Friday, April 21, 2023

White Too Long: A Review

I will flatly say that the bulk of this country's white population impresses me, and has so impressed me for a very long time, as being beyond any conceivable hope of moral rehabilitation. They have been white, if I may so put it, too long. James Baldwin, 1969  ( White Too Long, p. 233)

Robert P. Jones' White Too Long (2020) is a cutting analysis of racist attitudes in white Christianity. Although it's not a new book, I wonder if things have changed. It's  a lingering question after reading the book. 

The book's strength lies in the author's statistical explanation of a basic contradiction: why white Christians* have highly warm feelings toward African-Americans while scoring much higher on measurements of racist attitudes.** Also, those who identify as white Christians score higher in racist attitudes than the unaffiliated. A better measurement of white supremacist attitudes is The Racism Index. It measures, argues Jones, attitudes on systemic and institutional racism, using: 1) Confederate symbols 2)Inequality and African-American mobility 3) Racial inequality and the treatment of African Americans in the criminal justice system 4) Perceptions of race, racism, and racial discrimination. 

Jones' more searing analysis comes in Chapter 8 ("Mapping"). A clear path is set forth, from hypothesis to statistics to conclusion. It constitutes a sociological mapping of the "genome" of white Christianity. Have white supremacist attitudes integrated into [White Christianity's] DNA as part of what it means to be a white Christian in America? "If the correlations we see between white supremacist attitudes and white Christianity cannot be explained away by other factors, white Christians have some serious soul-searching to do." (p. 166.) The analysis, Jones argues, will measure "how much holding racist attitudes predicts independently the probability of identifying as a white Christian," as well as the reverse: "measuring how much identifying as a white Christian predicts independently the likelihood of holding racist attitudes." (pp. 171-172)

One of the most devastating conclusions of this book is the deconstruction of church attendance. Church attendance is always very prominent in the measurables of a successful, growing church. Attendance is always one part of the holy trinity of successful Christian churches. (The other two are budget and buildings). My calling as a Christian Educator-teacher and clergyperson in the United Methodist Church was based, in part, on the assumption that regular, better Adult Education in the church enlivened a generous and just love of neighbor. However, Jones concludes that the opposite is true: "White evangelical Protestants, white mainline Protestants, and white Catholics who attend church regularly are as likely as their less-frequently-attending counterparts to hold racist attitudes." (p. 183- italics added for review)

Another conclusion that challenges the popular wisdom is that the unaffiliated (those who don't identify as a white Christian ) score lower on the RI. White churches do not deconstruct white supremacist attitudes. Instead, they "dress it up in theological garb, giving it a home in a respected institution, and calibrating it to local cultural sensibilities." (p. 182) Why would an unaffiliated person think that church would equip me to be kinder and more just toward our African American neighbors? 

Although signs of hope for white Protestants are offered (Chapter 9),  descriptive sociology is limited to statistical conclusions. The book cannot easily proceed to the normative. So the question, what must white Protestants do in order to be saved, remains.This drawback does not minimize the importance of Jones' work. We are still free to act and respond to his uncomfortable, inconvenient conclusions. 

We are free to ask of our churches and ourselves: what purposes do our ministries serve? Does our preaching and teaching of the whole Bible omit its call for justice? How can we preach the entire Lectionary Cycle- or- the Gospels for that matter- without even one reference to- let alone a sermon on- racial injustice? How are the words of cognitive dissonance in Jesus' teachings minimized or discounted? How can we stop fleeing to Jesus and flying to heaven just because facing the truth ourselves is uncomfortable. How do we best challenge the rise of hate, anger, and resentment in white churches and in America- and build a better future? 

*Those who identify as white Christians are categorized by evangelical Protestants, mainline Protestants, and Catholics. The findings are based on research of the Public Religion Research Institute, a non-profit, nonpartisan organization that conducts research on issues at the intersection of religion culture and politics. 
**A finding from the study is that white Christians score much higher on racist attitudes (resentment, bitterness, anger) than those who are unaffiliated, though they are not the focus of the book.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Oldies but Goodies