Editor’s Note: After Charlottesville, a group of theologians and movement makers drafted a statement denouncing the religion of white supremacy. Modeled after the Barmen Declaration, this theological statement represents an unprecedented gathering of Christian faith leaders from across the U.S. calling for a return to the liberating work of the Gospel and a rejection of racism and colonization. Reflect on the following declaration and add your voice to the chorus of witnesses calling for lament, listening, and repentance in this critical hour.
In 1934 Christian pastors, theologians, and faith leaders crafted the Theological Declaration of Barmen in response to calls for German nationalism. The anti-Semitism and racial hatred present then was met by a strong rebuke by the German Evangelical Church gathered in Barmen. Not unlike the era of Nazism in Germany, the recent hesitation by the president of the United States in unequivocally condemning the clear exhibition of fascism and white nationalist sympathies in Charlottesville, as well as other long held manifestations of white supremacy such as white privilege and white normalcy, calls for a response from the Christian community.
When the city council of Charlottesville, Virginia, decided to remove the Robert E. Lee memorial, a scourge of white supremacy, terrorism, and nationalism ignited that resulted in the violent death of Heather Heyer. 33 other people were beaten and injured. White nationalism and white supremacy are neither new nor rare in our time. Violent attempts to declare white male supremacy on U.S. soil date to before African captivity and the Pequot Massacre. While the abolitionist movement declared the right of all humanity to be free, since The Civil War there have been few occasions more significant to counter the religious and social mindsets that laid the foundations of white supremacy and to proclaim the right of all humanity to receive equal protection and provision of the law.
Thus, this declaration was inspired by the events in Charlottesville, but it was equally inspired by the events of Tulsa, OK — and Wounded Knee, and Manzanar, and Birmingham, and Delano, and Laramie, and Ferguson, and Oak Creek, and Standing Rock. Our task here is twofold — to acknowledge and repent of the Church’s complicity in perpetuating white male supremacy in all of its forms and to hear and to heed the call to return to the truth of Scripture, fully revealed in the person of Jesus.
In the Spirit of the Declaration of Barmen, as people of Christian faith today, please “Test the spirits to see if they are of God” and “If you find that we are speaking contrary to Scripture, then do not listen to us! But if you find that we are taking our stand upon Scripture, then let no fear or temptation keep you from treading with us the path of faith and obedience.”
Since ancient times, Christianity has lived in the intersection of conquest and religion. It was counterculture religion that set them on the right path. The church has always stumbled toward the promise of scripture. At times it has done well. Other times it has suffered under the weight of white nationalism. Our greatest hope is that as we aspire to grow into these Scriptures, we will reject the hatred and violence prevalent in this hour and work toward the renewal of the Church and society.
Theological Declaration on Christian Faith and White Supremacy
As a diverse group of theologians, activists and ministers of our respective parishes, congregations, networks, churches, faith communities and educational institutions, we here declare that we are bound together by the confession that Jesus Christ is the Lord of the Church.
We publicly declare that what we hold in common in this confession is threatened by the festering infection of Eurocentric white nationalism and white supremacy. Fueled by flawed interpretations of Old Testament purity laws and conquest, churches and denominations in the United States have been deeply shaped by and at times created to sustain European purity and colonization of land, people, and culture. The colonizing spirit declares the self to be uniquely fully human — to have the exclusive right to rule the world. Its strategy is the creation of racial and gender-based human hierarchy — forsaking God for the idols of domination and control. Eurocentric Christian churches have often been the prime creators, carriers, sustainers and protectors of this malevolent force, which manifests overtly in acts of racial and gender-based violence and covertly in systems, structures, principalities and powers, both beyond and within the walls of the Church.
We acknowledge and lament that white churches’ complicity with the spirit of colonization and conscious or unconscious belief in white supremacy has hindered the work and witness of Jesus Christ within the Christian church as a whole. In response to colonized theology and church structures, systems, and cultures that reinforce white supremacy, life-giving communities of worship have emerged from this malevolent use of Christianity by white churches. African Americans, Native Americans, Latinx communities, Asian American, Native Hawai’ian, Pacific Islander, and Christian Palestinian communities all articulate a theology that broke that culture and sought new ways to subvert the colonized gospel and found life and hope in communion with the colonized, yet liberating Jesus.
