CERTAIN FORMS OF Christianity have long shared space with the political and nationalist Right in the United States. The history of white racist religion in the U.S. has also followed the line of a nativist ideology informed by a certain understanding of U.S. Protestant Christianity.
In the 1920s, the Ku Klux Klan sought to preserve Anglo-Protestant supremacy in the U.S.—especially in the face of immigrants from outside Western Europe. Later arose a particular form of racist ideology known as the “Christian Identity” movement, influential in racist organizations into the 1990s.
More recently, racialized Christian mythologies are no longer the dominant ideologies motivating white supremacists. Why has Christianity become problematic for white nationalists?
My own research reveals that Christianity is a problem for many American white nationalists because it is regarded by them as an ideology that weakens the allegedly natural instincts for racial preservation. The main objections to Christianity from contemporary white nationalists have been that 1) Christianity is of Jewish origins, and 2) that Christianity teaches, ultimately, values such as universal brotherhood of all people and the responsibility for everyone to care for one another. These are values that white nationalists have labeled “socialism” and ultimately alien to white racial nationalism.
In many conversations I’ve had with my friends who are people of color, it’s clear the church has set itself up in America to mostly benefit a certain kind of person. The white American church is a Western version of the gospel that often manifests as a top-down model that benefits the wealthy. And the more that I learn about my own Native American identity tied to the church, the more I see that truth throughout our nation’s history.
Lately, we’ve heard a lot about threats to religious freedom in the U.S. We don’t have to look very far to see the consequences of this truth: Attacks on mosques and temples have been consistently rising, and many fear for their physical safety due to their expressions of faith. Yet in November 2016, many Christians reported voting according to fears that their religious freedoms were in danger. On Thursday, the president signed an executive order purportedly to expand “religious liberty,” aimed at protecting Christian freedoms and extending their churches’ political power — which begs the question: Are Christians in the U.S. being religiously persecuted? It depends on who you ask. No really.
The American Christian church once again finds itself at odds with itself, especially in the aftermath of the election of Donald Trump. On all sides, there are a lot of questions. To understand where we are, we must look at where we’ve been ...
Since the election of President Donald Trump, many Christians are asking: How could so many Christ-followers agree with actions that are so decisively un-Christlike? Many Christians are struggling to understand how two things that are diametrically opposed to one another — Trump’s policies versus following the gospel of Christ — can be possibly reconciled.
WHAT DO YOU do when the democratic process delivers the power of the presidency to an authoritarian leader with the strategic impulse control of a 2-year-old?
Here are a few responses I’ve observed.
OPTION 1: The Ostrich. Bury one’s head in the sand until the annoyances pass. The virulent rhetoric of Mr. Trump’s campaign, combined with his appointees and advisers, make this option available only to men of European decent. (White women may cover their heads, but shouldn’t bury them completely.)
OPTION 2: The Spaniel. Fluff up one’s coat and appear clean and eager on the doorstep of the new master. Hope for the best; hope for a bone. This option is supported by many who are well-meaning, are part of the political elite, or are dangerously naive.
OPTION 3: The Cockroach. When the light comes on, scatter into the street with a sign saying “Not My President.” Or simply hide in a dark corner hoping to pass the coming wrath undetected. This escape behavior is instinctual in creatures that are startled or undeveloped.
Since the wee hours of Nov. 9, I’ve exhibited most of these behaviors myself.
But as a Christian, I’m not allowed to live in illusions for long. In Paul’s “letter of tears,” written to the fledgling church at Corinth, he wrote, “We cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth” (2 Corinthians 13:8). Therefore, existing in a “post-truth” state is not an option.
Americans are deeply disillusioned about the state of our nation. The fundamental optimism of the “American dream” has not matched reality for at least three generations. American optimism has always been partly delusion, as evidenced by the experiences of those defined outside of it or on whose backs the “great good” was built.
An election, however, is supposed to be a tool for the nonviolent transfer and distribution of power, not a therapy session to deal with disillusionment.
THE WORLD INTO WHICH we preachers cast our voices is already the world claimed, sought, and being reclaimed by Christ. For a white preacher to risk talk about race is an act of faith in the transformative resourcefulness of the Trinity. When it comes to the great divine-human contest with our sin, including our sin of racism, God will have the last word: “Come to me” conjoined with “Follow me.”
While preaching can’t do everything, God has chosen preaching as weapon of choice in the divine invasion and reclamation of creation. Theologian Richard Lischer says that Martin Luther King Jr. “believed that the preached Word performs a sustaining function for all who are oppressed, and a corrective function for all who know the truth but lead disordered lives. He also believed that the Word of God possesses the power to change hearts of stone.”
Preaching is one of the means through which God defeats our natural narcissism.
Theology, not anthropology
Much of my church family wallows in the mire of moral, therapeutic deism, a “god” whom the modern world has robbed of all agency. Ta-Nehisi Coates begins his riveting Between the World and Me by announcing that he is an atheist. Between the World and Me is an honest but brutal, sorrowing, eloquent, hopeless lament for the intractability of American racism. Coates castigates those African Americans who speak of hope and forgiveness.
Nearly 9 percent of men in the U.S. have daily feelings of anxiety and depression, and fewer than half of those men seek help. That’s 5.5 million men who battle mental illness each day, alone. And suicide is the second leading cause of death for men aged 10-34.
