The white evangelical church remains “the most powerful force” in hindering work for racial justice and reconciliation in America, according to religion researcher Robert P. Jones.
In a Nov. 16 opinion piece written for NBC News, Jones made an explicit case for how much easier the fight for racial justice in America would be if white evangelical Christians were not a factor. Jones, who was raised Southern Baptist, is the author of White Too Long and The End of White Christian America.
“Overall, white evangelicals’ enthusiasm for ‘making America great again’ has been rooted in a white Christian nationalism that has always been inconsistent with a multiracial, religiously pluralistic democracy,” he wrote. “The heartbreaking truth is that, without white evangelicals, the primary issue that has rent the soul of America since our beginnings — the struggle for racial equality and justice — would suddenly become much more manageable.”
With 76% of white evangelicals supporting Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election — “along with pre-election research showing how white evangelicals’ political behavior is animated by racial resentment” — Jones said the forces at work cannot be denied.
He explained: “The vast majority of white evangelicals have given their unflagging, indeed exuberant, allegiance to a president who began his political career by promoting racist birther conspiracies to undermine the nation’s first Black president, a president who referred to immigrants as criminals and rapists in his opening campaign speech and a president who has refused, on multiple occasions, to condemn white supremacist groups, preferring to equivocate that there are ‘very fine people on both sides, even in the wake of deadly demonstrations in Charlottesville, Va.
Further, Jones said: “White evangelicals’ indifference to such remarks and behavior by a sitting president is damning testimony that, at best, such anti-immigrant and anti-Black sentiments are not deal breakers for the white evangelical community. Moreover, public opinion surveys reveal a more deeply disturbing truth: that the lie of white supremacy — that white people’s lives are more important than those of others — continues to be one of the primary ties that bind Trump and the white evangelical world.”
“The lie of white supremacy — that white people’s lives are more important than those of others — continues to be one of the primary ties that bind Trump and the white evangelical world.”
While a majority of Americans appear to be moving away from the nation’s racist past and systemic forms of racism, white evangelicals are leading the charge against change, Jones said. “White evangelical Protestants have hung onto their old prejudices, placing the community increasingly at odds not only with the country as a whole but also with our fellow Christians and other religious Americans.”
He cited various data points previously reported by his research firm, Public Religion Research Institute, as illustrations:
- 59% of white evangelicals believe that immigrants are “invading our country and replacing our cultural and ethnic background,” a view shared by only 30% of all other religious Americans and 31% of the country.
- 7 in 10 white evangelicals continue to see the killing of unarmed Black people by police as isolated incidents rather than part of a pattern of how police treat African Americans. In contrast, among all other religious Americans and the country as a whole, only 43% agree with this assessment.
- Over the last five years, polling has found a 10-point drop in the percentage of Americans who deny racial bias in policing, but white evangelical Protestants have remain unmoved.
- Only one quarter of white evangelicals believe Trump’s decisions and behaviors have encouraged white supremacist groups across the country, compared to 6 in 10 Americans who are not white evangelicals who believe this about Trump.
“At this moment of reckoning, it is important to bear witness to the destructive role white evangelicalism has played not just in the past, but also in the present, propping up the last desperate gasp of white supremacy,” Jones said. “I personally am still deeply drawn to Jesus definition of ‘evangel’ as a message that delivers good news to the poor, liberates the captives and lets the oppressed go free — a vision of the gospel that has courageously been preserved among many Black and brown Christians in America and around the globe.”