The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity by Robert P. Jones

One of the leading commentators on religion and politics in the United States is Robert P. Jones, CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute. His recent books on churches and racism have rightly drawn praise for the depth of their research, the range of statistics they draw on, and the bodies they consult (e.g. Pew Foundation, etc. ).

Best of all is his impeccable clarity: the audacity and frankness of his prescient analysis; and its conclusions and future projections. It combines poised writing with a devastating mix of data, history, cultural and political analysis, and its highly nuanced sense and understanding of religion in the United States.

Jones The End of White Christian America (2019) was invigorating, and its final volume is equally compelling. Drawing on history, data and surveys, Jones offers a provocative analysis of the relationship between American Christianity and white supremacy. The burden of the book is a call to denominations, congregations and church leaders to urgently consider their past, face their legacy and not deny that the connections between oppression, injustice and discrimination still live with us.

It traces the roots of evangelical growth and success, in part, to white supremacy – white, male, privileged, empowered, educated, and controlling the apparatus of social, financial, economic, and political power. He sees this domination coming to an end and, with it, the presumptuous hegemony of white evangelicalism.

Jones suggests that the death knell for white evangelicalism, while not caused by Donald Trump’s presidency, was nonetheless highlighted by his four-year tenure in the White House. We now know that 80% of white evangelicals voted for Mr. Trump. We also know that this same constituency was far more drawn to conspiracy theories such as those perpetrated by QAnon.

Likewise, white evangelicals are more likely than any other Christian group to deny climate change and see it as a conspiracy; and opposing marriage equality and “gay rights.” On issues of race, white evangelicals are the least likely to oppose the continued use of Confederate flags, the most likely to suspect that Barack Obama was secretly Muslim, and the strongest supporters of law enforcement against Black Lives Matter marches and protests. Jones just lets the investigative material speak for itself.

While evangelism remains committed to evangelism, Jones also has some indicative data for the Church of tomorrow. Most sociologists working on religion and generational change note that evangelical youth are changing, and rapidly. They are committed to tolerance, diversity, equality and inclusion. They value sensitivity and mutual respect. They oppose discrimination based on gender, sexuality, disability and ethnicity. Targeting, grooming and coercing their peers — formerly known as evangelism — has become a mode of mission that many millennials and Gen Zers increasingly want to keep their distance from. Everyone needs their space.

The emerging generation of evangelicals no longer read books from “approved” publishers who strive and stretch to offer very tenuous scriptural ground rules for sex. They are also not inclined to sign up for joint prayer meetings to support missionaries in Muslim countries.

In contrast, white evangelical male leaders continue to promote old-fashioned mission. But their religious language seems hollow and inauthentic in an age that values ​​integrity, humility, social and civic service, and kindness. Churches advocating for the poor, food banks, social justice, climate change, refugees, asylum seekers, marriage equality and gender equality are becoming increasingly appealing to young people.

Robert P. Jones notes that, for the first time in more than a century, mainstream American denominations are now outperforming their evangelical rivals. They have taken the lead in attendance polls. Yet all parts of the Church continue to decline – sexuality, abuse scandals and putting reputation and survival ahead of authenticity, truth and integrity – are some of the reasons for which the emerging generations are now keeping away from the churches. This generation is spiritual, but not religious.

White evangelical voters who put Trump in the White House are down sharply. But the children of these voters will not switch to traditional denominations in large numbers. Certainly, some have been, attracted by the progressive values ​​and politics that these churches exemplify. But the rising seas of cultural change are affecting all churches, and the signs are not encouraging.

Confronting entrenched systemic racism is part of the toll. I’m with Robert P. Jones and Bob Dylan here, because “times are changing.”

The Very Reverend Professor Martyn Percy was Principal of Ripon College, Cuddesdon, before becoming Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, in 2014.

White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity
Robert P. Jones
Simon & Schuster €19.99
(978-1-9821-2287-4)

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