John Piper’s Response to Lecrae Shows White Evangelicals Have More Work to Do
Desiring God Ministry Teacher Weighs in on Rapper's "Truth's Table" Interivew
In a recent interview with the podcast “Truth’s Table,” Lecrae signaled what he called a “divorce from White Evangelicalism.” John Piper responded that he is thankful for Lecrae’s resilient faith as fruit from that rift.
I will not oblige to your colonized way of faith
My Messiah died for the world, not just USA
They say, “Jesus was Conservative”
Tell ’em, “That’s a lie”
No, He not a Liberal either if you think I’ll choose a side
They say, “‘Crae, you so divisive, shouldn’t be a Black church”
I say, “Do the math, segregation started that first!”
Hey, you want unity? Then read a eulogy
Kill the power that exists up under you and over me.
The above excerpt includes powerful words from the song “Facts” by rapper Lecrae (born Lecrae Devaugn Moore), who recently released the track on his eighth studio album, All Things Work Together—described as his Blackest album to date. Since 2014, Lecrae has become more engaged in social activism related to racial divisions in the U.S., writing op-eds in response to Ferguson, Charleston, Alton Sterling, and Philando Castile. Speaking both in formal functions, such as a Yale University talk, and informal functions such as his public Twitter account, Lecrae—a longtime favorite on the White Evangelical circuit—has received heavy backlash from White fans for his public statements on race and victims of police killings.
In a recent interview with the podcast Truth’s Table, Lecrae signaled what he called his “divorce from White Evangelicalism”—a system of white normativity and supremacy that has been the ugly underbelly of American evangelicalism since its inception.
Speaking candidly to the events in his life that triggered this recent “divorce,” Lecrae remarked in the interview:
I’m the son of a mother who was, who is very pro-black… this is who I was at my core. And then when I became a believer, I guess I was taught, whether consciously or subconsciously to lay all that aside for Jesus.
When Michael Brown was murdered, I just assumed that all Christians felt the way that I did – “This is terrible!” – you know? Like, “This is horrible.” So I just put it out there – “Hey guys, isn’t this bad?” And man, you would have thought that I had just said that Jesus was not real… the visceral attacks that came my way were like a shock to my system, and it was like an awakening.
Insightfully, Lecrae noted an important distinction—that White Evangelicalism and biblical Christianity are not one and the same:
As far as White Evangelicalism is concerned, I don’t feel any sense of… prioritizing or saying, like, “Oh no, I’ve got to…” You know, I feel the priority to be who God has made Lecrae to be and not who White Evangelicalism wants Lecrae to be.
Piper’s Thankfulness, Yet a Challenge
Responding to Lecrae’s interview, John Piper, the popular Founder and Teacher of Desiring God ministries, reflected on what it means for Lecrae to divorce himself from White Evangelicalism and what that means for those within its fold. Lecrae has been featured on Desiring God for several years and interviewed with Piper at numerous events.
Lecrae: “I know it hurts, but look, it’s gon’ heal.. But I love y’all… And I love Jesus… Yeah, 116 been real.” https://t.co/4nGja1wvCU
— Desiring God (@desiringGod) October 6, 2017
Piper remarked in his response that he is thankful for Lecrae’s resilient faith as fruit from his break from White Evangelicalism:
I know young men whose disillusionment with “[W]hite [E]vangelicalism” was not as painful as Lecrae’s, and yet they threw the brown baby of Bethlehem out with the white bathwater. They’re done with Christianity. Done with the Bible. Done with Jesus—except the one they create to fit their present political mood. That could have been Lecrae. It could be you.
Piper encouraged White evangelicals to reconsider and more thoughtfully engage with the idea that every expression of faith (including that of White Evangelicalism) “is embedded in and shaped by culture” and “being oblivious to this does not help us with the difficult task of discerning when to be countercultural or not.”
However, in the midst of his hopefulness and thankfulness for the fruit of Lecrae’s break from White Evangelicalism, Piper challenged Lecrae’s definition of the phrase:
Some things Lecrae said in the interview make me cringe. The reason I have put “[W]hite [E]vangelicalism” in quotations marks throughout this article is that it puts too many whites in bed together.
John Piper and a few million other supposed natives… are dismayed at the nationwide resurgence of manifest racial antagonism. We don’t think “systemic” is an unintelligible word. And a few of us, believe it or not, are impenitent five-point Calvinists… Is that “[W]hite [E]vangelicalism”?
Responses to Piper
At the outset, there are several common, yet multi-faceted responses to Piper’s response that demonstrate the division that still exists within and among Christians on issues of race in the U.S.
Some see Piper’s response as legitimating Lecrae’s break from White Christians wholesale and condoning cultural Marxism in the church. Continuing the narrative of white normativity, these responses assume that Christians of color who engage in racial identity development are simply in bed with a far-left Marxist ideology instead of a Christian worldview.
Others have expressed gratefulness in response to Piper’s thankfulness, in light of the fact that others in similar positions as Lecrae have been criticized for their shift away from White Evangelicalism. Piper’s posture of thankfulness is refreshing in a stage where judgmentalism and unempathetic criticism has become the default tone in these sorts of discussions.
The third response is a mixture of gratefulness for Piper’s posture and critique of two significant elements of his article. In the first place, as Christians of color like Lecrae recognize and break away from the “colonized way of faith” of White Evangelicalism, they do not do this expecting or needing legitimization from a “Piper figure” speaking on behalf of White Evangelicalism. Indeed, it may even be argued that Piper’s response undercuts the empowerment of people of color who finally recognize that they do not need the approval of White Evangelicalism to be faithful Christians.
You don’t need validation to be who God created you to be.
— Lecrae (@lecrae) October 6, 2017
Similarly, while still expressing gratefulness for Piper’s unhostile response to Lecrae’s interview, Christians of color may see the irony of Piper’s challenge of Lecrae’s definition of White Evangelicalism. While Lecrae’s criticism of White Evangelicalism is systemic, Piper’s response is primarily individualistic, consisting of a list of exceptions to the rule, as it were. This unfortunately misses the crux of Lecrae’s—and for that matter, Christians of color’s—critique: we’re not speaking about individual actions of White Evangelicals but about the long-standing and continually unchallenged assumptions, narratives and normativity that symbolize the systemic problem of White Evangelicalism in our American churches across the board.
Piper’s response actually further shows the need for White Evangelicals—especially leaders in White Evangelicalism—to flex their theological muscles to see things from systemic, communal, historical and overarching perspectives rather than merely the individual, and to sometimes sit, listen, and not respond when Christians of color seek to honor God above all else.