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The Christian Church’s Complicity in Perpetuating White Supremacy

Excerpt from “Richmond Burning – the Last Days of the Confederate Capital”  Nelson Lankford Page 237 – April 1865

“White ministers of black churches did not last many Sundays after their occupation.  On Palm Sunday, before news of Appomattox reached the city, Robert Ryland dared to warn his flock of African Baptist Church against the USCT (United States Colored Troops) recruiting officers.  On hearing his inflammatory remarks, black soldiers in the congregation tried to arrest Ryland when the service ended.  Some parishioners pleaded with them to spare the old man that indignity.  Like so many whites who thought they understood black Richmonders, Ryland could not fathom the loathing of people for their enslavement and their exaltation at its demise.

As much was clear from a conversation he had with the Rev. Peter Randolph some weeks later.  Born a slave in Prince George County, Virginia but freed by his owners before the war, Randolph moved to the North.  He returned to be the postwar pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Richmond.  Not realizing Randolph was a Virginian, Ryland tried to tell him that slavery in the Old Dominion had been an exceedingly mild institution. Randolph later remembered that he replied, with a long sigh “If Hell was any worse than slavery in Virginia, I did not want to go there”.

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Things have not changed all that much in the past 145 years.  White Americans still look at Black Americans through their “white” lens and have resisted, either overtly or subconsciously, to see life from a Black American’s perspective and we are still struggling with the same issues emancipated slaves encountered in April 1865.

White supremacy has always been a part of the American culture and until recently, the Christian church’s culture.

When Christian churches preached white supremacy and/or supported the violence against black Americans, it legitimized and reinforced the white supremacy culture.

Excerpt from a July 1,  2020, NPR article White Supremacist Ideas Have Historical Roots In U.S. Christianity:

“When a young Southern Baptist pastor named Alan Cross arrived in Montgomery, Ala., in January 2000, he knew it was where the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. had his first church and where Rosa Parks helped launched the famous bus boycott, but he didn’t know some other details of the city’s role in civil rights history. The more he learned, the more troubled he became by one event in particular:

“In May 1961, a savage attack was made on a busload of Black and white Freedom Riders who had traveled defiantly together to Montgomery in a challenge to segregation.

“They pull in right here, on the side,” Cross said, standing in front of the depot. “And it was quiet when they got here. But then once they start getting off the bus, around 500 people come out – men, women, and children. Men were holding the Freedom Riders back, and the women were hitting them with their purses and holding their children up to claw their faces.” Some of the men carried lead pipes and baseball bats. Two of the Freedom Riders, the civil rights activist John Lewis and a white ally, James Zwerg, were beaten unconscious.

“Why didn’t white Christians show up?” he recalled wondering.  To his dismay, Cross learned that many of the people in the white mob were regular churchgoers.

Less than three weeks after the 1961 attack on the Freedom Riders, Montgomery’s most prominent pastor, Henry Lyon Jr., gave a fiery speech before the local white Citizens’ Council, denouncing the civil rights protesters and the cause for which they were beaten — from a “Christian” perspective.

“Ladies and gentlemen, for 15 years I have had the privilege of being pastor of a white Baptist church in this city,” Lyon said. “If we stand 100 years from now, it will still be a white church. I am a believer in a separation of the races, and I am none the less a Christian.” The crowd applauded.”

There were Christian churches who supported the civil rights movement but overwhelmingly they were northern liberal churches.

Excerpt from “Jim Crow, Civil Rights, and Southern White Evangelicals: A Historians Forum” (Carolyn Dupont).

“Simply put, any suggestion that the religion of southern whites aided the civil rights struggle grossly perverts the past. While many evangelicals displayed kindness in their personal dealings with blacks, most nonetheless enthusiastically defended a system designed to advantage whites and to correspondingly disadvantage African Americans at every turn. It is true that every major denomination in the United States embraced the Supreme Court’s Brown v Board of Education decision that declared segregated schools unconstitutional. However, the picture looks very different at the local level, where southern evangelicals more often fought ferociously against any effort to dismantle the system of white supremacy.”

“It is true that northern ministers participated in the southern struggle, but they represented the least evangelical and most “liberal” elements in American religion. They came largely from the ranks of the Episcopal, Presbyterian (UPCUSA), Unitarian, Disciples of Christ, and Methodist faiths (and from the “liberals” within those faiths), the very branches of American Protestantism that evangelicals have decried for their misguided theology. Furthermore, clerical support for the movement did not necessarily translate to the support of rank-and-file church members. My own preliminary research into the question of northern Christians’ responses to the movement indicates that a deep lay-clerical divide ran through northern congregations when it came to issues of black equality. Some northern ministers encountered serious opposition from their congregations when they advocated for black equality.”

