Sunday, June 14, 2020

"As the Nation Grapples with Demographic Changes and the Legacy of Racism, Christianity's Role as a Cornerstone of White Supremacy Has Been Largely Overlooked"

From Simon & Schuster's online catalogue page for Robert P. Jones's forthcoming book White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity:

Drawing on history, public opinion surveys, and personal experience, Robert P. Jones delivers a provocative examination of the unholy relationship between American Christianity and white supremacy, and issues an urgent call for white Christians to reckon with this legacy for the sake of themselves and the nation. 
As the nation grapples with demographic changes and the legacy of racism in America, Christianity's role as a cornerstone of white supremacy has been largely overlooked. But white Christians—from evangelicals in the South to mainline Protestants in the Midwest and Catholics in the Northeast—have not just been complacent or complicit; rather, as the dominant cultural power, they have constructed and sustained a project of protecting white supremacy and opposing black equality that has framed the entire American story. 
With his family's 1815 Bible in one hand and contemporary public opinion surveys by Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) in the other, Robert P. Jones delivers a groundbreaking analysis of the repressed history of the symbiotic relationship between Christianity and white supremacy. White Too Long demonstrates how deeply racist attitudes have become embedded in the DNA of white Christian identity over time and calls for an honest reckoning with a complicated, painful, and even shameful past. Jones challenges white Christians to acknowledge that public apologies are not enough—accepting responsibility for the past requires work toward repair in the present.

In "White privilege – a confession in response to the Black Lives Matter protests," Tobias Winright takes a sober look at the unacknowledged racism running through the white Christian culture in Ohio in which he grew up, where people are more angry about Black Lives:

Although my paternal family left England to settle (occupy?) the New England colonies in the seventeenth century, and have been mostly blue-collar farmers and factory workers, the Wainwrights/Winrights have benefited handsomely from this white privilege.  
Many of my relatives and friends with whom I grew up would deny this. They were, I am sure, disgusted by the sight of the police officer's knee pressing on the neck of George Floyd for nearly nine minutes; but they are more deeply disturbed by the Black Lives Matter protests. Part of this is due to their fears about demographic changes in the United States. Part of it is due to their concerns about their jobs. Part of it can be attributable to ignorance and lack of education. Part of it may be because of their dearth of personal experiences with black people. But benefiting from the sins of our ancestors while denying it, being silent about it, and failing to do anything about it, is still sin to be confessed (after all, we confess during Mass, "for what I have done and for what I have failed to do").

For reasons having more to do with demography, politics and history than theology, white evangelical Christians are, in large majority, conservative. And white Catholics are more conservative than Latino or African American Catholics. Notice what is going on here: Race, not religion, is the real divide. ... 
Christians must face up to how the “appropriation” of Christianity for oppressive purposes long pre-dates President Trump’s shameful photo op in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Washington. In his book "God and Race in American Politics," evangelical scholar Mark A. Noll writes of how 'reliance on the Bible has produced spectacular liberation alongside spectacular oppression.' 
Facing the history of American Christianity honestly, he writes, makes it "possible to see how much believers themselves have done to promote the evils of racism in American politics while at the same time recognizing how often they have offered hints of redemption as well."

In March, nearly 80 percent of white evangelicals said they approved of the job Mr. Trump was doing, PRRI found. But by the end of May, with the country convulsed by racial discord, Mr. Trump’s favorability among white evangelicals had fallen 15 percentage points to 62 percent, according to a PRRI poll released Thursday.  
In the fall of 2016, his approval rating with white evangelicals was only 61 percent. He went on to win 81 percent of them in November.

The preceding statements help me explain  why I have my doubts about the predictable pre-election media narrative that the approval ratings of the man in the White House are slipping among white Catholics, white evangelicals, and Mormons. As this report notes, from March to the end of May, polls show his approval ratings slipping from about 80% among white evangelicals to 62%. Yet as it also notes, in the fall of 2016, 61% of white evangelicals reported that they approved of him, but 81% went on to vote for him.

The media create endless narratives about how the death grip of right-wing white Christians on American culture and politics is loosening. But there's all too little evidence of this. Voting racist — excuse me, voting Republican — is what white evangelicals, white Catholics, and Mormons do. 

Voting Republican and calling this "pro-life" is what they do and will keep on doing, no matter what they tell pollsters. Possibly there's some fall-off in support for Trump among white Catholics, as pollsters are reporting. Mormons, who have a strong theological tradition of overt white supremacist belief, remain among his staunchest supporters, according to polls — though I applaud Mitt Romney for giving witness to an alternative approach. And white evangelicals? They'll almost all vote Republican till their dying breath — because, to repeat myself, voting racist (and calling it "pro-life") after the Democratic party enacted civil rights legislation in the 1960s is what white evangelicals do.

"'It seems to me that Trump represents the death rattle of an older America," Eddie Glaude, chair of the department of African American studies at Princeton University, told the [Washington] Post. "Everything he's doubling down on is precisely what we're trying to leave behind, and so the battle that is now being engaged is precisely a battle surrounding what kind of country will we be moving forward, and he is holding onto with all of his might this idea of America as a white nation."

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