White Christian Nationalism — Not Secularism — Is Destroying America | Sojourners

White Christian Nationalism — Not Secularism — Is Destroying America

Image via Shutterstock/ Evan Al-Amin

Tens of millions of Americans — and most of its elected leaders — claim to be Christian, and yet we're a country that's completely broken.

This is the state of our “Christian” nation: Our government isn't working, and when it does it’s on behalf of behemoth corporations and influential lobbyists. Elected officials are openly racist, sexist, and xenophobic — without consequence. Police continue to kill people of color and jails have become a modernized form of slavery. The military is mired in endless violence throughout the world, participating in wars far beyond the interests of our citizenry, and defense contractors reap the profits. Teachers are underpaid, schools underfunded, and students underfed, but our president wants to spend billions on a wall he promised our country would never have to pay for.

Despite mass shootings that have killed innocent lives, politicians have represented corporate interests at the expense of public safety, and though white American males are the predominant facilitators of these heinous crimes, partisan rhetoric — in spite of data, factual research, and truth itself — insists that immigrants, refugees, and “foreigners” are the real culprits.

American Christianity brought us to this point. It preached nationalism and sanctified American imperialism — promoting Manifest Destiny as ordained by God. The prosperity gospel baptized capitalistic greed, its preachers vilified the poor, and its theologians manipulated scripture to rationalize global colonialism. Salvation was no longer personified through Jesus, but was redesigned to be a political machine, fueled by its ability to control branches of government. This methodology was packaged as “Christianity,” and the gospel became a message of gaining social power and control rather than a call to follow Jesus’ life of selfless service and sacrifice.

The American church fell into the same failings as the Pharisees of old: obsessed with their holy scripture while completely ignoring the loving God it was intended to direct them to. Instead of focusing on Jesus, it propped itself up as its own deity — ruling, controlling, and judging according to loveless and legalistic doctrines. To protect and maintain this self-serving religion, populist propaganda related to abortion, gun control, patriotism, economic uncertainty, crime, and terrorism are used as dog-whistles to fearfully manipulate Christians away from Jesus’ message of love towards one of exclusion.

This isn’t new. The origins of Christianity in American are stained with genocide and enslavement. White Christendom’s legacy is one of moral failure and intentional evil, consistently being on the wrong side of history. But by refusing to acknowledge its past or educate current parishioners, the white church has attempted to minimize its role. With few exceptions, its built up a self-immunity to guilt, awareness, and dialogue, and any such attempt to confront its past and present failings is dismissed as “radical liberalism,” “progressive partisan rhetoric,” or “cynical complaining.” The pain and trauma caused by all of this cannot be overstated, yet white American Christianity relies on apathy, avoidance, and outright denial in its efforts to preserve its self-righteousness.

When their privileged status quo was recently threatened by the election of a black president, the rise of new civil rights movements, and the empowerment of traditionally maligned segments of society, a massive culture war pitted weakening religious factions against populations they no longer “controlled.” Politically, many white Christians rallied around a man who personifies the American Idol of Nationalism, Populism, and Greed, and they enthusiastically preferred the rallying cry of “Make America Great Again” over the wisdom of “loving your neighbor as yourself.”

So when LGBTQ individuals, people of color, immigrants, refugees, “foreigners,” Muslims, and others faced societal injustices, the white church not only was largely absent from defending them, but it was complicit to their persecution. Instead, it was secular institutions and organizations that fought for equal rights and empowerment, doing unto others what the church didn’t.

To maintain their economic, political, and social majority of white Christian nationalism, moral arguments and “biblical truth” once used to bash previous political opponents no longer applied. Truth is now relative, and God is used as a religious construct to push partisan agendas—no matter how anti-Christian they are. To appear spiritually legitimate, a few church leaders and pastors would be required to support this charade, and to promote their own carnal desires and quell their worldly fears, to placate their parishioners and pander to their desires, this is exactly what many Christians did — and they continue to do so.

The crises we’re currently facing was directly created by —and for the benefit of — the white American church. It’s lost the right to pander moral clichés or offer spiritual platitudes to problems it produced, even though it will inevitably continue to do so. 

This isn’t a plea to return to the church or give “Christianity” another chance, this is a call to confront the broken system that is Colonial Christianity. Violent, abusive, racist, xenophobic, sexist, homophobic, ignorant, corrupt, and legalistic, it looks nothing like Christ.

In the face of such injustices, Jesus became furious and overturned tables. He drove out the moneychangers and condemned the spiritual leaders of his day. We must now do the same, and drive out the many forms of “Christianity” that are oppressive and loveless.

If you can’t fight these forms of destructive “Christianity,” run. Flee from cross-laden buildings that excrete sexism, escape from cultish partisan rhetoric that spews racism and fosters xenophobia, and free yourself from bigoted communities that espouse hate.

If Christianity would rather build a wall to exclude migrants and asylum seekers instead of lovingly accept them, ditch it and don’t look back. If Christian leaders would rather deport their neighbors rather than generously accept them, have nothing to do with them. Because this is what following Christ is: “to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27), and to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and to “Love your neighbor as yourself (Matt. 22:36-40).” So for the love of God and others, give up on Trump and start following Jesus — and abandon any form of Christianity that refuses to do so.

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