We also acknowledge that in this moment there are many congregations that model the breadth of humanity through the intersection of many cultures and religious traditions. The persons who enter these spaces seek a way forward from colonized faith, sharing stories of their own journey in the way of Jesus, committed to listening, learning and working together, giving us hope for true collaboration and renewing a vision for Beloved Community.
We acknowledge and lament that white churches’ complicity with the spirit of colonization and conscious or unconscious belief in white supremacy has been weaponized against Jewish people, often with the explicit approval of institutions and churches claiming to follow Jesus and empowered by the rhetoric of significant figures in the history of the Christian church. We condemn these teachings and any and all acts, speech, and ideologies of anti-Semitism.
We acknowledge and lament that white churches’ complicity with the spirit of colonization and conscious or unconscious belief in white supremacy has been often weaponized against Muslims. We reject and condemn the Islamophobia rampant in our nation and in many of our churches at this moment. We affirm the necessity of cooperation and collaboration between and among Abrahamic and other faiths and commit to protect and preserve the rights of our friends and colleagues.
In our efforts to confront and repent of white supremacy and colonization, we also acknowledge the need for a reimagined identity for those deemed “white” by the state. We recognize that the construct of whiteness was the cornerstone of the myth of human hierarchy. The codification of that hierarchy into American law and policy secured and entrenched the colonization of people groups around the world. In our efforts to confront the unjust tactics of colonization, we reject the construct of whiteness while affirming the full humanity and inherent dignity of people of European descent.
We acknowledge that it would be dishonest to speak prophetically to the white church while withholding God’s healing corrective from many churches of color. The spirit of colonization has found its way into some Black, Latinx, Native American and Asian churches, as well. Having soaked in the colonizing spirit for hundreds of years and internalized it into our very being, we have learned to mimic the structures of white supremacy in order to attain success within a white supremacist system. Complicity with empire even led some of us to build mega churches and fall prey to the twisted theologies such as the prosperity gospel. While the scriptures do paint pictures of shalom abundance, God’s abundance never exists in the context of hyper-individualized meritocracy. Rather, it rises from the commons cultivated by cultures and systems of generosity, reciprocity, and profound integrity. The individualistic pursuit of prosperity distorts the good news of the Gospel, itself.
Many churches in the U.S. have consistently failed to denounce the colonizing impulse within U.S. statecraft and its tactics of racialized oppression, exploitation, violence, and exclusion. Here we confess that to live into the fullness of the liberating message of Jesus Christ, the parts of the church that have exercised domination and exploitation must repent of complicity with this colonizing project. As Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., prophetically named in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” in the face of white supremacy and white nationalism revealing its presence in our own communities and its entrenched position in the highest offices in our land, we unequivocally proclaim that we will no longer be “more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice.” In today’s racialized America, to do nothing is to be complicit with evil. A Church committed to anything less than the full and just protection of the image of God in everyone equally, fails to be the Church of Jesus Christ.
As members of the Church we are called to speak with a unified prophetic voice in the face of colonizing empire. Our primary allegiance must be to the paz, shalom, or Kingdom/kin-dom of God, not to the ways and rulers of this world. Many of us must repent of our adoption of the logics of domination through silent, compliant, and capitulating failure to uniformly condemn all forms of human hierarchy. These logics perpetuate interpersonal and systemic violence in society and lay foundations for such violence to fester and infiltrate in our own congregations. It is past time to join the chorus of many inside and outside of the church crying out in the face of racial hatred, xenophobia, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, homophobia, misogyny, and any form of human hierarchy—conscious or unconscious—that diminishes the inherent dignity of those whom God created. We can no longer be silent. We cannot and will not retreat. We believe the good news of Jesus Christ is freedom to those held captive by bigotry, hatred and fear; liberating oppressed and oppressor alike.
