Given the rather strong support for Trump amongst white Evangelicals and the widely accepted view that Trump is Racist, you might indeed conclude that racism is rather common amongst white evangelicals. With that thought in mind, the COE and founder of Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), Robert P. Jones, has published some research on the topic. He concludes that this does indeed appear to be correct, white Evangelicals in the US are truly more inclined to be racist.
Before we dive in there is one rather important observation to make. Robert P. Jones is himself a Christian and is also white, so this is not an outsider looking in, it is in insider shouting out a warning of deep concern to others.
Mr Jones frames his research by placing it into a historical context. He also very clearly marks himself out out as an insider ..
A close read of history reveals that we white Christians have not just been complacent or complicit; rather, as the nation’s dominant cultural power, we have constructed and sustained a project of perpetuating white supremacy that has framed the entire American story. The legacy of this unholy union still lives in the DNA of white Christianity today — and not just among white evangelical Protestants in the South, but also among white mainline Protestants in the Midwest and white Catholics in the Northeast.
He explains how he became aware of this …
For example, surveys conducted by PRRI in 2018 found that white Christians — including evangelical Protestants, mainline Protestants and Catholics — are nearly twice as likely as religiously unaffiliated whites to say the killings of Black men by police are isolated incidents rather than part of a pattern of how police treat African Americans.
And he once again underlines that he is an insider …
As a white Christian who was raised Southern Baptist and shaped by a denominational college and seminary, it pains me to see these patterns in the data
So what exactly did he do?
He created a “Racism Index,” a measure consisting of 15 questions designed to get beyond personal biases and include perceptions of structural injustice.
It includes statements such as the following and asks if you agree or disagree with them …
- the killings of Black men by police are isolated incidents rather than part of a pattern of how police treat African Americans
- monuments to Confederate soldiers are symbols of Southern pride rather than symbols of racism
- Generations of slavery and discrimination have created conditions that make it difficult for Blacks to work their way out of the lower class
What did he discover?
White Christians register higher median scores on the Racism Index, and the differences among white Christian subgroups are largely differences of degree rather than kind …
white evangelical Protestants have the highest median score (0.78) on the Racism Index. But it is a mistake to see this as merely a Southern or an evangelical problem. The median scores of white Catholics (0.72) and white mainline Protestants (0.69) — groups that are more culturally dominant in the Northeast and the Midwest — are not far behind. Notably, the median score for each white Christian subgroup is significantly above the median scores of the general population (0.57), white religiously unaffiliated Americans (0.42) and Black Protestants (0.24).
Key Observation – Religion
It is not about being white, but rather is about the embrace of a very specific US Religious identity. He identified a clear gap between the religious and the non-religious.
Some might perhaps raise an objection and that he is measuring people who would embrace the identity of “Christian” but don’t actually practise Christianity, and don’t attend any Church.
The rather embarrassing fact is that what his data reveals is that it was those that did practise and did attend church on a regular basis were far more inclined to be racist.
Some might be shocked because they think of themselves as the ultimate keepers of all that is good and decent. However, beyond the cozy stories they might tell themselves, there is a very dark sordid history …
The unsettling truth is that, for nearly all of American history, the light-skinned Jesus conjured up by most white congregations was not merely indifferent to the status quo of racial inequality; he demanded its defense and preservation as part of the natural, divinely ordained order of things.
Consider the cultural context in which American Christianity, both Protestant and Catholic, was born. In the 18th and 19th centuries, as Protestant churches were springing up in newly settled territories after Native American populations were forcibly removed, it was common practice — observed, for example, at the Baptist church that was the progenitor of my parents’ church in Macon, Georgia — for slaveholding whites to take enslaved people to church with them.
… as late as the 1940s, urban Catholic parishes in major cities such as New York still required Black members to sit in the back pews and approach the altar last to receive the bread and wine of the Eucharist….
He is of course right. The historical record, one that is often forgotten, contains the brutal system of racial segregation enforced by law and lynchings, the resistance to the civil rights movement, and the mass incarceration of millions of African Americans. When you remember this history, then his revelation regarding endemic racism amongst white evangelicals is perhaps not such a surprise.
The challenge he lays down is this …
As monuments to white supremacy are falling all across America, a great cloud of witnesses is gathering. Our fellow African American citizens, and indeed the entire country, are waiting to see whether we white Christians can finally find the humility and courage and love to face the truth about our long relationship with white supremacy and to dismantle the Christian worldview we built to justify it.
To be honest, I personally think it will take time. Slavery was once accepted but it no longer is. This is not because people changed their minds, but rather because the people who embraced it as a jolly good idea are now dead and were eventually replaced by a generation of humans who never accepted it.
Old bad ideas often fade, not because of better arguments, but because the humans who embraced those ideas are gone.