Racism & Radicalized Christianity in America

Racism & Radicalized Christianity in America June 19, 2023

(Photo courtesy of Pixaby /  debradeka)

Does Equality Really Exist Among Us?

White Americans have wielded a great deal of political, economic and social power for centuries, but the nation is changing. As we become increasingly diverse, more and more minorities are moving into leadership roles. In politics, for example, the U.S. elected its first biracial president in 2008, and the current Congress has more women, people of color and openly gay members than it’s ever had, says the Pew Research Center. But at the same time, racism never truly goes away. It’s ingrained in us, and it asserted itself once again during the 2016 election. Sadly, radicalized Christians led the way.

Yet, racism, sexism and other “-isms” that plague America can go both ways. Women can be as sexist as men, blacks can be as racist as whites, and gays can be as bigoted as heterosexuals. The difference in these comparisons is the balance of power, which favors whites, heterosexuals, Christians and men.

Bigotry in the Old Testament

Some conservative Christians like to claim that America has been a Christian nation since its founding. I beg to differ and did so in my 2023 President’s Day post, “Did Our Earliest Presidents Let Personal Religious Beliefs Influence Their Decisions,” which you can read here.

America was founded on the backs of slaves and the unchristian belief that whites are superior to blacks. So-called white Christians have used the Bible to defend and pass on their ugly beliefs from one generation to the next since before colonial times.

One favorite biblical reference concerns Noah and his son Ham. Genesis 9:20-27 tells us that Noah had three sons: Shem, Japheth and Ham. Noah also had a vineyard and produced wine, and one day, he became drunk, disrobed and passed out in his tent. Ham entered, saw his drunken father in a state of undress and told his brothers.

Shem and Japheth responded by taking a garment into Noah’s tent and covering their father without ever looking at him. When Noah awoke, he cursed Ham for his actions and declared that Ham, as the father of Canaan, would be subservient to his brothers Shem and Japheth.

“The Curse of Ham” was told and retold down through the years. “Canaan was dropped from the story. Ham was made black, and his descendants were made Africans,” according to Time magazine. This scenario suited white racist Christians.

Why did Noah’s nakedness cause such an uproar? Because it might have been a euphemism for Ham sexually assaulting his father. If that’s the case, the story just became more complicated.

At any rate, you can learn more about Noah and his sons by reading “Noah, Ham and the Curse of Canaan: Who Did What to Whom in the Tent?” here.

An Inclusive Savior

Racist Christians haven’t found many New Testament scriptures that support their views. Christ is an inclusive savior, and about all they can say is that he did not denounce slavery.

They were correct. He didn’t. However, the New Testament is filled with passages that tell us that all who believe in Jesus will be saved. All who believe…Christ doesn’t exclude anyone.


The first enslaved blacks set foot on America’s shores in the 1600s, and slavery continued in this country for two centuries. Following is a kind of Cliffs Notes version of what happened in 19th century America.

Christians populated both sides of the conflict. On the pro-slavery side were white Christian plantation owners, political leaders and clergymen who were determined to defend slavery with a gun if necessary. Slaves, after all, sustained the South’s economy and way of life.

On the other side were white Christian abolitionists and free black Christians who opposed slavery on moral grounds. There also were northern politicians and other leaders who wanted to prevent slavery from spreading into new western territories.

Caught in the middle were the slaves, many of whom were also Christian. The story of their conversion to Christianity – the religion of their masters — is a fascinating one, but we’ll save that it for another time.

At any rate, the Civil War erupted in April 1861 and continued until April 1865. During those four years, 620,000 men – or 2 percent of the U.S. population – died in the line of duty, according to the American Battlefield Trust. (Learn more here.)

In comparison, two percent of our current population would equal six million people, which is roughly the population of New York City. The war devastated the South for decades to come, and in some ways, continues to negatively impact our economy.

Personal Courage

The Civil War was bloody, but the battle over slavery and racism wasn’t fought entirely on battlefields. One man who lost his life because of his abolitionist beliefs was John Brown, who led a raid on Harpers Ferry, VA (later W.VA.), in 1859.

Brown never fired a shot in the war. What he did was attempt to incite an uprising of slaves in Harpers Ferry, but the rebellion never materialized. He and his men captured the federal arsenal and armory at Harpers Ferry, but the U.S. Marines under Robert E. Lee’s command retook the facilities in short order.

