On January 20, 2021, President Joe Biden became the first Commander-in-Chief to use the words âwhite supremacyâ in an inaugural address.
Calling “the cry for racial justice in preparation for four hundred years” and its corollary, “a rise in political extremism”, he called white supremacy “internal terrorism which we must face and which we will overcome”.
The backdrop of the United States Capitol on this cool, sunny winter day was as poignant as it has been since Abraham Lincoln gave his first inaugural address in front of his unfinished dome in 1861. Devoid of crowds inaugural due to the pandemic, the Capitol’s windows and doors were also hastily repaired following damage from Trump supporters who, encouraged by the outgoing president, staged a violent insurgency on January 6. in an attempt to prevent the certification of the electoral college vote.
The building’s glossy white exterior, carefully lined with American flags and red, white, and blue streamers, and the symmetry of the sparse, socially distant chairs, presented a surreal contrast to the chaos two weeks before.
On January 6, a rippling sea of âârioters revealed, with their flags, placards and totems, that this attack on our democracy was driven not only by allegiance to one leader, but also by deeper allegiances to both white supremacist and Christianity. Tropes and anti-Semitic groups were rife, including at least one protester who wore a “Camp Auschwitz” hoodie. Wide shots of the crowd showed large Confederate battle flags.
Sadly, these 21st century insurgents managed to do something the Confederate Army was never able to accomplish during the Civil War: hoist the Confederate battle flag inside the Capitol. One widely shared image showed a rioter with the flag strolling past a portrait of William H. Seward, an anti-slavery advocate and Secretary of State to Abraham Lincoln, who was seriously injured in the plot. assassination that killed Lincoln in 1865.
Comfortably mingled with these tributes to white supremacy were Christian symbols and rhetoric. There were many Bibles, crosses, “Jesus Saves” signs and “Jesus 2020” flags that reflected the design of the Trump campaign flag.
Some Christian participants had organized as part of a “Jericho March” in the days leading up to the attack, blowing shofars as they surrounded the Capitol, mimicking the Israelite siege of the city of Jericho described in the book of Joshua in the Hebrew Bible. Video showed the Christian flag – white with a red Latin cross inside a blue township, officially adopted by the Federal Council of Churches in 1942 – being paraded through the chamber of Congress through pierced doors just minutes after members of Congress were evacuated through underground tunnels.
This flag was familiar to me, as it would have been to many in my church, where it flanked the pulpit with the American flag, and where, as a child in vacation Bible school, I remember being taken in an oath. of allegiance to the two flags.
the Atlanticby Jeffrey Goldberg, who interviewed rioters on the Capitol grounds, wrote that “Trump’s confusing with Jesus was a common theme at the rally,” citing statements such as: “It’s all in the Bible. Everything is planned. Donald Trump is in the Bible. Prepare yourselves. “Leave him if you believe in Jesus!” “And then:” Give up if you believe in Donald Trump!
The U.S. Capitol Riot marked U.S. history, ending more than two centuries of pride in an American democracy that had provided 44 consecutive peaceful transitions of power. But these horrific events had value: They clearly showed the unholy amalgamation of white supremacy and American Christianity that lives among us today.
These troubling ties between white supremacy, white Christianity, and support for the former president are not limited to the extremists who attacked the Capitol. There is a strong correlation between voting for Trump in the 2020 election and median scores on the Racism Index, a composite measure of attitudes toward systemic racism that I developed in my recent book, White too long– among white Christian subgroups.
According to the Associated Press’s 2020 VoteCast exit polls, 81% of white evangelicals voted Trump again. Their median Racism Index score: 78 out of 100. Likewise, 58% of white Protestants voted for Trump, while their median Racism Index score is 69 out of 100. And Trump received the vote of 57% of White Catholics, a group with a median Racism Index score of 72 out of 100.
In contrast, only 26% of unaffiliated white Americans voted for Trump, a level roughly in line with their much lower median Racism Index score of 29.
Obviously, we white Christians have barely begun the work of reckoning with white supremacy let alone the effort to heal the wounds we have inflicted on our black and brown citizens or to reclaim our own ability to live longer. faithfully in the world. But there are signs of hope and change.
There have been significant symbolic transformations in our cultural landscape, catalyzed by the massive marches in support of the Black Lives Matter movement that erupted throughout the summer of 2020 following the murder of George Floyd by a white police officer.
In my home state, the Mississippi Baptist Convention (MBC), the local branch of the Southern Baptist Convention, has spoken strongly in favor of legislation to remove the Confederate battle flag from our state banner, the last state flag of the country that continued to incorporate it. Dr Sean Parker, executive director of the MBC, called the removal of the emblem a “moral obligation” and “a matter of becoming a disciple for every disciple of Jesus Christ.” This legislation was passed quickly and was enacted on June 30, 2020. On January 11, 2021, just five days after the Capitol Riots, a newly designed “magnolia flag” rose above the State Capitol. Mississippi, marking the first time since 1894 that the Confederate battle flag had not been visible there.
The civic landscape of the former capital of Confederation, Richmond, Virginia, has also been transformed. During the weeks I spent there researching in the summer of 2019, I regularly strolled along Monument Avenue, the linear, leafy park built to house five massive Confederation monuments. But in the few months of summer 2020, Black Lives Matter protesters toppled the Jefferson Davis statue and Mayor Levar Stoney ordered the removal of three more.
As city workers carried the monument to General Stonewall Jackson away, staff members from the prominent First Baptist Church, which directly opposite the monument, took turns ringing the church bell. This seemingly simple event marked an important inflection point in the arc of bell and church history.
As an expression of the church’s loyalty to the Confederacy during the Civil War, the congregation voted in 1861 to donate the bell to the Confederate Army to be “cast for the cannon.” But the church ultimately retained the bell, which traveled with the congregation as the First Baptist moved from downtown to its current location on Monument Avenue in the 1920s.
While parishioners today disagreed on removing the Jackson monument, Pastor Jim Somerville felt the ringing of the bell was the appropriate response, stating, âIt is time for us to to come back down to the right side of history by working for justice and celebrating the people who are so happy to see the symbols of oppression removed from Monument Avenue. “
Returning to Lincoln, Biden noted in his inaugural address that in great times of national crisis America’s âbest angelsâ prevailed; that at these turning points, “enough of us have come together to make all of us move forward.”
The tumultuous events of 2020 raised the question of where we white Christians stand on white supremacy. History records a recorded vote that requires us to declare our position.
In this time of reckoning, we can remain true to our heritage and to our ancestors through defensiveness and inaction. Or we can rededicate ourselves to the work of passing on a healthier faith and a healthier country to our children and our children’s children. But you can’t do both.
I hope enough of us wake up from the feverish nightmare of white supremacy and finally choose a future in which we work side by side with our black and brown brothers and sisters to fulfill the promise of a multiracial, multireligious America. .
This article originally appeared in Jones’ #WhiteTooLong sub-stack newsletter. To find out more or to register, visit robertpjones.substack.com.