White Jesus

I often mention “White Jesus” when trying to describe my current malaise with the American Evangelical Church. You’d recognize White Jesus if you saw him: wavy dirty blond hair at the perfect man-bun length, blue-eyes with a Santa-like twinkle, flowing (and glowing) white robes So you don’t get confused:  White Jesus isn’t the Jesus of the Bible; He’s the Jesus of America.

The Jesus of America is the one your neighbors are referring to when they tell you that Jesus wants you to have prosperity and wealth. He’s the one that informs their political identity as Republicans. He’s the one that they invoke to justify America’s foreign policy and their personal inaction regarding the poverty in their neighborhood. The Jesus of America wants you to be middle class, to work harder and pull yourself up by your bootstraps. He hates all of the same people that you hate. I’m certain that he even wants America to be Great Again.

In The First Thanksgiving: What the Real Story Tells Us About Loving God and Learning from History, Historian Robert Tracey McKenzie recalls:

The problem, as C.S. Lewis’s fictional devil, Screwtape, understood, arises when we link our commitment to Christ too closely with one or more of our other group attachments. And there is always a temptation to do so especially with those attachments we hold most dear. Life is much simpler when the various facets of our identity are reinforcing rather than competing. Yet when the boundaries between them become blurred, we fall prey to what Lewis called “Christianity And,” a state of confusion in which it becomes easy to mix up means and end and increasingly difficult to think clearly about the world around us. We can all probably think of examples of what this might look like; it is so easy to intertwine our faith with adherence to a particular social cause, economic system, approach to education or political party, for example.  (emphasis mine)

The Christ of the Bible has become linked to America — to our politics, sociology, and even our system of government– and thus whitewashed both literally and figuratively. Instead of a 1st century  Middle-Eastern Jew, we get a white Americanized version who believes in life, liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. We get Megyn’s Kelly’s weird “Santa was White and so was Jesus” rant on television. White Jesus is a mixture of American nationalism and civil religion. He is “Christianity And” (Americanism) personified– a reflection of American values and our collective cultural narrative. And as such He’s the foremost champion of white supremacy.

And this is the disconnect that I feel in the church. My white Christian “brothers and sisters” are more invested in the idol of White Jesus (and by extension “Whiteness”) than in the middle-eastern Jew of the Bible who kicked off his ministry by telling those in the sanctuary that he’d come to fulfill this prophecy by Isaiah: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed

I recently read a quote by theologian Jim Wallis from his new book, America’s Original Sin: Racism, white Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America, in which he says:

If white Christians acted more Christian than white, black parents would have less fear for their children.

I found this statement powerful — not because it is addresses white Christians directly – but because it convicted me. What is my Christianity mixed with? What Jesus am I worshiping? in what ways could I act more Christ-like so that (homosexual? transgender? atheists?) parents would have less fear for their children.

I love the Church. But I can do without White Jesus.


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