“Most southern Christians did not regard segregation as a sin, and they resented those who criticized their “way of life.” They rejected efforts from their denominations to educate them into more enlightened racial views and frequently withheld funds from agencies in the church who advocated for equality. They sacked pastors who embraced any aspect of the freedom struggle. They formed lay organizations to keep their churches segregated; many individual congregations adopted formal resolutions instructing their deacons to reject black worshippers. When school integration became unavoidable, white evangelicals forsook the public schools in droves in favor of new private schools sponsored by their churches.”

“Finally, the role that religion played in thwarting the civil rights struggle raises important questions about the effectiveness of moral suasion in creating social change. Moral suasion often proves one of the least effective ways to create change. People too easily distort, circumvent, rationalize, or dispatched with moral arguments. Individuals with a vested interest in a system—as whites had (and have) in the racial hierarchy—often fail to grasp the evils of that system and will fight mightily to preserve it. And perhaps that is the bottom line: whites have benefitted from America’s racial hierarchy, and it should not really surprise us that white religious traditions have shored up these advantages. Nor should it surprise us that religion did not help pull them down.”

This was the culture in the ’60s and ’70s and I suspect it is still alive and well in many areas of America.  This is the culture a good percentage of folks who are alive today were raised in.  Is it any wonder many folks still have a white supremacy mentality…that’s how they were raised, both in the home and in the Christian church?  So, when you look at why we are where we are today, the complicity the Christian church has had in creating and supporting the idea of white supremacy in the American culture must be considered.

Joe Anderson
Joe Andersonhttp://www.andersonperformancepartners.com/about-us.html
JOE is a partner at Anderson Performance Partners LLC , a certified woman/veteran-owned business, working with organizations to facilitate problem solving through workforce energy and innovation. He is a retired Marine Officer and a seasoned senior business executive with more than 30 years leadership experience as a senior business executive in several Fortune 500 companies and as a business owner.

7 COMMENTS

  1. This article presents a view of Christianity’s impact on human freedom that is a polar opposite of the truth. The impression the article is designed to convey is that Christianity has contributed to racial inequality. The truth is that Christianity has been the greatest force in human history for the idea that all men are of equal value.
    Countless historical facts support that view. It begins with the plain, straight forward teaching of Jesus. The greatest commandment is “to Love God … and to love your neighbor as yourself.” Love – for all of humanity – is the fundamental character trait advocated by Jesus and countless of his followers over the centuries.
    Jesus did away with the common distinctions of the time: The Samaritans were viewed as second-class – yet Jesus interacted with them in the same way that he did with his Hebrew race. Women were viewed as second-class and Jesus elevated them to an equal footing with men.
    Those expressions of Christian love continued into the early church, as the apostles traveled to places and worked with people who were previously seen as untouchable.
    Over the centuries, the Christian faith has had the impact of raising civilization to higher levels, doing away with arbitrary divisions, and elevating the worth of every human being.
    One only has to look at those nations today that have had significant Christian impact on their cultures and compare them to those who have been heavily influenced by other religions. There can be no doubt that the Western democracies have achieved a level of personal freedom and respect for every individual that sets the standard for the rest of the world. Compare that level of freedom with China – manifesting it’s communist/socialist mindset, where dissent is not tolerated and millions of its citizens are held against their will; with India and it’s strict societal divisions coming out of a Hindu philosophy; with the Islamic nations where women continue to be second-class, and slavery is often tolerated. To gain a sense of the huge impact on culture that the Christian faith has had, visit those nations which have evolved without that influence.
    Not only has Christianity been ‘a light in a dark world’ but individual Christians have made the world a better place.
    Wilber Wilberforce – a devout Christian – was the moving force behind the abolition of the slave trade in the United Kingdom. George Washington manifested his Christian beliefs with regular prayers and Bible reading, and led the infant nation to freedom and independence.
    Let’s not forget that the philosophical basis for the Civil war was the common Christian belief in the equality of all men and the evil of slavery. 400,000 Union soldiers gave their lives for pursuit of that ideal.
    This article cites the actions of some individual church goers and generalizes from those to the article’s premise – that somehow Christianity is at fault. That is a logical error that most educated people dismiss. Recently, one quarter of the Democratic city council in Toledo were arrested for corruption. Does that mean that the Democratic party is corrupt? An FBI attorney just recently pled guilty to falsifying emails in an attempt to substantiate bogus charges in the Russia-gate fraud. Does that mean that the FBI is deceitful and corrupt?
    Certainly, there are people who claim to be Christian who don’t live up to the standards of the faith. There are such exceptions in every belief system. To fault the Christian faith in the quest for equality of all people is factually false, and to reason from the actions of a few to characteristics of the whole is a logical construct dismissed by thoughtful people of every philosophical persuasion.

