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Aliens in the Promised Land: Why Minority Leadership Is Overlooked in White Christian Churches and Institutions Paperback – May 6, 2013
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This is a terrific book. For years evangelicals have discussed among themselves ways to reach minority communities, without much participation from minorities themselves. This book is a game changer. Here, black, Asian, and Latino writers say what they most want to say to the evangelical (and specifically Reformed) community. If you are tired of the usual arguments about race, as I am, this book will wake you up with some new ideas, such as Lance Lewis s suggestion. He urges a moratorium on evangelicals' (even black evangelicals') planting churches directed toward blacks. I m not sure I agree. But like many ideas in this book, Lewis s are clearly written and backed up by good arguments. That a Reformed publisher has undertaken to publish a book like this is itself a very promising development. I urge everyone to read this book who is seeking to carry out Jesus Great Commission. --Dr. John Frame, Professor of Systematic Theology and Philosophy, Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando
About the Author
Anthony Bradley, Ph.D. is Associate Professor of Theology and Ethics at The King's College in New York City and serves as a Research Fellow at the Acton Institute. Dr. Bradley holds a B.S. in biological sciences from Clemson University, an M.Div. from Covenant Theological Seminary, an M.A. in Ethics and Society from Fordham University, and a Ph.D. from Westminster Theological Seminary.
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Anthony Bradley is a professor and consistent critic of racism within the Reformed church. He has earned his place at the table, but often White believers want to reduce him to ‘angry Black man’. When you read what he has put up with in order to serve the church (and I have not read any of his longer books that he has written only shorter social media posts and blog posts), it is a wonder that any minority believers stay within the White church.
Aliens in the Promised Land, a book of essays introduced by Bradley, was published in 2013 in the midst of one of his bouts of active persecution. As with any set of essays, there are some essays that grab you more than others. But other than the essay by Carl Ellis, which was fine, but about urban minority youth discipleship and felt a bit out of place, I thought they all added to the book well.
There really are a number of different issues and Aliens in the Promised Land did well to address them. First, this is not just a Black and White issue. Amos Yong’s essay as an Asian in a ‘post-racist’ evangelicalism and several essays from a Hispanic and Latino authors illustrated to me that minorities are much more aware of the needs of different streams of minorities than many Whites who tend to reduce racial issues to Black and White.
Another issue highlighted by Aliens in the Promised Land is the different needs and expectations of different minority communities. Juan Martinez on the different needs of students as one of the problems of theological education and Vincent Bacote’s focus on how many minorities and Whites view orthodoxy differently (Whites tend to focus on language of orthodoxy, while minorities tend to look at actions of orthodoxy as a prerequisite for words of orthodoxy) are good examples.
Normative assumptions of White theologians as standard, while minority theologians are ‘Black Theology’ or ‘Asian Theology’ or ‘Latinx Theology’ is a good example of the blindness of institutions to their own assumptions.
Personally, my seminary Systematic Theology class was taught by Dwight Hopkins, a well known African-American Liberation theologian. At the time, I did not understand how important reading Womanist theology and Feminist theology as examples of systematic theology was. I had previously had a good understanding of the basic concept of (White) systematic theology as an undergrad.
For years, I thought that the class was a good second step for my theological education. But I assumed that my fellow classmates that had less theology background were probably missing basic systematic theology. That may have been true. Because of the modern bent of the class. But it was not true because of the choices of minority theologians by themselves.
What continues to be illustrated as I listen to minority Christians is that White churches and institutions want minority faces. But are rarely ready to actually hear minority critiques. And when those critiques come from younger, and less experienced faculty or pastors, they are often dismissed as either ‘liberal’ or ‘confrontational’ or just ‘immature’. Vocal critics rarely get to places of actual authority and decision making because White churches, denominations and other institutions make it too hard to persevere. That leaves many wounded minority leaders along with crippled organizations that are unable to hear and accept the legitimate critiques of how White culture impacts White Christian institutions.
If someone is really wanting to learn, then this book is a willing teacher.
The contributors mix personal narrative with insightful research. Some address parish and/or denomination life. Others address the evangelical academy. Lance Lewis’ essay (Black Pastoral Leadership and Church Planting) is an eye-opening, though somewhat depressing look at how some Evangelical denominations favor giving the bulk of their resources to white Churches that appear more likely to “succeed” than to Black Churches where the struggle may be greater, especially in an impoverished, inner city context where the financial return on investment cannot compare to a thriving white Church in the suburbs. At the end of this chapter Lewis advises Black pastors to avoid accepting Church planting roles, opting to adopt a pastoral role in an established Church, noting how difficult it can be on one’s self and one’s family to plant a Church without the necessary support of their denomination.
