(RNS) — On Jan. 20, 2021, President Joe Biden turned the primary commander in chief to make use of the phrases “white supremacy” in an inaugural deal with.
Naming “the cry of racial justice 4 hundred years within the making” and its corollary, “an increase in political extremism,” he referred to as out white supremacy as a “home terrorism that we should confront, and we are going to defeat.”
The backdrop of the U.S. Capitol Constructing on that sunny, crisp winter day was as poignant because it has been since Abraham Lincoln gave his first inaugural deal with in entrance of its unfinished dome in 1861. Devoid of the standard inaugural crowds because of the pandemic, the Capitol’s home windows and doorways had additionally been unexpectedly repaired following the injury performed by Trump supporters who, inspired by the outgoing president, staged a violent rebel on Jan. 6 making an attempt to forestall the certification of the electoral school vote.
The constructing’s gleaming white exterior, neatly trimmed with American flags and purple, white and blue bunting, and the symmetry of the sparse, socially distanced chairs, introduced a surreal distinction to the chaos simply two weeks prior.
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On Jan. 6, an undulating sea of rioters revealed, with their flags and indicators and totems, that this assault on our democracy was animated not simply by fealty to a single chief but additionally by deeper allegiances to each white supremacy and Christianity. Antisemitic tropes and teams had been prevalent, together with no less than one protester who sported a “Camp Auschwitz” hoodie. Large digicam photographs of the mob confirmed giant Accomplice battle flags.
Shamefully, these Twenty first-century insurrectionists managed to do one thing the Accomplice Military was by no means capable of accomplish in the course of the Civil Warfare: fly the Accomplice battle flag contained in the Capitol. One extensively shared picture confirmed a rioter with the flag strolling by a portrait of William H. Seward, an anti-slavery advocate and Abraham Lincoln’s secretary of state, who was critically wounded within the assassination plot that killed Lincoln in 1865.
Comfortably intermingled with these tributes to white supremacy had been Christian symbols and rhetoric. There have been quite a few Bibles, crosses, “Jesus Saves” indicators and “Jesus 2020” flags that mirrored the design of the Trump marketing campaign flag.
Some Christian individuals had organized as a part of a “Jericho March” within the days earlier than the assault, blowing shofars as they encircled the Capitol, imitating the siege of town of Jericho by the Israelites described within the e-book of Joshua within the Previous Testomony. One video depicted the Christian flag — white with a purple Latin cross inside a blue canton, formally adopted by the Federal Council of Church buildings in 1942 — being paraded into the congressional chamber by means of breached doorways simply minutes after members of Congress had been evacuated by means of underground tunnels.
That flag was acquainted to me, as it will have been to many from my church, the place it flanked the pulpit together with the American flag, and the place, as a toddler in trip Bible faculty, I keep in mind being led in a pledge of allegiance to each flags.
The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, who interviewed rioters on the Capitol grounds, wrote that “the conflation of Trump and Jesus was a typical theme on the rally,” citing statements akin to these: “It’s all within the Bible. Every thing is predicted. Donald Trump is within the Bible. Get your self prepared.” “Give it up in the event you consider in Jesus!” After which: “Give it up in the event you consider in Donald Trump!”—which elicited loud cheers from close by rioters.
The US Capitol riot was a stain on U.S. historical past, ending greater than two centuries of delight in an American democracy that had offered 44 consecutive peaceable transitions of energy. However these terrible occasions had one worth: They placed on plain show the unholy amalgamation of white supremacy and American Christianity that lives amongst us as we speak.
These unsettling connections amongst white supremacy, white Christianity and assist for the previous president should not confined to the extremists who attacked the Capitol. There’s a sturdy correlation between voting for Trump within the 2020 election and median scores on the Racism Index — a composite measure of attitudes about systemic racism I developed in my latest e-book, “White Too Lengthy” — amongst white Christian subgroups.
