It was only those who either had the ability to endure through the cultural struggles (those with a high level of cultural grit), those who weren’t hindered by the cultural issues (those who assimilated), or those who couldn’t afford to leave that were able to stay. As such, the silent exodus commenced.
It is critical to note that the issues for which they left the immigrant churches weren’t doctrinal or theological, but cultural.
Today, it seems like a “Reverse Exodus” is taking place for very similar reasons. Like Lecrae, people of color are finding that white evangelical churches and institutions fail to truly embrace them.
After doing their best to carve out a space for themselves within white evangelicalism, give it a fair shot (or multiple shots), and even endure through the challenges for decades, there is a growing number of people of color who are seeking places where they can finally feel at home, while still yearning for the greater eternal home.
The problem with this reverse exodus is that the watching world seems to view Christianity in America as synonymous with the white evangelicalism that Lecrae “divorced” himself from. This means that the public witness of Christ through the evangelical movement is at stake because people like Lecrae have looked under its hood and found it disappointing. And if someone who has benefited from the platform, participation in the inner circle, and the praise of white evangelicalism found it wanting, imagine what others who weren’t given such a “welcome” might experience.
What you heard Lecrae talk about regarding the constant tension he felt due to his skin color and cultural background in the Truth’s Table interview is what many people of color experience within white evangelicalism as a whole. Their evangelical experience is dramatically different from your evangelical experience. The experiences Lecrae had of feeling like he couldn’t be who he was meant to be, and having that feel like he was hiding a festering infection can be translated broadly into those from non-white backgrounds. What’s unique about Lecrae, however, is that he went one step further than most do by actually leaving.
This should be of grave concern to us all as this represents the exhaustion Christians of color are no longer willing and/or able to endure. For all of evangelicalism’s existence, a disproportionate burden has been placed on communities of color to adapt, adjust, assimilate, and acquiesce to the white expressions of Christianity. This is why evangelicals of color broadly understand the adjective “white” being added to evangelicalism, while white evangelicals have a hard time seeing how their evangelicalism is white.
What Lecrae symbolizes is an unwillingness to continue to do so, not because he seeks disunity, but because he can’t handle the false perception of unity at his expense.
In some ways, this is what Timothy Keller so wonderfully advocated for at the 2017 Gospel Coalition conference when he talked about bearing each other’s burdens. The unfortunate reality is that the burdens have been so disproportionally and heavily laid upon brothers and sisters of black, Native American, Asian, and Latino backgrounds that they cannot go any further. Evangelicals of color are tired, worn down, and burnt out from merely existing within the white evangelical space. We need our white brothers and sisters to see and actively work against this by helping to address the cultural aspects that convert evangelicalism into white evangelicalism.
For better or worse, we are only at the beginnings of this “Reverse Exodus,” since, at the moment, there aren’t many better options to turn to for people who hold the same doctrines as white evangelicals hold. Evangelicals of color are growing up in, getting trained by, and seeking participation in white evangelical spaces because there aren’t many viable options of another sort who hold the same theological convictions – except in the historically black church which emerged out of exclusionary practices by white Christians who held convictions nearly identical to the ones evangelicalism promotes. Despite this, there are many evangelicals of color who still hold onto a genuine hope and willingness to endure in order to see the church demonstrate what Gospel centered unity in diversity can look like. This flickering flame is what I hope we can fan into a blazing fire.
However, the willingness of evangelicals of color to remain will likely change when they begin to realize that they too are the token/mascot/poster child for white evangelical churches or institutions. Unless white evangelicalism wakes up to the realities that it’s unwillingness to sufficiently change keeps it behind the culture, instead of leading prophetically with a clear vision of the Kingdom of God, the exodus will ensue.
My hope is we can work towards an equitable unity where all people mutually submit to and honor each other.
But how do we do this?
Well, the solutions are actually quite simple. This does not mean the solutions aren’t costly or difficult, but they are simple: at every layer of evangelical leadership, allow for a solid concentration of evangelicals of color to occupy culture-shaping positions of authority. Again, the problem wasn’t theology, but culture.