Build up the body of Christ. Support the Pentecost Offering.

Called to account: white Christians and white supremacy

Author Robert P. Jones to speak with J. Herbert Nelson, II and other national faith leaders during Oct. 13 webinar

by the Rev. Cynthia Campbell | Special to Presbyterian News Service

Author Robert P. Jones accepts the Grawemeyer Award from Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary in April 2019. (Contributed photo)

LOUISVILLE — “Whatever the explicit public proclamations of white denominations and individual Christians, the public opinion data reveal that the historical legacy of white supremacy lives on in white Christianity today.”

So writes Robert P. Jones in his new book “White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity.” Jones, the CEO and founder of the Public Religion Research Institute, is a nationally-recognized social scientist who also studied for the ministry at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. In 2019, his previous book, “The End of White Christian America,” won Louisville Presbyterian Seminary’s Grawemeyer Award in Religion. It explored the impact of America’s changing racial demographics on American Christian institutions and affiliations.

Together with national religious leaders including the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Jones will speak via Facebook and YouTube from 6:30-8 p.m. Eastern Time on Tuesday, Oct. 13. The dialogue, sponsored by Empower West Louisville, a coalition of Black and white pastors and church leaders, will be broadcast via Simmons College of Kentucky’s Facebook page.

“White Too Long,” which takes its title from the writing of James Baldwin, calls white American Christianity to account. Jones explores the topic of the link between white Christianity and white supremacy on three fronts. First, he documents the teaching of Christian theologians and church leaders during the time of slavery that explicitly argued in favor of slavery on the basis of the innate inferiority of Black persons. Then, he examines his own personal faith journey as a Southern Baptist and the ways in which the faith tradition in which he was raised kept him from seeing the issues of race and injustice in the American South. Finally, he explores current polling data showing that active participation by white Americans in church life (Protestant or Catholic) is positively correlated to negative attitudes about racial minorities, doubts about mistreatment of Blacks by the criminal justice system, and anxiety about changing racial demographics in general. Put simply, if you are white and active in church life, you are more likely to hold views that reinforce white cultural and social superiority.

To say that this is disconcerting, especially to those for whom Christian faith is life-sustaining, is an understatement. What Jones asks his readers to think about is whether the way Christian faith is taught in America, especially the emphasis on individual or personal salvation, makes it difficult to see racism as it plays out in institutional life. His analysis may make some Christians uncomfortable, but religious ideas, like political and economic ones, often have unintended consequences. The only way to begin to address the deep-seated and mostly unexamined racism in our society is if Christians and others look carefully at all the things that perpetuate and reinforce it. Jones invites those who care about our Christian faith and practice to start there.

The Rev. Cynthia Campbell is a retired Presbyterian pastor and president emerita of McCormick Theological Seminary. She is a member of the PC(USA)’s A Corporation Board of Directors and chairs the board of the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation.

Creative_Commons-BYNCNDYou may freely reuse and distribute this article in its entirety for non-commercial purposes in any medium. Please include author attribution, photography credits, and a link to the original article. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDeratives 4.0 International License.

  • Subscribe to the PC(USA) News

  • Interested in receiving either of the PC(USA) newsletters in your inbox?

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.