnic identity. But seeking sanctification when it comes to our identity is probably an area we seldom think about and therefore most often fail at. We’re accustomed to thinking of our sanctification in terms of moral behaviors–and we should! But we aren’t wired to second-guess our identities–it’s just the air we breathe. So, we need self-conscious ways of re-thinking and re-acting that conform to our identity in Christ. That’s the cross, and it’s costly.

      You asked about the generational differences. I do see great difference in the 20-somethings of today as compared to me and my peers at 20. I think there’s been progress made. For a lot of 20-somethings, “urban” is a major identity and it crosses ethnic and cultural lines. So that many urban young people have much more in common with other “urban” people from other ethnic groups than they do with their own ethnic people. That’s remarkable when compared to 40 or even 20 years ago. So, I’m very hopeful in that regard. And I hope others are, too.

      Well, that’s no 10-point plan and it leaves a lot of details unstated. But that’s my take at a starting place. Any thoughts?

      Thanks for the contribution,

      1. Chris Krycho says:

        Thabiti, this is helpful. I think something else that may be helpful for extremely white guys like me is to help us understand what “Blackness” means and how and why it’s so influential. For a lot of white guys – probably including Kirk below, and certainly including me – it’s hard for us to conceive of a cultural (“racial,” but I agree with you here that it’s not a helpful category) identity being so formative. There isn’t, as far as I know or can see, a corresponding “White” culture. Obviously there is white culture, but it doesn’t seem to have identity tied up in it in the same way. There are historical and cultural reasons for this – especially being a majority and therefore having the luxury of never needing to define ourselves by contrast with another group. But it makes it difficult to conceptualize, much less deeply empathize with, the kinds of cultural identification issues you raise. I know it would help me immensely if you could expand on these sorts of things, because it’s an area I’ve been increasingly sensitive to as a lack in my own understanding over the past few years (thanks in part to your writing over the last year and a half).

        Thanks for challenging us. :)

  10. Kirk says:

    Why is this not the emperor with new clothes? Your article only furthers the identity located in skin-color or culture. Who cares! You do, right? For the wrong reasons brought up already. Your ongoing infatuation with your black-ness perpetuates the ceiling you should break through, not kow-tow to. Who cares about the state of the white church or black church! It’s not yours. It’s Christ’s church. I just do not see how this squares with the mission Christ came to put us on. There is a cost of discipleship…get over your horizontal world-view, your fear of man. Use your words, your gifts for speaking of Him and not of your temporal skin color. Amazing. Just amazing. Jesus is after your heart, not your history of politics and polarization over externals.

    1. Thabiti says:

      Dear Kirk,

      Thanks for dropping by and commenting. I think there’s much that’s correct in your comments (It’s Christ’s church; take up your cross; fear God, not man; and use the gifts the Lord gave you). But I also think there’s much that’s wrong here, too. You sound dismissive, angry, inconsiderate, and unwilling to think of others more highly than you think of yourself. I’d hate for anyone to miss the good in your comments because of the bad, and I’d hate for you to think that you shouldn’t address the bad just because you managed to say some good. I think the Lord has more for you and asks more of you than that.

      May we all live more fully in His grace and humility,

      1. Kirk says:

        Somewhat fair, I receive your rebuke in love, but you’ve not addressed the issue…why the avoidance? What is the ongoing myopic infatuation with skin color that you cannot seem to let go of? Our identity is in Christ, we are pilgrims grafted in to the family of God, we are citizens of Heaven, not culturally bound by skin or continental lineage. Why so much ink and effort on an issue that keeps us stuck in the old man? I’d like an honest intelligible answer. Why is this not worthy of loving rebuke? We do not glory in or boast in man…we are new creations. Why is not “black church” “white church” a horizontal distraction from “every tongue, race, and tribe”? I’m jealous for Jesus. He should be lifted up…not our preferences or color-bound platform. Babel was the dispersion…the Gospel is the “one body, one Spirit, one baptism, one Lord, one faith.” Why must you call attention to our flesh? Help me get it…or admit your platform is flawed. Galatia did it with circumcision…distracted from the main. Why is this not the same? Help :)

        1. Thabiti says:

          Hi Kirk,

          I’m not avoiding your question. I think the folks who know my position on this issue would readily tell you that I don’t believe “race” as defined by skin color is either (a) biblical or (b) helpful. If you’d like to hear a full-length treatment of my view, you might check out this talk:,_the_Work_of_Christ,_and_the_Church_MP3_DOWNLOAD.aspx, or even this post: In suggesting I’m keeping us “stuck” in the old man, I can only guess you haven’t heard my point of view, which is a good deal like your own.

          But having said that, the point I think you’re missing is that we don’t go from the old man of “race” and division to the new man in Christ and unity simply by pretending the old man doesn’t exist. We don’t move forward without putting the old man to death personally and learning to live anew corporately. That requires understanding one another, hearing one another, recognizing that our experiences of the same events are not only different sometimes but are connected to different issues. If we’re not going to do that work, we’re simply going to continue offending, misrepresenting, and suspecting one another. How are we going to enjoy the love and freedom that Christ has for us if you’re not going to at least bear with me while I work through some things and point out how you are not helping but hurting?

