How White Supremacy Infected Christianity and the Republican PartyHistorians in the News
tags: racism, religion, Christianity, Donald Trump, White Supremacy, Evangelical
Robert P. Jones, chief executive and founder of the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), is fast becoming the leading expert in the values, votes and mind-set of White Christians. His work has explained how loss of primacy in American society fueled a white-grievance mentality — the same mind-set President Trump so effectively read and manipulated.
His latest book, “White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity,” is a masterful study documenting how white supremacy came to dominate not just Southern culture, but White Christianity. In it, he argues that “most white Christian churches have protected white supremacy by dressing it in theological garb, giving it a home in a respected institution, and calibrating it to local cultural sensibilities.” He also recounts ways in which White churches are moving to account for their past and explore their history with Black Americans.
Jones posits that it is not simply intermingling a celebration of the “Lost Cause” and religion that has led White Christians who do not think of themselves of racists to harbor views that reinforce racism; he also points to the theological worldview of White Christians, including “an individualist view of sin [which ignores institutional racism], an emphasis on a personal relationship with Jesus, and the Bible as the protector of the status quo.” If you want to know why White Christian ideology is the best predictor of racist attitudes (a shocking revelation for the author and likely many readers), the book is essential reading.
Below is my conversation with Robert P. Jones, edited for style and length.
Q: Did Trump inspire this undertaking?
A: In some important ways, “White Too Long” represents my accounting of a journey I’ve been on at least since my seminary days in my early 20s. I was raised as a Southern Baptist in Mississippi and attended a Southern Baptist college and seminary. At the same time, I attended newly integrated public schools in Jackson, where I attended classes and played sports with African American classmates. But our social lives, our neighborhoods and churches were largely still segregated. It wasn’t until I was in seminary that I became aware of the genesis of my denomination, which I capture in the first sentence of the book: “The Christian denomination in which I grew up was founded on the proposition that chattel slavery could flourish alongside the gospel of Jesus Christ.” That appalling contradiction, and its legacy all around me growing up, has haunted me my whole adult life.
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