In accordance with the 2020 Related Press VoteCast Exit Polls, 81% of white evangelicals as soon as once more forged their votes in assist of Trump. Their median rating on the Racism Index: 78 out of 100. Equally, 58% of white mainline Protestants voted for Trump, whereas their median Racism Index rating is 69 out of 100. And Trump acquired the vote of 57% of white Catholics, a bunch with a median Racism Index rating of 72 out of 100.
In contrast, solely 26% of white religiously unaffiliated People voted for Trump, a degree roughly consistent with their a lot decrease median Racism Index rating of 29.
Clearly, we white Christians have barely begun the work of reckoning with white supremacy, a lot much less the hassle to bind the injuries now we have inflicted on our Black and brown residents or to get better our personal potential to reside extra faithfully on this planet. However there are indicators of hope and alter.
There have been important symbolic transformations in our cultural panorama, catalyzed by the large marches in assist of the Black Lives Matter motion that erupted all through the summer time of 2020 within the wake of the killing of George Floyd by a white police officer.
In my residence state, the Mississippi Baptist Conference, the native arm of the Southern Baptist Conference, got here out strongly in assist of laws to take away the Accomplice battle flag from our state banner, the final state flag within the nation that continued to include it. Dr. Sean Parker, the manager director of the MBC, referred to as eradicating the symbol a “ethical obligation” and “a matter of discipleship for each follower of Jesus Christ.” That laws handed shortly and was signed into legislation on June 30, 2020. On Jan. 11, 2021, simply 5 days after the Capitol riots, a newly designed “magnolia flag” rose over the Mississippi State Capitol, marking the primary time since 1894 that the Accomplice battle flag had not been seen in that place.
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The civic panorama of the previous capital of the Confederacy, Richmond, Virginia, has additionally been remodeled. Through the weeks I spent there conducting analysis in the summertime of 2019, I took common walks down Monument Avenue, the verdant, linear park constructed to host 5 huge monuments to the Confederacy. However throughout the few summer time months of 2020, Black Lives Matter protesters toppled the statue of Jefferson Davis, and Mayor Levar Stoney ordered the elimination of three extra.
As metropolis staff took away the monument to Basic Stonewall Jackson, workers members on the outstanding First Baptist Church, which immediately faces the monument, took turns ringing the church bell. This seemingly easy occasion marked a major inflection level within the arc of the bell’s, and the church’s, historical past.
As an expression of the church’s loyalty to the Confederacy in the course of the Civil Warfare, the congregation voted in 1861 to donate the bell to the Accomplice Military to be “melted for cannon.” However the church in the end stored the bell, which traveled with the congregation as First Baptist relocated from downtown to its present location on Monument Avenue within the Nineteen Twenties.
Whereas as we speak’s parishioners weren’t of 1 thoughts concerning the elimination of the Jackson monument, Pastor Jim Somerville believed the sounding of the bell to be the becoming response, declaring, “It’s time for us to return down on the suitable aspect of historical past once more by working for justice and by celebrating people who find themselves so glad to see the symbols of oppression being faraway from Monument Avenue.”
Harkening again to Lincoln, Biden famous in his inaugural deal with that at nice moments of nationwide disaster, People’ “higher angels” have prevailed; that at these turning factors, “sufficient of us got here collectively to hold all of us ahead.” The tumultuous occasions of 2020 have referred to as the query about the place we white Christians stand on white supremacy. Historical past is recording a roll name vote that requires us to declare our place.
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Presently of reckoning, we are able to stay loyal to our heritage and ancestors by means of defensiveness and inaction. Or we are able to rededicate ourselves to the work of handing down a more healthy religion and nation to our kids and our kids’s kids. However we are able to’t do each.
My hope is that sufficient of us will awaken from the fevered nightmare of white supremacy and at last select a future through which we work shoulder to shoulder with our Black and brown brothers and sisters to attain the promise of a multiracial, multireligious America.
(This put up was tailored from the afterword within the new paperback version of Jones’s latest e-book, “White Too Lengthy: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity.” Copyright © 2021 by Robert P. Jones. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc. All rights reserved. The views expressed on this commentary don’t essentially replicate these of Faith Information Service.)