By Rudy Barnes, Jr.
American democracy had a birth defect. It was born as a Christian slave-holding nation. The rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in the Declaration of Independence were a cruel hoax for blacks. The Civil War ended slavery, but not the racism that survived to haunt America; and racism once again threatens to unravel the fabric of American democracy.
America inherited a white Jesus from Europe, and today a blue-eyed and blond Jesus adorns most church walls. It’s ironic since the gospel accounts describe Jesus as a Jewish rabbi. He was Semitic, not white, and he never promoted any race or religion, not even his own. It was the church that fabricated a white Jesus who was congenial to white congregations.
The image of a white Jesus is a misrepresentation of Jesus that has been used to support white supremacy in politics. Today white Christians have their own churches and politics that contrast with those of black Christians that were shaped by slavery. White Christians share a belief in white supremacy similar to that of their antebellum ancestors.
That doesn’t mean that it’s OK for the church to accommodate belief in a white Jesus and white supremacy. Images of a white Jesus contribute to racism, and since the majority of Americans are Christians (if in name only), the church should counter the evils of racism by promoting an accurate image of Jesus as a Semitic Jew along with a politics of reconciliation.
The United Methodist Church is united in name only. Sunday morning remains the most segregated time of the week for the separate white and black congregations of the UMC. While the UMC has promoted a video on Black Lives Matter, it has failed to promote a politics of reconciliation from its pulpits, keeping politics out of religion.
Slavery ended with the Emancipation Procalmation of 1863, but there were no remedies for racial discrimination until the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It provides remedies for specific acts of racial discrimination, but racism has remained to corrupt race relations. Better race relations are the only way to counter the deeply embedded racism that divides whites and blacks.
Black Lives Matter has sponsored protests against “systemic” racism as the cause of racial disparities in criminal justice, employment, loans, education and health care. Racism and racial disparities are self-evident in America, but the correlation between the two is not clear. What is clear is that better race relations are needed to counter the evils of racism.
Jesus was not white or black, and he wasn’t even a Christian. Jesus was a Jew who taught the greatest commandment to love our neighbors, including those of other races and religions, as we love ourselves. The churches that don’t condemn racism in politics today are as hypocritical as those that failed to condemn slavery in the antebellum South. It’s a moral imperative of the church today to counter the evils of racism with a politics of reconciliation.
Michael Gerson has asserted that the white, European Jesus of Western imagination is fiction.
Gerson cited Evangelical writer and radio host Eric Metaxas who “stirred controversy with a tweet contending (or assuming) that Jesus was White.” Gerson acknowledged “There are admittedly no physical descriptions of Jesus in the Gospels. Traditions about his appearance, including the beard, arose more than a century after his death. But there is no doubt that he was a Jew from what we now know as the Middle East. The white, European Jesus of Western imagination is a fiction produced by those who could not imagine human perfection in any other form. Gerson cited Robert P. Jones, chief executive of PRRI and the author of “White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity”: “Whites simply couldn’t conceive of owing their salvation to a representative of what they considered an inferior race. And a nonwhite Jesus would render impossible the intimate relationalism necessary for the evangelical paradigm to function: no proper white Christian would let a brown man come into their hearts or submit themselves to be a disciple of a swarthy Semite.”
Gerson concluded, “It is the great temptation of Christians in every time to shape their faith to fit their interests and predispositions rather than reshaping themselves to fit the gospel. This is what happened when Christians justified slavery, blessed the violent reimposition of white rule after the Civil War and sanctified segregation. Now scandalous injustice has forced the examination of white supremacy in our lives and institutions. The Christianity of Christ has much to offer. Among White evangelicals, it needs better representatives than we have recently seen.” See https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-white-european-jesus-of-western-imagination-is-fiction/2020/08/03/e495f5de-d5cb-11ea-aff6-220dd3a14741_story.html?utm_campaign=wp_todays_headlines&utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter&wpisrc=nl_headlines.
Gerson noted that Metaxas above claim that Jesus was white “was in reaction to news that the United Methodist Church is partnering with Robin DiAngelo, the author of ‘White Fragility,’ to produce a video series on ‘Deconstructing White Privilege.’” See https://www.gcorr.org/video/vital-conversations-racism-dr-robin-diangelo/.
Given the propensity of most UMC pulpits to avoid politics--especially racially charged politics--it’s unlikely that the video will find its way to many UMC churches. Congregations in the Red states of the South and Midwest are not likely to be receptive to the message of Black Lives Matter in the video. .
Jennifer Rubin interviewed Robert P. Jones on the topic of how white supremacy has infected Christianity and the Republican Party. See https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/08/03/how-white-supremacy-infected-christianity-republican-party/?utm_campaign=wp_post_most&utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter&wpisrc=nl_most.