White Christianity, Democracy, and the Future

Protesters on the scaffolding at the Capitol during the January 6th insurrection.

“Equality for all” has nearly always taken a back seat to “liberty for some” in America, and white Christianity is the heart of that hierarchy. Whether this nation is of white Christians, by white Christians, and for white Christians or will fulfill the promise of becoming the world’s first and most robust multicultural democratic republic is yet to be seen. The promise is imperiled.

The linkage between white Christianity and racism is indisputable. In fact, white Christianity is a dominant carrier of the virus of racism in U.S. society.

That reality has been strongly demonstrated. As researcher and author of White Too Long, Robert P. Jones writes: “While most white Christians think of themselves as people who hold warm feelings toward African Americans, holding racist views is nonetheless positively and independently associated with white Christian identity. Again, this troubling relationship holds not just for white evangelical Protestants, but also for white mainline Protestants and white Catholics.”

(Please note from the research: references to white Christians include the Protestant mainline and Catholics, and not only evangelical Christians.)

It is white Christians who:

White American Christians: the above statements do not describe ALL of who we are, have been, or want to be. But ALL of the above statements factually express what we have done in the name of Jesus. All of this is part of our history, part of our present. Based on solid research, all of this is a big part of who we are, a big part of how we have acted and have presented ourselves to the rest of the world, particularly to the people of color in the USA.

White American Christians: our DNA is all over this history of racist dispositions, actions, and policies. Our DNA is evident in the nation’s present conflict, just as it was building up to and inciting the Civil War and then in promoting the Lost Cause myth.

The close association, the merger really, between “in the name of Jesus” and the history of racism among white American Christians has been detrimental to the nation. Moreover, it has been detrimental to Christianity. Christianity is as Christians do. We, white American Christians, as a group, have invented, perpetuated, benefited from, ignored, and denied our racism. The message coming from so many places today is: “The time for reckoning is now.”

The times for the U.S. are perilous; I fear January 6 is but a foretaste. And for white American Christians, we are in crisis, too, brought about by the combination of racism and alignment with “a man who will make things right.” The legitimacy and truthfulness of white Christian witness to Jesus is just as endangered as is democracy, if not more so. Without a real reckoning—including awareness, acceptance, repentance, penance, a new narrative, and conciliation—our public role in the future of the U.S. is dim.

PHOTO CREDIT: By Kerstie Bush – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=98770607

Dr. Gary Peluso-Verdend is president emeritus at Phillips Theological Seminary and is the executive director of the seminary’s Center for Religion in Public Life. The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author. Learn more about the Center’s work here and about Gary here.

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