This Rapper Might Be America’s Next Evangelical Leader

The image of a superstar rapper — his last album hit No. 1 on the Billboard 200 — preaching to a bunch of white evangelical pastors isn’t the only seemingly contradictory scene in which Lecrae appears

“Cruising Manhattan in the back of a stretch black SUV on a recent afternoon, pin-balling from one corner of the American culture war to another as he promotes his book, Lecrae Devaughn Moore knows he presents a new evangelical archetype. And he loves it.”

 

The black rap star came on the white evangelical’s radio talk show to discuss his memoir, a tale of surviving drugs, crime and sexual abuse. Only a few days after its release last month, the book by Grammy-winner Lecrae had already hit the New York Times bestseller list.

But within a couple of minutes, the interview took a turn.

Host Eric Metaxas raised a controversy from a few days earlier, when liberal black comic Larry Wilmore used the n-word to refer to President Obama at the White House correspondents’ dinner.

“Can I say what he said to the president of the United States?” the preppily dressed, 53-year-old Metaxas asked his younger, T-shirt-wearing guest. “Surely if he said that to the president of the United States, I can say it?”

“I’m pretty sure that’s not a good idea,” Lecrae said gently. Lecrae then chuckled and the collegial interview went on, just two traditional evangelicals chit-chatting about the greatness of God.

It was classic Lecrae: deflecting, attempting to avoid the deep gulfs among Christians that have been laid bare by the candidacy of Donald J. Trump. His skill at resetting conversations about race has made Lecrae one of the biggest musical stars alive among his fellow evangelicals — white ones in particular, who make up three-quarters of this huge faith group. Yet this fan base, Lecrae is finding, is complex — and combustible. The 6-foot-4, smiley former drug dealer has become a lightning rod as his stature as an evangelical leader has risen. He is trying to navigate those who embrace his increasingly nuanced approach to burning social issues and those who think the Christian rapper is in the process of selling out.

Long-standing assumptions about American Christianity are exploding in public every day of this divisive campaign season.

Is an evangelical someone who prioritizes fighting abortion and gay marriage or instead a pragmatist who looks for middle ground? Does it go against Christian values to support a candidate who wants to deport Muslims and who uses “Mexican” as a slur? And is there an “evangelical” position on police treatment of blacks in 2016?

Cruising Manhattan in the back of a stretch black SUV on a recent afternoon, pin-balling from one corner of the American culture war to another as he promotes his book, Lecrae Devaughn Moore knows he presents a new evangelical archetype. And he loves it.

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