          This post isn’t about being stuck, or even suggesting we should remain in the old dynamics, as much as it is about explaining, sharing, revealing with the hopes that folks would love enough to listen, understand, then respond in all the appropriate biblical ways.

          Honestly, between the two of us, I think you’re showing more “myopic infatuation with skin color” than I have. But we can both learn from one another if we listen more and judge or accuse less.

          In hope,

        2. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

          One other thing: I wonder if you see the irony in our exchanges? Don’t our exchanges prove the point of the post?

          I’m contending that attempting to work in and for the gospel across “racial” lines means a cost to African-Americans both at the table and “back home” in the community. At the proverbial “table,” some folks sometimes suggest (intentionally and unintentionally) we “leave all that ethnic stuff at home.” And to do so means being suspected of “selling out” back home. An African American who agrees with you–especially with the tone you’re striking–gives up a lot for the sake of the gospel. He basically loses both communities–the one he was born in and the one he’s trying to build a bridge to. They sacrifice a lot of what they care about and who they are in order to work with you, then they sacrifice a lot in affiliation with the community in order to defend you.

          You need to see that in order to really partner in a way that lowers those costs and improves the chances for all of us really becoming that one new man in Christ.


          1. Melody says:

            If I’m understanding this right, you are saying that this makes 1 Corinthians 9 harder to do. Would that be correct?

          2. Paula says:

            “At the proverbial “table,” some folks sometimes suggest (intentionally and unintentionally) we “leave all that ethnic stuff at home.” And to do so means being suspected of “selling out” back home. An African American who agrees with you–especially with the tone you’re striking–gives up a lot for the sake of the gospel.”

            With all due respect, we all will give up a lot for the sake of the gospel. Count it all joy. Side with the truth, regardless of skin color and let the chips fall wherever they may. Riding the fence is not an option IMHO.

            I grew up in an almost entirely white community. It never occurred to me that I should think anything inherently about someone with a different skin color when I ran into them. Not in the least. I really resent being told that I should have or that it is normal to make value judgements of some sort regarding skin color, or that we need to make overtures toward such narrow minded people who do think that.

            Those that demand a piece of flesh for the fact that you are acting Biblically about skin color are divisive and at best, immature. There are prescriptions for dealing with them and they don’t include making overtures to them or allowing them to intimidate. Those kinds of people no matter the color, will ALWAYS persecute those who try to speak truth and who also live according to that truth.

            Jesus was put outside the camp by his own people, should we expect anything less?

        3. Dan McGhee says:


          I, too, share your frustration with our world’s seeming preoccupation with skin color. However, I have to tell you that Thabiti’s comments here are spot-on, and I say this from my own personal experience. I am a white man who is the pastor of a church just outside Detroit, MI. We are still in Wayne County, along with the city of Detroit. Our church is currently 80% white and about 20% black. Thankfully, God in His mercy and grace is giving us a sweet unity of spirit that is bound in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, for which we give Him adoration and praise!

          However, I’ve had to learn about many of the things that Thabiti has written in this article. I came to learn of these realities from one of my best friends in the ministry, a fellow local black pastor who pastor’s a 99% African-American congregation. He and I have had hours upon hours of discussion concerning these exact issues over the last 8 years, and let me tell you, has it ever been an education for me!

          So, I guess I’m just encouraging you to understand that what seems so easy and clear to you, isn’t necessarily so easy and clear to others. That doesn’t mean you are wrong, it just means you need more patience and grace with others in these matters. With love, grace, mutual respect, the willingness to dialogue, and yes, even challenge long held notions of belief, change is happening for the glory of Jesus Christ!

          1. Paula says:

            ” I’m just encouraging you to understand that what seems so easy and clear to you, isn’t necessarily so easy and clear to others. ”

            It will remain unclear as long as we keep respecting the imaginary boundary of skin color just because they do. This whole discussion is self defeating. the discussion should amount to repeating the truth “The boundary doesn’t exist.”

            I would be willing to bet that what worked the most to erase boundaries in your church is the actual refusal to acknowledge (in your actions) those artificial boundaries, far more than navel gazing about why they are there. Why are we so enamored with ourselves and our appearance? One would be justifiably horrified if we started talking about the “blond church” or the “blue eyed church” wouldn’t we?

  11. Ray Ortlund says:

    Thabiti, your contribution to us all is immense. Thank you for serving us, helping us grow.

  12. Franklin Peaker says:

    Thanks Pastor Thabit for all your courageous and thoughtful comments. I will continue to pray for you and your family.

