If something has been part of your movement for hundreds of years, how can you claim it doesn’t belong?
That’s what a group of Christian faith leaders is trying to do with the white supremacists who, for example, were part of the attempted insurrection at the Capitol in January. According to an article in USA Today, they’ve published an open letter fretting that groups like the Proud Boys, etc are “cloaking themselves in biblical language” to justify their actions.
From the USA Today article:
“The use of Christian symbols, iconography, Scripture in efforts to dominate and exclude are as old the republic itself,” said the Rev. Fred Davie, executive vice president of Union Theological Seminary in New York City. “It’s deeply baked into our nation. It’s deep, but it’s also been proven time and time again to be wrong.”
I’m sorry, proven what? How, exactly?
Davie goes on to say that well, yeah, there is a connection between far-right politics and far-right religion, but those folks are just doing it wrong. “I doubt these people are showing up at church every Sunday and reading their Bibles,” he insists.
Doing it wrong. Gee, where have we heard that before?
White Supremacy Is Baked In
Another quote from USA Today:
For centuries in the United States, many Christian pastors preached a “natural order” in which whites were justified in enslaving Black men, women and children, citing everything from the writings of Paul the Apostle in the New Testament to the Curse of Ham in the Old Testament. Others argued that because the Bible refers to slavery as an institution without specifically condemning it, it must be divinely permitted. In 1861, Texas’ leaders cited the “plainest revelations of Divine Law” to justify slavery and secession from the United States.
The bible has been used for centuries, in both America and Europe, to justify treating non-whites like shit. From Jewish pogroms to Native American genocide to justifying slavery, segregation and discrimination of African-Americans. There’s bible to support all of it – and despite what Mr. Davie would have you believe, the folks spouting these ideas know it, chapter and verse.
I can’t tell you how many times my own parents quoted the bible to me to justify their racism. The Curse of Ham mentioned above got a lot of play, as did the story of the Tower of Babel. (God means for us to be separate! Also, Black people were closest to the fire when God burned up the tower and that’s why their skin is darker.) There’s also the whole prohibition in the OT of Jews marrying outside the faith – this means God don’t like race mixing.
Fun fact: I fried my parents brains once when I pointed out that Moses was married to a black woman, and that if Egyptian or Ethiopian people converted to Judaism they became acceptable marriage material. The best they could come up with was that “Ethiopian” didn’t mean Black. Okay. Jewish ain’t white, either, but whatever.
The more moderate faith leaders can wring their hands all they want but the bottom line is they are part of a religion that does indeed lend itself to white supremacy, and has been used to justify the same for centuries. For every one who signed their open letter, there is another Christian leader equally well-versed who will claim that Mr. Davies et all are the ones not doing it right.
You Can’t Fix Something You Won’t Call Broken
Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s fantastic that this group of Christians want to make their religion less racist. But by falling back on the ubiquitous “no true Scotsman” argument they’re destined to fail. You can’t fix what ain’t broken. By pretending that their view is the only correct one (something every type of Christianity is plagued with) and that 2,000 years of interpretation is just wrong, these leaders are guaranteeing their own failure. Conveniently, they’re also ducking out of any responsibility for being part of a religion that’s justified some horrible things throughout it’s history, but that’s also par for the course.
If Mr. Davie and his friends really want to make a difference and snatch Christianity from the clutches of white supremacy, they have to start by admitting the truth: Racism is supported by the bible. If you want to argue that the book as a whole says something different, fine. But as long as your argument boils down to, “I’m right because bible,” you’re just another voice in a room full of shouting experts.
And the white supremacists have a lot of history on their side.