Dr. Tony Evans is one of the most influential pastors and theologians in the United States and his daughter Priscilla Shirer is one of the most well-known authors and speakers. UrbanFaith sat down with them to discuss their documentary Journey with Jesus and their book Divine Disruption written as a family holding onto faith in the midst of grief.
In his new book, How Should Christians Vote?, the Rev. Dr. Tony Evans says the Bible offers the guidance we need to make wise voting decisions, but he also says those decisions should reflect kingdom principles rather than allegiance to any political party. Evans is senior pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas, Texas, founder and president of , a national urban renewal ministry, and host of The Alternative with Dr. Tony Evans, which is heard on more than 500 radio stations. UrbanFaith talked to Evans about his new book, his views on same-sex marriage, and political engagement generally. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
UrbanFaith: You were recently interviewed by both NPR and CNN about your disappointment in President Obama’s statement of support for same-sex marriage. What kind of response have you gotten to those interviews?
Tony Evans: Mostly positive. We’ve had some negative, where people feel like it’s narrow minded and bigoted, but it’s been mostly positive from my constituency, which would hold to that view.
The editor of the media criticism site Get Religion has noted that because of this issue, the press is suddenly interested in what African American pastors have to say. Do journalists call you to talk about the work of Urban Alternative, its national Adopt-A-School initiative, for example?
No. That is the correct statement. We tend to be substantive with regard to the political issues of the day, not for what we do in improving people’s lives.
Why do you think the press is so interested in what black pastors have to say about same-sex marriage?
Because of its political implications. Will it affect the black vote or black support of the president? It’s a big cultural issue now in regards to the definition of the family and gay rights. So, because of its political clout, the African American tank becomes very important. It’s unfortunate, but that’s the way most of the media is right now.
In your interview with NPR, you said race isn’t a choice and implied that homosexuality is a choice. Increasingly we’re hearing that race is to some degree a social construct. Are race and sexuality really so dissimilar?
They’re apples and oranges. For a person to enter into a homosexual relationship, it is their decision to do that. They have autonomy over that decision. How a person is born or the group to which they are a part of when they are born is something that the Creator has authorized. Homosexual marriage is not something the Creator has authorized. In fact, he’s condemned it. Since God has spoken on his created work and on his condemning work, and has been clear on both of those, we should not put those in the same category.
And so, when people compare the history of interracial marriage to same sex marriage, you don’t think those issues are similar?
No, they’re not similar because the way [same-sex marriage] was regarded before was wrong, and the Creator states that it is wrong. God would never have endorsed what the culture is allowing.
In your book, you says Christians should be like NFL referees when it comes to politics in that they should represent a kingdom perspective rather than identifying primarily with a political party. How can we really know what God’s will is on issues like health care or immigration law?
I believe that there are biblical positions on every issue, but no party fully represents all God’s views consistently on all God’s issues. Christians are going to vote differently because they will prioritize issues differently. My concern is that we’ve so aligned ourselves with the parties of this world that we’re missing the kingdom of God. The proof of that is that we’ve let political parties divide the kingdom of God. My illustration regarding referees is simply to say that while they sometimes vote for one team and sometimes vote for another team, they’re obligated ultimately to neither team, because they belong to another kingdom called the NFL. So, we should never let the party divisions interfere with the unity of the church, causing the church to lose its influence in the culture.
And yet, white evangelicals are very much identified with the Republican party and black Christians are often identified with the Democratic party. How do they come to such different perspectives on issues?
It’s more priority of issues. For example, the white evangelical community will emphasize right to life in the womb. The black Christian community will emphasize justice to the tomb. For me, those both are one issue, whole life, not term. Since that is one issue with two different locations, Christians can agree on the whole life issue even though they vote differently, and come out with a whole-life perspective that if we were unified both parties would have to interface with and take seriously. Because they can split us up along party lines, we do not have a single voice on the issues that represent the kingdom of God.
How can Christians become more unified despite their different political perspectives?
There should be a Christian manifesto that gives God’s view on all the prominent issues that is represented by Christians across race, cultural, and class lines. Christians should hold both parties [accountable to] speak to that manifesto.
Are you calling for something like the?
Yes, like that, but specifically to reflect the comprehensive view, and not only to reflect it in a manifesto statement, but in how Christians come together and relate to each other, not going back to our own dug outs and separating after the manifesto is over. There should be an ongoing statement. Ultimately I think we should put forth a Christian-based candidate who is kingdom minded, who reflects a comprehensive Christian worldview.
Because President Obama grounded his advocacy for same-sex marriage in his Christian faith, would your idea of a Christian manifesto include a perspective like his?
