September 22, 2009

Graven Images: Racist Fundamentalist Churches of America

COMMAND2A.jpg[Note: It's now clear that "racism" has somehow not been eliminated with the election of an African-American as president but exacerbated. It has now drenched our discourse with its stench. But from what dark wells is this poison water being drawn? Qui bono? Perhaps it's time we looked a little more closely at places where it still is to be found. And not just at "the usual suspects" which now seem to have been broadened to include all those who do not agree with the program being proliferated by the president. In that spirit I am republishing this essay from March of 2008.]

In every cry of every man,
In every infant's cry of fear,
In every voice, in every ban,
The mind-forged manacles I hear.

-- William Blake

It seems to me that when visiting the left-leaning sites of the web one is forever bumping into a virulent fear and hate of Christianity. It sometimes is couched in an insecure, buffoon's atheism, but more often than not takes aim at the biggest boogyman the American Left can think of -- Christian Fundamentalism. These rants are not hard to find. They are legion.

We're told, over and over, that Christian Fundamentalism is the single greatest threat to the American way of life; that it is, among many other evils, a breeding ground for race hate. We are reminded of the virtual descendants of Simon Legree among the Baptist Republicans of the Caucasian persuasion. We are harangued without end about their ceaseless lust for power. Baptist Democrats, it would seem, possess a "Get Out of Racism Free" card. Not because of their religious belief, but because of their party affiliation. It is a strange religion where sanctity is determined by politics and not by faith, but that seems to be the case.

This afternoon on the lawn my gardener asked me if I have given myself up to God yet. He is a devout believer, a Christian Fundamentalist with a paperback bible in his back pocket. It's new this year because he gave his well-worn one last September. He is concerned for my soul. And he has reason to be. I confessed I had not but was still searching, as indeed I am.

Born and baptized an Episcopalian, I am a member of no church. I feel this as a nagging lack in my soul and my weak response is to, well, "look around." As the old song goes, I'm always "window shopping, but never stopping to buy."

I've been church shopping on and off for several years. During that time I've attended more than three dozen churches whose congregations could be considered Fundamentalist. I've been in these churches from Seattle to Key West, from California to the Carolinas. I've sat with congregations of well-to-do middle-class folks and congregations of poorer folks. A lot of this has involved just dropping in at random when, as they say,the spirit moves me. This is not hard to do in the Carolinas where I once counted more than 22 churches within four miles of where I was located in the countryside. But the density in the cities is comparable.

From my direct observation, these Christian Fundamentalist churches have all -- every single one -- had congregations composed of all the races. From my auditing of the sermons I have never, not once, heard a message of race hate preached. Neither have I heard race hate promoted in the social meetings after. Not one single time, not even in the whitest of congregations. I have never, not for one instant, felt anything coming from these meetings that is anything other than embracing tolerance and Christian love for mankind. I have never, not for one instant, detected a whiff of bigotry or of anti-Semitism in these gatherings. Being a reformed radical from Berkeley in the 1960s I have keen radar for this sort of thing. Like many of my unreformed cohort I can detect it even when it doesn't exist.

Now I will admit that there may well be some churches that are, somewhere, all-white and that specialize in race-hatred, but they have to be pretty well hidden. Hidden not only from the world at large but from people like me.

I say "people like me" because, as you would know in a moment if you met me, I'm the whitest kind of fellow around. Pure WASP with a long American lineage. If I wanted to stumble onto institutionalized white racism in American churches, it wouldn't be too hard for me to find it and gain admittance.

This is not to say that white racism does not exist in America. It does. There are, as we know, a lot of white folks around that do not take kindly to people of other races and differing lineage. But that doesn't mean you find it in the churches. Indeed, it is harder and harder to find anywhere with every passing year. Whatever you may feel about racism in America, it is clear that the trend is not up.

What has also become clear to me -- what has been a revelation to me -- in the last week is that you do find racism embedded in some Christian Fundamentalist churches; churches whose congregation is almost strictly African-American. Indeed, scanning the tapes of the Reverend Wright Church that Barack Obama has attended it was difficult for me to find one white member of the congregation. I have, it is true, seen a tape where a white female pastor of another church was brought in to gush over the church, but that seemed to me to be a special occasion; something performed for the cameras.

While I can imagine many parishioners of many of the fundamentalist churches I've attended over the last few years sitting through a lot of sermons on this or that, I cannot imagine a white person sitting through the kind of sermons I've heard coming out of Reverend Wright's mouth -- unless they were overwhelmed with guilt and had a twisted sort of Christ-complex.

It seems to me the only way a person could sit through those sermons, week in, week out, year after year would be if that person also deeply believed in what was being preached.

