On January 6th, 2021, I sat in my rowhome just a half-mile from the U.S. Capitol with my eyes glued to the television and the sounds of police sirens and helicopters rumbling right outside my door. I couldn’t believe what was happening as thousands of so-called patriots were literally breaking into the Capitol with force to stop Joe Biden from becoming President. I had read about such outrageous actions taking place in other countries and in America’s past, but I never expected to see such a thing happen in our country in my lifetime. And yet, here we were.
One of the most perplexing realities of January 6th for me as a Christian minister was that many protestors proudly identified as followers of Jesus Christ. When I read about the life and teachings of Jesus in the New Testament, I learn of a radical, renegade Rabbi who resisted corruption not through violent insurrection but through grassroots organizing, through empowering individuals and communities to create a more just world through subversive acts of justice in their own daily lives. The Jesus I sought to follow was fundamentally different from whatever Jesus the insurrectionists had pledged their allegiance to.
As I reflected on the insurrection and the entire Trump Presidency, it became clear that what was driving this violent behavior by white Christians was a deep-seated fear of losing their place of power and privilege in our country. As the national conversation around racial justice has progressed, as the disease of white supremacy continues to be exposed, and as the population of white people is surpassed by the multi-cultural array of diverse peoples that make up modern America, many white Christians are seeing the “promise” of a “Christian nation,” which really means a white, conservative, Christian nation vaporize before their eyes.
And yet, as a white Christian pastor myself, I have a strange feeling that losing privilege and power may be precisely what is required to save the souls of white Christians. After all, one of the central images of Jesus in the New Testament describes Christ as “emptying himself” of his own status and power to bring about redemption to the world. (Philippians 2:7) In Christian theology, Jesus rejects using his divine power for his own self-interest but leverages it only for the good of those around him. Following this example, the early Christians believed that only through following Jesus’ example could they experience the redemption of their souls and the world at large.
The heart of Jesus’ message in the Gospels is to “love our neighbor as ourselves.” Yet, white Christians have far too often been known for how we marginalize our neighbors of different religions, cultures, and sexualities. Jesus leveraged his power for the good of even those perceived as his “enemies,” and yet white Christians are known for spending millions to get proximity to power and secure our own self-interests. In short, white Christianity has far too often chosen to worship the idol of our own privilege and power than the one who gave it all up for the salvation of the world and calls us to do the same.
What white Christians have failed to see is that losing privilege and power isn’t actually a loss- instead, it means that our society will begin to function more equitably for everyone. It means that people’s ability to get ahead will not be based on the color of their skin or the religion they belong to but on their merit. It means that the Christian worldview will not be the assumed worldview in various settings throughout our pluralistic nation, but that doesn’t mean that the Christian worldview will somehow become suppressed. As the Prophet Isaiah writes, when the “valleys are exalted, and the mountains made low,” then “the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together.” (Isaiah 40:4-5) In other words, only when the playing field is leveled will the world experience the love and light of God together.
The fact is that white Christian privilege will continue to be exposed and lost as our society continues to strain towards justice- this, I am confident, is the reality of our nation. The question is whether white Christians will give it up willingly, following the example of their Savior, or whether they will continue to resist and fight to preserve a world that gives them a leg up at the marginalization and oppression of everyone else.
This is a moment of reckoning. White Christians have but two options set before us: to walk the narrow road with Jesus in the path of repentance of our exploitation of whiteness and Christian supremacy to ensure our diverse neighbors have a fair shot, or to continue walking on the broad road that exploits our privilege for our own benefit, where everyone not like us is viewed as an enemy to be marginalized so we can flourish. If we continue buy in to that lie, like the so-called Christian insurrectionists of January 6th, we can scarcely claim to be authentic followers of Jesus, and we’re sure to bring about much more destruction, indeed.
You can hear more about Brandan’s book for youth in the RLC Book Club Children and Youth Edition.