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OpEd: My Story in the White Ghetto

Excerpt from the new book Aliens in the Promised Land. Why minority leadership is overlooked in White Christian churches & institutions.

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 Anthony Bradley

This book emerges out of much pain, many wounds, sobered expectations, and yet hope for the future. After my spiritual awakening in college, I had great hopes of serving the church in Christ in the spreading of the gospel. As someone who was young and naive, and who continues to be in many ways (though not so young), I thought—with my own inflated view of my importance to the kingdom—I was going to be able to “make a difference” in helping to diversify Reformed and classical Presbyterian networks.

But I had a sobering wake-up call in 2004, when I received word that John Calvin–loving racists were beginning to post things about me on the Internet. It continues to this day, but the worst of it emerged in 2006. I learned that some of those for whom the Puritans are precious did not welcome my presence among them. On November 27, 2006, the following was posted on a blog about me: “Afro-Knee Bradley, the PCA darling, is an illiterate nigger.”

For several years, while teaching at a Presbyterian seminary in the Midwest, I repeatedly received racial slurs on the Internet and on radio programs from many who aligned themselves with historic Southern Presbyterianism and Calvinism. While I was aware that racism had been a part of Southern Presbyterian history and Calvinism in general, I had no idea that it remained alive and well and unchecked in some Reformed and Presbyterian churches. I was even more surprised to discover that few people were even talking about it. I began to ask new questions about the presence of racism in evangelicalism at large, especially among those who openly boast about the soundness of their theology. This book represents my ongoing struggle to make sense of why evangelicalism struggles with diversity in church leadership and in the Christian academy. To lead this discussion, I have gathered Hispanic, black, and Asian scholars to describe their own experience as minorities and leaders in evangelical circles and to suggest ways to make real progress toward racial diversity. …

I believe this conversation to be important because, to my surprise, I have encountered resistance even to the idea that the Reformed tradition has ever had any racism in any of its church leaders. It is important to know Christian history, so that we can learn from the past, and so that we don’t repeat the same mistakes. We need to know our blind spots and weaknesses. We need to know how those who went before us needed the gospel, so that we might lean on the grace of God and be faithful to what he intends his people to do in our time as well. The Puritans are not precious to all of us. Honesty, confession, and repentance are the way forward. We need to be proactive.

Back when I had an active personal blog, I questioned the silence about racism in broadly Reformed and conservative Presbyterian circles, then in response to my being called a “token negro” (again) on a popular racist website. I received this in an email from a well-known pastor in Reformed circles:

In the few sentences you wrote you are making Reformed Christians complicit in your charge of racism, and that’s a serious thing. If you want to say that Reformed people are racist, you’ll need to do better than pointing to one site whose whole modus operandi is racism. . . .

I’ve been Reformed just about all my life [and] I’ve never seen any hint of racism. Quite the opposite, in fact. I’ve found this movement systematically combating racism and seeking to be as integrated, as cross-racial and cross-cultural as possible. I could provide a heap of evidence to prove that. I can look to my own church and see a lot of races present and enjoying sweet fellowship together.

What was so surprising to me in the email was the simultaneous confidence in, and ignorance of, his own tradition, given that he has been Reformed nearly his entire life. How can someone be so steeped in the Reformed tradition and never be introduced to how the Reformed tradition’s racism gave birth to apartheid in South Africa, how it litters the anthropology of Abraham Kuyper, and how it is explicitly described in the work of R. L. Dabney? It is the cultural and historical ignorance represented by statements like the one above that demonstrates the need for an honest, historically informed conversation.

