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The Christian Evangelical Movement's Ugly Racist Streak

Many people of faith have rushed to denounce "Duck Dynasty's" Phil Robertson's homophobia — but his racism is a different story.

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But racism and colonization have also allowed white people, like Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly, to create the Jesus they wish to see, too: a blonde, blue-eyed white man with long hair. Now my Bible says that Jesus was a Jew with Egyptian (Read: African) ancestry (Matthew 1). But many white people are decidedly uncomfortable worshipping a God that doesn’t look like them.

As Evangelicalism goes, racism, homophobia, and sexism go hand in hand. Black evangelicals like to tell themselves that they can reject Christianity’s racist past, while embracing homophobic and sexist ideas about the position of gay people and women, in the world and the church. I have come to say: It just isn’t so.

God is not a racist. I know that despite a Bible that sanctions enslavement and implores slaves to obey and be kind to their masters.

God is not a sexist. I know that despite a Bible that tells me that women are to be quiet in church, that women are not to teach men, that women are to submit.

God is not a homophobe. I know that despite a Bible that declares sex between men to be an abomination.

God is love. That is a truth I learned first and foremost from the Bible. And it holds moral and political weight for me because of the life that Jesus Christ lived, from birth to death and back again.

I love the Church, despite myself. But I won’t love it uncritically. This is what  hermeneutic consistency requires. And worshipping alongside white folks who are more moved to stand with a homophobe than to stand against racism gives me great pause.

The Church can no longer afford to be disingenuous about its racism problem. Easy unity is not what we need. Time has run out for an African American Church that continues to tack hard to the right — uncritically imbibing the agenda of the (white) Evangelical Right, without acknowledging that this position, predicated as it is on the belief that Christian = Republican, is fundamentally averse to, and in some ways responsible for, the declining social and political condition of African Americans, gay and straight alike.

Ironically enough, the progressive Christians who inspire me the most these days are white. Rachel Held Evans, Jay Bakker, Brian McLaren and theologian Peter Enns are fighting the good fight of faith. But I won’t let any of them off the hook for their failure to be more forthright in addressing racism. Evans, Bakker and McLaren are great on questions of homophobia, poverty and sexism; but racism, when it is addressed at all, is largely addressed as a problem of individual attitudes rather than systemic disfranchisement. What Robertson’s statements point to, however, is that individual prejudices, and the amelioration of them, are bound up with the structures that support them. After all, it wasn’t his raciststatements that got him suspended.

This is the season of hope. And I am hopeful. Because even though Phil Robertson said gay people would not inherit the kingdom of God, Jesus did say that the Kingdom of God is within us. Phil Robertson and his ilk don’t possess the keys to the kingdom. We do.

 

Brittney Cooper is a contributing writer at Salon. Follow her on Twitter at@professorcrunk.

 
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