On January 6, 2021, a mob of rioters breached the U.S. Capitol in an effort to stop the the electoral college vote count during a joint session of Congress. They occupied, vandalized, and ransacked the building for several hours. Congress was evacuated to safety. Five people died as a result of the insurrection.
This brief summary of facts does not begin to convey the full acts of violence and destruction, not just against people and property, but against democracy itself.
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A Christian Response to Insurrection
I have struggled to find the right words after the events of January 6th. My mental health was so bad the following day that I abandoned my to-do list and wore pajamas all day. As I continue to edit and revise this post, and add additional subheadings, I realize I’ve spent at least 18 hours researching and writing what you’re reading now.
There isn’t a singular right way to respond to violence.
There isn’t a singular right response to an affront on democracy.
But there are also wrong ways to respond, and sadly, I’ve seen those responses online, from people who call themselves Christians.
Some continue to spread conspiracy theories instead of acknowledging the truth: the rioters supported President Donald Trump’s attempts to overturn a democratic election, and their goal was to stop the formalization of President-elect Joe Biden’s election victory.
Others condemn the violence while still sympathizing with the rioters who stormed the U.S. Capitol.
Finally, some Christians are falling back on the tried and true “No true Scotsman” fallacy.
The “No True Christian” Fallacy
I first addressed this on my lifestyle blog back in 2017, after the the riots in Charlottesville, Virginia. In that post, I explained that many white Christian Americans have long been complicit in white supremacy. I limited that post to the scope of US history, but world history is filled with examples of horrific violence done in God’s name, from the Inquisition to the rise of Nazi Germany.
These Christians might not truly follow Christ’s example in the Bible, but they have often been fanatic in their religious beliefs. More Christians of the same mold were in Washington, D.C. last week.
At the very least, one rioter appropriated Christian imagery when storming the U.S. Capitol. This video shows a rioter carrying the Christian flag while walking around the Senate floor. (Look around the 16 second mark).
Protestors gathering outside carried wooden crosses.
Christians should condemn violence. We should condemn an attempted coup on the United States of America.
But we must also acknowledge the complicity of Christians in the violence that occurred on Epiphany, including any Christians who remained outside the capitol building. They might not have attacked the US government themselves, but they willingly participated in a demonstration designed to undermine a legitimate election.
Yes, the nonviolent protestors were exercising their First Amendment rights, and I don’t take grievance with the exercise of their rights as Americans. However, I must criticize their choices as Christians.
My fellow white Christians, we cannot just dismiss the actions of the protestors and rioters from last week as a “fringe element,” somehow “unrelated” to mainstream American Christianity.
White Christians are overdue for a reckoning of our complicity in white supremacy.
White Christians and White Supremacy
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.Jesus, Matthew 22:39
On June 17, 2015, a male white supremacist entered the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in Charleston, South Carolina and killed nine people.
Within a week, three African-American churches across the Southeast were attacked by arsonists.
In October 2015, six predominantly black churches in St. Louis, Missouri were also targeted by arsonists.
White violence against black people is not a new phenomenon… But white people also cannot dismiss it as something only relevant in history books.
Equally important, white people need to realize that white violence against black people is a single symptom of white supremacy, not the sole definition. We can condemn violence, say anti-racist things, and even have black friends, while still being complicit in white supremacy.
What is White Supremacy?
All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.George Orwell, Animal Farm
Simply put, white supremacy is the belief that white people are superior to people of other races. White supremacists want to maintain a system of white power and white privilege.
A more academic definition of white supremacy is a social system in which white people enjoy structural advantages. White supremacy can exist (does exist) even within societies that have equality written in their laws. Individual white people can benefit from white supremacy, and be complicit in white supremacy, even if those individuals harbor no superior beliefs.
Examples of white supremacy in the United States include:
- Indian Removal Act and the Trail of Tears
- an entire war fought to preserve slavery
- Jim Crow laws
- Japanese internment camps
- unevenly distributed GI Bill benefits
- police brutality and racial bias
- media representation that doesn’t match the population
- School-to-Prison Pipeline
Frankly, this is just a small list of modern and historical examples of white supremacy in the United States. Keep in mind that many of the historical examples have lasting repercussions today, particularly in regards to the racial wealth gap.
Who is Complicit in White Supremacy?
Someone who is complicit is someone who supports wrongdoing, even if they did not directly do anything wrong.
Any white person who is not actively engaging in anti-racist work is at least somewhat complicit in white supremacy.
If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.Desmond Tutu, South African Anglican cleric and theologian
You can be complicit in white supremacy without being actively racist, meaning you can support a racist society without consciously discriminating against someone based on the color of their skin.
The following is a non-exhaustive list of ways white people can be complicit in white supremacy.
Respond with White Fragility
White fragility is a term coined by Robin DiAngelo to address the emotional response of white people in conversations about race. Even the most mundane point that whiteness exists can lead some white people to be defensive.
