I was recently blocked on Instagram by a famous white male worship leader from Bethel Church. His Martin Luther King Jr. Day post complained about how too many people were using MLK day as an opportunity to continue to disparage Donald Trump (hereafter referred to as #45) rather than celebrating MLK and his peacefulness.
The above picture was my response. I was shocked by this worship leader’s Instagram post. Did MLK not talk about white supremacy and a need for change? I’m sure he talked about it every day of the week. Why should we not talk about the same issues that MLK fought for and was assassinated for on HIS DAY? Why is this white man telling people of color how to respond to a day for our hero, who was assassinated by a white man who didn’t like what he had to say? I did not take his comments well and therefore wrote the above comment in the picture. My comment was then deleted and I was blocked. Did I call this worship leader a white supremacist? No. I called #45 a white supremacist, which has been proven by his own racist mouth. We hear about a new racist comment from #45 almost every week.
So why did my comment offend this man so intensely that he had to block me? Was I posting waves of comments and personally attacking him? Not at all. That was the only comment I had ever posted on his Instagram and I did not call him a white supremacist. Clearly he feels that I did, which reveals a lot, to be quite honest. It certainly shows his white fragility. I did say that we’re not going to have white people tell us how to celebrate MLK day, which he obviously did not receive well, but I still stand by that. MLK day is not a day for white people. It’s a day for us. No one can police us on MLK day. We’re already policed enough throughout the entire year.
Now, this post is about white supremacy and Christianity which is a deep, complex, and disturbing history. There is so much to be said and this post will not cover everything because I don’t have ten years to write on the topic. Well, not yet at least. Instead I’m going to take you through a brief glimpse of white supremacy in the Church and my observations.
First, let’s talk about how Merriam-Webster defines “white supremacy” : the belief that white people are superior to those of all other races, especially the black race, and should therefore dominate society. Keep this definition in mind as we talk about white supremacy in the Church.
White supremacy doesn’t exist throughout the global church because not every church is primarily white or exists within a white majority culture. But, for those of us who do live under a white majority system, we know that white supremacy shows its ugly face throughout every facet of our daily lives: school, work, the police, the government, the courts, and church. We’re typically only free to be ourselves at home, if we live with others who are open-minded, culturally competent, and respectful.
Some examples of how white supremacy manifests itself in the United States are:
1. The strategic and systematic oppression of people of color, especially black and Latino people. We see young black men shot on the street every day for simply existing. If a white cop feels threatened, they are quick to pull that trigger, ending that black person’s life. ICE officers revel in their ravenous raids on innocent Latino homes and businesses, often dragging parents out in front of their children or arresting them while their kids are at school, leaving those kids with no one to come home to. In those moments, these white officers do not see these black and Latino people as human.
2. One other way that Latinos have been targeted by white supremacists is through the calculated sterilization of Puerto Rican women in Puerto Rico and on the U.S. mainland. If you aren’t aware of the sterilization that the U.S. forced on Puerto Rico during the mid-20th century, I urge you to Google “La Operacion Puerto Rico” and read more. One-third of women on the island were forced to be sterilized because of racist ideology. Sterilizations in the U.S. have typically been free or low-cost for black and Latino women as well, so that figure is much larger, I’m sure.
3. Ever notice how many black and Latino people in urban areas live in the projects? Think it’s a coincidence or a failing of the entire people group? Dig a little deeper. Read the true history. White supremacy pushed us to the projects, gave us garbage schools, and has continued this cycle of poverty. When one grows up under this type of poverty, one cannot simply pull themselves out of it.
If we begin to think about church history, so many churches in the U.S. and around the world have been founded by white people. That’s not inherently bad at all. Praise God that well-meaning and passionate missionaries followed Jesus’ command, the Great Commission, and have planted churches throughout the world. Unfortunately, what has typically happened after the churches have been established is that the white Western way of doing church, understanding theology and God, and living out the Christian life has been taught and even forced on people of color.
Bibles have not always been translated to the native tongues of the people groups served by the white church. Therefore it has been easy to interpret the Bible for these various people groups and push their own white ideology on them. William Carey, a famous missionary to Kolkata, then known as Calcutta, was an excellent missionary who translated the Bible to various Indian languages and committed his life to India. But, he’s also the same white man who had no respect or understanding for Indian culture and said that Indian music is disgusting. See what I mean?
Singing in their native tongue and dancing their culture’s dances has also typically been prohibited in many white-established and operated churches around the world. So with all of the best intent that these missionaries had, some missionaries inadvertently, or intentionally, pushed a white way of being a Christian onto these people of color and have created a hierarchy of race, in a place where no such hierarchy should exist. In Christ, we are all equal. All of our opinions should be heard. We should be open-minded and receptive to how others worship, see God, and live our their Christian lives. White people cannot assume that they know best.
Throughout my short life, I’ve witnessed a few micro-aggressions when it comes to white supremacy in the Church. No one has outright stated that they know better than me because they’re white. In fact, I’m sure that white people hardly ever do that. The supremacy that exists in their minds is more subtle and they may not even be aware of its existence and its manifestations.
I’ve attended multi-ethnic churches that stick to the popular contemporary white worship music and seem to have a rigid worship environment, not allowing for various worship expressions. I’ve never attended a church where I felt that I could dance for Jesus without getting looks for “being too emotional” in church. Why don’t we sing in different languages in our churches? If our church family consists of multilingual people, we should consult them regarding musical worship and make sure that people from every ethnic and cultural group feel welcome.
Most of the churches I’ve attended, save for the one I currently attend, have been led by white people, especially white men (that’s a whole other story, readers.) If we only have leaders from one ethnic or cultural group, we’re missing a fuller picture of who Christ is. Christ exists and shines in our differences. He teaches us all different things. Some cultural groups, like Latinos and blacks, deeply resonate with the suffering Savior picture of Christ and singing of His redemption of our souls brings us to overflowing joy, because we know what it means to be shackled. Perhaps white people resonate more with the joy that Christ brings and His provision, because they’re more accustomed to living in a country that favors them.
White people have shaped Christianity in this country and around the world for far too long. There is a true Christianity out there that we will never fully get because we’re sinners, but buying into white Christianity and letting them dictate how we live our Christian lives is very damaging.
I want to live out my Christian life in a church that celebrates diversity of thought, worship practice, language, and theological understanding. I’m not sure we’ll ever get there, but I have hope that it’ll get better once we realize we’re all sinners and the only one who knows best is Christ Himself.
P.S. Jesus isn’t white.