Please note that the title of this piece does not posit that Jesus Christ is the root of America’s problems with race, rather, Christianity as social and political constructs ALWAYS have been at the root of European colonialism and its subsequent attendant miseries. Most European explorers ventured into Africa, Asia and the Americas with the approval of both the crown (government) and the Church (so-called Christians), and neither the Vatican nor the Anglican church, for example, did much of anything to challenge the notion that Europeans had a “divine right” to pillage, plunder and rape both human flesh and material wealth on other continents.
Upon being enslaved, most Africans that were transported to the Americas were introduced to so-called Christianity. So-called, mind you, because the perniciously clever enslavers did not reveal the more radical or liberating aspects of Christ’s teachings, rather, the enslaved were forced fed words of submission such as:
***Ephesians 6:5: “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ.”
Or this one:
***Romans 13:1: “All of you must obey the government rulers. Everyone who rules was given the power to rule by God. And all those who rule now were given that power by God.2 So anyone who is against the government is really against something God has commanded.”
(Renaissance depiction of a caucasian Jesus Christ)
Tragically, for many generations of blacks, the roots of what is often referred to as “Stockholm Syndrome,” which can be defined as an unrequited love or affection for one’s tormentors or oppressors, is grounded in how Christianity was used to force the enslaved to submit both to the lordship of their enslavers and to the governments–be they colonial, state, federal or Confederate–that allowed their fates as the enslaved to be lawful.
So to many of those enslaved, resistance to being worked from “can’t see to can’t see” (sunrise to sunset), or being beaten, tortured or raped not only was a potential cause for death on Earth, but a reason to fear eternal spiritual damnation as well. This hustle that the enslavers ran, the “original sin” as Condoleeza Rice once called it, will forever remain one of the most malevolent in human history.
Now to be balanced, in time there grew to be a few European and American white Christian sects that opposed slavery including some Methodists, Presbyterians and the Quakers. But the majority of Catholics and Baptists in Europe and the Americas profited from the slave trade and slave labor as they believed thus was the will of God and his Son, Jesus Christ.
Lest we forget that even among the few white denominations that believed slavery to be immoral, that equality of the races was not a given. No better example of this point exists than the founding of the African Methodist Episcopal Denomination by Richard Allen and Absalom Jones, et al, one founded because ministers at St. George’s Methodist Episcopal in Philadelphia wanted to relegate these two free black preachers to segregated black congregations under their auspices. Lest we also forget that during this same period that Prince Hall was permitted to found a black order of Freemasons because white Freemasons, which included many of America’s Founding Fathers who were deferential to the architect of the universe, God /G\, did not want to mix with God’s darker hued creations.
So to be clear, when pastors and the laity alike exclaim that “Sunday at 11 am is the most segregated hour of the week,” we must delve deeper and realize that the hour of prayer that often remains separate is miniscule in comparison to the centuries of degredation, depression and death that European Christian denominations have wrought among their darker Christian “Brethren.”
It is for these reasons that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr chastised his “dear fellow (white) clergymen in “Letter From Birmingham Jail” about “calling (his) present activities ‘unwise and untimely’.” To racists, be they active racists who participated in the misery of blacks as slave owners, overseers, slave catchers, Ku Klux Klan terrorists or White Citizens Council types who made and enforced Jim Crow laws, or passive racists who went to church or preached at churches where the Klan et al also attended but said or did nothing to promote Christian brotherly love among the races or a change in the law, any challenges to the racial hierarchy was typically considered “unwise and untimely.” Such is why it took Southern Baptists until 1995 to issue an apology for slavery and attendant racism, a “sorry-not sorry” if ever there was one based upon the silence of Southern Baptists on modern issues with race ranging from police brutality to formal systemic discrimination in almost every institution in America.
Such is also why so many Evangelical preachers supported a presidential candidate named Donald Trump, one with a suspect relationship with Christ, a feeble knowledge of the Bible, a history of being a vile misogynist and yes, a racist cited for racism in his business practices and his advocacy for the death penalty for five young black men falsely accused of raping a white woman in 1989. These Evangelical pastors today are no different from their Evangelical predecessors who actively supported slavery or supported government leaders who created separate and unequal laws. Trump’s Evangelical supporters today are the same as those of yesterday who ministered to the white men, women and children who lynched black men, women, and children and posed with badly charred, mangled and castrated bodies like they were at a Sunday picnic.
As such, Christianity as a social or political construct was the problem—and Christianity as a social or political construct remains the problem that can only solve itself by honest dialogue and earnest action(s).