With support from the University of Richmond

History News Network

History News Network puts current events into historical perspective. Subscribe to our newsletter for new perspectives on the ways history continues to resonate in the present. Explore our archive of thousands of original op-eds and curated stories from around the web. Join us to learn more about the past, now.

Is the White Church Inherently Racist? [review]

In 1968, James Baldwin wrote in The New York Times: “I will flatly say that the bulk of this country’s white population impresses me, and has so impressed me for a very long time, as being beyond any conceivable hope of moral rehabilitation. They have been white, if I may so put it, too long.” Robert P. Jones, who leads the Public Religion Research Institute, a polling firm focused on the intersection of politics and religion, draws on Baldwin’s quote for the title of his book “White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity.” Jones calls on his fellow white Christians to extricate themselves from what he asserts has defined their religion for too long: the imagined superiority of white people and anti-Black racism as its inevitable corollary.

Jones sets out to prove that “American Christianity’s theological core has been thoroughly structured by an interest in protecting white supremacy.” According to him, white Christianity has not merely been a passive bystander in the construction of this nation’s racial caste system, it has been the primary cultural and religious institution creating, promoting and preserving it.

Jones builds his case with evidence, drawing on an eclectic blend of history, theology, sociology and memoir. His use of autobiography works especially well. Before the cascade of data can turn his narrative into a detached analyst’s clinical dissection of the problem, Jones gets personal, writing about his family’s slave-owning ancestors or his own teenage years sporting the Confederate battle flag on his car’s license plate.

The book reaches its apex of evidence around its midpoint, when Jones draws on his extensive experience with polling about religion to introduce a “racism index” — a set of 15 survey questions designed to assess attitudes toward white supremacy and Black people. The findings are clear: “The more racist attitudes a person holds, the more likely he or she is to identify as a white Christian.” The results hold true for regular and infrequent churchgoers, across geographical regions and for white evangelicals, mainline Protestants and Roman Catholics. It’s hard to argue with his conclusion that white supremacy is somehow genetically encoded into white Christianity in the United States.

Read entire article at The New York Times