Amos Yong writes the only chapter (Race and Racialization in a Post-Racist Evangelicalism: A View from Asian America) addressing matters from the perspective of an Asian. This essay includes Yong’s own story as an Asian in the Assemblies of God (making this the only chapter written by a Pentecostal-Evangelical as well). He observes how racist structures remain intact even as post-racial jargon becomes popular. Then he provides a vision for how Evangelicalism might move forward to a place where racial equality does exist among us.
Juan Martinez contributes one of the most insightful essays (Serving Alongside Latinos in a Multiethnic, Transnational, Rapidly Changing World) I’ve ever read on Evangelical Latino Americans. As a former employee of a seminary who worked in the admissions department this chapter resonated with me because I worked in a very white seminary that wondered aloud how it might attract more minority students but who in practicality did very little to change internally so that this dream could become reality. Martinez shows how difficult it is for white institutions to consider making changes that would make them more inclusive. Also, he observes that among Latinos many of the Bible Institutes lack the necessary accreditation for their students to move on to seminary studies at the graduate level causing Latinos to have a disadvantage in this regard. As with the other writers this essay is insightful and provides the reader with ways to move toward change.
Vincent Bacote (Ethnic Scarcity in Evangelical Theology: Where Are the Authors?) provides a sketch of the realities that prevent many Blacks and Latinos from being published by some of the more prominent, influential Evangelical publishers. This essay piggy backs on Martinez’s essay observing how a lack of educational opportunities for minorities results in a lack of publishing opportunities, especially by those publishers who want their authors to have received graduate level education to publish certain types of books. For those affiliated with the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) many of Bacote’s comments will prove challenging. Though he doesn’t address the Society of Biblical Literature I imagine his observations may be applicable there as well.
Harold Dean Trulear’s essay (Blacks and Latinos in Theological Education as Professors and Administors) also develops smoothly in light of Martinez’s earlier essay. Trulear’s notes on how Evangelical institutions confuse their restrictive policies against minorities as a stance for “doctrine.” This was another observation I found all too familiar. He does praise groups like Intervarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF) for doing more to integrate minorities into Evangelicalism while noting that most institutions do not follow IVCF’s commitment to diversity. In order to become more inclusive institutions must recognize and address disparities related to geography and demographics, economics and prestige, political history and race, and the role of their perceived orthodoxy in forming the ethos of their institutions.
Orlando Rivera’s essay (Blacks and Latinos in Theological Education as Students) examines the same topic from another angel, that of perspective and active students. As with the essays by Martinez, Bacote, and Trulear this is another must read essay for those working as Presidents, Academic Deans, or in the admissions departments of traditionally white Evangelical institutions. Rivera’s essay is packed with insightful data and he used Nyack College as a model of an institutions that appears to be overcoming some of the very flaws that hinder most Evangelical institutions from recruiting minorities.
The final two essays by Ralph C. Watkins (A Black Church Perspective on Minorities in Evangelicalism) and Carl F. Ellis Jr. (Theology and Cultural Awareness Applied: Discipling Urga Men) are “big picture” essays, one dealing with Evangelicalism in general and one dealing with Black and Latino makes who live in an urban context. Watkins essay challenges readers to rethink the curriculum used by Evangelicals. He makes a strong case that our curriculum reflects a racist structure and a racialized metanarrative. This chapter challenged me to rethink how seminaries may teach both Systematic Theology and Church History courses. Ellis’ essay was a reminder that issues surrounding gender are often further complicated by matters of race/ethnicity, socio-economic class, and even geography.
The reader of this review will notice two things: (1) this book’s message is mostly applicable for conservative Evangelicals and (2) there is a deafening silence surrounding women, women’s issues, and the role of women as relates to this subject. I don’t know why this is so, since it would seem to be related topic. That said, Bradley has gathered together a good group of authors who have a lot to say. For white Christians like myself who have spent a lot of time around white Evangelical Churches and other institutions the best thing you can do as a reader is engage this book with the posture of a learner. I learned a lot from this book because the authors showed me things I would have never known on the basis of my own experience as a privileged white male. Too often people like myself want to be the one’s who speak and who “fix things,” but this often reinforces the problem. These authors have a lot to teach us if we’ll get ourselves out of the way.