Leaders at the forefront of the fight for social justice need to learn to lead courageous dialogue about race.
The continued demise of faith in this nation’s criminal justice system, elected officials, and government will increase wherever injustice is maintained in the name of “doing just enough”. If America is truly to be one nation, it must address and correct its patterns of injustice and persistent denials of full personhood for those who belong in this country and society.
Our conversations about the many challenges confronting us — poverty, immigration, racism, sexism, environmental destruction — must always begin with an acknowledgement of our shared responsibility to care for God’s people and God’s creation.
Hate and racism were so embedded within this religion that the KKK was marketed as a Christian institution, and segregation was endorsed by countless white pastors and their congregations. It’s still so prevalent within white Christianity today that many still refuse to acknowledge systemic racism as a problem. They happily support a president who continually spews racist and xenophobic vitriol, and support policies that continue to be racist and evil.
White evangelical support for Donald Trump has led some black evangelicals to a crisis of faith and ecclesial identification. In this moment, Jemar Tisby has risen as a voice that’s unafraid to challenge white evangelicals’ complicity with racism, forging another path for those feeling alienated. Tisby is currently completing his PhD in history at the University of Mississippi. He is the president of The Witness: A Black Christian Collective, previously known as the Reformed African American Network, and writes widely about racism, the American church, and social justice. In 2017, a New York Times article quoted him saying: “Racism is not a ‘blind spot’ within white evangelicalism. It is part of that tradition’s DNA.” Now, Tisby has published a book tracing that DNA by way of history.
Many white Americans want racial reconciliation to be like Borges’s legend. Like my relative’s friend, they want race and racism to be “over.” They think that Black and indigenous populations should forget that we stole their land and their bodies, made ourselves rich off their goods and their labor. After all, most white people have forgotten these facts. Slavery and manifest destiny are in the past, they protest; the civil rights movement has guaranteed equality for all — it even led to a black president. Instead of listening and entering into dialogue — the true beginning of reconciliation — they square up in the kitchen and declare racism “an excuse.”
While, obviously, not everyone who spreads these memes is endorsing violence, its undeniable that some of the president’s supporters view them as a roadmap for the kind of radical action they believe it will take to “make America great again.” Cesar Sayoc, for example, affixed this very image to the window of his van before he mailed bombs to news outlets, Democratic politicians, and former government officials. And the truth, more broadly, is that we communicate much by what we find “humorous.” Even though many who traffic such imagery would never mail bombs, it strains credulity to say they are entirely disconnected from support for a president who openly wishes he could order the military to rough up migrants at the border, or who endorsed violence against protesters at campaign rallies.
TO MOST WHITE AMERICANS living today, racism has—until recently—managed to keep itself somewhat hidden. For decades, white people perpetuated the myth of an unbiased meritocracy, lauded laws that officially criminalized segregation and discrimination, embraced a token form of multiculturalism, and accepted a tincture of color in their overwhelmingly white world of power.
When Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, the United States tipped but didn’t topple. Klan Wizard David Duke ran for national office several times but never won. Two generations after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the country elected a black president. For 40 years, if you believed you were white, you could act as though the lie of skin superiority was largely a relic of the past.
Racism and white supremacy sold the same lie the devil wants told about all manner of evil: Look at the light; there is nothing in the shadows. All is well, move along.
We know the sentiment better, perhaps, from the 1995 film The Usual Suspects, in which it is said, “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.” The poet Charles Baudelaire, however, first came to this idea in his prose poem “The Generous Gambler.” The narrator of the 1864 poem spins a tale of an evening spent with the devil. They drink and gamble, the devil wins, and the narrator loses his soul. The night ends with the narrator alone in his bed, begging God for mercy.
I left the memorial and museum wondering what will be next? Will my 6- and 8-year-old son’s generation decide to construct memorials to the black men and women who were slain by racialized policing and police violence during the era in which they came of age?
President Trump began his State of the Union speech by recognizing two anniversaries: the 75th anniversary of D-Day, when the American-led invasion of Europe initiated the defeat of the Nazis, and the 50th anniversary of America putting a man on the moon, pointing to astronaut Buzz Aldrin as an invited guest in the gallery. But he left out the most significant 2019 remembrance: the 400th anniversary of the first African slaves sold into human bondage in Jamestown, Va., in August 1619.
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, it’s preachers vilified the poor, and it’s 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.
- I’ve Talked to With Teenage Boys About Sexual Assault for 20 Years. This Is What They Still Don’t Know
“They struggle in the absence of information.”
With Brexit, the chumocrats who drew borders from India to Ireland are getting a taste of their own medicine.
Earlier this week, journalist Yamiche Alcindor asked Donald Trump about whether his rhetoric — and that of his party — emboldened white nationalists. Trump responded, "That's such a racist question." This happened on the same day in which a prominent white nationalist leader posted pictures of himself parading on the White House lawn.
Trump’s response follows a trend. When a reporter asked about his rhetoric contributing to violence, he said: “You're creating violence by your question.” When asked about the offensive ad that he ran in the lead up to the midterms, Trump replied, “Your questions are offensive.”
Our faith is offended by these assaults that contradict the biblical commands to love and protect our neighbors. Our conscience is seared by the lies and strategies of hateful politics that will lead to more and more violence in this country and put the soul of our nation in jeopardy. Words matter and hateful words do lead to violence. Our commitment to our brothers and sisters under attack will lead us to pray, stand, act, and vote against the politics of fear and hate, because of our faith and patriotism.
Shirer’s comments and white evangelicals’ use of her statements are problematic because this way of thinking has been used against African-American Christians for years to prevent us from seeking justice and equality. It’s also used to neutralize our message that our lives matter too. White evangelicals use this way of thinking to deter people of color from protesting and challenging the political status quo. It’s a lazy attempt to avoid issues of race. Many pastors and church leaders don’t want to discuss race and how it affects their churches and denominations, especially during such a heated political climate. It seems that mainline churches would like people of color in their congregations to shut up about race and assimilate into their church culture masked as Kingdom identity.
For too many Christians, the argument that we should love others because Jesus told us to becomes a begrudging obligation rather than a willful choice. If the only thing that drives Christians to accept disenfranchised people is Jesus, there is a lack of authenticity in that connection. The implication is that without Jesus, there would be no intrinsic value to diversity.
A new study published in Christianity Today claims to debunk dominant narratives around the 81 percent of white evangelicals who voted for Donald Trump in 2016. New York Times columnist David Brooks shared it and concluded: “Many Evangelicals voted for Trump, reluctantly, because of economics and health care more than abortion and social issues.” If this sounds too good to be true, it’s because it is.
White Christians benefit the most by being nationalistic and patriotic, because to do so upholds the methods of “law” that keep their societal privileges in place. So while America — it’s governmental machinations and economy — serves to continually bless and protect white Americans, it hasn’t done so for others. Incarceration rates, a vast history of enforced racism by the legislative, judicial, and justice branches of government, the mistreatment of people of color within the military, and the brutalization by police show just how one-sided our country has benefited particular groups of people because of race. As white Christians blissfully sing ‘God Bless America’ in their sanctuaries adorned with American flags, they look upon their country — and its many structures — with nostalgic pride, while others see betrayal, hurt, and suffering.
These attacks on people’s innate dignity and sacred worth assault our most cherished moral and religious values. We read in Genesis that all people are made in the image of God. In Paul’s letters, he proclaims that in God earthly divisions fall away, that all people form part of God’s body. Jesus himself promises: Whatever you do to the least of these, you do to me. Attempts to excuse human rights abuses committed against some people are thus not just unconstitutional — they assault God by denigrating and desecrating that divine, indwelling spark.