When I heard about the recent mass shooting in Atlanta, Georgia, my first guess was that it was a white Christian male that was the murderer. When I read about Georgia passing Jim Crow-level anti-voting laws designed to suppress Black voters, I had no idea who the Governor was that signed the law at the time… but my initial guess of him being an older white male involved in his Church was quickly proven true (it is tragically symbolic that he signed the bill surrounded by other white males under a painting of a plantation).
Neither of these predictions were born out of any hatred of the Church or Christians at all. They are based on a sad acknowledgement of History. When we see violence or oppression against BIPoC in the United States, it a good guess to think that it is tied to a specific brand of white supremacy that is bred in certain Evangelical Church circles. This is all because more often than not… it is.
Of course, the first response to anyone saying something like this is usually some form of a “not all Churches” mantra that takes on the argument of “well, how come we only see a very small number of people resorting to extreme violence if white supremacy is such a big problem in some Churches?” Or maybe even pointing at some conservative white leader or politician that works against some form of oppression (usually in a very small way). Well, part of it has to do with the isolationist nature of these kinds of Churches. Most of us (even if you go to a moderate or progressive Church) are part of their “evangelism field” that they rarely interact with except to “preach the Gospel.” We just simply don’t see as much violence sparking as we possibly could because the people that would cause it spend a lot of time away from the people they desire to attack.
On the other hand, the oppression aspect happens all the time in society, so if you don’t see it by now (especially all the ways it is tied to the Evangelical Church) – that is on you. But the existence of this denialist mindset is a hard truth that we have to face up to: too many people think of societal violence only in terms of mass shootings. When you take a more honest look at the daily micro-aggressions, verbal assaults, discrimination, and systemic abuse that happens to BIPoC all the time… you realize that white supremacist violence is everywhere. And the Church needs to recognize their role in spreading this violence for centuries, right up to the present day. We never stopped.
But what am I talking about when I ask “How are Some Evangelical Churches Connected to White Supremacist Violence?” Do some Evangelical Churches serve as a kind of breeding ground for oppression and White Supremacy? How does a Christian at one of these Churches go from “Prince of Peace” to violence, murders, and oppression? Usually there are several possible signs – you might find one, some, or all at certain churches:
- It almost always starts off with a problematic literal reading of Matthew 5:27-30 which starts at a young age by teaching that Jesus meant for people to literally maim themselves in order to avoid sin. This usually accompanies an admonishment to do “what ever it takes” to get rid of sin. I have witnessed all kinds of unusual theatrics related to this – including a guy that carried a real coffin on his back all the way down an auditorium aisle (nearly dropping it on bystanders several times) so that he could place it at the front for us to write the things we wanted to cut from our life on piece of paper and throw into “the grave.” The stereotypical theatrics are bonfires (yes, these really do still happen) to burn books / CDs / clothes / etc that “cause one to stumble.” It is interesting to note that boys will often bring a effigial Barbie doll or picture of a girl to burn for their side of a relationship they want to purge, whereas girls are usually encouraged to bring symbolic or sentimental mementos, notes, gifts, etc. Boys and men are encouraged to take a more violent approach in most all interpretations of scripture – including here.
- Add in a very colonialist view of missions that sees the (white) Church’s duty to go and save the “heathen nations” from themselves, while also bringing (white) civilization and (U.S.-centric) democracy along for the ride. This is usually accompanied by lavish tales of the evils that happen in other lands (well, some of them, mainly in Africa, the Middle East, Asia, South America, etc): demonic possessions, moving inanimate objects, supernatural occurrences, etc. (crime is usually linked to these events as well). Interestingly, Europe is referred to as “post-Christian,” even though that term could also apply to places in Central or South America as well. White non-Christian equals “post-Christian” while Black and Brown non-Christian equals “Demonic.” A foundation of white supremacy and American exceptionalism are usually well entrenched in missionary efforts. They serve as a constant example that racist dog whistles are “okay” as long as you are doing “God’s work.”
- More and more passive aggressive racist and sexist comments usually start popping up around election years, when the “godless evil Liberals” are chided for destroying the world. People are asked “Who will stand up and fight? Who will do whatever it takes to stop the Liberals from taking over this country?” Liberals, of course, are always imagined as BIPoC (especially Black) and feminist. Homophobia, transpobia, and any other phobia you can imagine against the LGBTQA community are prominent as well.
- Don’t forget to bring the police in as protectors of the Church… or maybe armed members themselves… or both even. This turns the actions of the Police into a “Holy War” alongside the Church, with incidences of Police shootings given as examples of “spiritual warfare” against the evils of crime in the streets (with the criminals almost always being Black in these examples). BLM is then cast as an enemy idea in these contexts – even if there are no armed guards. Sometimes the police presence doesn’t happen, even though the Church embraces a police state ideology.
- Then you add in support for local, state, and national political leaders that constantly utter the same racist/sexist/transphobic/etc dog whistles (or just even come out and directly speak hateful beliefs). The vitriol from these leaders is often covered up by excuses, twisting of scripture, and treats of expulsion if you disagree. Everything from “Passion for the Gospel” to being an “Angry Young Prophet” are used to dismiss any concerns over rough language or terms (or even the n-word) that “slip” into these leader’s rants.
- Finally, some actual type of violence is upheld as “the ultimate sacrifice” for the “American Way of Life.” Often times it is a person that was killed on the mission field decades or centuries ago. But modern day examples of soldiers fighting in “heathen” lands is often a huge source as well. Now you even have the January 6, 2021 Capital Insurrection attempt, or any number of killings of people by the police to show the potential Christian martyr that they can be the aggressor instead of the victim. Its a weird mixture, but yes they do use martyrs that intentionally let themselves be murdered… and connect them to physically fighting “in the Name of the Lord.” Its… a weird stretch. Many Churches are currently teetering between 5 and 6 right now as I type this. But even when Churches pull away from violence, just image the atmosphere and mindset that all this creates to drive oppression in society.
You can also see in those points where excuses like being a “victim to sexual addiction” and various other justifications come into play. Obviously these are used all the time to blame the people in the church for not “overcoming” their temptations, but they are also very easy to pivot into being ways to excuse the Church from any culpability for the ways that people start acting when they are influenced by the areas listed above.
Ranting about these things on Twitter or Facebook by chiding your connections to “say something” will probably not really get through to those that promote and/or commit to this level of hatred and oppression. They have pulled away from interacting with anyone doesn’t share their beliefs. When they do interact, they see us as a “mission field.” Even former Evangelicals like myself are quickly switched from “insider” to “outsider” the first time we mention any kind of support for BLM, LGBTQA rights, “free” healthcare, or any other “evil Liberal” issues. I have tried to get through to people myself – I know full well that I have some friends that the last words they will ever hear from me were me telling them to stop being racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, etc. Not much I can do about that.
I wish I had some magical insight into how to get through to these people. I have gotten through from time to time, but I will be the first to tell you that there is no one single method for getting through. No matter what article or blog post you can share that shows the “secret” to changing minds, I can promise you there are many, many people that those methods don’t work on as well. Everyone is different, and we may never know who needs the in your face yelling and who needs the loving example to change minds. Maybe we should flip the tables (in a way) and start looking at the Evangelical Church as the mission field. There are all kinds of community outreach programs that look to educate people about hatred. But most of these programs give the Evangelical Church a pass on dealing with the problems in it’s midst. That needs to change if we are ever going to really deal with white supremacist violence and oppression in this country.