Reformed African American Network President Jemar Tisby Calls On Pastors to ‘Expel White Supremacy from the Church’

Several hundred white nationalists carrying torches marched in a parade through the University of Virginia campus Friday night. (Evelyn Hockstein for The Washington Post)
Several hundred white nationalists carrying torches marched in a parade through the University of Virginia campus Friday night. (Evelyn Hockstein for The Washington Post)

by Jemar Tisby

Last night, white supremacists assembled in Charlottesville for a public demonstration of hate. They held torches and chanted phrases such as “White lives matter!” and “Jews will not replace us!” Following an event that the city’s mayor called an “unsanctioned and despicable display of visual intimidation,” white pastors have a critical role to play.

There is no greater need to apply the biblical call to “speak the truth in love” than in the area of white supremacy and the church.

As a Christian, I believe the church remains instrumental in dismantling the racial caste system in America. Black Christians and their allies have been decrying white supremacy as long as it has existed. Too often, though, our warnings and protestations are met with tepid responses.

In the wake of the Charlottesville rally — and the country’s ongoing racial tension — we look to the church and ask, “White pastors, will you now work to end white supremacy?”

I know that term — white supremacy — is unpopular. It tends to shut down conversation because folks think it only refers to racists who wear hoods and burn crosses. They think it’s too harsh to apply to them, the people they know, or the church. But let’s call it what it is. We can’t change the white supremacist status quo unless we name it and confront it.

Let’s also be clear that we can’t really end white supremacy. In the Christian view, racism is a sin, and sin cannot be completely eradicated on this side of eternity. But we are called to fight against sin in all its forms, so we should expect positive change in our churches and society at large as we fight against it.

Black Christians have pointed to the warning signs. Plenty of us said that the current president, based on his rhetoric during the campaign, would energize a new era of bigotry. President Trump has created a context in which white supremacists feel emboldened in their views and have no shame in admitting them publicly and vocally.

Yet at the polls, white evangelicals voted overwhelmingly for Trump. Despite all of their verbal commitments to equality and racial reconciliation, 80 percent of white evangelicals went against the voices of their brothers and sisters of color.

When a black pastor in the largest Protestant denomination in the country presented a resolution condemning the alt-right and white supremacy, a small group of mostly white pastors dismissed it out of hand. It took the protests of other pastors, as well as a swift backlash on social media, for the Southern Baptist Convention to pass a modified resolution at its annual meeting in June.

The dilemma is all too familiar. More than 50 years ago, Martin Luther King Jr. penned a response to white pastors after they sent a message urging restraint and gradualism in the civil rights movement. In his famous “Letter From a Birmingham Jail,” King said,

I felt that the white ministers, priests and rabbis of the South would be some of our strongest allies. Instead, some few have been outright opponents, refusing to understand the freedom movement and misrepresenting its leaders; all too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained-glass windows.

King’s words still resound prophetically today. The time for caution has long passed; we must take courageous action to expel white supremacy from the church.

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SOURCE: The Washington Post

Jemar Tisby writes about religion, race and culture as president of the Reformed African American Network, and he is the co-host of the “Pass the Mic” podcast. Follow him on Twitter @JemarTisby.

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