  2. I believe in the early days Christianity tried to implement Jesus’ vision of peace, love and giving/helping others. Somewhere along the way, good works were hijacked by greed. Today, many organized religions and churches are a tax free multi-billion dollar business that uses fear to fan the flames of “white supremacy” and maintain their money machine.

  3. Let’s broaden the horizons … how about the entire world … starting with the Crusades (tho almost certainly it goes further back)

    Missionaries around the world – like Africa (for randomness)

    The Spanish Misisonaries across the Americas

    … all the way to picturing Jesus Christ as a white man – through given where he lived – was almost certainly not.

    /J

    • In brief, John – the Crusades were initiated because of Islamic interference with Christian pilgrimages to the Holy Places in Palestine. The Arabs had taken the Middle East and North Africa by conquest (that’s right, war) from the 7th century onwards. White and black slavery was practised in Islam from the start, and continues to this day (around 40 million slaves in our enlightened world, and what is being done about that?)
      Christian missionaries brought not just the faith, but medicine, education, an end to slavery, and an unceasing struggle against exploitation. Men like Livingston, Desmond Tutu, and Beyers Naude bear testimony to this. Christianity continues to grow like wildfire in Africa, despite violent opposition from Islamic militants. Christianity, from the start 2000 years ago has always had the strongest appeal to the poor. The same is true in China today, where it is estimated that it will reach unstoppable proportions by mid-century, once again in spite of aggressive persecution by the CCP.
      The Spanish Missionaries in Florida, Mexico and South America consistently opposed settler exploitation and persecution of the natives, in line with the teaching of the Magisterium – 1435 Eugenius IV threatened excommunication for Christians who didn’t free slaves in the Canary Islands within 15 days. 1537 Paul III condemned slavery as sin. 1591 Gregory XIV reiterated the earlier decrees. 1639, Urban VIII reaffirmed the Church’s repudiation of slavery, as did Innocent XI, Benedict XIV, Gregory XVI, & Leo XIII.
      Of course, Jesus was not European – he was an Aramaic speaking Jew of Semitic race, as recognised and taught by the Catholic Church from the start.
      The real problem is that people have not been taught history properly for the past 60 years, largely as a consequence of the anti-Christian prejudice laid upon the West by the Enlightenment intellectuals, who tried to bury 1000 years of history, from the fall of Rome to the Renaissance, the most egregious act of censorship in history. The discovery of Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks in the 1880s proved how wrong those ‘enlightened’ scholars had been, and subsequent historical scholarship slowly dismantled the lies, forcing an unrepentant academia, state schools, and the media to squeeze history out of the curriculum. That is why today we have so many people carrying around false notions gleaned from historical fiction, fictional history, and the hogwash of Hollywood.
      By the way, whenever critics of Christianity start their argument with vague references to the Crusades and the Inquisition, I know that they have little idea of the facts from those two episodes of history.
      I note that you never addressed a single one of the substantive arguments I made in my first comment on the article.

      • Hi Andre – I always like to learn and spent an hour or so reading up on your statement of the Crusades. What I haven’t been able to identify is who the Arabs took the Middle East and North Africa from in the 7th Century. From what I can tell (and I am not a student of history) just about everyone was taking land from other civilizations back then.

        • Hi Carol – the Middle East was primarily Christian, but also Jewish and Pagan, and most of the Middle east at that time was part of the Christian Byzantine Empire. The Islamic conquests continued eastward toward India, through North Africa into Spain (the advance was halted at Tours in central France by the Frankish leader, Charles Martel), and through Asia Minor into the Balkans. Islamic invaders were twice repelled from the gates of Vienna, and the Christian peoples of Hungary and the Balkans were subjected to Islamic rule for 300 years. White slavery was rife, and Islamic slavery continues in Africa to this day (but don’t expect to read about it in the MSM). As I have pointed out, since History has been squeezed out of the school curriculums, many people have fallen prey to false historical narratives promoting ideological agendas, but I would be more than happy to suggest some books you might read. A very readable and well-researched one about the Crusades is Rodney Stark’s “God’s Battalions”. By the way, taking land from other peoples is as much a feature of our world today as it was at any time in history e.g. Russia-Ukraine, China-Tibet, China-Taiwan, Turkish control of Kurds and interference in Syria, and disputes on the Indo-Chinese border, among others.

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