Why are thousands of churchgoing Christians supporting a political agenda that would ban immigrants from our shores, ignore growing income inequality, demean women and fail to address climate change?

David Gushee, the outgoing president of the American Academy of Religion, has a one-word answer to that question: racism.

“What many white Christians worship most faithfully is ourselves, our beloved whiteness, the nostalgia of white communities that we remember and envision, and the white God that we have made in our own image,” Gushee told academy members meeting in Denver last weekend for their annual conference. This worship of whiteness, he charged, had nothing “to do with Jesus of Nazareth,” and “leads us wide open to the idolatry of Donald Trump.”

Nevertheless, Gushee, like the thousands of progressive, largely Christian religious leaders and thinkers who gathered in Denver, continues to believe not only that religion can bring us together, but also that its potential to heal has never been more needed.


Jim Wallis, a longtime social activist and religious leader, said that not only white evangelicals, but also white mainline Protestants and Catholics, needed to understand their complicity in the nation’s polarization and dissension. “When the operative word in ‘white Christian’ is not ‘Christian’ but ‘white,’ we are in dangerous trouble, not just politically, but theologically and spiritually,” he warned.

Political engagement is important, but it is not sufficient, Wallis said in an interview following his speech. People of faith must “go deeper,” into their own religious practices, into their relationships with others, “breaking out” of “racialized” neighborhood boundaries and increasing their “proximity” to the most vulnerable, the poor and immigrants.