A new short film from MTV, "American Male," explores how social expectations of masculinity afflict male minds — and in particular, the minds of frat guys who feel homoerotic urges they don’t know how to explain or admit. The film follows a muscular white male as he tortures himself for his shoddy beer pong skills, his feminine hand gestures, and his alternative sexuality.
As a wizened old veteran of the fight, I struggle with discouragement sometimes. It is not just that many Christians fail to live up to the clear demands of Christian discipleship. It’s that we can’t even agree on what those demands are. We all say we believe in Jesus, but what we make of that belief is so irreconcilably different that I am not sure that we are in any meaningful way members of the same religious community.
The rising number of people choosing “nothing in particular,“ a subset of the "unaffiliated” label, has raised hackles across the theo-political spectrum, from some fundamentalist evangelicals decrying the de-Christianizing of the nation to more mainline Protestant handwringing over the loss of current and future members from already-struggling denominations.
The problem with this range of views (as far as I’ve read) is that, while certainly broad, it’s pretty shallow. There’s nuance to the “nones.” I can say this with confidence as someone who has drifted across the borders of that category once or twice or every other day. While there are certainly those in the group who don’t care about religion, there are also those with complicated feelings. These are people who still see their lives, maybe all life around them, as uniquely religious. Many have even done the work to interpret such complicated feelings, which is no small task.
It’s important to listen to the stories told through the numbers as well as the untold stories. As a non-American, it is surprising to hear my brothers and sisters throw out phrases like, “the church is in decline,” when what you are referring to is the church in America. The global church is alive and well and thriving in many areas of the world, and what joy it would be to allow their voices to speak into the congregations of the global North. Many of the polarizing, divisive issues in the American church, such as gay marriage, abortion, and the death penalty, are being discussed by the global church outside the context of the binary lenses of the American left and right. These outside voices can serve to soften the rhetoric hurled by each side, and also give perspective to the priority placed on them in light of the problems faced by the global South.
The recently released Pew Research Center Report has revealed that Christianity within the United States is on the decline. Christians are freaking out and the fear mongering has begun — many seeing it as an apocalyptic sign of the moral downfall of our secular society coinciding with a theological weakening caused by “liberalism.”
Everyone seems to have an explanation of the data, and among Christians, the infighting has already begun, with most denominations rationalizing their growth, decline, or stagnancy by offering the same explanation: We’re theologically sound and remaining faithful to God while everyone else is getting it wrong.
What Christians must understand — and accept — about these statistics is that religious data about a country doesn’t accurately reflect its corporate actions pertaining to following Christ.
Unfortunately, American values are often completely in conflict with the Gospel of Jesus.
We point to the Bible and use verses like Romans 13:1-7 to show that it’s actually God-ordained to submit to our governmental authorities and pay taxes, support our military, and proudly back our country’s actions.
We obviously don’t think these same verses apply to other governments, other authorities, and especially not to our enemies’ empires. Surely Romans 13 wasn’t meant for dictatorships, communist regimes, and states that are unfriendly and uncooperative with the U.S. Citizens of those nations should revolt, rebel, and join our cause—that Biblical text is only applicable to an American government, in an American society, benefitting American citizens.
Imagine how we would react if our faith in God superseded our national identity?
As Congress makes a final attempt this fall to act on comprehensive immigration reform, the debate is focusing on “securing” our borders and offering a path to citizenship to the 11 million residents here without proper documentation. These politicized arguments, however, don’t see the forest for the trees.
We’re not viewing the broader impact that immigration has had on American society, especially since the last major immigration reform of the 1960s. In particular, we’re missing the way immigration is transforming the religious life of North America.
We commonly view immigration as introducing large numbers of non-Christian religions into U.S. society. True, because of immigration in the last half century, America has become the most religiously diverse country in the world, with thousands of mosques and temples dotting our religious landscape.
1) You Love To Argue, Fight, And Attack
There’s nothing quite like flooding people’s Facebook feeds with posts about the sins of gay marriage, abortion, and the Democratic Party or the volleyed claims of bigotry, hypocrisy, and self-interest.
American Christians seemingly love to argue with people and engage themselves in various culture wars. Whether it’s about the existence of global warming, prayer in schools, evolution, gun control, or homosexuality, you love to let people know that you’re RIGHT and they’re WRONG. Oh yeah, and if you don’t agree with me —You’re going to hell! Literally.
Your main forms of communication include boycotting, accusing, yelling, screaming, pointing, spewing, slandering, shaming, shaking your fists, and waving protest signs. In fact, you’ll probably write a venomous response to this piece in the comments section below.
"Can we watch a video with that guy who has the weird hair and the dark rimmed glasses?" -Member of My Youth Group
"Love wins the in the sense that God’s will is the reconciliation of all things—the soul, the body, the earth, the cosmos, and everything in it." -James Wellman, Rob Bell and a New American Christianity, 59.
American Christianity is experiencing a theological shift. Many have tried to explain it, sometimes making the shift far more confusing than it actually is. Fortunately, the shift can be explained quite simply, and while it may be new to American Christianity, it is actually very old. Indeed, it dates back 2,000 years. The shift boils down to the two theological axioms of the New Testament, both found in the letter 1 John:
“God is light and in him there is no darkness at all” (1:5) and “God is love” (4:8 and 16).
Those statements, while simple, are far from simplistic. John was bold in affirming these statements. He knew he had to give it to us straight – probably because he and the other disciples had a hard time understanding what Jesus meant in his teachings and parables. So, John cut to the chase and simply claimed that Jesus reveals, “God is love and God is light. There is absolutely no darkness within God.”
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