IN LIVING COLOR: Republican congressional candidate and Saratoga Spring, Utah, mayor Mia Love addressed the second session of the Republican National Convention on Tuesday night in Tampa, Florida. She was among several leaders of color to take the stage. (Photo: Mike Segar/Newscom)
The stage of the Republican National Convention that concluded in Tampa last night was a lot more colorful than the floor, at least when it came to skin color (and Clint Eastwood’s odd performance). With speeches by African Americans, Indian Americans, and Hispanic Americans, one might have thought the GOP was the party of color. But, Baratunde Thurston, author of How to Be Black, was in Tampa reporting for WNYC and Yahoo News, and decided to count how many black people were actually in attendance. He curated his count under the Twitter hastag #negrospotting. (That apparently got conservative fire-brand Michelle Malkin fired up.) His last count, reported this morning, was 238 African Americans among the 5,000+ attendees.
The high point among speakers of color, at least according to an unscientific survey of my journalist-heavy Twitter feed, was former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who gave a hard-hitting foreign policy speech Wednesday night. Even those who didn’t care for the substance of Rice’s speech conceded that her delivery was impressive, perhaps even presidential. “When the world looks to America, they look to us because we are the most successful political and economic experiment in human history. That is the true basis of ‘American Exceptionalism,'” said Rice. “The essence of America — that which really unites us — is not ethnicity, or nationality or religion — it is an idea — and what an idea it is: That you can come from humble circumstances and do great things.”
Former Democratic Representative from Alabama Artur Davis said we should have known better than to have been seduced by the hype surrounding Barack Obama back in 2008. “Do you know why so many of us believed?” said the former Obama supporter. “We led with our hearts and our dreams that we could be more inclusive than America had ever been, and no candidate had ever spoken so beautifully. But dreams meet daybreak: the jobless know what I mean, so do the families who wonder how this Administration could wreck a recovery for three years and counting. So many of those high-flown words have faded.”
Jeb Bush, the one-time Florida Governor whose wife is Mexican American, defended his brother George W. Bush’s record and talked passionately about educating children of color. “We need to set high standards for students and teachers and provide students and their parents the choices they deserve. The first step is a simple one. We must stop pre-judging children based on their race, ethnicity or household income,” said Bush. He then highlighted what he said are Florida’s achievements in improving academic performance, particularly for students of color. “Here in Florida in 1999, we were at the bottom of the nation in education. For the last decade, this state has been on a path of reform,” he said. Among African-American students, Florida is ranked fourth in the nation for academic improvement, among low-income students, the state is third, among students with disabilities, it is first, and, among Latino students, “the gains were so big, they required a new metric,” Bush said.
New Mexico Governor and former Democrat Susana Martinez delivered a rousing speech noting her own ethnic “first.” “As the first Hispanic female governor in history, little girls often come up to me in the grocery store or the mall. They look and point, and when they get the courage, they ask ‘Are you Susana?’ and they run up and give me a hug,” said Martinez. “It’s in moments like these when I’m reminded that we each pave a path. And for me, it’s about paving a path for those little girls to follow. No more barriers.”
Up-and-coming U.S. Congressional candidate and mayor of Saratoga Springs, Utah, Mia Love called President Obama’s version of America “a divided one — pitting us against each other based on our income level, gender, and social status.” She said the story of the American Dream is one “of human struggle” that has “been told for over 200 years with small steps and giant leaps; from a woman on a bus to a man with a dream; and the bravery of the greatest generation, to the entrepreneurs of today.” Love, like Mitt Romney, is also a Mormon.
South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley defended her state’s controversial immigration law, calling it “innovative.” Said Haley, “We said in South Carolina that if you have to show a picture ID to buy Sudafed and you have to show a picture ID to set foot on an airplane, then you should have to show a picture ID to protect one of the most valuable, most central, most sacred rights we are blessed with in America — the right to vote. And what happened? President Obama stopped us.”
Throwing Peanuts and Racial Slurs
On the convention floor, meanwhile, a couple delegates made headlines for throwing peanuts at a black CNN camerawoman and saying, “This is what we feed animals.” Patricia Carroll, the camerawoman, was reticent about the incident, telling Journal-isms it could have happened anywhere, including the Democratic convention, but she was not surprised it happened in Tampa. “This is Florida, and I’m from the Deep South,” she said. “You come to places like this, you can count the black people on your hand. They see us doing things they don’t think I should do.”
