White practicing Christians in the U.S. are less likely to say the nation is struggling with racial justice, according to a Barna Group report published June 17.
“As this survey was conducted in late summer 2019, it can’t account for any shift due to the present, heated national discussion surrounding racism and white supremacy,” Barna noted. “But these recent responses point to a disconnection that has led us to this moment: disagreement about whether there is an issue in the first place.”
When asked, “Do you think the U.S. has a race problem?” only 38% of white practicing Christians said they “definitely agree” that the nation does. By comparison, 78% of Black practicing Christians “definitely agree.”
Barna defines practicing Christians as “self-identified Christians who have attended a worship service within the past month and agree strongly that their faith is very important in their life.”
A similar disparity was seen when respondents were asked about historical oppression of minorities in the U.S.
Only 42% of white practicing Christians said they “agree” or “strongly agree” “historically, the U.S. has been oppressive to minorities,” while 75% of Black practicing Christians affirmed this position.
These views corresponded to the number of practicing Christians who said they are “motivated” or “very motivated” to address racial injustice in society – 35% of white practicing Christians said they are compared to 70% of Black practicing Christians.
A June 18 Pew Research Center report provided data offering insight into how perceptions have changed in light of recent events.
Overall, 67% of U.S. adults said they support the Black Lives Matter movement (38% strongly support; 29% somewhat support).
This is up from 43% support in 2016 when 18% said they strongly supported and 25% they somewhat supported Black Lives Matter.
White support of Black Lives Matter is now at 61% (31% strongly support; 30% somewhat support), a 20-point increase from Pew’s 2016 survey, but this still lags behind other groups.
Among Black respondents, 86% support Black Lives Matter (71% strongly; 15% somewhat), while 77% of Hispanic respondents (42% strongly; 35% somewhat) and 75% of Asian respondents (39% strongly; 36% somewhat) affirmed their support.
EthicsDaily.com reached out to several faith leaders for their reaction and response to the divergence of views found in these reports:
“The conclusions of the Barna Group report regarding which cultural groups see race as a problem come to me as no surprise,” said Starlette Thomas, the minister to empower congregations at the D.C. Baptist Convention. “Historically, race posits socially colored white people as the solution and all other groups as the problem.”
“The ‘Indian Problem’ was solved through massacre. The ‘Negro Problem’ was worked out over hundreds of years of systematic oppression, marginalization, hyper-surveillance and domestic terrorism,” she noted. “During World War II, Japanese Americans were considered a potential problem and placed in concentration camps.”
“Race is their problem. It is not a problem for those who benefit from it,” Thomas said. “With an abundance of privileges to choose from, the beneficiaries simply don’t want to put down their social perks to see what the problem is.”
Cory Jones is pastor of Tabernacle Baptist Church in Burlington, New Jersey, and a member of the EthicsDaily.com board of directors.
“The Barna Group statistics validate the existence of the white evangelical bubble. In conservative evangelicalism, true Christianity only exists in their world with their values,” he said. “The naive view that there is equality among all of God’s children permeates the pews as Black Christians continue to join majority white churches while white Christians rarely join majority Black churches. The expectation is for the minority to assimilate to the majority because the majority has the ‘correct’ perspective.”
Jones continued, “However, the real world is filled with racism, white privilege and white supremacy. But, when one is a part of the privileged group, they can choose to not see those things.”
“Many are saying that ‘our eyes are now opened.’ It is not the eyes I’m concerned about. It is the ears,” he said. “Black people have been lamenting these issues for years. The evangelical bubble would not allow these issues to be heard. This is what the Barna Group statistics reflect.”
Observing that many white pastors are still appealing to “white sensitivity,” Jones urged they begin to be humble and to listen more than they speak.
“Listen to the pain. Listen to the experiences. Listen to the sorrow. Listen to the anger,” he said. “Burst the white evangelical bubble. It is then you will discover Christianity beyond those selected issues that is more like the one Jesus would approve of.”
“The embrace of a white Christian nationalism where faith sustains and maintains social structures proven deadly to communities of color lacks the ability to see what the disenfranchised face each day or to hear their cries for justice,” said Miguel De La Torre, professor of social ethics and Latinx studies at Iliff School of Theology. “Maybe salvation for white Christians comes when they learn to reject their white Jesus for the one who is brown.”
Julie Pennington-Russell, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in the City of Washington, D.C., provided EthicsDaily.com with a video published to her congregation’s website on June 19.
“First, a pastoral word to our siblings of color: I can only imagine the traumatizing effect of watching, listening to and reading about horrific acts of violence being committed on a daily basis against Black lives in our nation. I’m grieving with you and for you, even as I grieve for our country,” Pennington-Russell said.
“To white friends everywhere: We have work to do, collectively and individually, in order to become genuine allies to our Black and brown friends and neighbors,” she said. “The murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and now Rayshard Brooks are holding up a mirror to our nation. They’re also holding up a mirror to the very roots of our faith.”
Pennington-Russell’s full message is available here.
“It has gradually dawned on me, and on a growing number of other white people, that critiques of white Christianity that we once considered radical are just simply true,” said David Gushee, distinguished university professor of Christian ethics and director of the Center for Theology and Public Life at Mercer University.
“Those critiques, as offered by my own professor James Cone, and many before him, included the idea that most of white Christianity in the U.S. has been ruined by racism, white supremacism, slaveholding and Jim Crow.”
“White Christianity sacrificed Jesus in order to underwrite white supremacism and allow white Christians to sleep at night with a good conscience,” he said. “A huge part of the whole problem was a self-blinding, denial and evasion in which white Christians trained ourselves not to see the obvious wrong of what we were doing and the society we had created.”
“The George Floyd murder, captured so vividly on film for all the world to see, seems to have shocked a significant number of white people out of that self-imposed blindness,” Gushee continued. “For me, the blinders fell off earlier, when an obviously racist man named Donald Trump was elected president with the support of a majority of white Christians. Different white folks come to their disillusionment at different points, but many are reaching that point.”
He concluded, “The statistical gap between white Christians and Christians of color about ‘whether the U.S. has historically been oppressive to minorities’ and other race-related questions is simply testament to the legacy of the self-imposed moral blindness of white people.”