Last week Wade Davis offered this invitation to white Americans in response to what happened in Charlottesville:
This grand display of domestic terrorism offers America yet another opportunity to confront white supremacy, not just white supremacists. And only self-identified white liberals and progressives are the individuals who should answer the call.
Confronting or condemning white supremacists seems easy enough.
It requires little nuance to speak out against explicit racial hatred and antisemitism. Contemporary politics in the U.S. have been working to transcend explicit white nationalism—with an emphasis on values like freedom, equality and diversity—for several decades now as Jews and People of Color have long called this country to live up to some of its highest moral values.
Yet our liberal coalition has settled for diversity rather than justice or care for our neighbors. And we are finding that noble ideals such as freedom and equality are not enough to overcome the legacy of white supremacy and antisemitism in this country.
LGBTQIA Christians have seen this challenge first hand. “Equality” has been weaponized through models of “dialogue” that require “both sides” of the “gay issue” to have “equal time.” The result is that LGBTQIA people continue to be pathologized, dehumanized, and harmed under the umbrella of “polite conversation” in Churches and Town Halls across the country.
In recent years, “freedom” has increasingly been weaponized to harm LGBTQIA people as well. The Supreme Court will hear a case this fall to decide whether “religious freedom” gives business owners a license to discriminate. This case follows legislative battles across the country on this same topic over the past few years.
I was raised to be a nice, white, liberal-minded Christian in the 1970s.
I come from people who are deeply indoctrinated with the idea that keeping quiet, following the rules, loving our neighbors, and avoiding conflict is the best way to build a peaceful world. Shifting white Christian culture to be “polite” puts us miles ahead of the white Christianity that butchered Native Americans, enslaved Africans, gassed Jews, and conquered continents under some twisted notion of divine right and appointment.
But being polite is not the same thing as being responsible.
Being polite does little to nothing to help our communities heal and rebuild from centuries of racialized violence up to an including those of recent weeks—from Jamestown and Plymouth Rock to Charleston and Charlottesville.
The cultural values that white Christianity taught me are only a “kinder” and more “gentle” version of white privilege. This version of privilege invites me to reach for my own “innocence” just because I didn’t use that racial slur, drive that car into the crowd, or fire that weapon.
But if we are to actually eradicate white supremacy on the streets, in politics, and in our most beloved institutions, we also have to unlearn the Jesus “meek and mild” values that make us complicit bystanders in the conversation about Justice. We need to learn about how good Christian anger can be used in the service of Justice—not just as a tool of white rage.
While many like to sing about Jesus “like a lamb that is led to slaughter” (Isaiah 53:7), he was also the kind of person who took the time make a whip by hand before he went into the beloved Temple to disrupt the money-changers who were exploiting the innocent (John 2:13-16).
Yes, sometimes nice Christians need to disrupt business as usual.
Sometimes we need to interrupt polite Christian conversation. Sometimes we need to sit down at the lunch counter or lay down in the street. Because it’s not as easy as just condemning “those white supremacists over there.”
Well-meaning white Christians have to look inward at ourselves and at the institutions we are a part of. We must look for the ways our culture and history are creating barriers to the love we want to represent.
We must grapple with the many kinds of bias we have around the cultural differences that line our otherwise “diverse” churches and denominations (if they are even diverse at all).
Being racially responsible means recognizing the innumerable ways that white supremacy and antisemitism have shaped our thinking, the institutions we build, even the symbols of Christian faith.
This is hard, tedious, vulnerable work.
In addition to examining and accounting for our biases, we must also take seriously the ways that identities like white and Christian and American invoke histories of violence. While holding the legacies of these identities does not make us inherently evil, it does mean that people who are white and Christian and American have certain responsibilities in the context of those histories.
LGBTQIA Christians know well what kind of courage it takes to interrupt this kind of toxicity and violence when it comes to issues of sexuality, but white LGBTQIA Christians may find it more difficult to find the same courage to resist “both sides” arguments when we are talking about racial diversity.
In my experience, this kind of discernment and disruption is really, really, really hard for those of us who have been raised to revere the type of polite, well-articulated social change that segregates the “good guys” from the “bad guys.”
Of course, Christians want to be the “good guys.” But disentangling ourselves from white supremacy is not as simple as “good vs. evil.” Because “good” people and “good” churches also perpetuate white supremacy.
Finding the courage to interrupt the white supremacy of our most familiar institutions is essential to being racially responsible.
For some, the events of Charlottesville this month are an “a-ha” moment in terms of recognizing the continuing power and prevelance of white supremacy in the United States. Unfortunately, the “after Charlottesville” conversations among white Americans and white Christians remind me too much of similar calls for change—after Charleston, after Baltimore, after Ferguson; after Philando, after Sandra, after Tamir; after each time extraordinary acts of violence capture our hearts for a few moments like the latest episode of “Game of Thrones.”
When shock and outrage subside, what comes next?
I believe it is our responsibility as white people generally, and as white LGBTQIA Christians specifically, to extend our attention span beyond this week and the next to cultivate first our own sense of racial responsibility, and then our own capacity for skillful intervention.
I’ve been around long enough to remember Irene Monroe’s invitation to this movement, to this LGBTQIA Christian movement, in 2002 after another racially charged incident. Her invitation still rings true:
[This movement must] shift its paradigm of leadership by becoming racially responsible. In order…to be racially responsible it must be committed to anti-racist work not just in some things it does, but rather, committed to anti-racist work in all things it will do….Who [we say we are] as a movement must be followed up by [our] actions in order [for us] to be taken seriously….
It is not enough for [us] to say [we are a] justice-seeking movement, and not be a justice-doing movement. White people who are involved…must know that anti-racist work is intrinsically tied to their personal freedom as individuals and it is intrinsically tied to their collective freedom as an LGBT Christian movement.
Resisting white supremacy is messy. It will always be messy.
It is especially messy when we’re confronting white supremacy in ourselves, in our communities, and in the churches and institutions we love.
White LGBTQIA Christians need to be prepared to be messy in the midst of it—and keep on going nonetheless.
Some additional resources for reflection:
Photo by majka czapski