The Theology of White Supremacy
After I stood up at my Lutheran church’s national assembly in New Orleans last month and called my fellow white Christians to repent by using the words white supremacy, I was cautioned by a fellow white man:
“That’s a pretty intense term. Surely there’s nobody here who’s a white supremacist?”
Well, I explained (whitemansplaining to a white man, one of my favorite things) there’s [probably] no one here with a swastika on their cross necklace, sure. But the theology of white supremacy is alive and well, I promise.
And we too often refuse to call white supremacy for what it is — a demonic interpretation of the real, radical, and raw Jesus Movement.
No, it’s not just from alt-right philosophers who have effectively made neo-Nazism and white nationalism into a bourgeois, respectable position (one thinks of Ryan Gosling’s chilling portrayal in The Believer).
It’s not just from fringe websites or white men in the Ozarks with coded white supremacist tattoos living in crushing poverty.
The theology of white supremacy was born long ago, and has been fed, nourished, and subtly/proudly raised within a white Christianity too afraid to rise up and call a thing what it is.
To trace white supremacist theology, we can go back to the time before chattel slavery was deeply embedded within the structure of these United States, and the notion was being toyed with in the depths of 17th-century Puritanism.
We can see white supremacist statements used outright by clergy from their powerful pulpits, like the 19th-century Baptist Rev. R. Furman: “The right of holding slaves is clearly established in the Holy Scriptures, both by precept and example.”
We can even look to the very documents written to justify the secession of a secular body — in this case, my home state of Texas in 1845 — from the Union into the failed white supremacist State called the Confederacy:
…in this free government all white men are and of right ought to be entitled to equal civil and political rights; that the servitude of the African race, as existing in these States, is mutually beneficial to both bond and free, and is abundantly authorized and justified by the experience of mankind, and the revealed will of the Almighty Creator, as recognized by all Christian nations…
But that was then, right? There’s no way white supremacy continues within Christian theology today…right?
Given its history, this demonic theology need only be allowed to do its own thing, lurking in the corner of our glorified-country-club Christian churches— because when we simply allow this God-despising philosophy to go unchallenged, it only gets stronger.
But the thing is, this white supremacy is not just a system backed by relatively obscure and violently misguided Biblical references — it’s also fully and completely woven into the very fabric of American Christianity.
Images of the radical Palestinian Jewish peasant who led a renewal movement in first-century Galilee are so thoroughly, systemically, and unquestionably white in churches across our country, it is now taken as nothing less than gospel truth.
It’s not just churches, either — here are ten actors who play Jesus in films spanning the decades and across several continents:
This is more than casting choices. When Jesus of Nazareth is whitewashed into a European man, then the body of Christ is re-written and re-formed into a surrogate of white supremacy and its most ardent supporter.
Of course Jesus is white, this theology says — he’s Jesus. How could such a supreme figure not be white? Now, it might be rare to hear this specific claim from the pulpit today (though not impossible), but the theology is no less rampant in our Christian communities — especially the more white supremacy and its legions of demons goes unchallenged and unchecked.
Today, white supremacy is on display at more than just crazed Trump rallies. It is being nurtured in its very birthplace: white American Christianity.
Just like white supremacy itself, this theology has adapted to function in its current context.
Sometimes it’s perfectly satirized, like in the 2004 film Saved!, when Mandy Moore’s character is so perfectly annoyed and blasé when challenged by her brother about Jesus’ identity.
Sometimes it’s word vomit from a place of complete, culture-and-society-fueled ignorance, in which too many modern Christians today take part:
That word vomit isn’t just on Twitter: it comes from the halls of power, as a sitting Congressman from Iowa displayed during the 2016 (not 1916 or 1816) Republican National Convention, when asked on national television to clarify his comments about “sub-groups” that have contributed to civilization. Did he mean white people? Steve King (R-IA) responds:
Western civilization itself. It’s rooted in Western Europe, Eastern Europe and the United States of America and every place where the footprint of Christianity settled the world. That’s all of Western civilization.
This is today’s face of white supremacy, dressed up in a suit and tie, praising Jesus all the live-long day, rooted in a vague notion of “Judeo-Christian” values and Western “civilization.”
And this is everywhere.
Sure, we don’t have swastikas dangling from our crosses, but we too often refuse to call white supremacy for what it is — and end up giving it a free pass in the process.
When we fill our worship spaces with exclusively white depictions of Jesus without ever challenging them (especially among children), then our theology is quietly propping up white supremacy.
When we continue to ignore the suffering of our Palestinian Christian (and Muslim) cousins living under occupation in the Holy Land — admitting that we would never turn our backs on fellow Christians if their skin were white — then our theology is propping up white supremacy.
When we refuse to condemn a national discourse that obsessively wonders about Barack Obama’s Christian identity (and demonizing his former prophetic pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright) while never questioning Donald Trump’s — even when he freely admits to not giving a shit about core aspects of Christianity like loving our enemies and confession & forgiveness (not to mention an astounding ignorance of its holy book) — then our theology is propping up white supremacy.
White supremacy is being unmasked, in our country and around the world, for what it really is. The Greek term is apocalypse: an unveiling.
The biblical book of Revelation is an example of that ancient genre, and it unapologetically and unabashedly called out Rome for being an empire of death, pursuing its anti-God agenda across the known world.
Today’s apocalypse, unmasking white supremacy as a sickness, is happening right now in our society— will we, as the church, step up and call it out?
Or will we continue to enable it, sacrificing true, biblical, God-ordained justice on the altar of comfort and good order?