Lee, as you may know, commanded southern troops during the Civil War. At Harpers Ferry, his men captured Brown and ended the attempted rebellion. Brown was tried, convicted and executed for doing much less than Lee eventually did in the war.

After the Civil War, the Ku Klux Klan – led by radicalized Christians — reined terror down upon free blacks for decades. The University of Missouri-Kansas City breaks down lynchings by state and race between 1882 and 1968. Nearly 3,500 of those victims were black, and about 1,300 were white.

Click here to see a breakdown of the deaths, and as you read through the list, remember that each number represents one terrified human being and perhaps a family devastated by that person’s death. Also keep in mind that thousands more innocent and courageous people were beaten and terrorized in other ways by cowardly men who hid behind white hoods.

Then came the “Mississippi Burning” murders in the summer of 1964. Three civil rights activists were kidnapped and murdered for their attempts to register Mississippi blacks to vote.

The men — James Chaney, a young black man from Mississippi, along with Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, two Jewish activists from New York — were shot to death and their bodies buried at an earthen dam, according to several sources.

Local law enforcement officers and members of the Ku Klux Klan were implicated, and several were convicted of various charges. One of the perpetrators, however, didn’t face justice until 2005 – some 40 years after the crimes were committed. He was finally tried, convicted and sent to prison, where he eventually died. Federal and state authorities closed the case in 2016. 

Systemic Racism in the U.S.

People who live outside the South may assume that most southerners – including Christians — are racist hypocrites, but the truth is that many of us abhor racism.

My family is solidly Christian and has lived in the South for generations. Yet, we believe people are people and we should look at behavior and character rather than skin color. When I moved to a new town 10 years ago, I was fortunate to find a church and meet new people who share my beliefs.

Still, racism remains deeply ingrained in everything from politics and government to healthcare, economics and most appalling, churches all across America. It’s worse in some areas than others, but no region is free of it.

Dr. Martin Luther King was the Baptist minister and famed civil rights leader who eloquently expressed his views on racial issues in the 1950s and 1960s. As a pastor, he looked at the situation through a Christian lens. Read my post, “Dr. King’s Dream 59 Years Later,” here.

“Jim Crow” Makes a Comeback

Dr. King and others fought for civil rights in the mid-20th century and played significant roles in ridding the nation of Jim Crow laws. (Learn more about those laws here.) Racism seemed to fade into the nation’s darkest corners for half a century but exploded on the scene with renewed energy in 2016.

In the last two years, radicalized Christians have passed their own versions of the old Jim Crow laws. Their parents and grandparents lost the battle when the Civil Rights Act was passed, but this generation of bigots is unrepentant and determined to win the war.

In 2021 and 2022, Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky and Oklahoma passed laws that make voting more difficult and threaten the security of elections, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. The center a non-profit law and public policy institute at the New York University School of Law. Legislation in other states is pending.

State lawmakers “have focused more intently on election interference, passing nine laws that could lead to tampering with how elections are run and how results are determined.

“Election interference laws do two primary things: They open the door to partisan interference in elections, or they threaten the people and processes that make elections work,” the center says.

“In many cases, these efforts are being justified as measures to combat baseless claims of widespread voter fraud and a stolen 2020 election,” which Republicans have loudly proclaimed since election results were announced. 

A Breakdown of New Laws

Alabama, Kentucky and Oklahoma: New laws in these states make it a crime “to solicit, accept, or use private funding for election-related expenses. In 2020, election officials’ acceptance of private funding enabled them to run safe and secure elections,” the Brennan Center says.

“Criminalizing that action prevents election officials from accessing funding beneficial for election administration and puts them at risk for prosecution for otherwise ordinary conduct.

Arizona: In this state, the center notes that “a new law establishes a felony offense for an election official who fails to comport with new restrictive citizenship verification requirements and inadvertently accepts a noncitizen’s voter registration.

“Imposing criminal penalties on ordinary election administration conduct or inadvertent mistakes could deter individuals from serving as election officials. At a time when election officials are already fearful for their safety, the prospect of new criminal penalties adds another deterrent to staffing elections.”

Florida and Georgia: Florida, along with Georgia, created new election crimes offices to investigate claims of election law violations and refer them for prosecution.

Additionally, Florida now requires the governor, currently a right-wing radical, to appoint “special officers to receive and investigate election law complaints in each law enforcement region across the state,” the Brennan Center reports.

Georgia has similar legislation. The laws have expanded existing authority and possibly (probably) increase harassment and prosecution of voters and election officials.

