There Can be No Racial Justice Without Believing in a Bloody Cross

SACRAMENTO, CA – MARCH 23: A Black Lives Matter protester holds candles during a vigil and demonstration on March 23, 2018 in Sacramento, California. For a second day, dozens of protesters marched through Sacramento to demonstraate against the Sacramento police department after two officers shot and killed Stephon Clark, an unarmed black man, in the backyard of his grandmother’s house following a foot pursuit on Sunday evening. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

In 1846, the abolitionist Samuel Brooke published a book called Slavery, and the Slaveholder’s Religion; as Opposed to Christianity, in which he condemned human bondage as “the violation of every principle of human brotherhood, of natural right, of justice, of humanity, of Christianity, of love to God and to man.”

Like so many of his fellow abolitionists, Brooke wanted to prick the conscience of a religious tradition that sang songs of praise to God on Sunday and whipped slaves on Monday. In Reconstructing the Gospel: Finding Freedom from Slaveholder Religion, writer and activist Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove attempts to take up this mantle, arguing that today’s white evangelical movement remains beholden to a racial ideology that hijacks and distorts the true Christian faith.

Wilson-Hartgrove doesn’t approach the topic of race as an expert, though his experience moving into a majority-black neighborhood in Durham, North Carolina, gives him a proximity not shared by many of his fellow white Christians. Yet he offers a remonstrance that many white Christian leaders desperately need to hear. He traces fault lines in American Christianity that have roots in the nation’s founding and shows how white evangelicals have often baptized white supremacy either by endorsement or silence.

We are tempted, of course, to assume that we are well beyond our racial tensions, being more than 150 years removed from the Civil War and more than 50 years removed from the passage of landmark civil rights legislation. But significant tensions remain, and systemic racism, more subtle and pernicious than white bed sheets or lynching trees, still causes suffering for African Americans. Wilson-Hartgrove makes a persuasive case that racism still haunts our institutions in ways we are often unwilling to see.

What’s more, it seems that white believers often remain stubbornly indifferent. Wilson-Hartgrove’s point is that “the gospel of white evangelicals hasn’t interrupted our racial habits; it has reinforced them. To be white and Christian in America is to be, on average, more segregated than your unchurched neighbors, whatever the color of their skin.”

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SOURCE: Christianity Today, Daniel Darling