Thursday, 7 February 2013

African American Evangelicalism: A Quick (and largely unsatisfactory) Answer to Fea and Mullin

John Fea and Miles Mullin have done well to ask the question (and in Mile's case attempt to answer it) of why there is no scholarly body of work on African American evangelicalism.  While at the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals, it was a question I, and my colleagues, wrestled with often.  I also brought the subject up to David Bebbington several years ago and my findings later concurred with his earlier assessments.  The short answer is that by our current definition of evangelicalism (which is mostly doctrine based) African Americans are evangelicals. Most African Americans in the twentieth century have, however, like southern baptists, rejected the evangelical label for a host of reasons, two of which are that it is largely a white religion and that it is too closely associated with the republican political party.

A second issue is that twentieth-century evangelicals have tended to exclude Pentecostal and charismatic Christians from their religious communities.  This custodial approach to keeping evangelicalism "orthodox" is highly problematic in many other ways, but it has had the horrible effect of excluding those African Americans who actually want to be identified with the historic evangelical movement.



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