The Color of Religion
Signifyin’-Sept. 16, 2020—
Ok, let’s suspend reality for a moment and drop ‘45IQ’ (Trump for those not regular readers of my column) from the political equation.
In the presidential slot, insert a referendum on religion.
More specifically, Christianity’s role in the centuries’ long battle for the soul of America.
Let me crystalize.
Voters on November 3rd will make a sociocultural decision that will determine the validity of what many refer to as White Christianity, whether it be the false premise that there are, in fact, races, or that theirs is superior, made in God’s image and ordained to rule and subjugate.
White Christians excused away slavery and ignored that brutal institution, which included rape, torture, and murder based on the idiotic premise that we were the biblical Ham’s cursed descendants.
And except for Quakers and Mormons, who fought for our freedom, White Christians rewrote the Bible for their own benefit, rejecting tenets espousing universal brotherhood and the basic concept of loving thy neighbor as thy self.
The evolution of Black Christianity is in stark contrast to the White Evangelical Right, or what you might call the Christian ‘White-Right.’
Are there two versions of Christianity, two bibles and two Gods? One acknowledges we are all made in Nyame’s image and another permits sins far more insidious than abortion and adultery that the ‘White-Right’ prioritize as campaign issues?
But the real question is, can you indeed call yourself a Christian if you’re a racist?
Can you turn your back on systemic racism (apartheid), injustice, and discrimination and expect to be awarded a key to the narrow doorway to heaven or the ‘new earth’?
In many theologists’ eyes, the COVID-19 pandemic, mass demonstrations against systemic racism, and injustice is not mere happenstance. It is God’s (Nyame) call for reconciliation and appeasement.
This is not just my theory. There is a flood of like-minded Christians who feel similarly. I’ve read a half-dozen articles that posited likeminded assumptions, including a few Evangelicals who now see the light…or dark.
Among the most forthright was issued a few days ago from an Evangelical Christian who gave a call to his fellow Donald Trump supporters to put their concerns about abortion and homosexuality on the back burner and focus instead on tearing down the walls of racism and apartheid.
Well known Evangelical and White-Righter Jim Wallis, president of a Christian organization called Sojourners, issued a call for his fellow ‘White’ Christians to use the elections to start a national healing process.
“We’ve seen far too-long-delayed awakening among many White people about our nation’s systemic racism, sparked by the public killing of George Floyd,” he said in a written appeal.
“An excruciating 8 minutes and 46 seconds has led to a more in-depth conversation about the last 401 years of slavery and racism — partly because the whole nation was home and watching,” he wrote.
These twin crises (racism and the killing of Floyd) proclaim a message that resonates with people of faith, and perhaps even reaching some of Donald Trump’s traditional base: White Christians. We shall see.
Wallis said It might seem like a bold idea that the word ‘Christian’ could become more important than the word ‘White’ when the opposite has been confirmed for a long time.
Since the rise of the so-called ‘Religious Right,’ White Evangelicalism, in particular, has been successfully tied to Right-wing politics indifferent or actively hostile to racial equity, which is a fundamentally religious issue, he continued.
“The Religious Right, in fact, was poisoned from its beginnings with ‘White race,’ ‘White identity,’ and ‘White power’ being prominent among its organizing purposes.”
Eight of ten right-wing White Christians voted for Trump In 2016, despite his apparent flaws, including racism, myogenic, adultery, and vainglory.
Also, 60% of Catholics and 57% of Protestants voted for a candidate who some people of color call the Antichrist.
But that should not be surprising, particularly to those who study history and take note of the Christian church’s role in that ‘Original Sin’ (slavery) and its aftermath.
Whether His-story books continue to disguise it or not, this country was founded on the tenet of White Supremacy under the heading of so-called ‘Manifest Destiny.’
That’s why there is a White church, a Black church, and various shades of churches/religions in between.
Even if you can find White churches who talked about the universality of mankind, or were so bold as to remind the White-Right theologians that the first human beings were African and Black, they too were complicit by their silence and refusal to stand against injustice.
