Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Crucified by RACISM

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Crucified by RACISM

Article excerpt

Never for a moment did I buy the notion that with the election of Barack Obama as president, the United States had become a "postracial" society. But even for a skeptic like me, the statistics from the 2016 presidential election were difficult to absorb: Eighty-one percent of white evangelical Christians and 60 percent of white Catholics voted for Donald Trump. How could Christians vote for such an unabashedly racist candidate?

As we attempt to answer that question, it's hard to imagine anything timelier than Jeannine Hill Fletcher's new book. In The Sin of White Supremacy: Christianity, Racism, & Religious Diversity in America, Hill Fletcher draws on her expertise in interreligious theology as well as extensive research into the history of Euro-American Christianity to lay out the devastating connections between Christian theology and the ideologies of racial supremacy that underpin our current political crisis.

Then, thank God, she presents a theological paradigm to help us move toward racial and religious transformation.

Hill Fletcher begins by tracking what she designates as not merely "white" but "white racism back well before the beginning of slavery, to the inscription of Christian supremacy--'no salvation outside the Church'--into third-century Christian theology, the Crusades, and Columbus's 'discoveries.' "

Then, in our own "Christian" nation, white college presidents, professors, legislators and clergy went on to apply this supremacist worldview to social and economic systems. And while white racist discourse may be less explicitly Christian today than it once was, Hill Fletcher explains that the "theo-logic" of Christian supremacy--the claim that Jesus Christ is the "only-begotten Son of God"--still supports the racist judgment that some humans are intrinsically superior to others.

The primary function of this Christian white supremacist ideology was, and is, to justify the material dispossession of non-white people. This is so powerfully the case that Hill Fletcher describes it, following the work of James Perkinson, as a form of witchcraft. Whether it is through slavery, manifest destiny, the exclusion of indigenous students from land-grant universities, the Chinese Exclusion Act or the redlining of people of color from home ownership, the white supremacist racial hierarchy in the U.S. shapes virtually everything.

So fundamental to this witchcraft are the ideas--the "symbolic capital"--of Christian theology that nothing less than a serious reconfiguration of that theology can transform our racially unbalanced world.

At the heart of such a theological rebalancing is the reality of God as mystery a mystery portrayed in the profoundly relational narratives of the Gospels. For John, the heart of that narrative is relational intimacy For Mark, it is healing: Jesus choosing the healing of the suffering over wealth or power. For Matthew, however, Jesus' call to love is even more demanding: We must take up our cross and follow him. Love in Luke's Gospel is perhaps the most daunting of all: Like the good Samaritan, we must love even our enemies, those others beyond kinship and tribe.

Hill Fletcher then draws on this relational narrative of divine mystery to answer the most devastating of questions: How do we engage in such love "after the witchcraft of White supremacy ... when White Americans enjoy the benefits of exploitation and people of color continue to bear its weight? …

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