The Unmaking of the White Christian Worldview

  

Category:  Op/Ed

Via:  john-russell  •  3 weeks ago  •  11 comments

By:   Robert P. Jones (MSN)

The Unmaking of the White Christian Worldview
More than seven in ten deny that the history of slavery and discrimination in the U.S. has any bearing on economic inequalities between white and Black Americans today. White evangelicals are the religious group most likely to refuse COVID-19 vaccines and object to mask mandates. One in four are QAnon conspiracy believers.More than seven in ten deny that the history of slavery and discrimination in the U.S. has any bearing on economic inequalities between white and Black Americans today....

S E E D E D   C O N T E N T



As I came of age in Woodville Heights Baptist Church, on the white working-class side of Jackson, Miss., I internalized a cycle of sin, confession and repentance as a daily part of my life. Though I wasn't aware of it at the time, this was a double inheritance. Beneath this seemingly icy surface of guilt and culpability flowed a deeper current of innocence and entitlement. Individually, I was a sinner, but collectively, I was part of a special tribe. Whatever our humble social stations might be, we white Christians were God's chosen instruments of spreading salvation and civilization to the world.

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The power and sheer cultural dominance of white Christianity in America historically bound these contradictory sensibilities together. But today we are witnessing the unmaking of this white Christian

Understanding this dissolution is the key to deciphering one of the most vexing puzzles in our politics: how a purportedly sober Christian worldview has become a volatile cocktail of fealty to Donald Trump, wild-eyed rants about vaccines, faith in QAnon conspiracies and hysteria over critical race theory.

Recent surveys by PRRI, an organization I lead, reveal disturbing realities among white evangelical Protestants today: 61% believe the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Donald Trump. And the idea of patriotism has taken a troubling turn: 68% believe Trump is a "true patriot," and one in three believe that "because things have gotten so far off track, true American patriots may have to resort to violence in order to save our country." More than seven in ten deny that the history of slavery and discrimination in the U.S. has any bearing on economic inequalities between white and Black Americans today. White evangelicals are the religious group most likely to refuse COVID-19 vaccines and object to mask mandates. One in four are QAnon conspiracy believers.

Understanding how we got here requires entering the white evangelical cultural world, one in which I grew up. As was common, my initiation rites started early. I accepted Jesus as my personal Lord and savior and was baptized at age 6. As I approached adolescence, I was encouraged to cultivate an identity as a disciple of Christ. I was taught to develop my own daily "quiet time," about 30 minutes dedicated to scripture reading, journaling and prayer.

There were also communal rituals. During informal Sunday evening services, members often "gave their testimony." Sometimes it was spontaneous, a member rising to break the prayerful silence. But the practice was also built into the liturgy (although we would never have used that suspect word, which belonged more to the Episcopalians on the other side of town). These scheduled talks were marked "Testimony" in the bifold church bulletin, with the name of the recruited witness indicated on the right margin.

Critically, what stitched these private and public practices together was an emphasis on personal sin. Common themes were failures in roles and priorities. The grown-ups promised to be more honest in their business dealings and to be more godly parents and spouses—husbands better leaders and wives more pliant to that leadership. When youth were invited to testify, we were often given guidance about how to be honest but appropriate—typically an expression of regret coupled with a promise to reform from running with the wrong crowd.

But like a torch held too near the eyes in a dark room, these acts of intense discipleship illuminated little beyond our insular community. Nothing outside our intimate lives, not even (or particularly) major racial upheavals in our community, were perceptible objects of Christian concern.

When Black kids finally showed up in my third-grade classroom in the 1975-76 school year—a full two decades after Brown v. Board of Education —my white Sunday school teachers and pastor remained silent about this transformation of our daily social lives. When Ronald Reagan launched his 1980 presidential campaign with a speech emphasizing "states' rights" in Neshoba County, where three civil rights workers had been murdered during Freedom Summer, Mississippi's white Christians responded by consummating their marriage to the Republican Party, one that remains strong today. When Byron De La Beckwith was finally convicted in 1994 for the 1963 murder of civil rights leader Medgar Evers, there were no discussions in my Southern Baptist seminary about the silence and complicity of white Christian churches during those murderous days or since—even though De La Beckwith had been a member in good standing at a white Christian church and Evers's last act had been organizing an unsuccessful campaign to integrate Jackson's influential First Baptist Church.