Such African American icons dating back to Richard Allen, founder of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, to Frederick Douglass to Martin Luther King, Jr., called out the ‘White’ Church for its racist underpinnings and refusal to follow God’s mandates.
Most of today’s middle-realm White churches find themselves promenading down a similar path, some using the cover of ‘more important religious concerns’ to ‘mask’ (no pun intended…I think) their real agenda, or lack thereof.
Explained Wallis: “As an Evangelical Christian, I believe that issues such as abortion and religious liberty are important — but I’ve also lived the history and seen how those issues have been skewed and politicized by paper over clear biblical imperatives surrounding poverty and race.”
The 20th and 21st centuries have borne witness to White political leaders also masking their racism, he posited, “subtly stoking White voters’ racial fears, grievances, and hatred, so this isn’t new.
“But now, racist rhetoric and policies have moved from covert to overt in what I believe is a deliberate attempt to increase fear and animosity on all sides,” the former ‘White-Righter’ declared.
Racial fears are now a central campaign issue and campaign strategy, he explained.
“In early 2020, I wrote this election would be a test of democracy and faith. I wish those words hadn’t proven true. Those of us who believe racism is the paramount religious issue in this election must find practical ways to put our faith into action for the sake of our democracy… and of our faith.”
The cleric advised all Christians to return to the Bible for which the foundation of creation and universal brotherhood is the central tenet.
The foundation for all our politics is found in the first chapter of the first book of the Bible: In Genesis 1:26, he explained.
“Our holy scriptures say that God created humankind in God’s image and likeness.
“That passage is central to and affirms Dei’s imago, the image of God, in others and opposes what it denies.”
Appeals to racial fear, grievance, and hate are assaults on the image of God in others. Therefore, every act of racialized police violence, every family separated at the border, every wink or appeasement to White supremacists, and every attempted suppression of even one vote because of skin color, is denying the image of God — imago Dei.
That may be a little too deep for the novice, the unread, and those neo-Christians—White and Black—who accept what is convenient for their lifestyles and reject all else.
They are Christian in name only…and during funerals. Nor can they understand why they can’t remember Nyame’s number during times of distress or fear.
In some respects, they are in the same boat at the White-Right evangelist who worships a ‘White’ God who remarkably looks a lot like Uncle Sam, and a Messiah with blond hair and blue eyes.
“Until White Christians understand that loving their neighbors as themselves means fighting unrelentingly for justice for Black and Brown people and dismantling the oppressive structures of White supremacy, White American Christian claims to understand the heart of the gospel ring exceedingly hollow.”
White-wing Christians will undermine the basic tenets of Christianity if they vote for Trump, Wallis believes. They are also complicit in advancing systemic racism if they don’t come out of their caves to fight for equality and justice for their dark-skinned brethren.
And, of course, that starts with accepting African Americans as brothers and sisters.
“The changing perceptions among Whites of what it means to be a (Black American) and further, what it means to be a Christian in this country amid so much inequality and oppression — is leading to an unprecedented national conversation about the last four centuries of American life and America’s ‘original sin.’
“While Black voters, and especially Black women, are the core of the Democratic Party and are among the most religious people in the country, the party has, in recent decades, been reluctant to talk about faith.
“But when candidates talk about racism as the preeminent religious issue in this election season, it changes the conversation and opens up new space for religious voters to engage with their faith and apply it to their politics.”
People of faith and conscience voting against racism means protecting against the re-entrenchment of White nationalism that has emerged in this country and protecting Black and Brown Americans’ future, he said.
“Our nation and American Christianity as practiced by those identifying as White is at a crossroads. If White Christians once again refuse to treat racism as a political deal-breaker for their support, any chance to regain some of the credibility they’ve lost by their political captivity of recent years will be gone forever,” he concluded.
I agree wholeheartedly. Or almost. I see a subliminal hurdle in Wallis’s message that undermines his premise.
As long as he and other White-Right Christians see the world through a lens that is tinted in Black and White, his message is weakened. Because God sees only one race: the human race. And Nyame doesn’t need glasses.