BeBe Winans’s “Bipartisan” Gospel Moment
Even PBS’s news anchors seemed to enjoy gospel singer BeBe Winans’s stirring rendition of “America, America.” Winans, who performed on the final night, told Essence magazine that he saw his reportedly unpaid participation in the convention as a display of bipartisanship. He was not unaware of how controversial it would be for him to sing there, he said. “The RNC realized this was something that could work to their advantage and I realized there is a master plan here,” remarked Winans. “And so my message to them and to the world is that we are all Americans before we are a part of any political party. It’s so simple and yet we make it so difficult.”
True. But, of course, by definition political conventions are neither the time nor place for bipartisanship. Rather, they are an occasion for creating a narrative for what each party believes America should truly be. And this party clearly wanted to be perceived as embracing a multi-racial future. The questions is: were voters convinced?
Oh, and in case you were wondering, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney accepted the Republican nomination for president and Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan agreed to be his VP, if the people so choose.
Update 9/2: Baratunde Thurston clarified his post: “The final final count is in, and I spotted 238 Negroes during the RNC, 239 if I count seeing my own reflection in various mirrors and windows. I estimated no more than 60 of those to be authenticated GOP delegates or party members. It turns out the actual number of black delegates was 46.”
What do you think?
What were the high and low points of the GOP Convention?
NBEA President Rev. Dr. Walter A. McCray
Today when the world hears the word “evangelical,” it often associates the term with a white, politically conservative brand of Christianity. Those within the evangelical movement, however, know the reality is far more diverse. In fact, defining the identity of the movement and sorting out its many theological and cultural dimensions has been the subject of countless books and conferences over the past 200-plus years. One group that has helped assert the existence and valuable contributions of non-white evangelicals is the National Black Evangelical Association (NBEA). Over the years, the group has provided intellectual community and spiritual support to a who’s who of Black scholars and preachers — influential leaders such as Tom Skinner, Tony Evans, Howard Jones, Clarence Hilliard, Carl Ellis, and Melvin Banks (founder of UrbanFaith’s parent company, UMI).
Next week in Chicago, the NBEA will host its forty-ninth annual convention. Rev. Dr. Walter A. McCray, author of several books, including The Black Presence in the Bible, has been president of the NBEA since 1999. UrbanFaith recently spoke with him about the history of the organization and why this year’s conference has a special focus on missions and Christianity’s African roots.
URBAN FAITH: Give us some brief background on the NBEA. How was it formed and what’s its purpose?
REV. WALTER McCRAY: In 1962, Black evangelical leaders prayed. They were praying in different locales across the nation. They prayed in California, Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Chicago, Detroit, and other places. They prayed about themselves and how they could reach their Black communities with the Gospel of Christ. They prayed earnestly, and they prayed for their unity and cooperation in the ministry of Christ. Women prayed, men prayed, ministers prayed, laypersons prayed, young prayed, old prayed. And God answered their prayers in an exceptional way. He gave them an idea, and an organization through which they found Black Christian fellowship and empowerment to accomplish their goal — reaching the lost, making the wounded whole. So in 1963, in L.A., the National Negro Evangelical Association (NNEA) was born.
The co-founders of NNEA, which later became the NBEA “National Black Evangelical Association,” composed an impressive gathering of dedicated servants of Christ, who were committed to the Lord’s church. It was a small but powerful group that included the likes of Rev. Aaron M. Hamlin, Mother Dessie Webster, Rev. Marvin Prentis, Bishop Holman, and the host pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Rowe. Others joined this number at the inaugural convention: Rev. William H. Bentley, Missionary Ruth Lewis (Bentley), Rev. Tom Skinner, Rev. Howard Jones, Rev. Charles Williams, and others.
So, this new association of brothers and sisters, which also included some white believers, formed around three important values: fellowship, ministry, and networking resources. Their overriding passion was to win the lost, and to provide support for churches and leaders who were attempting to do this amidst the revolutionary times of the 1960s. It was no small task, but their God was not lacking the necessary greatness and power for the challenge! So they marched forward.
You’ve been leader of the NBEA since 1999. In your view, what is the state of black evangelicalism and the wider evangelical movement today?
