Christian Nation series: “Bearing False Witness” and systemic racism

Christian Nation series: “Bearing False Witness” and systemic racism August 16, 2023

We’ve been making our way through the Ten Commandments (full series here) to see whether Christian nationalists are correct in their hypothesis that a nation built on America’s founding documents and ruled by the Ten Commandments would make us great again.

Last time, we looked at some of the lies that our founding fathers, Abraham Lincoln, and white Southerners told themselves about Black people. These were not harmless, little white lies (pun intended), but lies designed to rob Black people of their humanity, their dignity, and the prosperity that was due them.

What’s more, today we are still perpetrating the same lies – and by “we,” I mean white people, especially white Christians (who should know better). Have we Americans learned nothing in 150 years? Are we still filled with some preposterous fear that we need to stay in charge, or that our neighbors are somehow inferior to ourselves?

We say our precious children should never learn the truth about America’s white past, because they might start to feel ashamed. Do we adults know that shame? Many of us do not, but we need to know it. The collective shame that we all should feel when reminded of how we dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, or when we recall the details of the Holocaust.  Collective shame that says, “I may not be personally guilty, but this horror is part of my people’s past.”

Remember the shame that we wanted all Muslims to feel when the Twin Towers fell? (I remember – my husband is Muslim.) We wanted them to admit that what had happened was wrong and awful.

Why can’t we admit that the enslavement of human beings happened, and was wrong and awful? I suggest it’s not our kids we’re trying to protect, but ourselves. We don’t want to confront our ancestral sin, and we don’t want to acknowledge that it’s still going on, if only in a more subtle form.

Christian nationalists: this is part and parcel of the Christian nation you desire. Are you on board?

As a public service to those of us who plead ignorance, here are the very tippy-tops of some American sin icebergs. Open your heart to receive these statements as part of your heritage.

Today’s lingering lies – the Civil War was about states’ rights

Many conservatives today appear to deny the fact that the Civil War was fought over the South’s demand to maintain the institution of slavery. “The issue was states’ rights,” they explain. But they are dead wrong, and at some level, they must know it. The only “states’ right” the South cared about was the right to enslave human beings – and they were not shy about saying so.

The constitution of the Confederacy stated:

In all such territory the institution of negro slavery, as it now exists in the Confederate States, shall be recognized and protected by Congress and by the Territorial government; and the inhabitants of the several Confederate States and Territories shall have the right to take to such Territory any slaves lawfully held by them in any of the States or Territories of the Confederate States.

Mississippi’s Articles of Secession also proclaimed:

Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery … Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth.

USA Today reports that just 8% of high school seniors know that slavery was the main cause of the Civil War; 58% of teachers disclose that their textbooks do not teach about slavery adequately.

Our schools – the writers of our textbooks and those who approve them – are bearing false witness.

Lingering lie – “systemic racism is bogus”

There is little chance of America reaching its ideal – that all of us be seen and treated as truly equal – if we deny that racism is built into the fabric of our country.

(If you don’t buy into systemic racism, just read [unsolicited endorsements] Reparations: a Christian Call for Repentance and Repair by Duke L. Kwon and Gregory Thompson, and/or The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America, by Richard Rothstein, and/or Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: mass incarceration in the age of colorblindness.) 

Here are just a few of the facts of the matter:

Wealth gap:

The median Black household in America has about $24,000 in savings, investments, home equity, and other forms of wealth. The median White household has close to $190,000.

"Occupy4Prisoners: The Injustice System on Trial – 4/24/2012" by Daniel Arauz is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0. Bear false witness
“Occupy4Prisoners: The Injustice System on Trial – 4/24/2012” by Daniel Arauz is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

A large part of the reason for this can be traced to slavery. The value of the labor of enslaved people has been estimated at over $14 trillion in today’s dollars. Add to that the value of the “forty acres” promised to formerly enslaved families (but never received) – this land might have generated $16.5 trillion to its owners.

Imagine $30 trillion in wealth distributed to Black Americans today.

If Black families had had access to that wealth, they could have lived as comfortably as anyone else, invested, and passed down wealth to future generations. “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps” is an insult to people from whom $30 trillion in generational wealth was stolen from them (and who continue to fight an uphill battle – keep reading).

Sidebar: Imagine if you, white Christian, were poor and, try as you might, you could not lift yourself out of poverty. Now imagine, after years of struggling, you still couldn’t make ends meet – and people who don’t even know you are judging you as “lazy.” They are bearing false witness against you.

