The cancer of white supremacy, on full display in the May 2022 mass murder of African Americans in Buffalo, is metastasizing. It will claim more victims if it is unchecked. It can be checked by responding to Replacement Theory with Replacement Action, the replacement of all political officeholders who refuse to publicly and unequivocally reject white supremacy.
Replacement Action is of supreme importance to both the nation and the White Christian Church. White supremacy in America was birthed in the sanctuaries of the White Christian Church. Replacement Action is an opportunity for atonement.
The White Christian Church in America can choose to unite for the eradication of white supremacy.
In the antebellum South, many Christians were taught that God favored the white race and created Blacks to serve whites. During the Jim Crow period, Southern white Christian churches did not oppose segregationist policies or even lynchings, which were sometimes scheduled to allow ample time for white Christians to attend after worship. Northern white Christian churches rarely condemned segregation, collectively looking the other way as the Word of the Lord was repurposed as an instrument of oppression.
In White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity, social scientist Robert Jones presents the findings from a national survey of cultural attitudes. The attitudes of members of mainline white Protestant and white Catholic churches are often similar to those of white supremacists, significantly more so than those of whites with no religious affiliation.
White Christian churches have not just been complacent or complicit in failing to address racism.
Jones’ detailed historical analysis of the role played by white Christianity in establishing and propagating white supremacy leads to this conclusion: “Underneath the glossy, self-congratulatory histories that white Christian churches have written about themselves…is a thinly veiled, deeply troubling past. White Christian churches have not just been complacent or complicit in failing to address racism; rather, as the dominant cultural power in the U.S.…..through the entire American story, white Christian churches have been responsible for constructing and sustaining white supremacy …[serving] as the central source of moral legitimacy for a society explicitly built to value the lives of white people over Black people. This legacy remains present and measurable in the cultural DNA of contemporary white Christianity.” (“White Christian America Needs a Moral Awakening”; The Atlantic; July 28, 2020).
The issue is not simply a reflection of passive inaction. The White Christian Church has suppressed the scriptural mandate for social justice in favor of ministries to the needy. Christian pastors are called to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” Comforting the afflicted is rarely controversial. In contrast, social justice requires challenging the status quo. It is fiercely resisted by the comfortable—members that have benefited from the way things are, who are often among the church’s largest donors. They do not attend their churches in the hope of being afflicted.
Afflicting the comfortable can be bad for business. The institutional church requires members and their donations to support its ministries. Where the desire of church leaders to fill the pews and increase stewardship pledges leads them to suppress half the Gospel—social justice, the half that discomforts large donors—the result is institutionalism. Prioritizing the needs of the institution above its mission doesn’t offer life to the Church. It offers death to the Spirit. Its weak and ineffective voice enables white supremacy.
Replacement Action is an opportunity for white Christian churches across America to atone for the sins that have caused so much suffering among God’s children of color.
More than half a century ago, Martin Luther King, Jr., frustrated by the failure of the White Christian Church to courageously confront racism, foretold the future consequence. In his “Letter Written from a Birmingham Jail,” King wrote that silence in response to injustice would imperil the future of the Christian Church: “So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is the arch-defender of the status quo. … the judgment of God is upon the church … 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.”
The future is upon us. MLK’s words were prophetic. The decades-long decline in White Christian Church membership is a potentially fatal symptom of its moral failings relating to social justice in general and white supremacy in particular. The White Christian Church in America is in crisis. Time is short.
But we have an opportunity for proactive change. Replacement Action is an opportunity for white Christian churches across America to atone for the sins that have caused so much suffering among God’s children of color. It is essential that congregations act in the name of the church, “on letterhead,” not merely as individual congregants. To a politician the difference between the former and the latter is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug. It is within their power to (1) Invite each candidate for state or federal office in their district to address the congregation about white supremacy, stating whether they are prepared to publicly reject it and oppose the candidacy of a candidate of any party that refuses to do so; and (2) disseminate as widely as possible through as many media avenues as possible the candidates’ responses, urging the defeat of any that refuse to reject Supremacy, as morally unfit for office.
Let none justify inaction on the grounds that faith communities shouldn’t mix religion with politics. Republican and Democratic office holders alike enable white supremacy by their actions or their silence. It is not a political issue. It is a moral issue. For faith communities inaction is sin, an offense against their neighbors and God. Action will require courage. It may fail. Better to dare greatly in service to God than to persist in betrayal.
Let none say that Christian charity is sufficient atonement for the occasional horrors and daily indignities that the white supremacy spawned by Christianity has visited upon people of color. The White Christian Church is called not to charity alone, but to clog the gears of systemic racism, which are lubricated by politicians that harbor white supremacist sympathies. Charity is no substitute for justice deferred.
Let none say that it is too late.
The White Christian Church in America can choose to unite for the eradication of white supremacy. Or it can choose to continue rationalizing its inaction. The first is the choice of life, as powerful and consequential an ecumenical expression of faithfulness as any in the 2,000 year history of Christianity. The second is the choice of death. The time has come for the White Christian Church to choose.
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Gary Reierson says
Brilliant notion, Grant, of substituting Replacement Theory with Replacement Action. Turns white supremacy on its head. Good work.
Grant served 30 years on the Collegeville Institute Board of Directors, not 25.
Patrick Henry says
White Christian Nationalism is as dangerous as any heresy in the history of the church. Ecumenisn is by its nature broad, but there are limits. There can be no compromise with any form of white supremacy. It must be confronted head-on. Replacement Action–YES!