Detroit, Michigan

A Faustian Bargain: Calvin Moore and Kent Straith

First Recorded

May 9, 2017


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Calvin Moore and Kent Straith—raised in the Pentecostal Church and the Baptist Church, respectively—feel a disconnect with the morality of institutional Christianity and focus more on their personal faith. In this conversation, the friends discuss the relationship between race, religion, and the common good in wake of the 2016 U.S. presidential election. 

This story was produced by David Dault at Sandburg Media, LLC.

This story is a part of the American Pilgrimage Project, a conversation series that invites Americans of diverse backgrounds to sit together and talk to each other one-to-one about the role their religious beliefs play at crucial moments in their lives. The interview was recorded by StoryCorps, a national nonprofit whose mission is to preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world.

Calvin Moore and Kent Straith

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Calvin Moore: I'm still in this weird place because I feel like a Black man trapped in white evangelical culture where the theology comes from tends to be from white ivory towers of religion. And I don't think that it's incorrect, but then I feel like a stranger in a strange land when I enter into a Black church. But I also am only able to talk about racial issues in a white church if asked by leadership. If I bring it up, I am making it more about race than about the Gospel. That's always problematic for me.

Kent Straith: There is a woman who I've known for going on 20 years, and she was a worship leader in our church and she approached me in the month before the election saying, I know that you and I disagree about a lot of things, but you know, let's talk about it. And we would ask each other questions and we went back and forth probably six or eight times, Facebook Messenger, just posing questions to each other and to try and find some common ground. And I thought it was a great experience. And then on the afternoon of November 8, 2016, she posted a Facebook photo of herself wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat after leaving the polling place.

And the caption was never been prouder. And that may have been the saddest moment of my life.

Calvin Moore: So what I'm trying to get at is not necessarily people voting against how I feel people should vote. That's what makes America great is the fact that you can vote different ways and you can disagree and find a better way to serve your neighbor. That's ultimately what I think politics is about. But when you sacrifice Christian morality, the things that we say are good, are right, are righteous at the end and you accept the things that are wrong, that is problematic.

Kent Straith: There is a story from the gospels that is so well-known, that it's known around, I think, in secular culture. As Jesus was beginning his ministry, he took some time for himself, then went into the desert to commune with God and to fast. And there he met what we can assume is a physical incarnation of Satan who took him to the highest mountain in the land and said, “All of this can be yours, everything in the valley below can be yours if you simply will bow down and worship me.” That is what I feel that the church that I grew up with has done in their search for...

Calvin Moore: They accepted it.

Kent Straith: They accepted the bargain that Jesus turned down. You can have the power and you can have the cultural influence and you can have the policy that you want, but you have to give up all traces of moral authority.

Calvin Moore: And because of that's literally on a day-to-day basis, it depends on a good day or bad day. But on the bad days, apologetics is the only thing that keeps me holding on, knowing that this faith makes rational sense of the world as it comes to us over and against other religions, other faiths. And I know that's really dicey to say in our culture, but it was dicey to say back then, too. That's the kind of thing that keeps me holding on, and you and I have gone back and forth as to the value of that kind of study, but that's really the value at the end of the day, helping people answer questions.

But also, when you see people do dumb things that make you want to jettison the faith, knowing where else can I go, you alone have the words of life. That's what Jesus said when all the people decided to abandon him, and he asked the disciples, “Aren't you going to leave too?” And they said, “We're also ready to go.” And so, when I want to abandon, there's nowhere else for me to go, nothing else is spiritually or intellectually satisfying for me in terms of faith than the Christian faith.

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