The state of evangelicalism today, as intentionally labeled and defined, is one that has a changing face. Due to its emphasis on “diversity,” its face is changing from white to other ethnic groups. Yet, it maintains its centeredness and dominance in maleness, and White and Western culture. I recommend Soong-Chan Rah’s book The Next Evangelicalism for an overview of where things are going. The next evangelicalism in America is discoverable in immigrant and indigenous ethnic communities. Evangelicalism is growing in areas of the Southern hemisphere. Black evangelicalism, of the intentional variety, is undergoing redefinition along cultural and theological lines. There is a reawakening of Black consciousness and its theological applications within the socio-political sectors of White evangelicalism, and especially as a pushback against politically right-wing evangelicals. Some White evangelicals also are pushing back against their very socially and politically conservative counterparts. When it comes to the implicit side of African American evangelicalism, vis-à-vis the Black Church, we see a state of flux, wherein traditional Black Christian faith, amidst pressing social challenges, is grasping to reconnect with the core cultural and social values of their African-descended peoples.
I believe Intentional Black evangelicalism must wed with implicit Black evangelicalism to serve the best interest of African American people, and to fulfill our divine purpose in God’s world. This is something that I explore in my next book, Pro-Black, Pro-Christ, Pro-Cross: African-Descended Evangelical Identity.
The annual convention convenes next week. Could you tell us a little bit about what you have in store for those who attend?
The theme is “Looking Black to Move Forward: Reclaiming Our Heritage, Fulfilling Christ’s Mission” (Psalm 68:31). This is our second meeting of a two-year emphasis on missions. We will emphasize looking back into our past, so that we can see how God has historically used Black people in His redemptive work. We will also look into our present so that we can appreciate the Black spiritual contributions and other resources that the Lord has placed at our disposal to do His work. We have jam-packed our program with a wealth of speakers, and topics that can benefit local Black communities, as well as Africa and other places to which Christ calls us to serve.
Could you talk a little bit about the African American church’s relationship to local and global missions?
The African American church needs more intentional involvement in missions. Pressing needs among Black Americans have served to capture the focus of our churches — sometimes to the abdication of our responsibilities of spreading the Gospel of Christ throughout the world. Our people must recapture the missionary fervor of Black churches and missionaries of previous generations. We must be both indigenous and international in our mission endeavors. For instance, we must work to redeem our imprisoned men especially and others from “the New Jim Crow” that Michelle Alexander talks about in her important book. At the same time, we must send bi-vocational workers to the mission fields of Africa to dig wells for clean water and stem the tide of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Then, we must rescue women and young girls who are enslaved in sex-trafficking. Black believers and churches have a “both and” responsibility. Validated “charity” begins at home, but it must then spread abroad in the true fashion of the divine love of Christ, whose giving and sacrificing continues to manifest itself beyond the sectors of one’s immediate group or culture.
The African roots of Christianity will be one of the topics discussed at this year’s convention, and I understand the theologian Thomas Oden will be addressing the event via Skype. Could you talk about the importance of this and what the church needs to understand about the church’s historic African connection?
So-called Black evangelicalism has existed for over two-millennia. Those roots are found in the Black/African peoples of the New Testament, and in the early African church of the second century A.D. and beyond. Tom Oden and the Center for Early African Christianity have been doing a premier, paradigm-shifting work in demonstrating, in the words of Oden’s book, How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind.
As Black peoples, we must look back to the earliest stages of the Christian faith to discover how God worked through and used African people and African Church Fathers in His work of salvation and redemption. We must discover how they wed their faith to their culture in ways that were positive and made tremendous contributions to the Christian faith worldwide. From the second century onward, the Christian faith first spread from south in Africa to north in Asia and Europe. NBEA’s Institute for Black Evangelical Thought and Action will explore these topics and more at the convention.
What else can people look forward to at the convention?
Prayer, fellowship, food, networking, information, celebration, book signings, workshops, preaching, teaching, mission-opportunities, and much more happen next week. We invite all: Blacks and non-Blacks, women and men, youth and young adults, pastors and laypeople, churches and organizations, professionals and non-professionals, missionaries and sending agencies, community workers and global partners — we invite all who desire to strengthen themselves in holistically sharing the Gospel of Christ with their Brothers and Sisters in the Christian faith. Together, we want to “Reclaim Our Heritage” as we “Fulfill Christ’s Mission.”
The NBEA convention takes place April 25-28 at the Chicago/Oak Lawn Hotel. Click here for more information.