On the eve of jury selection for the trial of Derek Chauvin, ex Minneapolis police officer, I share some thoughts on the White Christian Nationalism. I must first mention my use of the word "White" to describe current Christian nationalism. Within our Church, any discussion of theology, mission or congregational life that has no adjectival phrase such as people of color or African descent means that we are talking about White people. This common practice indicates that "White" is always the norm, and the standard, therefore one doesn't have to label anything "White" because it is understood. But as we discuss Christian Nationalism in its original context, the adjective is a necessary antecedent for this is a White movement.
I am somewhat surprised that White Christian nationalism seems for many in our Church to be a brand new phenomenon or a hybrid of recent political and social tensions. White Christianity and nationalism have been willing partners since the founding of the United States of America. American nationalism was built upon the idea of free labor from enslaved Africans and the genocide of Native Americans. The evil premise that both of these groups of human beings were inherently inferior and animalistic compared to their White counterparts. White American Christianity developed a twisted theology, which interpreted the superiority of their people. White ministers used selective, isolated scripture that spoke about obedient servitude to masters. Their cursory reading of the bible missed the whole Exodus event, divine demands for justice and pending judgment when justice was not forthcoming.
Both affirmed each other from the pulpits to the legal practices of the day. To be fair, there was a segment of White Christians, specifically the Quakers, who in their proclamation of the gospel, vigorously denounced and fought to end slavery in our nation. But for the most part, there was no separation in rhetoric or in the actions between White Christianity and nationalism.
Nationalistic speeches for "America first" were weaved throughout with the notion that God almighty had ordained this nation alone in the world. Sermons taught that the United States was the new Israel. Jesus' description of his followers in Matthew 5:14 as kin to "The city on the hill" was misappropriated as a political idiom and accepted by both religious and secular.
Another example is the phrase "Manifest Destiny" which was coined by journalist John O'Sullivan in defending the U.S. annexation of Texas in 1845. However this mantra was soon expanded to mean that God had predestined White Americans to govern the entire continent. This political and religious belief entitled White Americans to transform the landscape and the culture for its own interest.
The Ku Klux Klan was also a historic precursor of White Christian nationalism. This so called Christian organization used scripture and the burning of crosses to promulgate their hatred of non-whites and nationalistic urges. The KKK began using terrorism, physical assault and murder in the Southern United States to maintain white supremacy over recently freed African Americans and later on over Jews and Catholics too.
The formal recognition of White Christian nationalism was in the 1960's by sociologist Robert Bellah. Bellah called this intertwining of White nationalism and Christianity, civil religion. White Christian nationalism is not new but it does demand a new response to confront it. It up to today's White Christian denominations to repent. Authentic repentance requires of course not just confession of the sin but taking the actions necessary to eradicate the sin. May the Apostle Peter's discovery permeate throughout our Church.
Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right." Acts 10:34-35
Rev. James F. Phillips, African Descent coordinator for Southwest California Synod and also serving as interim Pastor of Christ Lutheran West Covina.