Many white evangelicals are resistant to the fact that racism remains in contexts driven by “the gospel.” However, because sin still exists, there is no reason to believe that racism will simply magically disappear or that we simply need to “get over it” and “move on.” In evangelicalism, there is a strange tendency to confess that we struggle with other sins, like materialism, anger, gossip, adultery, individualism, and the like, and to rebuke American society because of abortion, homosexuality, alcohol abuse, and so on, yet to ignore the racial issues in our own midst. This book is an attempt to humbly bring an issue that is important to minorities who are within and adjacent to evangelicalism to the attention of those committed to pressing the claims of Christ everywhere in life. This volume is a collection of stories and recommendations from Asian, black, and Hispanic leaders from multiple denominations, who write to help evangelicalism be a more faithful witness to the world in showing that the gospel brings people together in Christ from all tribes, languages, and cultures for a common purpose: to glorify God and enjoy him forever. …

The Event That Launched This Book

On Tuesday, November 3, 2009, Regent University announced Dr. Carlos Campo as its eighth president, filling the seat vacated by its founder, Dr. Pat Robertson, following news that Robertson would be stepping down from his duties at the school to become chancellor. Universities acquiring new presidents are no big deal. It happens every year all over the country. What made the Regent announcement particularly significant was that a Latino leader was becoming the president of a major evangelical institution— perhaps the first Latino to assume such a role in US history. I was in shock, and I went on a search to find others.

After searching for quite some time, I discovered that, while some evangelical colleges and seminaries may have blacks, Latinos, and Asian-Americans on the faculty or even in a few senior administrative positions, you will not find many black or Latino presidents among the evangelical schools accredited by the Association of Theological Schools and the evangelical member schools of the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities. In fact, the only other minority president of an accredited evangelical school in North America is the newly appointed Dr. Pete Menjares of Fresno Pacific University. I wonder why it is that evangelical colleges and seminaries tend to be led by white males. What does this mean for a global Christianity where the center of growth is found neither in Europe nor in the United States, but in Africa, Asia, and Latin America? I wonder what impact this has on how Christian colleges and seminaries will raise up leaders for the church in the future. In fact, if evangelical institutions are going to have ethnic leaders, all levels of Christian life will need more diversity, from the local church to the seminary classroom. …

We do hope to show a way forward, to give those who care about diversity a framework for making needed changes. I was encouraged to say this in a discussion on race that was moderated by John Piper and Tim Keller in connection with Piper’s book Bloodlines. This book discusses the future of gospel-centered evangelicalism and its ability to reach diverse communities and raise up ethnic leaders who reflect the realities of global Christianity. ...


Bradley's book opens with rapper Propaganda's lyrics for "Precious Puritans." Here is a short autobiography of Propaganda and a rap video for "Precious Puritans":



"Precious Puritans"--


Click for more from Propaganda


Click to order Aliens in the Promised Land: Why Minority Leadership Is Overlooked in White Christian Churches and Institutions (Publication date: May 24, 2013 by P & R Publishing). Harold Dean Trulear, formerly at NY Theological Seminary, and NY-born Orlando Rivera, now at Nyack College, are also contributors to the book.

Anthony B. Bradley is the author of three previous books: Keep Your Head Up: America's New Black Christian Leaders, Social Consciousness, and the Cosby Conversation (2012); Black and Tired: Essays on Race, Politics, Culture, and International Development (2011); and Liberating Black Theology: The Bible and the Black Experience in America (2010). He is associate professor of theology at The King's College, Manhattan, NY.

  • On behalf of the author, thanks! I will let him know about your appreciation.

  • Excellent

  • Thank you for sharing the love!

  • I’m not that much of a iternet reader to be honest but I like, love A Journey!

  • Hi John, great points. I spend everyday with Christian college students who tell me why they are thinking about leaving. What I am hearing is that they are burnt out on missions and I believe them. College students are not telling that Jesus or the church is no longer relevant. Thanks for the kudos and encouragement for me to continue my work. It is fun and I'm blessed to have these opportunities.

  • Hi Kathryn, you're right. It is strange. Calvinists, however, are just as susceptible to falling into error as anyone else.

  • Hi Phil, thanks so much for your story. Very helpful.

  • Mike D, that history is inaccurate because many Calvinist were abolitionists as well.

  • In light of what you report in your essay here and the reports about your books, I must say I was surprised by the blog essay you wrote recently, "The New Legalism: Missional, Radical, Narcissistic, and Shamed."

    Having grown up in the 1960's and attended a Christian college in the south in those years, where chapel was required every morning but nothing was said about a Ku Klux Klan rally held just blocks from campus, I am ashamed of what passed for Christianity back then. I am ashamed for much of what passes as Christianity today, especially when I read your essay here.