Looking back on it now, it's clear that this intense preoccupation with personal sin, by design, kept our field of vision shallow and allowed us to sit, Sunday after Sunday, "silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained-glass windows," as Martin Luther King Jr. put it so devastatingly in "Letter from Birmingham Jail."

But now the bulwark of white Christian America is crumbling. We are no longer, demographically speaking, a white Christian nation. White evangelical Protestants—the once self-proclaimed "moral majority"—have fallen from nearly a quarter of Americans just over a decade ago to 14.5% of the public today. And Southern Baptists, who grew to be the largest Protestant denomination of all by the mid-20th century, have lost more than 2 million members across the same period.

As the shadow cast by white Christian churches and institutions is shortening, we're witnessing in real time the anomie this contraction is producing among many of its adherents. Many are responding by abandoning the ranks. The increasingly desperate remainder are screaming defiantly from the ramparts, determined, to the last man, to defend the breached walls.

James Baldwin wrote, with anger and pity, about the Black experience of seeing white people as "the slightly mad victims of their own brainwashing." He understood whites, and white Christians in particular, to be trapped in a kind of self-induced psychosis, stemming from the strain of sustaining a conception of themselves as repentant sinners while living lives of indifference and violence toward their fellow Black and brown citizens.

In these twilight years of white Christian America, for those still within the veil, the strain of holding these contradictions can lead to a dissociative state, where self-reflection becomes treasonous and self-delusion a necessity. The fruits of this spirit are abundant. Empathy signals weakness, and disdain strength. Prophets are shunned, and authoritarians embraced. Truth is exchanged for a lie.

We can puzzle over these phenomena separately, but they are best understood together as symptoms of collective ill health. The willingness of so many white Christians to embrace little lies everywhere stems from the necessity of protecting the big lie that is everything.

W.E.B. Du Bois wrote movingly about the double-consciousness that Black children have thrust upon them in America as their sense of self is distorted and refracted back at them through white eyes. He vividly described the struggle for the Black American "to merge his double self into a better and truer self."

The problem today for white Americans, particularly we white Christians, is the opposite. Having grown up with the comforting illusion that sinfulness and innocence, humility and dominion can coexist in a single consciousness, it is increasingly evident that this amalgamation is a sign of deep moral, spiritual and political malaise. Rather than holding these warring selves together, we must banish one.

The first step toward recovery is to separate being white from being Christian. Practically, we must reject what have, for too long, been three articles of our faith: that the Bible is a blueprint for a white Christian America; that Jesus, the son of God, is a white savior; and that the church is a sanctuary of white innocence. Most fundamentally, we must confess that whatever the personal sins of white people, in the past and present, they pale in comparison to the systemic ways we have built and blessed a society that reflects a conviction that, to us and to God, our lives matter more.

The only path to health, for both our faith and our democracy, is for white Christians to embrace a terrifying but saving truth: what we have taken to be the bedrock of our faith and a biblical worldview—that we alone are God's chosen people to bring salvation and civilization to the world—is not an eternal truth grounded in the Bible but rather a self-serving lie rooted in white supremacy.


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JohnRussell
Professor Principal
1  seeder  JohnRussell    3 weeks ago
The first step toward recovery is to separate being white from being Christian. Practically, we must reject what have, for too long, been three articles of our faith: that the Bible is a blueprint for a white Christian America; that Jesus, the son of God, is a white savior; and that the church is a sanctuary of white innocence. Most fundamentally, we must confess that whatever the personal sins of white people, in the past and present, they pale in comparison to the systemic ways we have built and blessed a society that reflects a conviction that, to us and to God, our lives matter more. The only path to health, for both our faith and our democracy, is for white Christians to embrace a terrifying but saving truth: what we have taken to be the bedrock of our faith and a biblical worldview—that we alone are God's chosen people to bring salvation and civilization to the world—is not an eternal truth grounded in the Bible but rather a self-serving lie rooted in white supremacy.
 
