David Gushee tackles White American Christianity

For the past four weeks, Broadway Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas has been studying David Gushee’s After Evangelicalism: The Path to a New Christianity. David leaves race for the ninth and last chapter. This is largely because, as he freely admits, the subject was the last frontier he had to cross on his way out of evangelicalism.

David Gushee

In preparation for today’s study, I culled a few quotations from the ninth chapter. To get a proper feel for context, you will have to read the book, but these little excerpts will give you a feel for his basic ideas. I have now read the book twice and listened to it on Audm twice. And every time, I hear something significant for the first time.

Gushee on American Christian racism

European racism

“The European imperial powers decided to believe heresies.  They believed in the unequal worth and value of, and the ontological differences between, persons based on their ‘race’ and ‘color,’ and they came to believe that God’s moral law against murder, adultery, theft, and covetousness did not apply in the relation between European conquerors and those they conquered.”

We were white and Christian and European and better; they were ‘red’ and ‘brown’ and ‘black,’ and heathen and native and worse.  We were normal humans, or peak humans, and they were less-than-that humans.  We were entitled to rule.  They were slated to suffer, serve, and die.  All of this with God’s supervision and blessing.”

“I do suspect that theologian J. Kameron Carter is right that the ultimate origin of a racialized European Christian mind is traceable to historic Christian anti-Judaism . . . All it took was for this theology of rejection to become an anthropology of rejection based on ‘race’ or even ‘blood.’  Once it was adapted to classify and reject a people based on race and blood, the paradigm was available for other uses.”

“Jesus, as the best and highest of human beings, became a white man in the white imagination.”

“From the very beginning, there were voices proclaiming that slavery was sin—including but not limited to black people who protested it . . . Somewhere deep inside themselves, many white Americans, including direct participants in the slave system, knew that what they were doing was sin.  But they went on doing it.”

Romans 1: 28-29: “God gave them up to a debased mind”: “The suggestion is that God sometimes punishes people by allowing them to spiral downward, reap what they sow, and sink into ever greater debasement.”

Black Americans on white Christianity

“For my American Academy of Religion presidential address, I decided to read as many classic and contemporary novels by black Americans as I could manage, with one main question in mind—what do these novels tell us about white Americans’ values, behaviors, and religion?”

“(These writers) say that the moral degradation baked into white American Christian culture is still quite palpable today . . . The damage to the morality of white Christian people is at the foundation, and it has never been repaired.”

W.E.B. DuBois: “A nation’s religion is its life, and as such white Christianity is a miserable failure.”

James Baldwin: “Go back to where you started, or as far as you can, examine all of it, travel your road again and tell the truth about it.  Sing or shout or testify or keep it to yourself: but know when you came.”

Missed opportunities

“The tragedy of the South is that passionate evangelicalism and passionate racism grew simultaneously, becoming as painfully intertwined as the white and black Christians of the region.”

“Reconstruction had been a signal opportunity for white repentance.  Imagine the South’s churches, clergy, and people deciding that this was exactly the time to shake free of racial hatred and the morally damaging sense of white racial superiority.  But this opportunity also was missed.”

“When lynching ran rampant, and brave black leaders like Ida B. Wells risked their lives to tell the truth about what was happening, the social gospelers stayed quiet.”

“But the Holy Spirit was not invited to defeat American segregation, and Pentecostals for the most part retreated into customary racial divisions.”

“On the integration of white churches, the answer was go slow.  On civil rights legislation, the answer was go slow. On the elevation of black and brown leaders, voices, ideas, and priorities in mainstream evangelicalism, the answer was no thank you.  And on the development of a truly multiracial evangelical movement with fully shared power and the decentering of white men, the answer was basically, when hell freezes over.”

“In general, the election of Obama led not just to white evangelical policy resistance, which might have come to any Democrat, but to a great deal of racially loaded rhetoric and a rise in what is now being called white nationalism.”

“The radical nature of this failure (the evangelical embrace of the candidacy of Donald Trump) is leading to the radicalization of resistance of white evangelicalism in America.”

Similar but radically different

“Black and white Christians often shared an evangelical faith.  But it is also true, as womanist theologian Stacey Floyd-Thomas has written, that ‘black and white Christians did not worship the same God.’  White Christians worshiped a god who imposed slavery upon black people and demanded their obedience.  Black Christians, not all but many, worshiped a God who viewed slavery as oppression, sided with the slaves, and would one day act to bring them freedom.”

“Resistant black Christians learned to subordinate slave obedience passages to the grand dignity, liberation, and justice themes that could be found through the whole of Scripture.  They needed to make this move for their own psychic survival.”

Gushee’s concluding mea culpa

“As a doctoral student I saw the anti-Semitism of historic Christianity contribute to the Holocaust, and I became a fierce opponent of anti-Semitism.

As a junior scholar I saw fundamentalist Southern Baptists drive women out of their teaching and ministry posts, and I became a fierce opponent of Christian patriarchalism.

As a midlevel evangelical ethicist, I saw our country descend into authorized torture, and I became a fierce opponent of the degradation of Muslim men’s bodies in the name of national security.

As a seasoned scholar, I saw the harm that my own teaching had done to gay Christians, and I repented toa become a fierce opponent of antigay traditionalist faith.

And when exactly did I see that white American Christianity was born of heresy, and that my polite center-left self has been complicit in it?  About five minutes ago.  More precisely, about the day after Donald Trump’s election and the great reveal of the evangelical 81 percent.

It must be that dealing with white European Christian racism is the most threatening challenge of all.  It must be that the horror is too great, the shame too awful, for many of us white guys to want to look over in that direction if we can avoid it.

I am sorry.  So very sorry.  I believe that I have begun to repent.  Whether I have succeeded in doing so will be judged by others, and by Christ himself.”

2 thoughts on “David Gushee tackles White American Christianity

  1. This is an incredibly insightful analysis of where Christianity became corrupted by political partisanship and racism… we are at a point in our faith journey where we must retool the foundation of our belief to reflect the God we have, not the one we perverted for our own selfish purposes.

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