I reread yesterday’s post. Does it sound racist? Am I longing for the good old days with Sheriff Andy in Mayberry without African-Americans, Asians and Latinos?
I wouldn’t mind Mayberry. Nice to leave doors unlocked and worry only if Aunt Susie will drop off an apple pie today or tomorrow. But my nostalgia has nothing to do with racism. Nor does Robert P. Jones’ book, The End of White Christian America.
Racism, defined by John Piper in his book, Bloodlines, is “the heart that believes one race is better than another.” And “the behavior that distinguishes one race as more valuable than another.” If any of my comments implied racism, please forgive me. Jones and I are merely commenting on the changes in the country and how they affect “white Christian America.” I’m writing because our knowledge of those changes is shallow and our ignorance of what they call us to as a follower of Jesus is deep.
The following (from the book’s dust cover) fairly summarizes The End of White Christian America:
“For most of the country’s history, White Christian America—the cultural and political edifice built primarily by white Protestant Christians—set the tone for our national policy and shaped American ideals. But in recent decades new immigration patterns, changing birth rates, and religious disaffiliation have transformed the United States. The year 1993 was the last in which white Protestants constituted a majority of the population. Today, even when Catholics are included, white Christians make up less than half of the country.
” . . . Jones shows how today’s most heated controversies—the strident rise of a white politics of nostalgia following the election of the nation’s first black president; the apocalyptic tone of arguments over same-sex marriage and religious liberty; the stark disagreements between white and black Americans over the fairness of the justice system—can be fully understood only in the context of the anxieties that white Christians feel as the racial, religious, and cultural landscape has changed around them.
“Today, although they still retain considerable power in the South and within the Republican Party, white Christians lack their former political and social clout . . . ”
Do we understand an “evolution” that fundamental has occurred? Do we realize there’s no going back to Mayberry?
How, then, shall we as Christians respond? We’re blessed to elect government leaders. We should vote with our Christian worldview clearly in place. But, if we think politicians will “make America great again” or build us “stronger together”, we’re dreaming. Evangelical Christians easily fall prey to politics. When I saw Jerry Falwell, Jr. fall all over Donald Trump at Liberty University, I thought, “Here we go again. Christians pinning hopes on politicians.” They’re not our saviors and never will be. At best, we vote against the worse. (Too cynical?) Launching a “Christian candidate” won’t enlarge our Christian “clout” in the country (though it may stave off evil to a limited extent).
Consider two suggestions, alternatives to trying to infiltrate Washington, D.C. One comes from Methodist theologian Stanley Hauerwas. In a 1989 book, Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony, he called for the church to be “a colony of heaven”. By that he meant Christians who recognize they live in a strange land, who emphasize “Christianity’s function as an institution separate from politics and worldly affairs, not as an insider in the halls of power.”
This I see is a prophetic stance. We speak and act, not as Republicans or Democrats, but as citizens of heaven. As Old Testament prophets our allegiance is to the Lord of lords. We pray, “Your kingdom come” through us today.
A similar idea lies in Chuck Colson’s book, Kingdoms in Conflict. Colson refers to Jacques Ellul (French philosopher, professor, sociologist, lay theologian, and Christian anarchist) who criticized “big government illusion.” The answer, he argued, lay with “small voluntary associations.” In the 18th century statesman Edmond Burke called such associations “little platoons.” These, wrote Colson, are citizens who do works of mercy and oppose injustice. These are “salt and light” in a world corrupted by human sin. And, wrote Colson, ” . . . they provide the main bulwark against government’s insatiable appetite for power and control, and a safeguard against the sense of impotence fostered by today’s overwhelming social problems.”
Today’s “overwhelming social problems” and the “government’s insatiable appetite for power and control” hurt us all, regardless of race. And admittedly, “white Christian America” has often been as much part of the problem as solution.
I post this series of blogs to inform us frogs in the pot how hot the water is getting. And to think through with you what we might do as followers of the Lord Jesus Christ.
On the back cover of The End of White Christian America, Michael Eric Dyson (author of The Black Presidency: Barack Obama and the Politics of Race in America) writes . . .
“Jones deftly and insightfully shows how this new moment marked by white Christian America’s demise holds both promise and peril for those concerned about racial justice and the future of race relations in the country.”
Promise and peril. As Christians, how shall we respond? We’ll answer more in days ahead . . .