I do not trust most white Christians in the United States. Let me explain why.
This 2016 election proved what few white liberals, Christian and non-Christian, have been willing to acknowledge or even see: the number of white people too ashamed to admit their choice for president, or concealing their allegiance for the big election day reveal. For many white liberals, the Republican candidate’s victory was a genuine surprise.
But white people doing the unexpected—by voting a deeply controversial and divisive figure into the highest office in the land—was not a surprise for me. Many minorities held out hope that it wouldn’t be so, but what they dreaded would happen was exactly what happened: a collective, unified front from the “silent majority” against the inclusive message of the Democratic platform.
It was seeing support from white Christians overall that stunned me. Post-election analysis is already showing that 81 percent of self-identifying white evangelicals voted for the president-elect, and 58 percent of those who self-identified simply as Protestants. Though there is no available exit polling on the racial breakdown of that “Protestant” vote, it is safe to assume that a large number of white Christians voted for the Republican ticket. Those numbers expose a whole new level of sinister. I’m still shocked that someone who spewed hate as the guiding strategy of his campaign attracted that level of support from white Christians.
And voting single issue does not explain this kind of support—the candidate came as a package deal. Xenophobia, Islamophobia, racism, and sexism was the integrated message of hate. These combined elements formed the candidate’s allure. The prospect of appealing to white people was the plan from the start, by playing up certain fears and creating new ones about minorities groups.
In light of these figures, I am cynical. I have good reason to be. There is hardly any other way to respond at the moment. And here’s the thing: I get to have my cynicism. I get to be disappointed and angry. I get to suspend my suspension of deep skepticism and finally say what it is that I have forever hoped would not be true, but now see, unfortunately, is the case: white Christians only act in their own self-interest, not seeing or understanding how their vote sides with the subjugation of people of color.
Obviously, this is a problem. The religion that is importantly about the inclusion of the Gentiles into the faith tradition of the Jews has, in a particular demographic, been reduced to a project of self-preservation, economic aspiration, and exclusion. Call it a Christianity of whiteness or white hegemonic spirituality. It centers on whiteness and white aspirations to succeed, to dominate, to win at the expense of others. This white Christian self-preservation is a faith tradition. If there is care and concern for the poor in this tradition, it is care and concern for the white poor.
My last shred of my hope was that maybe the faith of white Christians would provide them with insight and vision to do, and be, differently. I hoped that their faith would give them pause about the meaning and weight of voting for a candidate who embraces the blatant marginalization of minorities. I hoped that being Christian would have an effect on the moral fabric of their being. I thought being a part of a religious movement founded upon valuing all would make it impossible for them to vote for a man who fanned hatred.
I hoped that this Christian faith, predicated on a God who, seeing human kind spiraling out of control, responded by taking on flesh in order to show us true life—this same Christian faith could do something to combat the societal illnesses of our time: racism, xenophobia, sexism, Islamophobia, white supremacy, and colonial economic ambition. (If we are honest, pursuing financial status and well-being at the expense of people of color is a colonial endeavor. It is how empires are built.)
I did not think that so many white Christians loved Rome, but apparently they do.
I recklessly thought that if something could save this election, it would be the faithfulness of Christian followers on a spiritual journey of seeing creation as God does – worth fighting for. Christians would be the ones exercising their witness in order to defeat a whiteness that does not care whom it has to destroy on its path towards power, and ultimately toward a perverse kind of deification. Whiteness wants to be god; God’s followers are supposed to rebel against this idolatrous notion. I hoped that most white Christians would resist this idolatry, that they would refuse to join their white identities with the ideology of whiteness.
I was wrong.
I was wrong to believe in an authentic spiritual consciousness on the part of many white Christians. I was wrong to believe that decency and civility existed in the Christian understanding of faith within a group accustomed to having and securing their power and prominence in the U.S.
I trafficked in inane hope.
Now, I must remind myself to exist within reality–a reality that reminds me that for many white Christians, Christianity is never divorced from systems of power—political, social, economic— that serve them, and them alone. These systems serve their wealth accumulation, and preserve their narrow cultural aims. These Christians create these systems, strengthen them, and are defined by them. These Christians, bolstered by supporting a figure who represents hate in many forms, are uncivil. But more importantly, they are not Christian.
And yet, I have seen genuine Christian action and possibility. Many are on the front lines resisting this regime. Many have left the Evangelical label behind. Many have fielded calls and offered support and shelter to terrified friends, parishioners, and strangers. Many are refusing to be persecuted because of their ethnicity, their citizenship status, the color of their skin, their sexual orientation, or for openly showing support for the religious expression of their family, friends, and neighbors.
Though I remain wary, I keep looking for those who reflect the Gospel, who hold people other than themselves in heart and in mind – for in them, is real hope.