Black Christians and Donald Trump

trump-black-church

Although Donald Trump has had success connecting with white evangelicals, Amanda Robbins (Elizabethtown College ’17)  looks at the disconnect between Donald Trump and black Christian voters. This is the second issue in our second volume on the Bible and Race in the USA. You can see the first volume here.

The world is watching as the United States presidential elections quickly approach this November. United States voters listen to what the candidates have to say on topics that hold precedent in their lives, and hope that they can make the best decision–not only the country, but for their communities. Donald Trump has continued to make headlines with his firm stance on the Black Lives Matter Movement as he continues to dismiss Black Lives Matter, instead using the term All Lives Matter.[1]  As a whole, Trump is still projected to win the vote of Evangelical Christians, but recent news has shown that many black Christian groups have stressed that their communities should not vote for Donald Trump because his policies do not align with their Christian beliefs.[2] This divide is likely due to the differences in textual interpretation between White Evangelical Christians and Black Christians that arise when we look at the different history and different daily struggles that these communities face. By analyzing the way Black Christians read and interpret scripture, we can see why Trump’s political stance on the current US racial situation will stop many black Christians from voting for him, while not changing the views of white Evangelical Christians.

The history of slavery and oppression that Black Americans faced in the United States differs greatly from the history of white Americans who were the enforcers of slavery. This historical difference greatly impacts the differences in interpretation of scripture. “Despite a common confession as Christians, members of communities that have experienced oppression or marginalization read the Bible from a different perspective, always wary of so-called objective approaches and interpretation that are insensitive to human need.”[3] This wariness of insensitivity is as strong as ever when black Christians hear the rhertoric used by Donald Trump. The oppression of black people in the United States is a history that cannot be easily taken away, and its implications will forever be scared on the nation and its people. Michel de Certeau delves into this concept of history not easily being forgotten when he says “every power, including the power of law, is written first of all on the backs of its subjects.”[4] This idea, that the laws of history remain with us and our bodies, is key in understanding why Trumps use of the phrase “All Lives Matter” loses him support of Black Christians. This stance is completely insensitive to the history of slavery and oppression of Blacks in America, which is still written on the body of that community and the United States. This insensitivity to oppression is not tolerated through Black Christian interpretations of scripture.

During slavery, slaves used Bible passages and stories to create Negro spirituals that fostered hope and faith that also impacts their ways of interpreting scripture. Negro spirituals that drew on stories and versus from the Bible allowed slaves to transcend their scripture into more than just a text during a time of need. These spirituals or songs worked as “religious experiences” that demonstrated the importance of spirituality and the use of these spirituals as an agent of transformation: “the spirituals fostered a sense of well-being; an increased determination and fortitude to struggle, resist and hold fast; a deepened awareness of a just God and a meaningful world”[5]. This way of making sense of scripture, or scripturalzing, is different from that of White Christians, being specific to the Black Christian community after years of oppressive slavery. The difference can be connected to the different view of Donald Trump’s stance on Black Lives Matter. Where white Christians continue to support Trump because they may not see his rhetoric as exclusive or oppressive through their interpretation of the Bible, black Christians, through the context of their history during slavery and their interpretation of the Bible through Negro spirituals, view the dismissive nature of people in need as oppressive and are much less likely to support Trump because of that. [6]

In “The Role of the Black Church in Contemporary Politics,” Melissa V. Harris-Perry (née Harris-Lacewell) discusses the term “theodicy”, and defines it as a community’s way of reconciling Gods justice in the presence of human suffering. She goes on to explain that black theodicy is very different from other theodicies and that difference can be understood “through the identifiable form of white supremacy first through enslavement, then through Jim Crow and lynch mob rule and continuing in seemingly intractable racial inequality” [7] that Black Christians have been impacted by. These racial inequalities continue today, and are being addressed by members of society through the Black Lives Matter Movement.

Trump has dismissed the Black Lives Matter Movement, stating that All Lives Matter. [8] The All Lives Matter campaign can be allusive and cowardly to Black Americans who feel that racism is still an issue in the United States. [9] Black Americans are also faced with the legitimate fear of their lives as the publicity surrounding the killing of unarmed black men and women has increased in the country. [10] Because the theodicy of Black Christians views God as just and merciful to human suffering, it is likely that their God would support a movement like Black Lives Matter. Because of this it is more challenging to accept Trump’s dismissal of Black Lives Matter, when it is apparent to Black Christians that Black lives are suffering and are not valued as equal to White lives. The importance of Black Lives Matter, is not as evident to White Christians because they do not fear for their lives or the lives of their sons and daughters, and many Black Christians do.

Trump’s policies on the Black Lives Matter Movement can sit well with the majority of White Christians because they do not have a history that impacts their interpretation of the Bible in the same way black Christians do. African slaves in the United States used the Bible through Negro spirituals as hope for freedom and to fight an oppression that Black Christians today recognize. This history impacts their interpretation of the Bible and causes them to be more conscious of the similar oppressive and discriminatory aspects of Donald Trump’s rhetoric. Similarly, black Christians can tie the oppression of Blacks throughout history, with Trumps unwillingness to state that Black Lives Matter. When blacks fear for their lives and their family’s lives in the modern Unites States racial state, Trump’s “All Lives Matter” stance does not meet their expectations of a just leader and what a good leader should do in oppressive situations.  By evaluating the way black Christians interpret their scriptures, it is clear why many are unable to support Donald Trump in the 2016 Presidential elections.

[1] CNNs Reality Check Team, “Donald Trump on immigration: CNNs Reality Check Team vets the claim,” CNN politics, September 25th , 2016.

[2] Elise Foley, “Evangelical Leaders Don’t Want Trump To Win: The ‘Integrity Of Our Faith Hangs In The Balance,” Huffington Post, October 7, 2016.

[3] James Earl Massey. “Reading the Bible as African Americans,”Introduction to The New Interpreter’s Bible: A Commentary in Twelve Volumes, edited by Leander E. Keck. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995.

[4] Michel de Certeau. “The Scriptural Economy,” in The Practice of Everyday Life. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011.

[5] James Earl Massey, “Reading the Bible as African Americans,”

[6] Jack Jenkins, “The Core Support For Trump’s Immigration Policies: White Christians,” Think Progress, June 24th, 2016.

[7] Melissa V. Harris-Perry (née Harris-Lacewell), The Role of the Black Church in Contemporary Politics, Cross Currents, June 1, 2007, 184.

[8] Johnathan Swan, “Trump to Protesters: All Lives Matter,” The Hill, February 29, 2016.

[9] Kareem Abdul-Jabar, “Despite the Trump Distraction, Black Lives Matter Won’t Be Sent to the Back of the Bus,” Time, August 24th, 2015.

[10] Kareem Abdul- Jabar, “Despite the Trump Distraction, Black Lives Matter Won’t Be Sent to the Back of the Bus.”

Amanda Robbins PicAmanda Robbins is a Sociology- Anthropology and Religious Studies double major at Elizabethtown College 17′.

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