In view of the errors of those claiming to follow Jesus’ teachings, but who nevertheless tarnish the gospel by affirming the logics and actions of colonization and domination through racialized supremacy, fear and hatred, we confess these abiding theological truths:
- Jesus “is the head of the body, the church,” in whom “all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.” (Colossians 1:18-19) Our faith is rooted in the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and his teachings claim authority in life and in death.We reject as false doctrine any other claim on our lives—whether contrived of state or reason—that violates Jesus’ ethic of the equal and inestimable dignity of all people, each created in the very image of God and as such equally created with the divine call and capacity to sustain, protect, and serve the world.
- “For ‘In God we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’” (Acts 17:28) Our identity as the beloved of God belongs equally to one as to all—to deny or privilege the uniqueness of any person is to malign the image of God in the whole.
We reject as false doctrine any hierarchy of human being that declares in word or deed the supremacy of any person or people group over and against other people or people groups. In this current context, we renounce white nationalism, white separatism, white supremacy, neo-Nazism, and any and all other movements that abide by the logics of domination and colonization.
- “But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.” (Ephesians 4:15-16) Our responsibility is to encourage and strengthen one another in love to the full work and witness of Jesus who loved, esteemed, healed and served all. This is what it means to be the global Church in God’s world.
We reject the false doctrine that the work of Jesus is malleable to the political constructs of dominance and colonization; and therefore we actively, meaningfully, and tangibly resist any and all governing policies that fail to serve the basic needs, protect the inherent dignity, and cultivate the capacity of all to sustain, protect, and serve the world.
- “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant.” (Matthew 20: 25-26) Our human call is always to sustain, protect, and serve—not to dominate. To seek power and glory is contrary to the call of the shalom/Kingdom/kin-dom of God. If we have moved about this world oblivious to or ignoring the pain of those subjugated under narratives of domination from which we have benefited, we repent of our sin and complicity. We confess that we have demonstrated allegiance to the colonizing systems of this world, rather than to the ways of Jesus. We acknowledge those who have suffered under oppression and exploitation, however subtle or overt, and continue to be wounded by the wrongful use of power in governance as a result of our sins of omission and commission.
We reject as false doctrine any teaching that the human vocation is to exploit land, people groups, or other nations for the amassing of wealth. We also reject as false doctrine the belief that the Church has the call or right to confer upon any persons or people group unique title, favor, or powers to dominate others, as if from God.
- “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28) Our allegiance to the way of Jesus requires that all external constructs contrived by human efforts that seek supremacy are anathema to the shalom Kingdom/kin-dom of God. We are all equal members of one Lord, one faith, one baptism—and yet, as citizens, we are subject to the governance and structures that often oppress, subjugate, and exclude.
We reject as false doctrine active support for or passive complicity with any effort to subjugate, exploit, disenfranchise, disadvantage, or purge any image of God in or from our society.
- “From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. All this is from God, who reconciled us through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to God’s self, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.” (2 Corinthians 5:16-19) Our faith dictates that the work of Jesus is the reconciliation of all of creation back to God and each other. This divine work disrupts and dismantles all human ideologies and structures of subjugation and oppression, in the world and in the Church, which has often been a primary force of social control, oppression and exploitation.
We reject as false doctrine any political, social or religious teaching that esteems any person as greater or less than any other who is equally full and created in the image of God, endowed by their Creator with sacred, inviolable dignity; worthy of full protection of the law and full capacity to flourish.
In full recognition of these convictions and in full rejection of these errors, we resist and renounce all efforts to purge, subjugate, exploit, and disenfranchise those created in the very image of God. Any attempt to do so is a violation of God in creation, fully revealed in Jesus the Christ. We invite all who will to accept this declaration of sacred worth to remember and uphold these abiding truths in all matters of church, civic engagement, and in the larger body politic. We implore all who read and hear these words to acknowledge your place in the history of oppression and take tangible action to return to the unity of all Creation, bound together in faith, hope, and love incarnated in Jesus Christ.