The conciliation of blacks and whites in America calls for and demands the death of the idolatry of “whiteness,” white privilege, and white supremacy. I place these as gradations of whiteness as I believe they belong on a continuum with people at different stages. I define white supremacy as a historically based, institutionally perpetuated system of exploitation and oppression of people of color by white people, the defending of a system of wealth, power, and privilege as an inalienable right. This remains the white elephant in the room whenever blacks and whites come together as a show of unity each time the beast of racism rears its ugly head.
Evangelical Christians from Jonathan Edwards down to pastors in our modern times have failed miserably to divorce themselves from the vestiges of white supremacy and privilege. The media rightly criticized President Trump for sending coded messages of support to the white extremists in his statements on Charlottesville. In truth, however, the little tolerance most white people have when discussing race, what scholar Robin D'Angelo calls “white fragility,” is tantamount to a soft nod to the white privilege status quo.
Sociologist Michael Dyson incisively states, “You don’t get whiteness from your genes. It is a social inheritance that is passed on to you as a member of a particular group. And it’s killing us, and, quiet as it’s kept, it’s killing you too.” For most Americans, the idea of white privilege does not function on the level seen on the streets of Charlottesville. It is institutionalized. It is politicized. It is propagated. It is one that must be put to death. On the part of African Americans, death is required, too—death to the way “whiteness” has distorted our sense of self and lack of self-love, death to nihilistic tendencies that manifest in black-on-black violence.
In his book America's Original Sin, Jim Wallis offers a prophetic and deeply personal call to action in overcoming the racism so ingrained in American society. He speaks candidly to Christians—particularly white Christians—urging them to cross a new bridge toward racial justice and healing.
The first step in this process is a defiant public rejection of the type of white supremacy that was on display in Charlottesville.
Clifton Clarke is associate dean of the William E. Pannell Center for African American Church Studies at Fuller Theological Seminary.
A Gospel That’s Big Enough to Heal the Racial Divide
By Jarvis J. Williams
In the aftermath of the recent racial violence in Charlottesville, many Christians and churches are rightly asking with more urgency, “How should we respond to white supremacy and racial injustice?” Race relations are bad in America. Yet, churches may be tempted to think the message of the gospel is irrelevant to the problem of race relations or that racism is a “social issue” instead of a “gospel issue.” But this impulse reveals a small understanding of the gospel—one that offers no hope for overcoming white supremacy in our churches or in society.
As I wrote in One New Man: The Cross and Racial Reconciliation in Pauline Theology, the gospel announces (among many things) that Jesus died for the sins of diverse groups of humans and that God raised him from the dead (John 1:29; 3:16; 1 Cor. 15:1-8). Jesus now reigns with the Father over all things in heaven and on the earth (Eph. 1:20-22).