    I see no evidence of young people leaving churches because they demand too much in the way of social justice and mission. However, I do see evidence of young people leaving their churches because they are irrelevant - holding to outdated understandings of Genesis 1 and science, uninterested in the justice issues that are evident everywhere, and disconnected from the work people actually do.

    I commended you and your essay a year ago when it was first published here. Now I wonder what you mean by this essay, and by your more recent "New Legalism... " essay.

    I hope you have not given up on challenging us all to address the issues you describe so well. I hope that you are still calling us all along with Jesus in Matthew 25 to care for the needy, in all domains of life and culture.

    God bless you this Easter season - Christ IS risen !


  • It doesn't make sense to me that racism would be such a problem in Calvinism. I'm a white, middle aged woman who is a young Calvinist, having come out of the United Methodist Church. It is strange to me that a Calvinist would be a racist when God the Father is giving the gift of salvation to the elect in every tribe and nation on the earth. It seems to me that would make it anti-racist as God does the choosing.

    I'm sorry that you have had to deal with these horrible, hateful comments and such. So horrible. Glad that you wrote this. Even though it was hard to read.

    I do enjoy your articles. Your a gifted writer who God is using to His glory.

  • Thanks for sharing some of the background from your won denomination.

  • I've known of Prof. Bradley's trials, and it's a measure of the work of God in him that he responds in a godly fashion.

    Anyone with any real familiarity with Presbyterian history knows of much racism within it, particularly in otherwise orthodox and godly men, including the aforementioned Dr. Dabney. Look to his speech before the Synod of VA in, I believe, 1870 concerning the proposed ordination of men of African descent to the teaching eldership. And he was certainly not unique in this respect! Rather, he was a leader.

    My own denomination, certainly not a Pelagian one, Mr. "James", pioneered in seeking godly treatment for African descended folk -- I'm meaning the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America. We banned slaveholding from communicants in 1801, got early in on the Colonization Society, learned better and moved to a Scriptural abolitionism toward American race-based slavery. We have had multi-racial congregations, black men on sessions in primarily white congregations, and vice-versa.

    Yet even we have not been free from this sin.

    It's well-known that until fairly recently a black minister could only be acceptable in our Selma, AL, congregation. And, of course, until about the 1950s a black minister could not possibly have any place of real responsibility in Presbytery or Synod. One only needs to consult back Minutes.

    Our racism was a little more "gentle", I suppose. "We have to take care of those poor darkies." Gentler, yes, but condescending, obnoxiously patronizing, and ultimately racist. And it wasn't always *quite* so gentle.

    Synod, in 1997, had to publicly apologize to the widows of two men who had gone to our Seminary and were treated shamefully by the President and Board of the RP Seminary. Several students risked academic or social sanction by treating these men decently. I'm thankful things are *better* now. Much better. But it's only God's grace.

    And I wonder how many people in my denomination know much about the Black church. I wonder how many could name, say, five historically Black denominations. I wonder how many would know the names of, say, the saintly ministers John Chavis and Francis Grimke, both useful Presbyterian ministers from the past. I wonder how many know of the treatment that the Rev. Solomon Kingston or the Rev. Lawrence Bottoms received in our Synod.

    For purposes of full disclosure -- I'm white. Of Jewish ancestry. I did not grow up Covenanter. I joined as a senior in seminary at WTS/Philly 35 years ago. I've been a member of the PCUSA (both pre-1958 PCUSA iteration and the UPCUSA variant from 1958-1977), the PCUS as an associate member at the Lexington VA PC while a student at Washington and Lee U, and the OPC while a student at Westminster/Philly.

  • Mr. Bradley,

    I'm curious if you would second james' comments above from June 2, 2013? Is that what you were intending to say?

  • Dennis, that's good insight. I hope the book is helpful!

  • Anthony Bradley, I was inspired to buy your LBT for Kindle after reading this. Looks like a great introduction. You may be aware that our black population is very, very low in WV. When Mark Robinson comes to visit me, our population almost doubles in the town where I pastor. Because of our lack of a black population, we often live and feel like racism is a non-issue for us, but my guess is that it is so systemic in WVians that we lack the ability to step outside ourselves to see how pervasive it is. We are at the least severely handicapped in our ability to identify, understand, and sympathize with the black experience.

