In an ideal world the terms “religion” and “racism” would not go together. The presence of one would be the absence of the other. Persons who self-identify as Christian, Jewish, or other religions are ideally considered more accepting, tolerant, and inclusive toward others regardless of race, ethnicity, nationality, culture, or religious beliefs. If that is our belief, then we fall short of acting on it.
Recent research by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) found that most American Christians believe that police shootings of black persons are not indicative of police brutality or racism and are isolated incidents. The majority of White mainline Protestants (53%), White Catholics (56%), and White evangelicals (72%) believe that when the police kill a Black man, it is not representative of a pattern in the way law enforcement treats Black people. Many White Christians in fact believe that discrimination against White people has become “just as big of a problem” as discrimination against Black people.
Since the police shootings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Jacob Blake and many other Black persons this summer, many of us White Americans have been reading from the wide selection of books addressing racism, white privilege, and white supremacy in America. The books do not make for comfortable reading.
Topics I still remember from my college studies include “cognitive dissonance” and “defense mechanisms.” My Psychology professor described these as universal human tendencies and not indicative of mental impairment or emotional disturbance—at least when not used to excess. We all have difficulty accepting facts that go against long-held beliefs. Denial, justification, and rationalization are common “defense mechanisms” used by all persons facing evidence contrary to our beliefs.
“The inability of White Christians to see assaults against Black life for what they are has been more than 400 years in the making. For White Christians to reckon with anti-Blackness as systemic evil agitates and disrupts White Christian complicity.” –Melanie C. Jones, Union Presbyterian Seminary
“(W)hiteness willfully ignores and denies evidence of realities that do not accord with narratives constructed by whiteness. Therefore, individual persons and communities—churches, political parties—create and assert alternative whiteness-affirming narratives to explain away the unwelcome intruding reality.” —Wil Gafney, Episcopal priest and professor, Brite Divinity School.
“Racism…is eradicated by Christians only when we reject these myths and come to grips with the beauty of Africanness and dare to live out a new Christianity that is not beholden to European views. We fight these myths by admitting they exist. We fight them by facing the biblical mandate about what the Lord requires: to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly before God (Micah 6:8). …. America is in need of antiracism activists, preachers, and thinkers who are not people of color. America desires voices with a moral center that dare speak truth to power and walk humbly with our God.” —The Rev. Otis Moss III