We've Begun to Confront Christian White Nationalism. But What About the Source Text?Roundup
tags: Bible, religion, religious history, evangelicals, White Nationalism, Evangelical Christianity, Christian Nationalism
Dianne M. Stewart is an associate professor of Religion and African American Studies at Emory University. Her most recent book is Black Women, Black Love: America’s War on African American Marriage (Seal Press, 2020). Her book Obeah, Orisa, and Religious Identity in Trinidad: Africana Nations and the Power of Black Sacred Imagination—Volume II, Orisa, is forthcoming with Duke University Press (2022).
As the Select Committee on the January 6th Insurrection is now investigating the terrorist attack on the United States Capitol, one theme that deserves closer inspection is white Christian nationalism. There’s no denying the Christian conviction of the hoards that invaded the Capitol that fateful day when both violent and nonbelligerent protesters prayed in the name of Jesus Christ, proudly adorned themselves with Christian crosses, and announced the good news that “JESUS SAVES” as they defiantly carried out their mission (im)possible.
While the very identity of Christianity remains a contested one, white Christian nationalism didn’t appear out of nowhere on January 6. And despite recently released data showing a 9% decline among Americans identifying as white evangelical Protestants since 2006 (23% to 14% in 2020), white Christian nationalism has long become indistinguishable from some of the most influential and virulent forms of white evangelicalism in America.
Judging from the chorus of voices, however, that has denounced the insurrection, this heritage is a burdensome one for millions of Americans today who strive to form a much more perfect union. Since January 6, critical opinion pieces continue to appear across major outlets deploring the racist agendas, imperialist politics and biblical interpretations of the Christian right and toxic white evangelicals who are determined to go to any length to preserve the myth that America is a white Christian country. However, critics often stop short of addressing an underlying fundamental issue—the Bible’s unambiguous endorsement of colonial conquest.
As long as we neglect to interrogate all of the sacred sources that animate the Christian right’s white nationalist, racist and imperialist theologies, we will continue to tiptoe around the sacred cow that’s fed American ideas of exceptionalism, election, Manifest Destiny, meritocracy and white Christian supremacy.
This caution applies to African-American Christians too who, especially after the mid-19th century, often identified with the ancient Hebrews/Israelites in the Book of Exodus, viewing themselves as God’s chosen people with noble hopes of liberation from racial captivity in a democratic America.
Robert Warrior, a scholar and member/citizen of the Osage Nation, was likely the first theologically trained American academic to contest the Exodus narrative in his article, “A Native American Perspective: Canaanites, Cowboys, and Indians.” While Warrior recognized the historical import of Moses and the Exodus event for Black liberation theology he shifted theologians’ attention to the implications of the larger narrative that extended to the Book of Judges, where God’s chosen people, the Israelites, were guided into the promised land of Canaan through divinely-sanctioned war, colonialism, and genocide against Israel’s enemies.
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