‘White Christendom’: An Explainer
…”in a racist society, God is never color-blind. To say God is color-blind is analogous to saying that God is blind to justice and injustice, to right and wrong, to good and evil.” — James Cone, A Black Theology of Liberation.
“Will we repent?” That’s been the call from several white pastors, preachers, theologians and parishioners in response to what many are calling our country’s worst racial reckoning since the Civil Rights era of the sixties. Every day, with new stories and new faces to lament, church folks of all hues find themselves in a moment where they are all crying out to God asking ‘why?” Why must a knee crush a neck? Why must a soldier die after fearing for her safety? Why are Black women dying at the hands of police officers and paramedics. Why did an EMT get shot in her home by mistake? Something is gravely wrong and divine intervention is needed.
Truthfully, Black folk have been here. Our white brothers and sisters finally woke up. In theory.
As the calls for justice wane and timelines revert to normalcy, the real work begins in dismantling the systems and structures that perpetuates racism and white supremacy. If we dip ourselves fully into the vat of honesty, the Church is one of those systems and structures that needs the most work. While many churches have taken a stab at active repentance, even more churches have participated in passive resistance to racism or an overall dismissal of the cause.
And as the kids say, when it comes to doing the work of fixing this body of Christ, those churches too scared or sanctify to do the work, are the “opps” (opposition).
So as we mount up to survey the promised land of diversity, inclusion, equity and true racial reconciliation, we must know who we are up against. We’re not up against one type of church or pastor or Christian leader or organization. We are up against a system, structure, image and theology called “white Christendom”.
What is “white Christendom”?
White Christendom is the structure, image, system and theology of a church/Christian organization that is heavily influenced by white supremacy, racism and/or the centering of whiteness. Churches/Christian organizations can perpetuate white Christendom with their organizational structure, beliefs, political alignment and aesthetics.
A church/organization with white leadership from top to bottom; leadership meaning any position that wields power, authority or influence over the church ie. biblical education, leadership boards, pastoral staff. Oftentimes the people of color are relegated to positions that “require” BIPOC stewardship ie. cross-cultural/diversity and inclusion ministries (tokenism).
A complete elimination and/or dismissal of a social justice framework to the Gospels (Jesus). A full on dismissal of liberation theology. The word of God is simplified into a self-serving gospel ie. Love your God but the omission of “love your neighbor”. The persecution of Jesus is co-opted into an overall persecution complex: us versus “the culture”; a belief of an attack on “Christian values”.
A public alignment with political conservatism and values including leadership. An active resistance to any political stance or policy that appears “left-leaning.” A desire to criminalize/demonize “look in the window” behavior ie. personal decisions regarding one’s body (LGBTQ, abortion).
Church leadership/body/staff are all or mostly white, diversity mentioned only with respect to church member recruitment and/or retention: “we are all one race in heaven”, “Jesus doesn’t see color”. A failure to acknowledge past and current racial transgressions of the Church and of their church, only making nods to race when pressured — or not at all.
White Christendom cannot exist without active and passive participants…
Who are the Four Types of White Christians in ‘White Christendom’?
Unknown Ally: A white Christian who is unaware of the racism, white supremacy or centering of whiteness inside of their church/Christian organization and unknowingly participates in sustaining the culture.
Think about: pastoral staff, executives, boards, ministry leaders
Unknown Complicit: A white Christian who is unaware of the racism, white supremacy or centering of whiteness inside of their church/Christian organization but plays a minor or insignificant role in perpetuating the culture.
Think about: members, para ministry leadership, low-level donors, low-level staff
Known Complicit: A white Christian who is aware of the racism, white supremacy or centering of whiteness inside of their church/Christian organization but chooses passiveness over active confrontation or correction, therefore complicit in perpetuating the culture.
Example: No follow-up with staff after witnessing racist or bigoted behavior; an awareness of racially-biased hiring practices.
Known Ally: A white Christian who is aware of the racism, white supremacy or centering of whiteness inside of their church/Christian organization and plays a significant role in perpetuating the culture.
Example: Hiring white staff, only supporting white-led churches, ministries and para-ministries. Full-on dismissal of BIPOC issues both inside and outside of the leadership meeting or pulpit. Active ignorance of BIPOC concerns.
Does your church fall under ‘white Christendom’? Have you been an ally or complicit to the white Christendom culture?