In a discussion about race, the following responses all indicate white fragiltiy:
- Deflecting with another type of inequality, e.g. claiming sexism or classism is the real problem
- Patting yourself on the back for your allyship, e.g. arguing you’re not racist because you took a college course or attended a Black Lives Matter march
- Tone-policing, or ignoring the content of the message to focus on the delivery
- Focusing on intentions instead of impact
- Refusing to engage because it’s “too hard”
You can learn more by reading DiAngelo’s book, White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism.
Debate the Existence of Racism
Racism is very real to black, indigenous, and other people of color (BIPOC). It is not a thought experiment.
Someone’s lived experiences shouldn’t be up for debate, but many white people decide to debate the reality of racism anyway. This can appear in the following ways:
- Assuming you, as a white person, can be neutral about racism, and thus your judgment is more accurate than the lived experiences of any BIPOC
- Playing the devil’s advocate
- Demanding an endless amount of data “proving” racism
- Insisting “reverse racism” is the real problem
How do you respond when someone says a racist slur in your presence? What do you say when a co-worker tells a racist joke?
When you choose to be silent in the face of racism, you are complicit.
White people in predominantly white spaces (including predominantly white churches) need to use their voices to speak out against racism. This is how you use your white privilege for good.
I know that challenging friends and family can be hard. Luckily, the Creative Equity Toolkit has resources to equip you to respond to racism.
Christians and the Sin of White Supremacy
But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter from Birmingham Jail
Church leaders and other Christians are often complicit in white supremacy.
In the 19th century, southern preachers adamantly defended slavery, turning to the Bible to support their beliefs. Today, most Americans view slavery as the greatest sin in our nation’s history. (Keep in mind that some prominent Christians are still defending slavery).
If you decide to research any of the aforementioned examples of white supremacy in the United States, you will discover Christian participation in every single event. For example, in response to desegregation, white southern churches supported the arrival of “segregation academies,” private schools exclusively for white students.
But white supremacy isn’t just a sin in church history. It’s an ongoing problem, present in churches and among Christians today.
In addition to the broad examples of white supremacy already mentioned, the following are specific ways white American Christians are complicit in white supremacy.
Racist Attitudes Held by White American Christians
A June 2020 poll discovered the following attitudes among white Christians:
- More likely to believe that killings of Black Americans are isolated incidents rather than part of a broader pattern of how police treat African Americans.
- 72% of white evangelical Protestants
- 56% of white Catholics
- 53% of white mainline Protestants
- More likely to agree that “today discrimination against whites has become as big a problem as discrimination against blacks and other minorities.”
- 56% of white evangelical Protestants
- 51% of white Catholics
- 43% of white mainline Protestants
- More likely to disagree that “generations of slavery and discrimination have created conditions that make it difficult for Black Americans to work their way out of the lower class.”
- 72% of white evangelical Protestants
- 62% of white Catholics
- 54% of white mainline Protestants
- More likely to believe that the Confederate flag is a symbol of Southern pride rather than a symbol of racism.
- 76% of white evangelical Protestants
- 61% of white Catholics
- 60% of white mainline Protestants
These attitudes are all considerably less common among religiously unaffiliated white Americans.
To be clear, these attitudes all stem from racist beliefs that are in direct opposition to historical fact and modern data.
Jesus was not white, but a great deal of historical and modern art still depict Jesus as fair-skinned and blue-eyed.
Anthea Butler, associate professor of religious studies and Africana studies at the University of Pennsylvania, warns about the damaging impact of depictions of white Jesus.
Every time you see white Jesus, you see white supremacy.Anthea Butler
Jemar Tisby, author of The Color of Compromise: The Truth About the American Church’s Complicity in Racism, says this about white Jesus.
To say that Jesus is Black — or, more broadly, to say that Jesus is not white — is to say that Jesus identifies with the oppressed and that the experience of marginalized people is not foreign to God, but that God is on the side of those who, in Matthew 25, Jesus refers to as ‘the least of these.Jemar Tisby
Religion News Service explains the issues of white Jesus in greater detail.
There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.Galatians 3:28
Within the United States, Christian nationalism is a political ideology that seeks to merge Christian and American identities, distorting both the Christian faith and America’s constitutional democracy.
Christian nationalists want Christians to have special government rights under the guise of religious freedom, but they don’t want to grant the same rights to other religious groups. Christian nationalism often results in antisemitism and Islamophobia.
At its worst, Christian nationalism looks like the insurrection last week.
The Uncritical Adulation of President Donald Trump
In 2016, I voted for Gary Johnson. I wrote many political posts that year, but the most relevant today was my explanation of why I couldn’t support Trump. At the time, I opposed him based on the following sins: committing misogyny, committing adultery, lying, and refusing to repent.
In 2016, I understood why many Christians reluctantly voted for Trump, choosing the “lesser of two evils” in their eyes.
But over the last four years, I’ve been saddened and dismayed by the brazen adulation of Trump.
