My response to Lecrae’s interview with the thoughtful women at Truth’s Table is mainly thankfulness and hope. Why would anyone care about my response? I don’t know that they would. But here’s why they might.
This interview, along with the new album he just released (All Things Work Together), gives expression to Lecrae’s loosening his ties with “white evangelicalism.” There are echoes here of the same development recently chronicled about Jemar Tisby and the Reformed African American Network (RAAN). This loosening of these ties, considered by itself, is not the reason I am thankful and hopeful. But the loosening is not by itself.
Invitation to Hope
Lecrae’s loosening his ties with “white evangelicalism” has roots. And it has fruit. Part of that fruit is my response of thankfulness for Lecrae’s faith (and Jemar’s). As we will see, the roots have been painful. So their enduring faith, and my thanks for it, are not to be assumed.
Since I’m the only supposed native of this “white evangelical” tribe that Lecrae mentioned in his interview, I thought it might be helpful to say publicly how I respond to this loosening of ties. I would even hope that others in the tribe might join me in feeling more thankful than frustrated, and more hopeful than disheartened.
Roots of the Loosening
Roots can be very deep things. For Lecrae the roots that reach back to his mother’s passionate blackness seemed, for a season, to be severed. “When I became a believer I was taught to lay my black heritage aside.” Given his musical talent and mental sharpness, the inevitable happened — tens of thousands of young white Christians crowded his concerts, and Lecrae held his own with the theologians.
Three experiences stand out in Lecrae’s interview at Truth’s Table as the roots of the recent change.
First, Lecrae’s friend, Tyree Boyd-Pates, the Curator of History for the California African American Museum, told him, “You have said some things that were poignant and provocative for black people, but the phenotype of your music was not black . . . sonically it wasn’t resonating with our soul. . . . It’s like [the] ‘I have a dream’ speech over a rock record.”
Second, the Washington Post called him an “evangelical mascot.”
Third, he went public with his dismay over the Michael Brown shooting, and woke up to the reality that this “white evangelical” world did not feel what he felt. “The visceral attacks that came my way were like a shock to my system. That did some identity work.”
Racial Identity Development
This phrase “identity work” is an allusion to the term “racial identity development work” that many younger blacks are forced to undertake. Lecrae’s interviewers said it may be required by events like a presidential election, or being called the n-word at school. You thought you had a pretty good handle on your racial identity, and suddenly you realize it’s not as simple as it once seemed, and there is work to do — “racial identity development work.”
So the turning points came. And the questions.
If I turn my back on white evangelicalism, who am I? If we disagree on . . . Black Lives and social justice, and I’m not getting pats on the back from John Piper, then who am I now? . . . For years that had been what was shaping my identity. . . . If I’m not the evangelical darling, who is Lecrae? . . .
What if they get upset? What if they don’t like me. It took blood on the ground for me to say, “I don’t care what you think. People are dying.”
Through a season of depression and questioning, Lecrae was forging a new identity. Not all new. But new. He says,
[Lecrae] can be true to his cultural roots and still embrace his faith which has been colonized and stripped away and made to be very Western and Eurocentric. . . . No. No. No. You can’t have that. It’s for everybody. Jesus ain’t American.
I spoke out repeatedly in 2016 in many different ways, and it affected me. I went from a show that may have 3,000 people to 300. . . . Those 300 love Lecrae, the black man, the Christian, not the caricature that had been drawn up. . . . This is not Lecrae placating a white audience. . . . I don’t feel any sense of prioritizing white evangelicalism.
I just told my wife this morning, “I’m really free. . . . I don’t feel I have to be the rappin’ pastor. . . . I’m just a man who loves Jesus, who creates music and hopefully impacts people.”
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SOURCE: Christianity Today, John Piper