Dear Fellow WASPS — For the love of God and the love of thy neighbor

Bert Montgomery
Bert Montgomery

By Bert Montgomery

I was born and raised in a denomination which taught me to love God, which baptized me into the faith and nurtured my walk with Christ, which instilled in me a deep respect for and love of the Scriptures, and which stressed the “Golden Rule” of Jesus (“do unto others as you would have them do unto you”) as the fundamental guide for all Christian behavior. For these things I am eternally grateful.

However, it is a denomination which was founded not out of a desire to share the love of Jesus with all the world, but rather to defend the horrific sin of buying and selling and owning and beating and raping and murdering beloved children of God based on the color of their skin. It is a denomination founded for the purpose of baptizing this sin as “God’s natural order of things.”

The sin of white supremacy is so deeply ingrained not only in the fabric of our nation, but also very, very deeply in the values, doctrines, theologies, and practices of white American Protestant Christianity.

I have become convinced, by the conviction of the Holy Spirit, that the uncomfortable and painful Gospel truth for many of us White Anglo-Saxon Protestants, is that we have been, and still are, worshiping idols of our own making.

When asked which is the greatest commandment, Jesus answered with two: love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and, love your neighbor as yourself.

This is where it gets difficult: Jesus did not say love your race, nor love your heritage, nor your statues or flags. Yet these are the very things that we have loved with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. These are the very things we have loved more than we have loved our neighbors, children of God. These are the very things that we have allowed to define for us who is, and who is not, our neighbor.

When we love our skin color more than we love those with a darker tone, then we have created the concept of race as our idol and worshiped it as our god, a god we have created in our image.

When we love our heritage, our flag, or our statues more than we love our neighbors – neighbors whom we felt the need to remind that we see ourselves as superior to them, as favored by God over them, that they once belonged to us, and that if we had succeeded with our Southern cause, in our possession they would still be – then we deny our neighbor’s inherent dignity and value as children of God; our flag and our statues and our heritage become idols of our own making which we worship with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

We simply cannot love God without also loving our neighbors.

And when we are worshiping the one true God, the God of Abraham and Moses and Ruth and Naomi and Matthew and Mark and Luke and John and Mary and Martha and Paul and Lydia; when we are worshiping the one true God, the maker of heaven and earth in whose image every single person is created; then, we do not get to choose who is and who is not our neighbor.

Let us go back and re-read Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan. Following Jesus’ declaration of the two greatest commandments, someone asked, “OK, then, but who is my neighbor?”

Unfortunately for us it is not the nice, heart-warming story that we have made it out to be about a person doing something nice for a stranger; in its cultural context, it is a radical and revolutionary story in which the hero is the most impure, most despised, most unloved, most ethnically inferior and humanly “less-than” person in the theology and culture of Jesus’ audience. It is a parable Jesus tells to confront and challenge his listener’s pride in their ethnic heritage and superiority as “God’s natural order of things.”

Dear fellow white American Christians, for the love of God, and for the love of our neighbors, it is long past time for us to confess, repent, speak up, stand up, and then, yes, shut up and listen.

For the love of God, and for the love of thy neighbor, let us confess and repent and speak up and stand up and then shut up and listen.

For the love of thy neighbor …

For the love of God …

Rev. Bert Montgomery pastors University Baptist Church in Starkville, teaches religion and sociology courses at MSU, and is, on his maternal grandfather’s side, a distant relative of the Confederate General Robert E. Lee. He can be reached at bert@bertmontgomery.com.

Note: The views expressed here in columns and commentaries are solely those of the authors. 

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  • Scott Harrison

    As a “wasp” myself, I read your essay with interest. A passage from the New Testament came to mind: “Then Jesus’s mother and brothers arrived. They stood outside the house and sent in a message, asking for him. A crowd was sitting round Jesus, and they said to him, “Look, your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, and they want you.” Jesus answered, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” He looked at the people sitting round him and said, “Look! Here are my mother and my brothers! Whosoever does what God wants him to do is my brother, my sister, my mother.” (Mark 3:31-35)

    And

    Not everyone who calls me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of Heaven, but only those who do what my father in Heaven wants them to do.” (Matthew 7:21)

  • Scott Harrison

    During apartheid in South Africa, the “state church” – The (calvinist) Dutch Reformed Church (Nederduitse Gereformeerde Kerk)
    perpetuated heresies of racial separation (which were, of course, in practise and ideology also heresies of white supremacy and domination). There were any number of perverse theological and ideological justifications for the perpetuation of this state of affairs, and it was only with the collapse of apartheid that the church acknowledged that its own theology was both sinful and heretical. I was a young man in South Africa during this time, and conversed with “dominies” who were convinced their church’s position was orthodox (as opposed to heterodox). There were of course courageous voices within the church who opposed these falsehoods – Beyers Naudé for instance, who was persecuted for his opposition to the church. I raise the point to illustrate how easily christians can remain blind in the face of glaring wrong. Some willfully blind, some preferring not to think too much, others oblivious to the words of Christ or willing to pervert/ignore them out of self-interest. South African church history is a fascinating and perhaps prophetic call to all of us to seriously count the cost of discipleship.