There is a reason, perhaps less in importance but perhaps just as insidious, why Christian communities of faith need to stop in their tracks and post a new life-sign about the end of racism in the Church. That reason is the growing, venomous, and potentially culture-crushing development in the USA of White Nationalism.
Perhaps you don’t know about it, and I confess I didn’t until I read Vanderbilt University’s Law School professor, Carol M. Swain’s book, The New White Nationalism in White America. Her piece of research that is also well-written (and these are rarely combined) investigates the growth of white hate groups in the USA. I admit, the book frightens me.
The Church can be an answer, a bold and beautiful answer to white nationalism because it can create an environment where Pentecost is practiced in such a way that an alternative society, one not known by racial difference but by common humanity and spirituality, can perform the gospel for all to see.
Here’s the view of white nationalists: “Contemporary white nationalists draw upon the potent rhetoric of national self-determination and national self-assertion in an attempt to protect what they believe is their God-given natural right to their distinct cultural, political, and genetic identity as white Europeans” (16).
Three factors provoke white nationalists in the USA today: affirmative action (and Swain is about as level-headed as anyone I’ve read on this topic), immigration policies that are driving the inner city African-American community, especially males, into unemployment, crime rates — and these are enveloped in the ideology of political correctness (which drives legitimate discussions underground). (I don’t know much about the immigration problem, except that I know it is serious.)
White nationalists play the diversity card insidiously — arguing that they are entitled to their ideology. Identity politics is the name of the game. Hate groups are all over the USA (she has a map of them on pp. 78-79).
There are parts of Swain’s book that, because she trots out the real statistics, make me sick, but it is the sort of sickness you’d rather know about than be surprised by when it is too late. She has a fierce independence of mind, making her a perfect candidate for “purple politics,” a politics that gets beyond classic cultural wars of our day. I find myself in disagreement at times, but her points are always well made.
“What we need to do,” she says, “is to refashion a collective identity that can transcend race and therefore thwart our increasing drift toward tribalism” (252). What she is saying here is exactly what Jesus says in the Kingdom vision: Who are we? We are God’s Kingdom people who are called to perform the gospel in our world for the good of others and the world. A clear calling for the Christian of the USA is a summons to create an alternative community with a collective identity where racism is is a category that once was.
Swain believes the gospel has the power to create that alternative society. Here these words: “Once a devotee to New Age religions, I have become a born-again Christian water-baptized by immersion in the name of Jesus Christ according to the dictates of Acts 2:38” (420-421). She’s also seen it all, for she is an African American who, like the Delphic oracle, knows whereof she speaks.
Tomorrow I will detail her recommendations, which are numerous — and numerous within what I would call a Kingdom vision of the gospel.