Time For Jesus-Loving Churches to Resist White Supremacy, Patriarchy, Homophobia, and Anti-Judaism
The rise of Trumpism on a wave of resurgent White Supremacy — buoyed by majority support in the three largest sectors of American Christianity (Roman Catholic, Evangelical and Mainline Protestant) — constitutes a crisis of faith. The pastor of the latest White Nationalist terrorist said it well: “We can’t pretend as though we didn’t have some responsibility for him — he was radicalized into white nationalism from within the very midst of our church.”
The church in question is not an outlier on the American religious landscape: it teaches that women should be subordinate to men, that same-gender love and gender transition is perverse. And I’d wager it has not openly called out the danger of White Supremacy or the tendency of Christians to make Jesus look better by making Judaism look worse. This is all remarkably standard fare in churches all over the country.
Of the three largest faith sectors in America, some of the historic mainline Protestant denominations (Episcopal, Presbyterian Church USA, Evangelical Lutheran Church, United Churches of Christ) have national policies that support gender equality, marriage equality, and national statements that decry White Supremacy and anti-Judaism in Christian teaching. But 52% of white mainline Protestants voted to elect Donald Trump in 2016. Even in politically liberal communities, congregations in what are regarded (by Evangelicals) as liberal denominations have plenty of Trump voters. The institutions are in membership decline, and many local clergy are reluctant to offend these congregants … so in many cases, mum’s the word on anything that might do that. Remember, church-goers “get their church” from Sunday morning attendance, not from reading the denominational policies and pronouncements generated by study groups every two years.
Don’t look for this to change anytime soon.
That means we need new churches with a clear sign on their bus: to follow Jesus faithfully in these times requires — demands, he’s the boss — that we resist the rise of White Supremacy (and yes, reparations would just be making amends a la Step 6 in Alcoholics Anonymous) preach and practice the full equality of women in society and the church, renounce practices that discriminate against LGBTQ people, and educate congregations on the insidious consequences of making Jesus look good by making Judaism look bad.
If this sounds to the suspicious ear like a grab-bag of liberal talking points, well, truth-telling is always contested with guilt-by-association claims — and especially in these times. But I’m talking about a distinctively Jesus-centered approach. I’m talking about drilling into the meaning of the gospel in our time, reading Scripture with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, promoting practices that help ordinary people make personal contact with the God Jesus reveals, and following the Jesus who calls us to identify with the oppressed, not add to their misery. I’m talking about less studying of Bible commentaries written by privileged white men whose faith cost them nothing, and more studying of the perspectives of those for whom the Bible was written — marginalized, oppressed people.
And no, that doesn’t mean these churches are Sunday morning political rallies. It means worship that opens a door to a divine presence that can be felt and touched and adored and celebrated. It means teaching, yes, from the Hebrew Scriptures and Apostolic Writings, that engage and challenge and tell stories and move people who want to be moved. It means giving space for personal testimony —in which we acknowledge and embrace our shared vulnerabilities to find God in the mix. It means celebrating communion as the unveiling of a crucified savior whose resurrection signals the divine vindication of all scapegoated people everywhere — and calls all the ring-leading and silently acquiescing members of scapegoating mobs to renounce their scapegoating ways and join the ranks of Scapegoaters Anonymous. Because we’re all pursuing recovery as if our own souls depended on it. And it means doing stuff beyond Sunday— staffing food pantries, helping immigrants under pressure, organizing for justice in the public sphere, loving family members and work colleagues, making meals for people just out of the hospital after surgery or new babies. Not everyone doing everything until we’re all exhausted, but everyone doing something — according to our God-given gifts, abilities, and opportunities — for the common good and the greater glory of God.
Nothing about this is theoretical for Emily Swan and me, who went through an ordeal together, along with the founding members of our five year old congregation, Ann Arbor Blue Ocean Church. In our previous congregation, the one I founded, Emily was publicly outed by our former Evangelical denomination, and I was let go for not agreeing to fire her. The policies of this denomination are the same as the United Methodist Church: pastors who do gay weddings or ordinations are punished. We refused to go along with the policies, paid the price, and started a new church together with allies who turned their backs on the comforts of their beloved Christian community to join us in the wilderness where Jesus does some of his best work.
And in the wilderness, we’ve been realizing what a pressure cooker we were in— ensconced, as we were, in a Christianity organized to coddle donors who didn’t want to pay the price of being in a church with an openly gay pastor. We lost those donors, we lost the building raised with funds in two capital campaigns that I led, but we regained our freedom and our souls. We were organized around fear and anxiety, not the yearnings of the Spirit.
Now we realize our task is not tending to the institutional needs of churches resisting the work of the Spirit in our day. Our task is not to nudge such institutions another 2 steps forward in the 100-year-plan to be a little better. The times we live in call for something else. Our task is to follow Jesus today where he leads us.
It’s joyful, it’s hard work, it’s inspiring, it’s painful to see and share in the trauma of people suffering under the powers gaining steam in our society … and it’s worth it. We feel more in love with the God Jesus reveals. We feel more energized studying Scripture with new lenses as we prep for Sunday morning. We feel honored to share in the lives and stories of the people we worship with. A third have been stigmatized by the homophobic policies that still rule in most churches and many of the straight people lost friends or family favor, in order to support a church with a gay pastor. That searing experience has opened our hearts to the experience of oppressed minorities under covert racism and rising White Supremacy. It doesn’t mean we’re woke, but it means we’re waking up together. And we notice other people here and there, leaving their anxious institutions behind, compelled by a similar vision. Better late than never.