In a recent essay, conservative Christian John Jalsevac succinctly explains this problem:
In the world of Trumpism, religious principles were rewritten to accommodate Trump, rather than Trump being measured according to religious principles. The mere fact that Trump openly used religious language and imagery and made overt gestures to a religious demographic was taken as a de facto triumph, indisputable evidence that the President was bringing the United States back to God, that his faith was sincere, that he was God’s instrument doing God’s work.
Trump has not brought the country back to God. He and his grifter friends have infiltrated and perverted the Church, exploiting Christians’ spiritual loyalties to serve his personal ambitions, recreating the church in MAGA’s image, and luring us away from our core religious, ethical and political principles.John Jalsevac
I’ve done a great deal of research to write this blog post. The following articles on white Christians and white supremacy are too detailed for me to summarize adequately.
- American Christianity’s White Supremacy Problem – The New Yorker
- Taking the White Christian Nationalist Symbols at the Capitol Riot Seriously – Religion News Service
- Christian Nationalism Clearly Evident in Capitol Riot – Baptist Standard
- White Supremacist Ideas Have Historical Roots In U.S. Christianity – NPR
- White Christians in the US Helped Build, Sustain White Supremacist Nation, Author Says – National Catholic Reporter
A Path Forward for Christians
God’s children are called to love our neighbors as ourselves. It’s not too late to embrace this biblical mandate.
Many Americans, regardless of religion, are calling for unity now. They’re asking for peace.
But as Christians, we should know that reconciliation first requires repentance.
Be on your guard! If another disciple sins, you must rebuke the offender, and if there is repentance, you must forgive.Jesus, Luke 17: 3
White Christians, we must rebuke one another for our collective sin of racism. We cannot ignore our own sin, nor can we ignore the sin committed by our siblings in Christ.
Now I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because your grief led to repentance; for you felt a godly grief, so that you were not harmed in any way by us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation and brings no regret, but worldly grief produces death.2 Corinthians 7: 9-10
If you confess your sins and ask for forgiveness, but you do not intend to stop sinning, you have not repented.
True repentance requires a genuine acknowledgement of wrongdoing with a heartfelt commitment to do better.
I could write and publish this post, then pat myself on the back for my repentance, before changing nothing else about my life.
But I genuinely want to “sin no more,” and I genuinely want to be a good ally to the BIPOC community. I’m starting by working through Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor by Layla Saad.
Many wise people have written about the sin of racism and the need to repent. I pray these resources will help you repent. I’ve also included some general resources on repentance.
- Bible Study: Repentance, Forgiveness, and Reconciliation – Global Ministries
- I Lament and Repent of Racism as a White American Pastor – EFCA Central
- Repentance Means Facing Reality of Sins — Including Racism – The Eagle (a Texas newspaper)
- The Heart of True Repentance – Desiring God
- The Sin of Racism – Life in the Gospel
A peaceful, unified country will not happen anytime soon. A reconciled Christian body will also not happen anytime soon. It is not for the oppressors to demand reconciliation from the oppressed. All we can do is genuinely repent, do anti-racist work, and humbly request forgiveness, not just of God, but of those we’ve sinned against.
As a person who lives with a chronic illness, I understand that the healing process can be messy. Some days are better than others. I’ve spent years in remission, almost entirely healed, followed by years of pain and suffering.
We cannot expect the spiritual healing of the Christian body to be any easier.
I am publishing this on Sunday, January 17, 2021. I started writing it on Monday, January 11, 2021.
White supremacy is not an easy topic to tackle, and I say that with all the privilege of a white woman who has never experienced racism firsthand.
I know that I barely scratched the surface of American Christians and our complicity in white supremacy. I encourage you to read the many many resources I’ve linked. Keep in mind that for every article I linked, I read at least one more, if not multiple more, while researching this post.
I know at least some white Christians will balk at my words. If you decide to argue with me on a specific point, read all of the links in that subheading first. Our experiences as white people do not supersede the experiences of BIPOC nor the wealth of data regarding racial inequalities nor the biblical command to love our neighbors.
Muddling Through Together is Not Neutral
For too long, I have allowed this website and community to be neutral in the face of oppression, for fear of offending Republican women. I have been selfish, putting my dreams of Christian influence above God’s command to love my neighbor.
As I wrote in the Muddling Through Together Facebook group:
I did not design this group to be political. I know some existing members have differing beliefs on US politics, and before today, I accepted that as part of my original mission.
Today, that changes. If you approve of the protesters in Washington, D.C., you need to leave this group. Yes, I’m taking a political stance here, but it’s a nonpartisan stance against insurrection.
I first created Muddling Through Together in 2017 in honor of my mother. I wanted the website and community to be an inclusive space for all Christian women, regardless of political beliefs.
I still want that, but I can’t allow members who support violent protest against US Congress.Brita Long, January 6, 2021
If naming white supremacy as a sin is divisive, so be it.
If standing against oppressors and for the oppressed is leftist, fine.
Everyone is always welcome to read this website, regardless of gender, race, or religious affiliation.
But I will no longer be afraid of doing what is right, even if it is unpopular.