The white evangelical church in America has shown itself to be the facilitator, if not the principal purveyor, of white supremacy in America.
Theologian Jemar Tisby has recently written a seminal book entitled “The Color of Compromise” which outlines the history of the American church’s complicity and participation in racism. Robert P. Jones, the author of “White too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity” writes, “(A) close read of history reveals that we white Christians have not just been complacent or complicit; rather, as the nation’s dominant cultural power, we have constructed and sustained a project of perpetuating white supremacy that has framed the entire American Story.”
Both men trace the failings of the Christian church in the area of race.
White evangelical racism became very apparent recently when America elected its first Black president. Much of the white evangelical church and its pastoral leadership was consistently unfair in attacking President Barack Obama. The criticism of President Obama was fierce. Many evangelical churches participated in the racist birtherism movement that sought to delegitimize America’s first Black president by alleging, without any proof, that he was born in Kenya.
Much of the evangelical church continually demonized a man who was faithfully married for over 26 years — an exemplary father who participated in no hint of scandal, had impeccable academic credentials and was a participating member in good standing of an evangelical church. The worst thing they could find on him was that he wore a tan suit or put his feet on the Oval Office desk.
Too few evangelical leaders encouraged their members to respect and pray for President Obama while he was in office.
The hypocrisy of much of the white evangelical church became even more apparent when it wholeheartedly supported President Donald Trump, the purveyor of birtherism and a person who does not exhibit the tenants of Christianity in his behavior. President Trump, on a continual basis, exhibits most — if not all — of the seven deadly sins: pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath and sloth.
Importantly, American evangelicalism facilitated his bad behavior by not calling him to account. Since the white evangelical church was the greatest block of political support for President Trump, it could have used its significant influence to moderate his egregious behavior but never did. The white evangelical church stood silent as the president told over 25,000 documented lies and failed to protect the less fortunate when he tried to destroy the Affordable Care Act.
Many evangelicals winked when President Trump did not stand for up for the right to life by underplaying the COVID-19 pandemic with hundreds of thousands unnecessarily losing their lives because of his lies and misrepresentations.
They were silent when his southern border policy separated thousands of children from parents with over 500 children still not reunited. Much of the white evangelical church looked the other way as President Trump called African countries s-holes and coddled the most egregious and dangerous white supremacists such as in Charlottesville and embraced the Proud Boys during his presidential debate.
Even though the white evangelical church prides itself on patriotism, white evangelical leaders didn’t oppose Trump’s dismantling of important institutions like the Post Office or encourage President Trump to concede the election, which is becoming more dangerous every day.
While I have always understood that the white evangelicalism was more often than not on the wrong side of history in the area of race, I have come to believe that the white evangelical church is a primary source of America’s racism. As a child of the church, it is difficult to acknowledge that so much of the church was more invested in white supremacy than the cause of Christ.
The deception of evangelicalism’s white supremacy can be difficult to see because we read the same Bible, have much the same nomenclature, sing many of the same hymns and sit in facilities that are similar. For all of the philanthropic good that the evangelical church has done, I have concluded that the Jesus Christ of the Bible in whom I have invested and devoted my life, is a different Christ than the one that inspires much of the white evangelical church.
In 1947 Carl F.H. Henry published “The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism” and his suggestion that evangelicals needed to address social issues including race, sexism and poverty has been ignored. Thankfully, large numbers of Black Americans have recently departed white evangelical churches.
The quandary is how does the rest of the Christianity inform and reclaim the racist elements of the white evangelical movement through love? First, I suggest that there needs to be a reckoning within the greater church to call sin by its right name. In other words, it is the duty of the worldwide church to stand against the egregious racism of America’s white evangelical church. The evangelical church has been allowed to operate in the sin of racism and white superiority without counter for far too long.
The church of Jesus Christ is designed to be one in Christ; and as long as one portion of the church is mired in sin, it is to the detriment of the Body of Christ. It is up to the greater church to help it repent.
Second, nations around the globe should be informed and educated about the dangers of white evangelicalism. This might mean that no country should accept missionaries from white evangelical denominations until there is repentance for the sin of racism.
Rather than taking the cause of Christ to the nations, too often the white evangelical church have been missionaries of white superiority and racism. This needs to stop and called out for the good of the cause of Christ.
There is also the case of white evangelical ministers who join Black Ministerial Alliances in the name of reconciliation. It has been my experience that many white evangelicals bring their racism, condescension and white superiority stances when they are a part of Black alliances. These white evangelicals need to return to their own organizations to combat the legacy racism/white superiority.
Finally, there needs to be a worldwide Christian conversation on race, racism, and white superiority. In 2009, the Southern Baptist Convention issued an apology for its earlier stance on slavery. The issue of slavery had split the Baptist Church between north and south in 1845. Amazingly, it was not until 1995 that Southern Baptist officials formally renounced the church’s support of slavery and segregation.
This was a start, but the momentum was lost with the overwhelming evangelical support of white supremacist Donald Trump. There needs to be a much more rigorous examination of the white evangelical church’s role in racism.