  • Dan, thanks for listening and not immediately resisting.

  • Thank you once again. You keep encouraging me to learn from those who are different than I am. Sorry and troubled by your and others experiences, humbled by my own complicit ignorance way too much of the time. Keep up the good work. Many are served.

  • Kevin, oh yeah, I'm sure you have some stories!!

  • I recall some experiences while attending a southern baptist seminary

  • Wow great read about your book I will purchase it. For too long racism in religion has been experienced and expressed but really never exposed to confront

  • The Op Ed is a beautiful and greatly needed voice in our circles. I hope the author does not stop his ministry to us with this one book.

  • It makes perfect sense that Racism would be alive and well within Calvinism. It is, after all, mainly the Calvinists that defended slavery, and its the Pelagianization of American Christianity that led to the abolition movement. Everyone is created equal is not a Calvinist slogan! You've got a separation into elect and non-elect, and oh how easy to turn those into racial categories, as Calvinism indeed did during the years in which that Pelagian abolition movement came out.

    How was the abolition movement Pelagian, you asks? Judgement based on works. Let's judge people based on the content of their character, not their skin color which is something that God chose in a cosmic lottery. It directly parallels the Pelagian belief that good people go to heaven and bad people don't, and that this is not based on anything that God chose (like skin color, or elect/non-elect status) but what we chose, how we lived out life.

    Calvinism is all about judging people for what God chose about them rather than how they chose to live their life. God chose to make this guy white and this other guy black, just as in Calvinism he chose to make one elect and the other non-elect. But in Pelagianism God's choice is irrelevant: our choice is what matters. How we live our life is what matters. And instead of choosing who goes to heaven or hell at the beginning, as in Calvinism, Pelagians belive that God chooses at the end based on the "content of our character": Pelagianism is the fulfillment of Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream!

  • Radical! Spectacular vernacular!

  • Hi Wilcyn, yes it's true. In Kuyper's Princeton lectures he make offensive comments on race in several places. From the a black church perspective it means that Kuyper has to be read with a careful and critical mind.

  • Thanks for the encouragement John!!

  • I am terribly sorry and heartbroken and ashamed. This was not evenon my radar screen. I have quoted Kuyper from his Princeton lectures in which he encouraged interracial marriage. I never picked up that he made comments to the contrary. I would like to know more. From what you say, he did not go far enough... I pray that the Lord will forgive us and continue His work of sanctification of His church and that He will bring healing and consolation and strength to those whom we have so deeply wounded.

  • Thumbs up!

  • Like this article.

  • Book: "Unreached: Growing churches in working-class and deprived areas [in the UK, where the urban poor & working classes are white]" by Tim Chester.

    "Think of the thriving evangelical churches in your area, and the chances are that they will be in the nice areas of town and their leaders will be middle class. Unreached is about reaching deprived, urban, working-class areas, a.k.a "white trash." (in the UK).

    I was just introduced to this book. (Warning: I'll be talking about it a lot when I get back, lol). This book will explain why graduates of Reformed seminaries generally have no idea how to apply the Text to working class folks (of any race). If Presbyterians can't reach working class & poor whites in the US there is no reason to believe they can reach the same class of people across the racial spectrum. It's an easy read and explains a lot.

  • Peter repeatedly practiced prejudice against gentiles, yet I have quoted him. David was a murderer yet wrote many of the psalms, most chritstians don't have a problem quoting them. MLK was an adulterer, yet people don't seem to mind quoting the "I have a dream" speech. Why so hard on puritan writers? I understand many were racist, does that nullify everything they said?

  • Very good

  • I like this.

  • As someone who grew up in non-white America, I get it.

  • Share this story!

  • As always, thank you for the reports you bring to us on Journey !!

    Thank you Professor Bradley for the "heads up"!! We in the evangelical Christian world so often think of ourselves as leaders of Christian mission. However, with the kind of track record you describe so well, it is clear we have a long way to go, especially in the diverse world culture that now is in our midst, not just on the other side of the world.

    God bless you in your future endeavors.

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