White Christianity — Ignoring the Stains
In light of the conservative Christian responses to Charlottesville and yet another heavily racially charged incident… I am finding myself more and more frustrated with the current Christian Conservative right (A feat I didn’t think possible after this last year or two). It made me think of an analogy…
We all have the friend, you know, the one that refuses to take any kind of advice or correction. Maybe it’s the loud chewer, the over-reacting emotional one, or that friend who so rudely interrupts everyone, or takes your stuff without asking then breaks it and returns it saying “it was broken”. Yet when you confront them, they do the same thing… harsh and emotional responses or overreactions. There is no reasoning with them, not honest and hard conversations, no working through issues to mature and move forward. Instead it’s a vicious cycle, one that’s fueled by a refusal to address what’s really going on. One that’s fed by a fear of facing the demons, admitting to brutal mistakes... the very kind of things that make and push a person to grow — to be better.
This kind of utter refusal is a very large part of what we are seeing in modern Christian culture today. A refusal to do an honest “self assessment” and engage in a conversation that could bring change. Richard Rohr said it so well, in early 2016 and is even more true today:
“The evangelical support of Trump will be an indictment against its validity as a Christian movement for generations to come.”~ Richard Rohr
While the temptation is to try and dismiss this support or the common responses as fringe. To write off the crazy Alt-Right supporters as outsiders, not “really Christians”, or just confused and angry does a serious disservice. In fact it’s downright dishonest. All of us, anyone who has grown up in almost any predominantly white American Church, know the reality of the inherent biases, prejudices, and lack of diversity within those buildings or communities. Everyone of us knows that those people standing in the rallies, holding nazi flags, and donning white hoods… they are those people sitting in the pews next to many of you. Just as they were back in the violence filled days of segregation, they are right there mixed among the seats of so many conservative Christian churches today. It’s time we stop pretending that this is not the case.
We’ve heard this loud, and so often tone deaf response over and over again.
We heard the responses to Black Lives Matter — as All Live Matter.
We hear the same response to Colin Kapernick (a young mixed — but seen as Black- Christian man) — as “sit down boy”.
We heard the response when Trump said… well anything “it’s ok, he believes in Christian values… not matter what he says.
We heard it at the Protests and rallies about Police Brutality — as “why do they have to do X”.
We heard it at the death of Micheal Brown — as “What did he do, why did he resist? Was he a thug?”
We hear it in the continued support of the death penalty — as supporting the lynching of black men who make up 12% of our nation’s population and yet 50% of the prison population.
We heard it the loudest as sheer and total silence at the deaths of Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, and Philando Castille. Innocent black men, all murdered with no consequences.
For a group that claims the God of Justice, a message of love, and to hold the truth of “good news”… They seem to have a funny way of looking at it. More so, it is becoming brutally evident to those of us once asleep to this reality that the modern Christian (specifically the white Evangelical and Baptist) traditions are not just “struggling with an issue” but they are fundamentally confused and possibly infected. While many white Christians spend much time claiming “I’m not racist” or “I don’t see color”, it’s clear they do. They congregations show it. And if they truly don’t see color… that’s only because your congregations don’t have any. (Unless you count the new fancy lighting to go along with your hip music service.)
However to call this a new phenomenon, one arising in the last decade or with Trump, is to completely miss history. The sin of racism, of white oppression for white gain (See: “Black Labor & White Wealth” — Claud Anderson) is far from new. It’s actually ingrained in our blood.
“If anyone is sister and brother, that is black and white people in America. For 260 years we have built this country, and between that and lynching and the Civil Rights movement… this is something we have to talk about. Black bodies hanging on trees, that’s ugly.” — James Cone
We seen it since the slave trade, and this oppression and exploitation was at the country’s core and integral to economics in the South. This bled into and shaped much of both southern white and Black theologies… it’s no wonder why white southern theology talks so much of power and dominance, while black theology talks of freedom and Justice. Today this trend continues, and we carry the burden of that sin. It’s ingrained in our country’s history and DNA, it’s a very real part of how we are still operating as a country. (For more on this see the works of: Michelle Alexander — The New Jim Crowe, and the numerous works of sociologists W.E.B Dubois and Julius Wilson.)
The problem is, and why I write this with such frustration is I continue to see white people, especially white conservative Christians deny this. They deny that there are racists among them. That racism, prejudice and xenophobia them. That in their pews are people who believe in some very dangerous ideas about God, about a Jesus who teaches ways of dominance and power. The reality is until we address this, until we call out and root out this kind of theology and ideas about God there won’t be any change. Congregations will remain segregated, white Christians will continue to ignore and be ignorant of what their brothers and sisters of Color have to say about faith and life. They will remain segregated. They will remain in places of power… which I’m sure if we are honest we all know this is what many white Christians really want. BUT whatever the case may be until we begin to be really, brutally honest about this then it won’t change.
“When America can see itself as one, not just the South, then we can figure out how we can overcome racism. You can’t overcome something if you don’t acknowledge it. I see lynchings today in the prison system, I see it everywhere.” — James Cone
The hardest part, however, is that this means a drastic change in perspectives. It takes losing the view of Christian supremacy. It means losing an overwhelming sense of self importance. It means losing the idea that we have it all figured it out, and that truth is yours to dispense. It means being humble and listening. It means shutting up and asking why? It means seeing things from a different perspective… which means stopping the rants and arguments and asking our brothers and sisters of color why, and what it’s like for them. It means drastically changing how we are in the world… it means we must see it from the perspective of Jesus, a Jesus who radically defined how power and faith operated.
“When you ask… where was God when those men were hanging on the lynching tree? You see, you’re seeing it from the perspective of those who win. You have to see it from the perspective of those who have no power. In fact God is love because it’s his power in your life that lets you know you can resist the definitions of those being placed on you. God is that power that enables you to resist, even when you have no power.” — James Cone