No. It would not authorize anything that is unauthorized by God, and the definition of the family is one of those things. You can’t define the family differently than its creator defined it for cultural and political correctness. That would not be acceptable.
You advocate limited government in your book. How does limited government reflect biblical values?
In my view, the Scripture is clear that civil government is limited. Number one, because it’s not the only government. There is family government, church government, and ultimately the best government is self-government, because the more people that govern themselves, the less civil government we need. When God created Adam and Eve, there was total freedom except one narrow regulation, one tree they couldn’t eat from, but there were dire consequences. God says in 1 Samuel 8 that civil government is getting out of hand when it requires in taxes more than God requires in tithes. The mere fact that civil government should submit to God’s government means it’s going to limit itself to what God has given it responsibility for. All of these argue for limited government, freeing the other governments to do their job, not expecting civil government to intrude on the other governments God has established.
There doesn’t seem to be a lot of difference between the major parties in terms of the size of government; rather, it seems to be more a matter of where resources are directed, with one party focusing on national security and corporate welfare and the other prioritizing social supports. Does either party represent limited government?
No. First of all, we would be changing welfare on the Republican side for corporate welfare and on the Democratic side for social welfare. All of those would be reduced. All of those would be limited in a biblical worldview. A biblical worldview would never subsidize dependency. It provides help, so I’m for a safety net that, for able bodied people, demands the incurring of responsibility. For example, if your child gets federal money through Head Start, you should have to volunteer in that school. You shouldn’t be able to sit home and get the benefit without incurring responsibility.
Personal responsibility is an important value, but, these days, many people can’t find jobs that offer health insurance and they can’t afford to buy it on their own, for example. How do personal responsibility and communal responsibility interplay from a biblical perspective?
My view is that a just free market would address most of those. The problem with the free market on one side is that it often can be unjust. The problem with government is that it gets too big and therefore too cumbersome and it can’t address things properly. But a just free market—which means there are staggering consequences for breaking the law—would address most of those. If you had insurance across state lines, then competition that’s opening up the free market would reduce costs for insurances. It wouldn’t be prohibitive for businesses then to offer it. So, I believe that a just free market answers most of those concerns.
Doesn’t the combination of limited government and social conservatism just land you in the Republican party?
No, it doesn’t, because I believe that we have conservative, blue-dog Democrats who would hold to non-abortion, who would hold to the definition of a family as a man and a woman, and who would at least hold to a smaller government than now exists. I don’t believe you get locked down that way because then you become owned by that party.
You wrote in the book that you were friends with President George W. Bush. He ran on a platform of “compassionate conservatism” and tested some of these ideas. Do you think that worked out?
He got distracted by a big war in Iraq. He pushed faith-based initiatives and I do believe the more local charity becomes, the more beneficial, impactful, and accountable it becomes. The war distracted that emphasis and I was sorry to see that.
You advocate something you call “interposition,” which is “when righteous agents of God advocate on behalf of those facing imminent judgment or danger,” but critics have charged the Religious Right with not only alienating non-Christians, but also our own children. Are you concerned that the kind of political engagement you advocate will lead to alienation from the gospel?
Not if it’s done properly, if it’s done with love. One of the things I disagree with the Right about is the dishonor shown to the president. You can disagree honorably. I believe that many disagree dishonorably. You can engage in a loving way that demonstrates the heart of God, but that demonstrates the truth of God. Love must always be married to truth and truth must always be married to love. So I believe our methodology is a big part of the problem.
You provide a lot of detailed advice in the book about political engagement, but when people ask you how they should vote, what do you say?
I say, “Vote for the candidate and the party that will most give you the opportunity to advance the kingdom of God. And even though people may vote for that differently, if the kingdom of God and its advance is your primary concern, then you’ll be Democrat lite or Republican lite, so that in either party you’ll be the L-I-G-H-T.”
When President Obama announced that he now supports same-sex marriage, he cited his Christian faith as the reason for his “evolving” views. Yet for many other Christians, their commitment to Jesus Christ and an orthodox view of the Bible is the reason why they reject homosexuality as a valid lifestyle.
In a report on NPR’s Morning Edition, Dallas preacher and bestselling author said the issue is especially intense in African American churches. “The breakdown of the family is the single greatest challenge that we face today,” said Evans, which is why he believes black pastors are often the most outspoken opponents of same-sex marriage.
NPR religion correspondent Barbara Bradley Hagerty then asked Evans about the argument that same-sex marriage is a civil rights issue like race, but Evans wasn’t having it. “The issue of race is not an issue of choice. It’s an issue of birth,” he said.
