Do You Recognize This America? Using Religion to Justify Racism
Do You Recognize This America?
You very well should, because we have seen the things we are witnessing played out, oh so many times before.
Racists have become more emboldened to express their true feelings about other cultures and races, mostly inspired by the current administration in the White House. Sadly, the majority of evangelicals in this country have been disturbingly quiet about many of the things being done by this administration. Many of them have also become complicit, hiding behind religion to justify these questionable actions and inhumane decisions.
Take the most recent controversial issue brought forth by the current administration relative to separating immigrant parents from their children at the border.
Prior to President Donald Trump signing an executive order to put a halt to a law he put in place to separate families in the first place, Attorney General Jeff Sessions gave a speech on the issue to law enforcement officers in Fort Wayne, Indiana, back on June 14. In that speech, Sessions used a passage in the Bible to justify their actions, while strongly suggesting that it was God’s perfect will that immigrant families be separated from their children at the border.
“I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained the government for his purposes,” said Sessions. “Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves. Consistent and fair application of the law is in itself a good and moral thing, and that protects the weak and protects the lawful.”
The use of Bible scriptures by politicians and government officials isn’t uncommon, but the use of Romans 13 by Sessions is a jaw-dropping one, in that Romans 13 has historically been used in this country to justify the barbaric and inhumane institution of slavery.
There is an undeniable relationship between using religion to justify racism in this country.
Many people here in the U.S. have used the Bible to abuse people and justify their heinous behavior. Let’s talk about “Christian Identity” and the Ku Klux Klan.
“Christian Identity” is the name of the religious movement uniting many White supremacist groups in the U.S., and their teachers promote racism and sometimes violence. Their roots are deeply embedded in movements such as the Ku Klux Klan and the Nazis. “Christian Identity” followers believe that every race, excluding the White race, is an inferior creation.
The religious views of “Christian Identity” members are bizarre and occult-like, and their view of history is often informed by conspiracy theories. “Christian Identity” uses the name “Christian” to promote racism and violence. However, the “Christian Identity” movement has become the uniting force among many White supremacy groups in this country. Included in most religious teaching produced by its leaders are racist statements that echo the statements of other White supremacists. The most moderate groups publish hate literature. The more radical groups turn to violence, including murder. We saw that a lot in the South, with the number of lynchings and attacks on Black people that took place, while the perpetrators justified their actions in the name of God.
Prior to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it was nothing to see members of the Ku Klux Klan, dressed out in their robes while attending their local places of worship. The “burning of the cross” is synonymous with the Ku Klux Klan and has been consistently used as a symbol of intimidation by them. The “burning of the cross” was used as a symbol of Christian fellowship, and its lighting during meetings was steeped in Christian prayer, the singing of hymns, and other overtly religious symbolism. They truly believed they were honoring God with their actions.
African Americans have always had to deal with religion being used as a tool to justify slavery, unjust laws, disenfranchisement and ill treatment – since inception; and sadly, many of the people who embrace racism have used religion as a systematic tool to justifiably oppress them.
Following the slave revolts in the early 19th century, states like Virginia and others passed laws that dictated Black believers of Christianity could only meet in the presence of a White minister.
Many racist slave owners and White Americans even used select scriptures from the Bible to justify and legally sanction slavery and the unjust treatment of Black people.
For instance, many considered people of African descent the children of Canaan, and used scriptures from the Book of Genesis 9:20-27 to justify the enslavement of Africans for centuries.
It reads: “When Noah exited the ark, he planted a vineyard. He sampled too much of his wine, got drunk, and lay naked inside his tent…….Noah had three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Ham had a son named Canaan. Ham saw his father’s nakedness, but his brothers walked backward into the tent to avoid the sight. When Noah awoke, he put a curse on Ham’s son, declaring that Canaan “shall be a slave to his brothers.”
Other supporters of slavery used scriptures from the Song of Solomon 1:5-6 to justify their racist positions, which states: “I am black but beautiful, O daughters of Jerusalem . . . Do not gaze at me because I am dark, because the sun has gazed on me. My mother’s sons were angry with me; they made me keeper of the vineyards.”
This verse of scripture has been used by religious racists as some sort of biblical revelation that justifies dark-skinned people and “people of African descent” being cursed and servants to all others; therefore occupying a lower position on the racial ladder and destined to be slaves and serve others forever.
Reciting statements such as, “America was founded on Christian principles” or “America is a Christian nation” have become often repeated phrases that many people use to establish what they believe is the connection between religion and the founding principles of this country, while attempting to justify their racist actions and beliefs. These people are in key leadership positions and are often a part of a church or place of worship somewhere in this country.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said, “Eleven o’clock on Sunday morning . . . is the most segregated hour in Christian America.”
During most of the Civil Rights movement, many white Protestant and Catholic Church leaders refused to get involved and speak out against the atrocities faced by African-Americans. They were noticeably absent during most of the marches, protests, bus boycotts and voter-registration drives. Dr. King wrote his blistering “Letter from Birmingham City Jail,” in response to a public statement by eight prominent local church leaders.
These eight influential leaders, some of them bishops of the Catholic, Episcopal, and Methodist church, labeled King an outsider and an extremist while publicly denouncing him.
In the letter, King expressed his tremendous disappointment with the leadership within the white church and accused them of being content “to stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities.”
As a result of his direct appeal and in-your-face letter, many segments of the White Protestant and Catholic churches got engaged. The most significant act of engagement by Whites was the 1965 Selma march, where many priests and religious ministers participated.
In order to effectively bring about change in this country at the federal level, people must get engaged politically to ensure the right people are in office that best reflect the needs of the people who are being marginalized and attacked through harmful legislation.
Those who have been marginalized must vote if they want to remove those who are passing laws that hurt them and their loved ones. Things can change, but you must get involved in the process by registering to vote and heading to the polls in November for the mid-term elections.
Again, the question is before you…Do You Recognize This America?
Again, the answer is clear…You very well should.
It is time to stop being naïve and in denial about the reality of religious racism in this country and begin to acknowledge it – both past and present.