 
 
JBB
Professor Principal
2  JBB    3 weeks ago

Christians today would embarrass Jesus Christ...

 
 
 
JohnRussell
Professor Principal
3  seeder  JohnRussell    3 weeks ago

White American Christianity Needs to Be Honest With Itself

Carey Wallace 13-16 minutes


Hundreds of years ago, the Church laid the foundation for the theft of the Americas, enslavement of Africans and Native Americans, and centuries of brutal colonization worldwide, with the doctrine that it was O.K. to take land  and  liberty  from people who were not Christian.

Within their first decade on this continent, the holiness movement of the Puritans, who told themselves they’d come to the “new world” to spread the gospel, had virtually exterminated the   Pequot   people, and enslaved many survivors. And Roger Williams, the Massachusetts minister who became the first advocate for religious freedom and the separation of church and state, was banished from his colony by his fellow Christians for objecting to government attempts to enforce the first four of the Ten Commandments, refusing to swear an oath of loyalty to the government of Massachusetts and saying grace over his meals at the wrong time. Alone and sick, he   fled into the New England winter, which almost killed him.   Though his fellow Puritans gave lip service to the idea that they had come to the continent to share the light of Christ, he was the only one who bothered to learn local customs or languages. Saved that winter by the Narragansett people, he was without a church home when he died years later.

Williams’ doctrine of the separation of church and state was eventually inscribed in the American Constitution. And Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence reflects the strong influence of Christianity in the American colonies, by rooting the rights it demands   in our status as creatures of God . But the Declaration of Independence also describes Native Americans as “merciless Indian savages,” and   the Constitution   defined African-Americans as only three-fifths of a person. Despite America’s early public piety, this country is explicitly founded on the idea that the people who built its farms, roads, cities and wealth, without freedom or payment, are not quite human. And despite Jefferson’s rousing insistence on the equality of “men” in the eyes of God, his own wealth came mainly from   a factory he staffed with enslaved children .

Sentimental depictions of Christian faith among enslaved people are popular with American Christians, and the rich tradition of gospel music, perhaps America’s greatest contribution to world culture or the church, was unquestionably created by people living in American slavery. But people in slavery in America   did not start becoming Christian in large numbers until around 1800 , because American slave-holders   avoided sharing Christian teaching with the people they enslaved , so that they wouldn’t find themselves in the position of holding fellow Christians in slavery, which might force them to give up their “property.”

For early voices that spoke out against slavery within the American church, the price was high. Benjamin Lay, who   shamed the Quakers into becoming abolitionist s with stunts like standing outside meetinghouses on Sunday morning barefoot in the snow to remind the good Christians of the condition of the people they held in slavery at home, died unwelcome as a member in any Quaker church.

For the vast majority of American history, Christian ministers have spoken with passion and vigor   in favor   of   slavery ,   segregation , and white supremacy.   Not even all Christian abolitionists   were convinced of the full humanity of the people they fought to free. The   Ku Klux Klan   is a movement deeply rooted in the church, in both the   North   and the South.

When Black Christian clergy organized the   1963 March on Washington , where Martin Luther King, Jr., a Baptist minister, delivered his   “I Have A Dream”   speech,   Christianity Today ,   founded not even a decade earlier by Billy Graham , and edited at the time by one of evangelicalism’s most prominent theologians, Carl F.H. Henry, called it   “a mob spectacle.”

Today, American neighborhoods are more   segregated than they were in the years immediately following the Civil War . But churches are even more segregated than the rest of society. Sunday morning, when people stream into services,   is one of the most segregated hours in America .

These are not minor aberrations, sidenotes to our history, either as a country or a church. White supremacy, racism and segregation are a cancer running through our major organs. And our apathy toward them, or our comfort with them, compromise and threaten to kill all the other good we hope to do.

