taking the words of Jesus seriously

In late 2022, I came across a survey from the Public Religion Research Institute that has lingered in my thoughts ever since. The findings revealed that half of White evangelical Christians and 37 percent of other White Christians either agreed or strongly agreed with the idea that America is the promised land where “European Christians could create a society to be an example to the rest of the world.” At that moment, I was two years into co-founding a nonprofit dedicated to racial justice and healing, particularly within Christian congregations and organizations. The survey findings didn’t exactly take me by surprise, but they did leave me with a lingering sense of unease.

Growing up in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, the third most racially segregated major religious group, I focused my work on targeting predominantly White Christian congregations. I watched my biracial father navigate the sometimes welcoming, sometimes challenging waters of these often homogenous congregations to eventually become an inspiring and God-inspired pastor and reverend of the same denomination, and I watched with likely a larger chip on my shoulder than he ever had. Persistently weighing on me was the query of why White churches appear content with maintaining segregation. This question eventually morphed into: why do so many White Christians in America see themselves as God’s Promised People in his Promised Land?

My grandfather emigrated from the Philippines as a young man, arriving with his sister in San Francisco and eventually making his way across the country to Chicago. He married an Irish Catholic woman and had two biracial children. When my father was a child, my Grandfather refused to teach him to speak his native language of Ilocano because he believed that because his son was an American, he should learn to speak like an American. In many ways this cultural removal, though well-intentioned, inspired in me a hunger for history and context. Understanding how we arrived at our point in history allows me to view the present from a perspective that reveals potential paths forward that may not have been evident otherwise.

In exploring the question of why is it that White Americans see themselves as the promised people, we can travel all the way back to England in the 1500s and William Tyndale. Tyndale produced the first two English translations of the bible widely circulated in the English-speaking world. By his second translation, Tyndale spent time studying with Martin Luther and began to toy with the idea that maybe the covenants mentioned in the Torah between Israel and God could apply to England and Europe as well. While Tyndale never supplanted England in place of ancient Israel of the Torah, the context he wrote in his 1534 translation planted the seed of England as God’s chosen nation. The spark Tyndale struck took fire in what became the Puritan movement, so by the time Puritans landed in Plymouth, the idea of being God’s chosen people was a firm foundation for the Puritan community. 

The Puritans were not alone in thinking of themselves as specially blessed by God. While most American children learn to revere the Enlightenment period and its thinkers as the spark that led to the revolution, those who served as the cornerstones of the movement also subscribed to ideas of racial hierarchy that allowed many so-called Christian men to support the hellish American institution of slavery. John Locke wrote at length of what he believed to be the inherent inferiority of both African peoples and the native and indigenous peoples of the Americas. Combined with the Puritan idea of a chosen nation, and you get a heady mix of superiority, both racially and through God’s anointing.

It is no wonder that the roots of the African Methodist Episcopal Church started less than two decades after the colonies declared independence from Britain. Having been segregated and relegated to the balcony away from White congregations, Richard Allen and Absalom Jones led fellow Black congregants to start their own church where they could worship in equality and push for the care and freedom of their fellow Black countrymen. It was White Christians who drew a line in the sand, clinging to ideas of their own racial superiority and, in doing so, driving a wedge between themselves and Christians of Color.

So here we are, White American Christians still clinging onto the idea of being a promised people in a promised land. An idea borne from the greed of a few men, uncaring and unmoved by the suffering of others they themselves inflicted. It is imperative for us, as individuals and as a collective faith community, to confront this legacy with humility and self-reflection. We must acknowledge the historical injustices that have marred our path, recognizing the pain and disenfranchisement experienced by those who were not included in this selective notion of God’s chosen people. The challenge is to transcend the narrow confines of an exclusive promise and embrace a vision of community that reflects the true teachings of compassion, justice, and unity found in the teachings of Christ. Only through this sincere reckoning and intentional commitment to change can we hope to forge a future that dismantles the barriers of racial division and fosters a truly inclusive and equitable community under God’s guidance.

About The Author


Alicia Suguitan, an expert in educational methodologies and innovative technology-driven content delivery with a certificate in diversity education from Cornell University, skillfully weaves her expertise into crafting impactful learning experiences. As the Managing Director of Edith Institute, a 501(c)3 organization, Alicia is dedicated to guiding churches toward a deeper realization of God’s justice-driven vision, igniting meaningful transformations within communities.

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