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“White Too Long” Book Discussion with Dr. Robert P. Jones

“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

On Wednesday, Sept. 2, ICJS Executive Director Heather Miller Rubens facilitated a discussion with Robert P. Jones, CEO and founder of the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI). The discussion centered around topics raised in Jones’ latest book, White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity.

In White Too Long, Jones not only reflects on his own upbringing but also documents the growing religious tensions in the United States around race and religion.  Born and raised in Mississippi, Jones grew up in a world shaped by White Christianity. Raised as a Southern Baptist, Jones was regularly at church multiple nights every week, and didn’t learn about his own denomination’s relationship to slavery and racism until he was an adult. Alternating between historical storytelling and analysis of opinion-surveys, Jones exposes the intimate ties between White Christianity and White supremacy in his book, making it an essential read for everyone in this moment.

In Jones’ conversation with Rubens, they explored the interreligious implications of Christian White supremacy, talking more specifically about how White Christian America thinks about Jews and Muslims. Jones highlighted how xenophobia has been ingrained in White Christian traditions in the United States throughout history. During the 1920s and 1930s, the Ku Klux Klan perpetrated violence against Black, Catholic, and Jewish persons, alike. As recently as 2017, the Muslim Travel Ban was put into effect by Executive Order in January. In August of the same year, White supremacists chanted “Jews will not replace us!” while defending Confederate statues in Charlottesville, VA. Together, this fear—of Catholics, Jews, Muslims, and People of Color—has served to make White supremacy a cornerstone of White Christian tradition.

For Jones, the contradictions between his faith and these traditions were just too much. 

“We’re still not fully conscious of the grasp of White supremacy on religion, in our faith, and in our everyday lives. Is this a tradition we want to pass down to our children and our grandchildren?” asked Jones.

After about 30 minutes of conversation, Jones took questions from our online audience. Many participants asked how these historic injustices could be reconciled and/or eradicated within Christian communities in the United States. Given the rise of White Christian nationalism, these questions are urgently asked. Jones highlighted the importance of interreligious, interracial solidarity in combating White supremacist elements at the heart of American Christianity. “We cannot equivocate with racial justice,” Jones asserted.

He ended the conversation with the following challenge: “Do we care about the integrity of our faith and religious traditions? [Then] why let them be destroyed by White supremacy?”

A friend of ICJS, Jones delivered the 2019 Manekin-Clark lecture


Resources / Further Reading

Mentioned during discussion:

  • The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race, by Willie James Jennings
  • Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America, by Michael O. Emerson and Christian Smith
  • Letter from Birmingham Jail, by Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • The Sin of White Supremacy: Christianity, Racism, and Religious Diversity in America, by Jeannine Hill Fletcher

Other:


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