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White Christian Bigotry

Racism is much stronger among America’s white Christians than among churchless whites – and it always has been. That’s the message of a new book by social analyst Robert Jones, head of the Public Religion Research Institute.

White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity contends that white churches didn’t merely adapt the nation’s surrounding racism – but actually fostered it, locking it into the culture. Today, white Christians display more prejudice than non-Christians.

Here’s a sample: PRRI agents asked thousands of people whether police killings of unarmed black men are mere “isolated incidents” or if they reveal deep-rooted hostility to African Americans. Among white evangelicals – the heart of the Republican Party – 71 percent chose “isolated incidents.” But just 38 percent of churchless whites agreed.

Another example: Some 86 percent of white evangelicals think the Confederate flag is “more a symbol of southern pride than of racism” – but only 41 percent of unafilliated whites share that view.

When PRRI interviewers read this statement – “Generations of slavery and discrimination have created conditions that make it difficult for blacks to work their way out of the lower class” – churchless whites agreed at a much higher rate than white Christians did.

Obviously, white Americans who don’t attend church are more sympathetic to downtrodden minorities than white Christians are.

Jones grew up a Southern Baptist and studied at a Southern Baptist seminary before he awakened to the entrenched racism engulfing him. Now he is combating it.

Personally, when I grew up in the 1940s, racism was absolute in America. Blacks were treated as an inferior subspecies. They were forced to live in squalid ghettos, forbidden to enter all-white restaurants, hotels, theaters, pools, parks, clubs, schools, neighborhoods, jobs and the rest of white society. White supremacy steeped America so much that it seemed normal.

I became an adolescent newspaper reporter in the early 1950s, when the civil rights movement barely had begun. In a staff meeing, our editor vowed that our paper never would print “n—-r weddings.” Later, under a new publisher, the paper became a fierce crusader for integration and equality.

The private lake where I lived had bylaws requiring members to be “white Christians,” excluding Jews also. When I filed a proposal to admit minorities, leaders panicked and canceled the annual meeting. But the lake eventually integrated. (Technically, I didn’t fit the Christian requirement, because I was a renegade Unitarian.)

At that time, I didn’t notice that white churches fostered segregation any more than all other elements of society did. But I defer to the greater knowledge of Jones, who has spent his life studying this field.

As PRRI agents surveyed thousands of Americans, Jones created a “racism index” to identify which groups are most bigoted. White evangelicals scored highest at 78 percent. Irreligious whites rated 42 percent. He told CNN:

President Trump, who has put white supremacy front and center, has brought these issues from just barely below the surface into plain view…. White Christians have inherited a worldview that has Christians on top of other religions, men over women, whites over blacks.

James Haught is editor emeritus of West Virginia’s largest newspaper, The Charleston Gazette-Mail.

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