A significant issue that inhabits the white Christian imagination is the distorted idea that racism is somehow something foreign to Christianity.
Racism is often perceived as an external threat that can taint “true” Christian practices and ideological commitments and thus strip Christianity of its alleged purity.
The recent popularity of theological tendencies that make sharp distinctions between “church” and “world” illustrate this broader tendency – so prevalent among white Christians – of insistently trying to insulate their religion from its participation in the creation, legitimation and continuous dissemination of evil, modern racism included.
Racism is a white Christian child; let’s recognize it as part of the family.
The way in which white Christian racism manifests itself is, of course, multifaceted and contingent upon a number of contextual factors.
When it comes to Hispanics or Latinx people – especially dark-skinned ones – in the United States, a number of biases and prejudices are constantly expressed.
Of course, we know that “Hispanic” and Latinx” are ethnic terms, but the distinctions between race and ethnicity are sometimes blurry in real-life experiences.
In daily life, Latinxs in general are often stereotyped as dangerous, irresponsible, lazy and disruptors of the ideal Anglo-European heritage and culture of Anglo-Americans.
Some of the most vociferous disseminators of such stereotypes are white Christians, and we shouldn’t be shocked.
White Christian racism is not the historical exception, it is the historical rule; if you are fooled into thinking the tides are changing fast enough because of the sporadic presence of “woke” whites, look around more carefully.
A recent example of the pervasiveness of white racism in my own recent experience can be illustrated by a lecture delivered by a white Christian “academic” in a faculty symposium in which I was present.
What is most surprising about this symposium is that it was put together by Hispanic organizers who wanted Hispanic faculty members of a predominantly Hispanic institution to hear what the speaker had to say.
The speaker had been a missionary in South Asia, and he took it upon himself to construct a framework that would allegedly help others understand worldviews and cultures from a Christian perspective.
I perceived the views presented to be an inadequate and unclear appropriation and convolution of the most pernicious sensibilities in outdated scholarship based in the thinking of Hegel and Weber with the sporadic mention of Jesus and the Spirit for good measure.
After the former missionary had finished his presentation, I asked if I had heard him correctly.
I inquired if he, indeed, had said that Anglo-European and Anglo-American cultures were prone to disseminate progress and all other cultures were, as he called it, “progress-resistant.”
It turned out I had understood him correctly as he unapologetically affirmed this view while implicitly praising me for being such a smart boy (he is perhaps twice my age).
As a historian who studies race relations in the mission field, I wasn’t surprised by what he had to say.
Actually, I was more surprised by the silence of my Hispanic colleagues than I was by the implications of what the speaker “taught” us, namely, the utterly unworthiness of our collective heritage unless it succumbs to Anglo-European and Anglo-American standards.
I wasn’t surprised by the former missionary’s lecture because this white supremacist theme that preaches the inferiority of “brown” cultures is part and parcel of many white Christian practices in general, and many white Protestant missionaries – even “woke” ones – were historically not shy about how superior their culture was (and is).
There is no space here to parse all of the complexities of white missionary ideologies and strategies and how they overlap with broader white supremacist sensibilities.
For the purposes of this short piece, suffice it to say that when a major leader calls Mexicans “rapists” and immigrants “animals,” describes U.S. culture and lifestyle as “great” and is obsessed with the elimination of difference, such a leader is following along a path laid down by Anglo-American white pastors at home and white missionaries abroad.
This is a path that is as Anglo-American as apple pie, and yes, as “Christian” (in the sense of how it is too often practiced and perceived) as it can be.
So, if you want to get rid of racism, my “woke” white brothers and sisters, you must own it first.
You must see it as your Christian child, revisiting the theological implications of the white supremacist sensibilities of the ideological commitments of your ancestors.
And, if you really want to get radical with this, you must try to find in your heart the ability to listen to the voices of difference.
If you can do this, perhaps there will be room for more productive conversations about how we can do better in the name of Jesus.
João Chaves is a native Brazilian who holds a doctorate in religion from Baylor University. He is the author of the book, “Evangelicals and Liberation Revisited,” and several academic articles and book chapters. His current book project is “The Global Mission of the Jim Crow South,” which deals with missions and race relations in Latin America. Twitter handle: @Relijoao.
Editor’s note: This article is part of a series focused on racism and the local church.
Previous articles in the series are:
Recognizing Hidden Racism’s Grip on Our Society by Ryon Price
When Will Churches Begin to Reflect Racial Diversity? by Timothy Peoples
Engaged Advocacy: Working Together for Racial Justice by Stephen K. Reeves
The Church Will Never End Racism by Ignoring It by Starlette Thomas
Lynching Memorial’s Haunting Reminder of Present Brutality by Charles Watson Jr.
Royal Wedding Lesson: Becoming an Intercultural Church by Chris Smith
How Martin Luther King’s Focus Changed in His Last Years by Wale Hudson-Roberts
Charlottesville Faith Communities Respond after Aug. 12 by Michael Cheuk