Indeed, it would seem that if a person of faith wanted to mix some naked racism into their weekly diet of scripture and Christ's teachings in America, he or she would not seek out some Billy Grahamesque church lodged far back in Redneck County,USA, but would instead want to sit in a pew in a church formed almost exclusively of African-Americans. That seems to me, according to the evidence of my senses, to be where racist sentiments are currently being preached with fire and conviction. And where they receive a hearty AMEN.

I am sensible, as I write the above, that such beliefs and behaviors are not true of the majority of African-American Fundamentalist Churches. And I pray that that is true. At the same time, I am not at all convinced that Reverend Wright's church is a single anomaly, a one-off. There are, I am certain, others. But since, given the nature of such churches, their doors are closed to me, I cannot get a real sense of how big a fraction of the churches they represent. I can only hope they are not many.

There's been a lot of analysis about why these churches seem to thrive -- Reverend Wright's is given as the largest of its kind in Chicago -- but in a way the explanations are all shallow; are all excuses for behavior and habits of mind that should have been expunged from sermons decades past. Yet they abide and their slow poison works its way into the souls of the faithful and leeches out into the body politic.

It seems to me more than a little ironic that as a new great awakening has swept across the land in the last twenty years, a great sleep has fallen over this realm. Listening to Reverend Wright preach and to the call and response from his congregation it seemed to me like looking in on some long vanished rituals devoid of real thought and faith; living only via the expected call and the given response, almost robotic, and having little -- very little -- to do with the message of salvation, brotherhood, and forgiveness.

It was like watching people letting themselves be hypnotized for the greater glory not of Christ but of men. It was like watching a generation willing to continue their enslavement to a self-imposed definition of inferiority rather than rise up in the liberation of truth faith and equality. I saw not a hunger for the glory of God, but a thirsting after the glory of a race to the detriment of all others. How weak, I thought, and how shameful. A Christ triumphant would drive these race hustlers from His temple.

I thought, watching these sermons, these crazed rants spouted in the name of God, "Don't they know.... Can't they see... They're not worshipping God or Christ, they are worshipping men.... racist men.... the very thing their forefathers suffered under and fought to get free of... and now they're back in the same place."

"In every voice, in every ban,
The mind-forged manacles I hear."

I've been told, over and over, for decades that America is a racist nation. This week I came to believe it. I just never expected to find it in the place where I did.

Posted by Vanderleun at September 22, 2009 1:32 AM
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

Good point! On commentary on an article by Ross Douthat I saw much leftish justification for Reverend Wright's sermons while bashing "white fundamentalists".

Posted by: Joe Lammers at March 18, 2008 2:00 AM

Leftists wouldn't know a fundamentalist if we bit them on the ass. I should know, because I am one. The fundamentals of Christian belief are that we are all sinners, and fall short of the glory of God, and are in need of salvation, which can only be assured in the sacrifice of Christ, and which we are compelled by Christ Himself to preach to all men everywhere. Oh, and we also believe that God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son in order to redeem each individual in it.

Jeez, we're evil.

Posted by: Chris at March 18, 2008 3:41 AM

Well said, Gerard, but not surprising.

I've long held the belief that the most illiberal people you'll ever meet are liberals, based in large measure on my work as a prosecutor.

So it's of a piece that racism finds a willing host in the hearts and minds of those once considered to be its most common victims.

Posted by: Mike Lief at March 18, 2008 6:20 AM

Wonderful post.

As I noted earlier today, it is remarkable just how many people forget that glass houses can be broken from within.

Posted by: SC&A at March 18, 2008 7:01 AM

Thanks for the clarity!

Posted by: walt at March 18, 2008 7:23 AM

Well, Gerard. You found - or perhaps more accurately, the scales came fully off your eyes and you were able to see - what you are moving closer and closer to: truth. And the truth will set you free.

You may not, for a long time, have been interested in God. But God was always interested in you. We go a long way around, some of us, but with grace we all come home sooner or later.

Home to the one who made us. Yes, it's important to show up at a cause or a building to show our colors and vote with our feet, and so it is sweet to find a church to go back to.

But perhaps this blog, and not a church, might be your way of doing that now. Inside, we know when we are home. I bless the day I gave up worrying about possessions, locations, short-term goals, and let myself be at home with God every minute instead. There is no higher place on this earth, and I wish I could meet every one of my fellow humans there.

Posted by: askmom at March 18, 2008 9:52 AM
From my auditing of the sermons I have never, not once, heard a message of race hate preached. Neither have I heard race hate promoted in the social meetings after. Not one single time, not even in the whitest of congregations.
I've had much the same experience, Gerard. I was raised Southern Baptist and attended a number of churches belonging to that denomination in Louisiana, Texas, South Carolina, and North Carolina. In college, I hung out with Presbyterians and attended several churches in Columbia, SC. After graduation I joined a Lutheran church in that area, and later belonged to another one near Raleigh, NC. I never heard a hint of racism in any sermon or in conversation at any function.

