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The Church’s complicity in racial injustice: The Bible, injustice, and race#5; Justice#30

The Church’s complicity in racial injustice: The Bible, injustice, and race#5; Justice#30 August 10, 2021

The behavior of Christians is often cited as a justification for rejecting Christianity. Whether it is the Church’s involvement in the Crusades, the Inquisitions, or the Salem witch trials, the fact is, such actions betray the very beliefs that Christians allegedly espouse.

Christians commonly respond to such accusations by attempting to divorce themselves from such events. After all,

  • “if I were there, I would never have supported the crusades.”
  • “the Inquisitions were done by the Catholics and I am not Catholic.”
  • “I think the witch trials were unchristian”—even though most Christians have little knowledge as to what actually happened at said trials.

Of course, one doesn’t have to go to the Middle Ages to find such aberrant behavior conducted by the Church. The 20th century has more than its fair share of Christians behaving badly.

One could simply appeal to the fact that the German church almost universally supported Hitler and his campaign against the Jewish people.[1] Of course, that doesn’t matter either because, “had I been there, I would have been on Bonhoeffer’s side and resisted the Nazi efforts.” It doesn’t seem to matter that most Christians in the US remained silent even after Hitler’s escapades had become well-known.

One could also cite the plethora of sexual abuse scandals that riddle the church’s recent history. Of course, “that doesn’t affect me either because sexual abuse is what the Catholics do.” It doesn’t seem to matter that sexual abuse scandals have rocked many of the major evangelical denominations—including the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), the US’ largest protestant denomination.[2] Nor, does it seem to matter that evangelicals and non-evangelicals have had more than their fair share of headlines in the last decade alone.

In other words, we can’t run from all of these claims.

It is worth noting that the confidence with which many claim, “I would have sided with Bonhoeffer” or, “I would have condemned the crusades” is a bit arrogant and self-righteous. I certainly hope that I would have spoken out against Hitler, but I fear that I, too, would have swept it under the carpet or ignored it as just another thing that happens over there.

After all, isn’t that what we do with the injustices that the Kurds have been suffering for years? Or what about the injustices against the Rohingyas[3] or the Uyghurs[4]? Do they not warrant a voice because they are “over there” or is it because they are Muslims?

I would have done differently

History does not bode well for those who claim that “I would have done differently.” Though most Americans today—I wish I could say all—consider the American practice of chattel slavery[5] as unjust, ruthless, and inhumane, one simple look at American history confirms that far more pastors and churches supported slavery than spoke against it. And they used their Bibles to defend it!

Christians throughout the United States not only supported chattel slavery but they firmly resisted the abolition of it. In fact, they resisted it to the toll of a civil war! Christian moms and dads resisted the abolition of chattel slavery so fervently that they willingly sent their own sons to die in a war in order to maintain the unjust, ruthless, and inhumane system.

Racism did not end in the 19th century

When it comes to the injustices against the people of color today and the question of systemic racism we must acknowledge, as I noted previously, that the racism that fueled the system of chattel slavery in America did not go away with abolition of slavery. It did not end because the racist views of those in power did not go away!

In fact, the injustices incurred against Blacks intensified in many ways. Hence, Douglas Blackmon’s scathing report on the tragic history of the treatment of Blacks after 1865, titled, Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II.

Church’s continued complicity

Unfortunately, the church’s continued complicity in racism and injustices towards people of color did not end with the Emancipation Proclamation. The injustices against Blacks in particular and all persons of color in general continued unabated into the 20th century. Certainly, there were Christians who opposed racism–just as there are many today who do so. But the fact is that many remained silent. Still others—and, unfortunately, they were plentiful—acted, voted, and spoke passionately about maintaining an apartheid system of oppression against Blacks and people of color.

Tragically, during the 1960’s and the era of civil rights legislation, many of the very same church buildings in the Southern states, which 100 years earlier were used to house meetings to decide if the members of the state wanted to succeed from the union, were now being used to house meetings to decide how they might resist desegregation.[6]

We can’t keep saying this ain’t me.

The fact is that the secular world doesn’t look at it this way. And I’m not sure the Bible does either.

Paul’s theology of the unity of the church affirms that if one member suffers, we all suffer (1 Cor 12:26). We would do well to rcognize that when a large faction of Christians act, we all act. Thus, regardless of your denominational affiliation we are all guilty.

I say all of this for three reasons:

  • We must repent.

Whether or not you are personally a racist; Whether or not you would have voted to succeed from the Union; Whether or not you would have resisted the civil rights legislation; We must repent.

(Note: Daniel 9:1-19 is a great example of one person praying for the sins of the nation).

  • I say this also because the white church’s rejection of the cries of people of color today is not much different than the pleas of slaves 150 years ago, or the suffering of people of color under the Jim Crow laws.

Many Protestant whites are responding to the challenges of racism today in a similar manner to the white Christians that suppressed Blacks and people of color over the last few centuries.

One of the means of accomplishing this is by denying their claims. Of course, many whites are tremendously ignorant—though this is routinely denied—of both the claims of racial injustice and their veracity.

This brings me to a third reason for saying all of this:

  • We must reckon with the fact that the racist history of our country did not end with abolition or the Civil Rights legislation.

This will be the subject of the next several posts.

In closing, I would note that the thousands of Blacks that were lynched were often lynched without a trial, they were lynched by individuals and not the state or members of the criminal justice system, they were lynched for crimes that were often manufactured, they were lynched for crimes that were not worthy of death, they were lynched in order to foster fear among Black communities and, as such, they often included torture and barbarity that is hard to imagine,[7] and they were often lynched by conservative Protestant Christians.

What do we say to the critics who refuse to accept Christianity because of the behavior of Christians? Well, unless Christians repent and begin to advocate for justice more vociferously, I am not certain that it matters.

I recognize that some readers of this blog may not agree with the conviction to which I am clearly leading—namely that systemic racism is alive and well in the US. I only hope that they continue to read and assume responsibility to not merely refuse to be racists themselves, but to oppose racism and racial injustices with vigor wherever they may be found.

That, of course, is my prayer for all the readers of this blog.

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[1] It is worth noting that in addition to the 6 million Jews who were slaughtered in the Holocaust Hitler systematically instituted programs against other groups including the mentally and physically handicapped.

[2] https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2019/february/southern-baptist-abuse-investigation-houston-chronicle-sbc.html

[3] See: https://www.hrw.org/tag/rohingya.

[4] See: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-22278037.

[5] I would like to define “chattel slavery” but I realize that the fact that I need to define—because many whites do not know what it means—proves the point of white ignorance when it comes to the injustices that Blacks and all people of color have endured in this country. Those who do not know what “chattel slavery” means are encouraged to do their own “google” search.

[6] See: Russell J. Hawkins, The Bible Told Them So, 68.

[7] See: “Most Horrible: Details of the Burning at the Stake of the Holberts,” Vicksburg Evening Post, February 13, 1904. 34. “Most Horrible,” Vicksburg Evening Post. 35. Walter White, “The Work of a Mob,” The Crisis 16, no. 5 (September 1918): 221. 36. White, “The Work of a Mob,” 222. 37. Darlene Clark Hine, William C. Hine, and Stanley C. Harrold, African American Odyssey, vol. 1, 7th ed. (Boston: Pearson, 2016), 386. Tisby, Jemar. The Color of Compromise. Zondervan. Kindle Edition.


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