4 Youth of Color Were Gunned Down in 3 Weeks, and the 28 Largest Megachurches Fell Silent
Not a single one of America’s 28 largest churches spoke out against the fatalities of 4, unarmed youth of color over the past month and a half — 13-year-old Adam Toledo of Chicago, 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant of Columbus, 17-year-old Anthony Thompson of Knoxville, and 20-year-old Daunte Wright of suburban Minneapolis, a stone’s throw from the site of George Floyd’s murder. Nor have they vocalized solidarity with any movements galvanized in response.
The deafening silence may not surprise many.
The Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hate Map, for instance, lists 50+ hate organizations masquerading as churches and Christian organizations. In Tennessee, some of these groups include the American Christian Dixie Nights of the Ku Klux Clan, All Scripture Baptist Church, Warriors for Christ, and White Christian Brotherhood.
And a 2018 study found that white Christians––compared to white Americans with no religious affiliation––are collectively (as with all groups, correlation doesn’t imply causation/generalization — we’re also all individuals) twice as likely to dismiss police who kill Black men as “bad apples,” versus systematic racial profiling of Black Americans. White Christians, overall (again, as with all groups, correlation doesn’t imply causation/generalization — we’re also all individuals), were also 30% more likely to report Confederate monuments symbolized Southern pride, rather than historical racism. Even in the wake of viral protests for racial justice, more than half of white Christians surveyed (as with all groups, correlation doesn’t imply causation/generalization — we’re also all individuals) were more likely to disagree with the following statement: “Generations of slavery and discrimination have created conditions that make it difficult for Blacks to work their way out of the lower class.”
Despite the mountain of evidence linking white supremacist ideology to “the Church” — this nation’s body of believers — questions still remain about how this association emerged: What drives some Christians to terrorize “othered” groups as relentlessly as the Romans who framed Christ? Why do some Christians deliberately ignore that Christ himself was a brown-skinned, Middle Eastern activist––lynched by an armed regime of clergy protecting a colonial empire?
Centuries of colonization, masked as evangelizing, offers historical context.
On Martin Luther King Day this January, activist Bernice King reminded followers that a 1967 poll once deemed her father the most hated man in America. Seventy-five percent of the U.S. hated MLK for speaking out on economic justice and the Vietnam War. This explains what Rev. Dr. King meant by, “It is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’clock on Sunday.”
The anti-Blackness of some police forces stretches back centuries, from the era of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850–––when slave-owners also ripped Exodus from slaves’ Bibles––to the Jim Crow era of the KKK infiltrating some police forces, and lynching Black pastors. Abroad, Europeans colonized and decimated numerous civilizations under the guise of “civilizing” non-Christian, “primitive” populations. Archbishop Desmond Tutu once famously said, “When the missionaries came to Africa, they had the Bible and we had the land. They said ‘let us close our eyes and pray.’ When we opened them, we had the Bible, and they had the land.”
And it was only inevitable that white supremacist ideology would subsume American Christianity, considering that an exclusive cadre of Founding Fathers forged this country by selling and enslaving humans, orchestrating an anti-Native genocide, and stealing land under the guise of “Manifest Destiny.”
According to the Anti-Defamation League, core to white supremacy are 4 beliefs: 1) white people should have dominance over non-white people, especially where they co-exist; 2) there should be a whites-only society; 3) white people have a “superior” culture and history; and 4) white people are genetically superior.
“As a full-fledged ideology, white supremacy is far more encompassing than simple racism or bigotry,” ADL guidelines state.
Undoubtedly, white supremacy fuels exclusionary evangelicalism, with its scapegoating of LGBTQ+ folks and reproductive rights activists for the declining white population; antisemitic, Islamophobic, and xenophobic stereotyping of immigrants and religious minorities; and its imperialist myth of Anglo-Saxon purity and Eurocentric civility and “purity,” juxtaposed against non-white people’s supposed barbarity and savagery. That said, it’s important to note the several reasons why I distinguish between exclusionary evangelicalism and Christianity.
First, exclusionary evangelicalism focuses less on Christ, than on a theocratic agenda of social dominance; and whenever that aim is flagged as unethical, a delusional persecution fantasy. Second, core to exclusionary evangelicalism is a savior complex which distorts persecution as “saving souls” or “spreading the gospel”— Westboro Baptist Church immediately comes to mind, with its fanatical superiority complex. Third, exclusionary evangelicalism typically respond to inclusion and any social progress with End Times conspiracies, fear-mongering rhetoric about a wrathful Sky Cop/Daddy/Supervillain, or bizarre propaganda scapegoating marginalized groups, like blaming queer people for COVID and natural disasters. Lastly, exclusionary evangelicalism silences those who speak out against an ‘us v. them’ antagonism toward “the world,” authoritarian conformity, cult-like discouragement of critical thinking, and idol worship of spiritually abusive clergy and politicians who masquerade as “men of faith.”
Today, many churches remain silent after widespread disparities and inequities because their leaders conflate exclusionary evangelicalism ideology with “Christian values.” Ironically, fervent believers often embody the very same dogmatic spirit of Christ’s murderers, weaponizing institutional power and scripture, while also constructing castes and hierarchies of sin and human worth. They forget the crowds Jesus fed and healed symbolized castes which were deprived, exploited, and mocked by a military-backed regime of elitist, pharisaic clergy.
A spiritual activist redistributed resources and wealth, going so far as flipping a table upon witnessing greed in the temple, and a “holy” gang lynched him for exposing the corrupt empire for what it was. Nowadays, ambassadors of exclusionary evangelicalism crucify those dismantling inequity in this same way — all while spiritually bypassing injustice all around them. These extremists believe they’re “in the world but not of it,” adhering faithfully to scripture; yet in their ignorance, they only end up perpetuating the most despicable and violent aspects of the world they claim to transcend.
Araya Baker is a counselor educator, suicidologist, and policy analyst. Baker holds a M.Phil.Ed. in professional counseling from the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education and an Ed.M. in human development and psychology from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Learn more at arayabaker.com.