I want to introduce you to a new book today that is an excellent follow-up to yesterday's post here about the renewed Poor People's Campaign, led by two Christian pastors.
The book is called Plantation Jesus: Race, Faith & a New Way Forward. It's written by Skot Welch and the late Rick Wilson, with help from Andi Cumbo-Floyd, who filled in to help Welch when Wilson died before the book could be finished. Its official publication date is this coming Tuesday but it can be pre-ordered now.
The book is a clarion call to white Christians and others to understand the many ways in which the United States was founded on the basis of ideas that reflected white supremacy -- and how that repulsive beginning has helped to shape who we Americans are as a people today.
It's a short read -- about 170 pages including notes -- that includes some helpful "Resources and Exercises" toward the end meant to engage readers and get them to challenge their own assumptions and beliefs.
Welch, who is African-American, and Wilson, who was white, would describe themselves as evangelical Christians, though both with a heart for racial justice. For several years the authors were co-hosts of a show called "Radio in Black and White."
Although the book is sometimes annoyingly repetitious, it offers important information and analysis to help people -- especially white Christians -- understand the many ways in which white leaders of our nation from the beginning have violated essential Christian beliefs about the preciousness of every human being, regardless of race, gender or ethnic background.
Christians who get all or most of that wrong, they write, are not following the Jesus of the New Testament but someone they call Plantation Jesus.
And who is Plantation Jesus? ". . .a god who is comfortable with pain and suffering, an idol who can only exist in oppression and codified bigotry. Plantation Jesus provides a faith-based justification for racism. Plantation Jesus is a false god who lives within systemic and institutional racism, who continuously distorts an authentic Christian message and who is complicit with unequal treatment for financial gain. Plantation Jesus has been around since the earliest days of Colonial America. He made it possible for white Christians to participate in and bless the transatlantic slave trade, during which 12.5 million Africans were shipped to the New World."
In sum, they write, "Plantation Jesus is the god of white supremacy: the system that undergirds the belief that white people are more valuable than others. In many Christian churches, he still speaks. Plantation Jesus has allowed us to brutalize each other."
The problem with trying to understand how the system of slavery shaped America and continues to do so even today is that lots of people -- especially white people -- don't want to talk about it any more. But, the authors write, "Slavery was not an unfortunate brief, tragic left turn in American history. Slave systems were foundational to the United States morally, spiritually, sociologically, culturally and economically. . .So, no, we did not start the system of slavery, and we may not have directly participated in it (Tammeus parentheses: unlike most of our first 12 presidents, 10 of whom owned slaves while in office, the authors report). Yet across history, the slave system still reverberates and benefits still accrue on the basis of history's divided spoils."
In many ways, this book is a plea to Christians to think and behave the ways the real Jesus calls them to. And to do that will require knowing and remembering that "Jesus was not white. Eurocentric Christianity is not the global standard. Making God into our image does incredible damage to our Christian witness."
All of this would seem like old and unnecessary stuff to hear were it not for the fact that white supremacist language still can be heard from some Christians in the U.S. And what may be equally as harmful, silence about all of this is still a common response from some Christians -- this despite the fact that some of our Founding Fathers, including Thomas Jefferson, author of the words "all men are created equal" in our Declaration of Independence, were unredeemed racists. As the authors of this book note, Jefferson once wrote about his "deep personal distaste for blacks, who, he asserted, smelled wrong, copulated with apes in African, and were incapable of intellectual achievement." (The authors there were quoting a 2012 Wall Street Journal article by Fergus M. Bordewich called "Monticello's Slave-Driver.")
The evidence of systemic racism continues to be all around us, despite some very real progress made in and since the start of the Civil Rights Movement. But if we had fixed everything -- racially, educationally, socially and economically -- we wouldn't be having renewed calls for reform and action. And there would be no need of -- and no market for -- books like Plantation Jesus.
(By the way, here is an unrelated-to-this-book video in which clergy make many of the same points the authors make.)
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WHEN FAUX PROPHECY TURNS DEADLY
In addition to various political meanings, moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem has theological implications for some Christians. They see it as one more step toward fulfillment of conditions needed for the Second Coming of Christ to occur. Lots of other Christians, including me, see that as a literalistic misreading of the enigmatic book of Revelation, leading to all sorts of mischief. So far responses to the protests by Palestinians against the move have resulted in dozens of deaths. Sigh.