Review of White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity by Robert P. Jones

White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity by Robert P. Jones

“Not everything that is faced can be changed,” writes James Baldwin, “but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” Robert P. Jones has taken it as his life mission to face, describe, analyze, and expose the foundational role of white Christianity in the American assertion of the supremacy of whites. White Too Long is equal parts autobiography and analysis, confession and social commentary, pleading and prescription. “White Christian churches have not just been complacent,” Jones asserts, “they have not only been complicit; rather, as the dominant cultural power in America, they have been responsible for constructing and sustaining a project to protect white supremacy and resist black equality.”

Jones outlines the history of white supremacist ideology and theology in Christian America. He maintains a special focus on the Southern Baptist Convention, his natal faith community. But his work demonstrates both historically and demographically that maintaining the supremacy of whites is part of the “DNA” of all white Christians in America. He brings to bear the resources of statistical analysis to uncover this genetic theology, especially in a chapter that lays bear the racist realities under our white Christian niceness. It is disturbing to learn that being a white Christian is a reliable and causal indicator of racism and vice versa. But after reading White Too Long, I am sure this is the case.

I was particularly interested in Jones’ description of and analysis related to the “Emmanuel 9” murders committed by Dylann Roof. Roof was a member of an ELCA congregation, and two of his victims were graduates of an ELCA seminary. The reckoning necessary for white Christians to begin the processes of repentance and repair needed prior to reconciliation take on searing specificity for ELCA Lutherans who have not already chosen to move on and try to forget the horror and the shame. Jones helps us ELCA folks to remember and return to our repenting.

He has some hopeful examples and stories near the end of the book, and I was grateful for some light at the end of a very dark tunnel. But he is clear, and rightly so, that the journey for us as white Christians is long and difficult. He is also clear, and rightly so, that this ideology of white supremacy disfigures our souls nearly beyond redemption. Repentance and repair are not in the main altruistic acts, he asserts. Without real, daily, and ongoing work, we white Christians can only grant ourselves therapeutic doses of cheap grace that inoculate us against any real chance of healing and hope.

White Too Long is an important part of the library for anyone who wishes to get better and to do so without burdening and penalizing our BIPOC siblings by asking them once again to educate us privileged white folks. The information is right in front of us. The resources are abundant. The task is clear. We are stopped only by our fear of the pain. But the alternative to the pain is simply to feel nothing at all. And we have done that for far too long.

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