We cannot get rid of them by pretending they’re not central to our history, and central to the way we live today. And in our hearts, we know they are. That’s why so many Christian institutions and leaders have failed to speak out directly against racism and white supremacy, instead taking refuge in recent days in vague calls for prayer and healing. We know if we confront these foundational American sins directly, their supporters will cause convulsions that may tear our institutions apart – and knock us from our coveted positions.

But there can be no healing without this direct confrontation. You cannot cure cancer by pretending it is not   there.The   white American church can’t pretend that   the mob at the Capitol   is not part of us.

It is us.

To have any hope of healing, we must acknowledge that fact. We must admit our own ignorance. Our own apathy. Our own discomfort with people who are different from us. Our own desire to believe that we’re better than everyone else. Our own willingness to take things that are not ours, and keep things we did not earn. Our profound bent to lie about ourselves. Our willingness to do violence to get what we want. Our willingness to turn away when violence is done to others, because it benefits us.

As Christians, we must forcefully, publicly name and repudiate these things. We must be honest about how long a history they have and how deep they go. And about how much work it will take to eradicate them.

And we must do that work.

Claiming that mob isn’t us might help American Christians beat back the sickening waves of shame and fear we feel at the revelation of the ugly truth of what we’ve been part of all this time.

But it won’t save the life of the American church.

And it will never set us free to be anything better than what we are now.

 
 
 
JBB
Professor Principal
4  JBB    3 weeks ago

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JohnRussell
Professor Principal
4.1  seeder  JohnRussell  replied to  JBB @4    3 weeks ago

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JBB
Professor Principal
4.1.1  JBB  replied to  JohnRussell @4.1    3 weeks ago

[removed]

 
 
 
Kavika
Professor Principal
5  Kavika     3 weeks ago

Pope Alexander VI issued the Papal Bull “ Inter Caetera ” in 1493 to justify Christian European explorers’ claims on land and waterways they allegedly discovered, and promote Christian domination and superiority, and has been applied in Africa, Asia, Australia, New Zealand, and the Americas.

The Doctrine of Discovery was the inspiration in the 1800s for the Monroe Doctrine, which declared U.S. hegemony over the Western Hemisphere, and Manifest Destiny, which justified American expansion westward by propagating the belief that the U.S. was destined to control all land from the Atlantic to the Pacific and beyond. 

In an 1823 Supreme Court case, Johnson v. M'Intosh , the Doctrine of Discovery became part of U.S. federal law and was used to dispossess Native peoples of their land. In a unanimous decision, Chief Justice John Marshall writes, “that the principle of discovery gave European nations an absolute right to New World lands” [1]  and Native peoples certain rights of occupancy.

I believe that the last time the Johnson v M'Intosh was used as a case in NE was in 2009.

The RCC has never rescinded the DofD.  Native Americans have requested it many times including two meetings with representatives of the Pope.

Of course, the various Christian religions, especially the RCC carried the brutality/killing/sexual abuse for centuries using the ''Indian Boarding Schools'' in the US and the ''Residential Schools'' in Canada which were in existence until the 1990s. 

 
 
 
JohnRussell
Professor Principal
5.1  seeder  JohnRussell  replied to  Kavika @5    3 weeks ago

I am not completely sure, but I am fairly sure that there are far far more non white Catholics worldwide than there are non white Evangelicals. This fact may explain why articles like the seeded one dont mention the Catholic Church. 

Your point is well taken though. 

 
 
 
Kavika
Professor Principal
5.1.1  Kavika   replied to  JohnRussell @5.1    3 weeks ago

The RCC laid the groundwork for what you see with the Evangelicals today including some of US laws are based on be Doctrine of Discovery. 

 
 
 
Greg Jones
PhD Expert
6  Greg Jones    3 weeks ago

More white guilt on display.

The indictments are just getting started

 
 
 
JohnRussell
Professor Principal
6.1  seeder  JohnRussell  replied to  Greg Jones @6    3 weeks ago

The Evangelicals may be guilty. 

 
 
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