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Criminal justice gap:

The New Jim Crow studies the many levels of inherent bias in our criminal justice system. Here are just a couple of tidbits from this must-read book:

  • “Although the majority of illegal drug users and dealers nationwide are white, three-fourths of all people imprisoned for drug offenses have been black or Latino.” (Go ahead and read that again.)
  • “In New Jersey, the data showed that only 15 percent of all drivers on the New Jersey Turnpike were racial minorities, yet 42 percent of all stops and 73 percent of all arrests were of black motorists—despite the fact that blacks and whites violated traffic laws at almost exactly the same rate.” (Read it again.)
  • “[In Maryland] African Americans comprised only 17 percent of drivers along a stretch of I-95 outside of Baltimore, yet they were 70 percent of those who were stopped and searched. Only 21 percent of all drivers along that stretch of highway were racial minorities (Latinos, Asians, and African Americans), yet those groups comprised nearly 80 percent of those pulled over and searched.” (Again.)
  • “What most surprised many analysts was that, in both studies [New Jersey and Maryland], whites were actually more likely than people of color to be carrying illegal drugs or contraband in their vehicles. In fact, in New Jersey, whites were almost twice as likely to be found with illegal drugs or contraband as African Americans, and five times as likely to be found with contraband as Latinos.” (Yup, read it again.)

Black Americans are not arrested and imprisoned at higher numbers because they are worse drug users, drug sellers, or drivers. It’s because they’re Black. Now you know. Stop bearing false witness.

Employment gap:

Briefly, the Center For American Progress reports:

“Since the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics started collecting data on the African American unemployment rate in January 1972, this rate has more often than not been twice as high as the white unemployment rate..for example, in Washington, D.C., the African American unemployment rate is six times higher than the white rate.” (Read it again.)

Housing gap:

The National Association of Realtors reports:

“While the U.S. homeownership rate increased to 65.5% in 2021, the rate among Black Americans lags significantly (44%), has only increased 0.4% in the last 10 years and is nearly 29 percentage points less than White Americans (72.7%), representing the largest Black-White homeownership rate gap in a decade.” (You guessed it.)

Healthcare gap:

KFF (formerly the Kaiser Family Foundation) reports:

  • At birth, white Americans have a life expectancy of 76.4 years, while Black Americans’ rate is 70.8 (as of 2021).
  • Black infants are more than twice as likely to die as White infants (10.4 vs. 4.4 per 1,000).
  • Black children are more than twice as likely to be food insecure compared to White children (13% vs. 4%).
  • Nonelderly Black adults have an 11% uninsured rate, vs. 7% for their white counterparts.

The Brookings Institution adds:

  • (As of 2020) 30 million Americans are uninsured – about half are people of color.
  • Fourteen states – including some with the largest Black populations – refused to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).
  • More than 90% of the people who don’t have health insurance because their state did not expand Medicaid, live in the South.

Education gap:

In this category, it is easy to see how the gaps intersect and exacerbate each other:

  • Fewer Black Americans than white Americans go to, or graduate from, college. The main reason: cost. Why are fewer Black families able to send children to college? The average Black household income is half that of the average white household; white families have eight times the assets of Black families.
  • What happens when a Black individual graduates from college? First, he is more likely to be in debt, and deeper in debt than a white graduate. He will also face discrimination in hiring and pay, with an average of 15% lower salary. Lower pay makes it harder to pay off school debt, and harder to build wealth.
  • Another reason for the lower number of college students is the quality of education that Black children receive before college. 45% of Black children attend high poverty elementary and secondary schools, vs 8% of white children. Black students face more discipline and are less likely to have access to AP classes.

When we deny the existence of the mechanisms that successfully keep many Black households from rising out of poverty – and instead blame them for not “pulling themselves up by their bootstraps – we are bearing false witness against our neighbors.

Politicians who dare to suggest that systemic racism (or critical race theory) is bogus are either ignorant or irresponsible. As Christians, we need to be informed, humble, and penitent. Any Christian nationalists still reading need to decide whether they want America to be ruled by the commandment that forbids them to bear false witness against their Black neighbors.

(If you are energized by challenges to the evangelical status quo like this, please subscribe to my newsletter! If you would like to comment on this post, please pop over to my Facebook page. All of my posts are there and open to constructive comment! I welcome your thoughts.)


FEATURED IMAGE: “Occupy4Prisoners: The Injustice System on Trial – 4/24/2012” by Daniel Arauz is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

About Kathryn Shihadah
I was raised as a conservative Christian, and was perfectly content to stay that way – until the day my stable, predictable world was rocked. A curtain was pulled back on conservative Christianity, and instead of ignoring the ugliness I saw, I confronted it. I began to ask questions I never thought I’d ask, and found answers I’d never expected. Old things began to fall away, and – behold! – the new me has come. What a gift to be a new, still-evolving creation. I found out that it’s better to look at the world through Progressive Lenses, with Grace-Colored Glasses.  You can read more about the author here.

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