This country is addicted to its belief in and adherence to white supremacy. It is an addiction that displays as do all addictions: The desire for the power of white supremacy is part of the political circulatory system of this country, and because of that, the country cannot just declare that we are over it. America needs to be detoxed of its poisonous, destructive tumor.
There have been spates of time in our history where there has been a kind of remission. After the horrifically toxic years following Reconstruction, Black Americans, and women for that matter, were allowed into the political system.
But Black political and economic progress almost always has been followed by white backlash. It’s the addiction, made evident.
Once a person is addicted to a substance, his or her body needs it and their body is forever challenged and threatened by that need re-emerging. The blessing or evidence of healing is revelatory when the addicted person’s physiology and spirituality has risen above raw desire.
America’s addiction to white supremacy is no different. When it comes to white supremacy, American simply does not want to let it go. And so we have not.
This addiction to white supremacy exists in spite of the historical Jesus and his teachings. Some white supremacists have declared that Jesus’ mission really was to minister to and save the most wealthy, not those who suffer from political, economic and social oppression.
Historian Anthea Butler says:
White Christianity is a Christianity that is based on the following: Jesus is white. Jesus privileges white culture and white supremacy, and the political aspirations of whiteness over and against everything else. White Christianity assumes that everybody should be subsumed under whiteness in terms of culture and society.
White Christianity assumes that it does not have to look at poverty. We see this in the form of the so-called prosperity gospel, and that any blessing you get from God is because God favors you. If anybody else is out of favor, let’s say some poor kid in Northwest Philadelphia who doesn’t have enough to eat, well, that’s just too bad because they’re not blessed of God.
If you grew up in a home where the gospel was taught, this remaking of Jesus as the champion of white supremacy is puzzling, confusing and troubling. But in all truth, the only way to understand what is going on, and the role of Christianity in all of it, is to understand the ethos of white Christianity — a belief system that exists North, South, East and West.
“If you grew up in a home where the gospel was taught, this remaking of Jesus as the champion of white supremacy is puzzling, confusing and troubling.”
What, then, do Christians who believe in the biblical Jesus, the Jesus of the gospel, do to effectively combat a nation that is addicted to white supremacy and that justifies its actions on their re-make of Jesus and Jesus’ purposes? How does one fight a group of people who have effectively de-defied the biblical Jesus and God, the parent of Jesus?
It is troubling, again, for those of us who internalized our Sunday school lessons, who resonated with the stories of Jesus loving all people, mingling with and touching and healing those who had been determined to be “the least of these.” The gospel message gave hope to the masses, which is necessary for the strength to survive oppression. With so many white Christians having rejected the biblical Jesus and replacing that figure with their own icon, how does the biblical Jesus survive — or in this time, does he?
Robert P. Jones, author of White Too Long, writes that America always has had a fascist undergirding, revealed during moments of white backlash toward Black progress. Are the believers in the biblical Jesus too silent? Too afraid?
It seems believers in the biblical Jesus ought to lose their fear and stand up, speak out and confront the distortion of Christianity we see playing out. We need to gird up and, like Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, face those who would bully believers in the gospel.
The Ukraine is in a war, surely, but this country is in a war as well with a nation that is addicted to its substance of choice — white supremacy. This country does not want to be healed of it; the goal is to inhale more fumes of power to maintain its high. America, just like any addict, may know that it is on a dangerous course and might die but has no power or desire to stop the ravaging of its soul.
It is time for believers in the biblical Jesus, the Jesus of the gospel, to stand up and be heard and seen.
Susan K. Smith is an ordained minister, activist and author. A graduate of Yale Divinity School, she is the director of clergy resource development for the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference. Her latest book is With Liberty and Justice for Some: The Bible, the Constitution, and Racism in America.
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