  13. Andy says:

    I’m reminded of the “No true Scotsman” logical fallacy. We have presuppositions in our mind of how a certain stereotype acts, and when an example comes along that contradicts it, rather than modify our presuppositions, we declare the example themselves to be invalid, because they have violated our self-anointed infallibility.

  14. Steve says:

    A wonderful article. Thank you.

  15. Flyaway says:

    I wonder if in Abraham Lincoln’s day the African American community was divided politically ?

  16. Luke Johnson says:

    Pastor Thabiti,

    Thanks for the helpful article as well as demonstrating powerful grace in dealing with the responses–“when we are reviled, we bless” (1 Corinthians 4:12).

    I’m praying for further understanding and healing within the body when it comes to our expression of unity in Christ and truly biblical reconciliation. The younger generation seems to be a step ahead, but there’s still room for more growth. Our Lord Christ will sanctify His bride and “present to Himself the Church in all her glory…holy and blameless” (Eph. 5). Praise the Lord that the fulness of our redemption belongs to Him.

    Grace and peace.

    1. Paula says:

      Who is reviling?

  17. David says:

    Thank you so much for this post. On your point on suspect identity, I have certainly found that to be true as a reformed Nigerian American living in both the US and now in Namibia. While I had mainly experienced this from my African American perspective, I am discovering how this phenomenon occurs even across the African continent, particularly in areas having experienced disastrous episodes of racially-motivated, colonial “divide and conquer” strategies.

    In the afterglow of apartheid here in Namibia, variables defining “blackness” may include: what side of town do you live on (white Windhoek/black Katutura), what church do you go to (white preacher/black preacher), what theology you associate with (theology of old white pastors who upheld apartheid and divided their congregations, reformed or otherwise vs. theology of black Pentecostal leaders). Crossing some of these lines already by being from America is a cost, but there are many Namibian missionaries here who struggle as they cross these lines and come to the multi-ethnic, multi-denominational table.

    I could go on about how different (sadly, Christian) organizations here caricature “good, trustworthy Africans” from the “bad, nontrustworthy ones,” but your point on division is a clear point.

  18. Dave says:

    Thank you for this post. And thank you for your gracious responses to “difficult” commenters. Your thoughtfulness and gentle tone in responding really points to Christ.

  19. Bob Kellemen says:

    Pastor Thabiti, Thank you for a nuanced, well-reasoned, and insightful post. Having ministered for the past 16 years in a seminary with no “majority culture” (Capital Bible Seminary), I know that these are vital issues where we need solid biblical thinking. I am praying for you as you lead the way. Bob

  20. Mark Sims says:

    These are hard issues for most white guys. Anecdotally, most white guys (including pastors) think we’ve moved past racial boundaries because we don’t hold animosity toward any one black person in particular (read, “I’m not racist because I have a black friend”). And the opportunity to hold up a black pastor/theologian who is reformed or non-pentecostal or non-prosperity gospel in order to make much of his blackness AND his similarity to us is almost more than we can take. Because we tend to think we’ve already moved past such things, we also tend to look at black pastors/theologians/churches and wonder when they will come join “us” in a color-blind kingdom (weird, I know). We proclaim a naive confidence in the “gospel” to bring us together despite racial/ethnic differences because we’re convinced we’ve already gotten over such things, and we’re simply waiting for black pastors/churches to get over their blackness. So we don’t tend to see the need for ” a process of sanctification that requires the layers of old stuff be removed” (Michelle’s comment on the following post) — didn’t all that stuff go away the moment Jesus washed me? The gospel is the only thing that will bring us together, but there will be a messy trail behind us when we get there.

    1. Chris Krycho says:

      That’s a great way of highlighting the same things I was trying to get at earlier, Mark. I appreciate your thoughtful comment here. In particular, your closer is extremely on point.

  21. Thabiti says:

    Hi Melody,
    I think 1 Cor. 9 is already difficult :-).

  22. Andy Boyer says:


    Thank you for your comments. The section on “Danger of Division” really hit home for me. I appreciate your willingness to speak about that to this “non-African” brother, as in my ignorance I have probably pitted you against some other African American brother in some sense in some conversation. Forgive me, I am now a wiser man because of your post.

    Thank you also for mentioning William Pannell along with Tom Skinner in the comments. They along with John Perkins encouraged me to be more biblically thoughtful about these matters. I first heard Tom Skinner 40 years ago. Your mention of him warmed my heart.

    Keep on loving Jesus, your wife, your children and your church, and take a break to listen to a little Miles or Coltrane.

    Andy, in Charleston with Buster

  23. Eklektos says:

    There’s one race, the human race. There’s one church, Christ’s church. Anything else is, frankly, sin. God bless all my brothers and sisters.

  24. TaNeesha Johnson says:

    Well done, Thabiti! This post just reminded me of this interview between Toure and Henry Louis Gates, Jr. on the concept of post-blackness and a post-race society:

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Thabiti Anyabwile

Thabiti Anyabwile is a pastor for Anacostia River Church in southeast Washington, DC and a council member of The Gospel Coalition.

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