taking the words of Jesus seriously

It was obviously deeply divided. Half the time the Democrats did not know when to stand, while the Republican side looked like a Jack-in-the-Box on energy drinks. What they did seem to agree on — besides fighting childhood cancer, supporting victims of crimes, honoring WWII vets and Holocaust survivors — was American exceptionalism. In fact, some of those honorees were there to prove it.

Neither Republicans nor Democrats want to appear to be racists nor back racist policies, but the truth is we have never come to grips with our country’s racism. America was built on a long legacy of white supremacy. More often than not, the Church in America has simply bought into this racist myth. I don’t believe we can deal effectively with whether our policies and practices are or could be racist until we all admit that America was built on a foundation of racism, as expressed through white supremacy.

Inheriting a long legacy of presumed superiority in Anglo-Saxon mythology, passed down from the Greeks and Romans, Euro-American white folks have both consciously and unconsciously adopted the myth of white supremacy by creating power over the cultural other. The original inhabitants of this land were simply in the way of the “superior race,” so centuries of policies vacillating between genocide, cultural assimilation, mass removals, and ethnic cleansing all became necessary to “make America great!”

READ: Truth in the Mirror: White America’s First Encounter with Indians

After the ethnic cleansing of the Indigene, came the gifts, grants and wholesale pricing of land intended only for white males. Then large swaths of the land needed tending. Production, as seen through the Western worldview lens, would prove to the world that European ideas of progress showed the blessedness of God’s favor on white people — regardless of who else got in the way.

African slaves, therefore, replaced Native American slaves. Gold and silver mining operations were largely replaced by tobacco, indigo, and cotton plantations in the south. The North benefited as well by purchasing bulk southern agriculture to supply northern mills and factories, thus, bringing America into the age of the Industrial Revolution. America had become great…at least according to avaricious principles. Capitalism became the reigning philosophy with white people on top and all the “cultural others” beneath them.

Socially codified rules and governmental regulations were made to keep the cultural other in their place. The Black Codes/Jim Crow, Indian Reservations, the Chinese Exclusion Act, deportation of Latinx workers, school-to-prison pipelines, etc. were all created to maintain America’s white supremacy. As long as the cultural other knew their place, and didn’t mention the inequality, everything would go smoothly. If people of color would have just kept silent, we could all pretend to live by the myth of American exceptionalism, which was propped up exclusively by white supremacy.

READ: Black History Month for A White Guy

In reality, American exceptionalism and American white supremacy are twins, born from the same birth mother. But now, these myths are beginning to deteriorate. They are failing, because some white people no longer want to subscribe to them. These myths are being rejected by people of color, because they are rising up out of self-hatred and internalized racism to embrace their own God-given place in America.

The truth? We are all equal, regardless of race, but our land can never be great until we admit we have, as a country, rejected truth for lies. The truth being that any claim to greatness was built on the backs and the blood of people of color.

American exceptionalism, in the eyes of Jesus, can only be possible when we allow the truth to set us free and when we, as a country, treat our neighbor as ourselves.

About The Author

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Rev. Dr. Randy Woodley is known as a public intellectual, theologian, activist-scholar, ecologist-farmer, and wisdom keeper. Dr. Woodley, (Keetoowah) currently serves as Distinguished Professor of Faith & Culture and Director of Intercultural & Indigenous Studies at George Fox University/Portland Seminary and Co-Sustainer of Eloheh Indigenous/Eagle’s Wings Ministry. PODCAST: Peacing It All Together (@PeacingPodcast) BOOKS: “The Harmony Tree: A Story of Healing and Community” (Friesen), “Shalom and the Community of Creation: An Indigenous Vision” (Eerdmans) and “Living in Color: Embracing God’s Passion for Ethnic Diversity” (Intervarsity).

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