11 January 2021,
To the Drew Theological School community,
Last week we watched as thousands of predominantly white insurrectionists invaded the United States Congress to stop elected leaders from formalizing the peaceful transition of power. I have been glued to the news and social media for days. I imagine many of you have been too. I was stunned to witness the lies of election theft repeated on the congress floor even after a day of rage and terror fueled by those same lies. There is a great deal at stake in the true and false stories we tell and how they shape our actions.
White supremacy and white nationalism are the root of this story. Like others, I saw on grotesque display what many have always known to be true: the stark difference between the response to a white mob and the response to people of color everywhere who have organized acts of non-violent resistance on behalf of the movement for black lives, undocumented immigrants, and so many others. I know that many in our Drew community are reflecting on this reality from our pulpits, at our dinner tables, and in our various spheres of influence.
There is another truth about this story. A powerful brand of Christianity animates this movement and these political activities. The Bible, Jesus, the cross, salvation, the Messiah–these images and words were everywhere to be seen and heard on Wednesday. We cannot be surprised by this, nor should we comfort ourselves that “this is not who our country is” or that “this is not what Christianity is.” Religious leaders who are committed to anti-racism and the work of social justice must be honest about the continuities that this moment has with a long history of white supremacy and racial inequality, and we must tell the truth about the ways in which Christian faith has been articulated and weaponized in order to maintain this deadly order. It is a painful story, but for many of us, especially the privileged white leaders among us, it is a story we must tell.
Whether you are writing sermons or preparing lesson plans, whether you are community organizing or responding with pastoral care in your context, it is not imperative that you have all the words or even the perfect words. What you do need is to be clear about the story that you are telling. A story that calls each and every one of us to explicitly confront white supremacy and white nationalism in our contexts. A story that is honest about white Christianity and it’s complicity in the events of this week and this nation, and beyond. A story that seeks the kin-dom of God with peace and justice, and that roots its hope and challenge in the radical love of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Dean Melanie Johnson-DeBaufre
Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity