Monday, August 3, 2020

Valuable Commentary about Robert P. Jones's White Too Long

As a companion piece to my recent announcement of the publication of Robert P. Jones's book White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity, here's some valuable commentary about the book, some of it by Robert P. Jones himself:

Growing up in Texas and Mississippi, author Robert P. Jones was a very active member of his Southern Baptist Convention church. Between youth group, Bible studies and prayer services, he spent about 6-7 hours each week at church or doing church related things. 
But in all that time, he never really heard about the church's history — including the fact that Southern Baptists split from the North around 1844 because the Northern Baptists opposed slavery. 
"I was 20 years old before I got a hint of that history ... and even had the possibility of beginning to think about what the implications of that were," Jones says. 
In his new book, White Too Long, Jones examines the legacy of white supremacy among Southern Baptists and other Christian denominations. 
Jones says the Southern Baptist Convention tends to focus on each individual's interior relationship with God — and 'essentially screens out questions of social justice.' 
"I cannot remember a single sermon calling attention to racial inequality, racial injustice [or] the struggle for civil rights," he says.

White Too Long  began with a growing consciousness of the abiding presence of white supremacy within the faith we white Christians have inherited and live within. 
I don't mean, of course, anything as overt as white-hooded figures in the pulpit or the pews. Nearly all of our churches would be appalled by that — although we also quietly know that such a presence was among us in the not-so-distant past. I mean something at once less shocking and more insidious: how the centuries-long commitment to a social order that protected and nourished white lives at the expense of Black lives has disfigured American Christianity — especially the southern branch of which I'm a part — and what that means for us today. ... 
White evangelical theology has hardly moved since we seceded from our northern Baptist brothers and sisters over the issue of slavery, at least not in a way that such waywardness on the issue of white supremacy would demand. We still lull our consciences with unreformed 19th century hymns, hear sermon after sermon after sermon emphasizing moral purity and a comfortable personal relationship with a white Jesus, and deploy Sunday school materials and church histories that paint a rosy picture of ourselves, where our version of Christianity is God's means of bringing salvation to a lost world. We have not confessed our role in figuratively baptizing white supremacy into the fellowship of white churches, nor have we repented of the ways this unholy alliance legitimized white supremacy in the culture at large.

White Christians' image of themselves and their religion has been warped by what Jones calls "white-supremacy-induced amnesia."
Jones wrestles with that amnesia in his new book, "White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity." He argues that white Christians ― from evangelicals in the South to mainline Protestants in the Midwest to Catholics in the Northeast ― weren't just complacent onlookers while political leaders debated what to do about slavery, segregation and discrimination. White supremacist theology played a key role in shaping the American church from the very beginning, influencing not just the way denominations formed but also white Christians' theology about salvation itself.

The unsettling truth is that, for nearly all of American history, the light-skinned Jesus conjured up by most white congregations was not merely indifferent to the status quo of racial inequality; he demanded its defense and preservation as part of the natural, divinely ordained order of things.

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