In addition, Georgia has replaced election superintendents in some areas and created new county boards of elections, which has resulted in more partisan control over the administration of elections.

Pending legislation in Arizona, New Hampshire and Rhode Island: The Brennan Center says that as of 2022, these states were considering bills that “would initiate biased, suspect reviews of elections and election results. These reviews would lack transparency and fail to satisfy basic security, accuracy and reliability of measures. They are also part of a move in state legislatures to undermine faith in the electoral process.”

Click here to read the Brennan Center’s report. 

The Tennessee 3

In my own state of Tennessee, the legislature – which has a supermajority of conservative Republicans – recently attempted to remove three members who tried to bring gun reform to the legislature’s attention following a mass school shooting in Nashville. Three nine-year-old children and three adults died in the incident.

When the three Democratic representatives attempted to bring the matter to the House floor, Republicans immediately shut off their microphone and called a recess, Rep. Gloria Johnson wrote in Newsweek. Johnson is one of the so-called “Tennessee 3,” as well as a former teacher who experienced a school shooting in 2008. One student was killed in that incident.

Recounting attempts to address gun reform in the Tennessee legislature, Johnson says, “No one was out of control. The protestors were peaceful and calm. I did not see any move toward the chambers. The people in the gallery were doing the same thing. The whole thing lasted six to seven minutes.”

Nonetheless, the Republican-controlled legislature stripped the three legislators of their committee assignments and ultimately, tried to expel them. The three are Johnson, who is white, and Justin Jones and Justin J. Pearson, who are black. The attempt to remove Johnson failed by one vote, while Jones and Pearson were expelled.

The only other time in modern history that Tennessee state legislators have been expelled from the legislature was when they had committed a crime, Johnson wrote in Newsweek.

“We were really shocked,” she wrote. “We had broken a rule, but were following our oath of office that says we will stand up for the people in our districts….In my opinion, the document for expulsion was just fraudulent because many of the things they accused me of, I did not do.”

She added that it was clear the Republican majority wanted “to get rid of folks who are vocal and critical of the way the supermajority is running this legislature. Certainly, the questions directed toward me were demeaning, but the questions directed at Rep. Jones and Rep. Pearson I felt were racially tense.”

Rep. Jones and Rep. Pearson were expelled on April 6, 2023. “To me, this was not fair. I thought: How can they do this? How can this be so blatant?” Johnson asked. Blatant is the right word for it.

She is convinced that she avoided expulsion because of her color. “I think most people who heard the line of questioning directed at those two young men would agree. I think the fact that Rep. Jones and Rep. Pearson are young, vocal, Black members is critical in this case.”

Jones and Pearson were reappointed to the Tennessee legislature within days. “They have garnered the attention of the whole nation, and I think we need to be listening to those young voices,” Johnson said in her article.

Their courage gives me hope that good people may eventually prevail over racism, greed and hatred.

In the meantime, Republican members were left in temporary disarray because their racism was on full display for the world to see. They couldn’t hide behind a façade of Christian respectability.

And you better believe that those GOP legislators campaigned as Christians. Otherwise, they would not have been elected in my Bible Belt state.

Despite the Tennessee 3 incident, my home state has good and decent people who truly believe that character, rather than race or sexual orientation, is what matters. Sadly, we seem to be in the minority.

The Politics of Racism

President Lyndon Johnson, a Texas native, once told his press secretary, Bill Moyers, this about racism: “If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man,” Johnson said, “he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.”

Johnson was born and raised in the South and understood racism inside out. He signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law despite knowing southerners would abandon the Democratic party in droves. He signed the bill anyway.

I have never been an admirer of President Johnson because of Vietnam, but I admire his courage in standing up to racists in our country. Few leaders have that kind of courage today.

Instead, many politicians kowtow to an avowed racist who has embraced birtherism, referred to African nations as “shithole countries,” labeled Mexican immigrants “rapists” and incited violence against Asian-Americans by blaming COVID on them.

This man – Donald Trump — has refused to denounce white supremacists and Christian nationalism and has referred to white, home-grown terrorists as “good people.”

Right-wing Republicans, spurred on by Trump’s blatant racism and anti-abortion stance, are only now beginning to distance themselves from him after numerous indictments have been handed down.

Read On

I have had quite a bit to say about racism and radicalized Christianity in previous posts. If you’re interested in reading any of them, please see the list, below.



Hatred among Christians

Christianity and white supremacy

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