By Chet Yarbrough
White Too Long (The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity)
By: Robert Jones
Narrated by: Holter Graham
Robert P. Jones (Author, Founder of Public Religion Institute, Baptist Theological Seminary Graduate, Ph.D. in religion from Emory Univ.)
Though history shows Americans have wavered, freedom (within the limits of rule-of-law) has progressed.
Fundamentally, “White too Long” is about equal rights for all Americans in the face of white privilege and white supremacy. Jones argument is a powerful explanation of how inequality is institutionalized by American Catholic and Protestant religions.
Jones focus is on discrimination against people of color in the south, but his evidence applies to many states-of-affair and every State in America. Raised in the south, born in 1968 and educated as a seminarian, Jones has intimate knowledge of religion and its practice.
Robert Jones reflects on institutionalization of racism by Christian religions in the United States.
Images of Christ as “God’s offspring” are of a white man in most (if not all) Christian religions. Christ is rarely identified as a person of color, or obviously as a woman. God as the Father is presumed by white America to be male and to be white.
It seems fair to say Americans have made progress in reducing racism and improving equal rights, but it has been two steps forward and one back. A basic tenant in the formation of the United States is separation of church and State.
The concern that America had in its beginning is government sanctioning of a particular religion for any state or jurisdiction. To keep that from happening, the Constitution stipulated separation of state and religion.
What Jones focuses on is the south’s history of slavery in “White Too Long”. Jones offers a detailed history of how religion reinforces white supremacy in the South. He argues that southern leaders of various religious denominations assumed beliefs in white supremacy and spread that belief through their religious preaching. They preached to white audiences constituting the bulk of Americans in the first 200 years of American history.
He notes the 2015 murder of 9 Black church members in Charleston S.C. as a turning point for the south. Dylann Roof walks into a Black church and murders the minister and 9 members of the church. Of course, the south is not the only source of white supremacists’ violence against people of color. There is the horrendous “Tops Market” murder of ten non-white citizens in Buffalo N.Y. in 2022 by Payton Gendron.
Jones notes how southern white America justified slavery as their right as a superior race. He recounts numerous stories of his experience in the south and his awakening to the subtle ways white superiority became an assumed right of his white friends. Preachers preached the gospel of white superiority. Jones notes how belief in white superiority became real to white Americans. Any opposition to that belief would be met with violence, before and after the civil war.
Though it is not part of Jones’ book, America’s religions also institutionalize discrimination against women. Like people of color, women of all races are treated unequally. Recent action by the Supreme Court in a woman’s right to choose whether to give birth is a case in point.
The Supreme Court’s decision in “Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization” is a step backward from equal opportunity for women in the United States.
Some would say abortion is different because it involves taking a life and not being punished. Is that different than the lives of people of color who have been hung, mutilated, and discarded by white supremacy and not punished? Some would say yes because a baby is innocent. Being innocent and born to a mother who does not care destroys both a mother’s and baby’s innocence. America does not have a good record for taking care of the homeless, let alone poorly cared for children.
In view of Jones education, one presumes Jones would not condone abortion but his argument of religions’ role in institutional racism seems equally applicable to women’s rights. The conservative tone of today’s Supreme Court bodes ill for American equal rights. Separation of church and State is a fundamental tenant of the U.S. Constitution.
The most difficult chapters of Jones book are at its end. When one accepts that America has been “White Too Long”, what can we do about it? The author’s answer is to come to grips with truth, repent, and offer restitution to descendants of slavery. Jones recalls the story of Cain and Abel and identifies white Americans as the embodiment of Cain.
In Jones belief forgiveness only comes from truth, repentance, and restitution. Most rational white Americans accept the idea of truth and repentance, but restitution is derided by powerful Americans like Mitch McConnell who resist the idea of restitution because it is too difficult to trace descendants of slavery.
One might ask oneself-how difficult is it to offer native Americans restitution for the theft of their land? Reservations, and the right to create income producing properties have been a haphazard solution but they have been steps toward restitution.
Jones suggests some first steps have been taken by organizations that have set up endowments for restitution for slavery’s descendants. He argues, only with restitution can the stain of slavery be removed from the conscience of White America.
While one may ignore the issue of restitution, today’s American Supreme Court encroaches on separation of church and State by choosing to change support for Christian schools and “Roe v. Wade”. Erosion of church and State separation sets a table for more American violence. Unequal treatment cannot be sustained in a world of demographic change.