When Hagerty asked Evans whether he believes homosexuality is a choice, he replied: “The Bible is clear on that one too. And that is, sexual relationships are to be between men and women within the context of marriage. That’s not only related to the issue of homosexuality, but adultery, or fornication or bestiality. All of that is proscribed in the Bible.”
Read and listen to the entire report here.
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(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. 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., author of several books, including
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.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry may have only just announced his campaign for the U.S. presidency, but his bid has already captured plenty of attention, as speculation stirs that he could soar to the top of the GOP field. Among Christians, much of the attention stems from Perry’s recent push to distinguish himself as an evangelical candidate. A week before his announcement, Perry held “The Response” prayer rally in Houston. The event called on Christians to fast and pray for a nation in crisis, based on similar gatherings . About 30,000 people attended and another 80,000 viewed the live web stream, The Response web site said.
When he announced his bid for the presidency in South Carolina on Saturday, Perry again referred to his Christian faith, taking a moment to thank God for the sacrifices of U.S. soldiers and saying America values “the rights that are endowed to every human being by a loving God.”
Perry’s evangelical push could propel him ahead of Mitt Romney, a Mormon, and other candidates who haven’t galvanized the religious right to the same degree. On Saturday, another evangelical Christian, Michele Bachmann, led Iowa’s Ames Straw Poll, which didn’t include Perry.
Perry’s ultimate success could depend on support from politically conservative African, Hispanic, and Asian American Christians, a group Business Insider called the “Rainbow Right.” Two influential minority evangelical leaders were honorary co-chairs of The Response: Tony Evans, pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas and host of The Urban Alternative, and Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. Since the minority vote tends to lean left, the growth of the Rainbow Right could mean trouble for President Obama.
Pastor C.L. Jackson of Pleasant Grove Missionary Baptist Church is a Republican supporter of Perry who attended The Response at Perry’s invitation.
“If you were there, you heard a good noise, a good response, ‘Amen,’ and, ‘thank God,’” Jackson said. “I came home feeling good about our nation even in this bad, crippling economy.”
Perry read Scripture and prayed for political and religious leaders, the military, and people struggling with grief, addiction, unemployment and foreclosures. The controversial event came under fire from those who saw it as a violation of the separation of church and state and as an endorsement of Christianity over other religions. However, The Response was billed as an apolitical event, and Perry said during his prayer that God has a “salvation agenda” rather than a political agenda.
“Brother C.L., you and I have had this conversation,” Perry said to Jackson. “He’s a wise, wise God, and he’s wise enough to not be affiliated with any political party, or . . . any man-made institutions. He’s calling all Americans, of all walks of life, to seek him, to return to him, to experience his love and his grace and his acceptance, experience a fulfilled life regardless of the circumstances.”
Jackson campaigned for Perry from pulpits and on the radio when Perry ran for governor. He told Urban Faith that political leaders need to have a relationship with God, and called The Response “a dynamic move” for Perry.“This man put everything that he had on prayer with God,” Jackson said. “In other words, he believed in talking to God. That’s how God deals with us, through conversation, talking to us and guiding us through his words.”
“Other people would try to do it themselves, or follow someone they think knows. Many people are trying to lead this world and God has not turned the world over to them,” he said.
Other Christian leaders argued that it was inappropriate for a politician to organize a religious event. Barry W. Lynn, Executive Director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State,criticizing The Response as “direct government sponsorship of religion.”
“To be blunt, you have overstepped your constitutional bounds,” Lynn wrote. “I am a Christian minister and would like to remind you that it is not the job of government officials to call people to pray, recommend that they fast or prod them to take part in other religious activities. That job belongs to me and my fellow clergy.”
The Response has also come under criticism because of its “Rick Perry’s Army of God.” These relationships could prove problematic if Perry ascends to the general election, where far-right religious connections are likely to turn off moderates., particularly the New Apostolic Reformation, which the Texas Observer reported on in
As Perry plows forward, he’s touting his economic experience as governor of Texas, where he said about 40 percent of new American jobs have been created since June 2009—an important success to Americans who have been disappointed with the economy under President Obama. However, Perry’s “Texas miracle” is not exactly what it appears to be. Unemployment in Texas rose to 8.2 percent in June, leaving the state in 26th place.
Jackson believes Rick Perry is the best person to lead America out of a crisis with God’s guidance, but in the end, he said putting one’s hope in any political candidate alone, rather than in God, would be a mistake.
“No man is going to straighten this out,” Jackson said. “He’s too messed up. The hope is in Christ.”