So what happened to Christianity in America? Following the question leads to the heart of America’s original sin, and invites all of us to face another question: Is our God greater than America’s racism? This is a question we must answer, no matter the color of our skin. Slaveholder religion has infected every corner of the church in America—including the black church. We must never forget that there were enslaved people who accepted the theology fed to them on plantations.
The original sin of racism in the United States was first and foremost an economic system to benefit the few at the expense of the many. Racism is woven into the fabric of American institutions, and it will require systemic change to bring about true reconciliation. ‘A gospel that doesn’t confront racism is no gospel at all,’ for the work of the gospel is to heal that which is divided and to reconcile that which has been torn apart.
For a long time the justice conversation in much of the evangelical church has centered on acts of compassion or engaging causes that emerge to fight global injustice. Along the way, we have neglected to ask tough questions like; What was the flaw in our gospel that allowed generations of Christians in America to perpetuate injustice in this country while at the same time being devoutly evangelical? A journey of being challenged and mentored by black Christians in America is essential and helps us better learn what the gospel really means and why. Without it, we are at risk of continuing to perpetuate insufficient justice pursuits informed by a flawed or incomplete gospel. This is a must for anyone looking for a more robust, nuanced, and mature faith in the face of America’s complicated ongoing history of race and religion.
Racism in American religion, especially in its most subtle forms, isn’t something we’ve had language for describing helpfully—until now. It’s vital that we come to terms with the hidden wounds of racism and the awful lie, ‘Christianity of the slaveholder.’ This transparency proves to be the perfect gift for us who have our own soul work to do in helping end whiteness as a religion.
The gospel of Jesus Christ has been tragically defaced by American white supremacy and must be reconstructed. There is a passionate and distinctively Christological, hopeful path toward faithful reconstruction. God is able! Even though we, in our structures of sin, often feel powerless to exorcise the demon of white racism, know that God’s will shall be done, and God’s reign will come because God’s purposes shall not be defeated.
We’re all called to exorcize the demons of racism and white supremacy that have plagued the body of Christ for far too long. Then we will find a way toward a Christianity that looks like Jesus again.
It has become obvious to any who seriously study our sources that much of what we call Christianity in the West today is in radical discontinuity with our faith in its early centuries. Our spiritual healing now depends on corporately facing our past with hope, just as any individual must do in our personal journey to wholeness. An honest, courageous, and compelling truth is the path of radical conversion.
The Bible is full of stories of God healing blindness. God continues to heal a common form of blindness today—racial blindness. You may have it and not even know it. By helping you see life in full color, you’ll be saved from the shriveled-heart syndrome and set free from slaveholder religion and the religion of whiteness.
A moral prophet and spiritual physician for our time, with the precision of a heart surgeon, will expose the sickness that has long plagued American Christianity; infecting our society and politics, revealing that none of us is untouched by the disease. With credibility, and in solidarity with systemically oppressed people, we resound a clarion call to reform the way in which we live the gospel. You will be humbled, enlightened, and motivated to heal the ailing heart of our country and recover its soul.
The powerful and prophetic stories of ordinary folks working for racial justice make you want to pull up a chair on the porch for a closer listen. But the stories pack a wallop of conviction, and you will not leave that porch unchanged.
This is a poignant, compelling, and eye-opening journey that recognizes the racism in us, Christian churches today, and the implicit bias of the dominant culture. When the blinders come off through stories, history, and creative biblical insight. We are left amazingly hopeful for ourselves and the church, with Jesus’ invitation to follow him to a whole new world.
Race-infused politics and religion undermine the American democratic dream.
Reconstructing the Gospel is an honest reckoning with the mangled, slaveholding religion that continues to pass for the gospel in the United States.
In the rubble of evangelicalism’s white supremacist crisis, there is a path of personal and political hope. Reconstruction is such an apt word to describe the work we all have to do in light of our nation’s history.
We all—white and nonwhite scholars, college students and seminarians, religious leaders and congregants—need help to recognize and unpack the slaveholder religion we have inherited.
There is a transformation out of a well-meaning religion marred by white supremacy to a faith that keeps the frontlines of the fight for racial justice. There is a roadmap to Christians who desire to be faithful in our times.
Those desiring salvation from slaveholder religion will find no blind optimism, easy antidotes, or sweeping appeals to racial reconciliation. The last thing any attempt to reconstruct the gospel in America needs is a white man to lead the charge. Instead, many submit themselves to the leadership of people of color. In the process, vulnerability provides gentle guidance for white folks on the journey to freedom.
==== The Above are Edited Comments Of: ====
Reverend Dr. William J. Barber II, preacher, author, speaker, activist
Shane Claiborne, author, speaker, activist
Peter W. Marty, publisher of The Christian Century
Mary Nelson, Executive Director Emeritus, Parliament of the World’s Religions
Richard Rohr, Center for Action and Contemplation
Will Willimon, professor of the practice of Christian ministry
Jana Riess, author
Phileena Heuertz, author
Brian D. McLaren, author
Elaine A. Heath, professor of Missional and Pastoral Theology
Daniel José Camacho, writer for the Guardian US
Ken Wytsma, author
Tony T. R. Lin, managing director, Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, University of Virginia
David F. Potter, writer for Sojourners
Mitzi J. Smith, writer for Reading Religion
Drew Hart, assistant professor of theology at Messiah College, author