I'm no longer a churchgoer, but my wife belongs to the largest Baptist church in Raleigh. That congregation actually cut its ties with the Southern Baptist Convention over the SBC's literal interpretation of the Bible verse stating that wives should submit to their husbands. If the church rebelled at this mild element of sexism, how much racism do you think it would tolerate?

In my experience, people who claim that Christianity is synonymous with racism are not only nonreligious themselves, but know nothing about religion. They are simply repeating an ignorant, hateful stereotype. In other words, they are narrow-minded anti-Christian bigots, and their behavior is projection of the most obvious sort.

Posted by: Pat at March 18, 2008 2:51 PM

A person cannot truly know Christ if he comes to Christianity from a position of hate.

Posted by: boqueronman at March 18, 2008 3:15 PM

If you've looked into a several religions and have not found what you're seeking, try Catholicism.
There's a new approach to it on
Very new.

Posted by: billadams at March 18, 2008 5:17 PM

What is amazing to me is that Christianity is the only religion that preaches a message of acceptance of all races. Jesus went to great lengths to point it out because of the Gentile/Jewish race problems existing at the time. So he told the story of the good Samaritan,Paul would eat with the Gentiles to the shock of his Jewish friends to make a point that all of us are God's children--regardless of race--yet, as you point out, Christianity is demonized more than any other.

As for churches--I'm a Southern Baptist and NEVER have I heard the SLIGHTEST notion of racism in my very large and predominantly white church. The difference in character in myself and Obama though is that despite 18 years of attendance if this Sunday my pastor begans an anti-American, racist rant, it will be the last sermon of his I ever attend.

Obama had a "leadership moment" opportunity today to respect the man who lead him to Christ while standing firm on his alleged convictions--and he simply blew it. No suprise at all.

Posted by: Murphy Klasing at March 18, 2008 5:41 PM


Well written. You are a seeker, and I pray that you find what you're after.

Posted by: James Cooper at March 18, 2008 7:50 PM

And ironically enough, those of leftist persuasion (those who seek to gain power over the lives of others by any means, legitimate or not) do not see any threat from the political ideology that attempts to disguise itself as a religion known as Islam which calls for waging predatory war against those who do not follow it, sanctifies slavery and savagery, whose main fundamental screams "Kill the infidel!", and which actually does want to establish a brutal, abusive, intolerant theocracy. What pernicious lies they believe...

Posted by: Robert at March 19, 2008 4:30 PM

Having been exposed to several assortments of Christianity, I say unequivocably; "searching or not, those seeking sanctuary should search-out a good Non-Denominational Bible Fellowship Church", which teaches 'strict deciphering'
of the meaning of God's Word - and does not interpret. This is where You Learn "God's Word" and follow your Pastor (Religious Leader) ONLY as he follows Christ.

Posted by: bobj72 at January 26, 2009 12:33 PM

Racism is a red herring. It's a distraction ... Keep your eyes on the other hand.

Posted by: Eman at March 29, 2009 4:22 PM

Racism is a red herring. It's a distraction ... Keep your eyes on the other hand.

Posted by: Eman at March 29, 2009 4:22 PM

No surprise to me having grown up in St. Louis in the 50's-60's.

Everyone knew then the place to find real race hatred was in a "black" church on Sunday.

That's why I knew what has come today months ago back when I saw the dear REV Right. Our great Leader didn't just sit there for 20 years-he wanted to and if you can't see his beliefs being pushed nationally now you never will.

Posted by: Bob Smyth at March 30, 2009 8:16 AM

I knew an actual white lay preacher who was also an anti-semite and a racist. There are others like him. Such people are a tiny minority, however, who use Christianity as a last refuge for an atavistic racism that has all but disappeared in America. To hear the left tell it though, you would think that these people are still legion. That is a lie.

As to whether or not there are more churches like Rev. Wright's -- absolutely, and they are NOT a tiny minority. A majority of black churches are not like his, but the number that are may be a hidden disgrace for the 21st-century African American community. Or should be. I have this feeling from observation that blacks in general are not bothered by their racist (and anti-semitic) brethren.

Posted by: Roderick Reilly` at March 30, 2009 2:08 PM

Excellent Gerard,

Dr. King said that he dreamed of the day when black men would not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
Being a Christian, I truly believe that the Christian world view is, and will be the only final cure for racism. It is hardly the color of the Obamessiah's skin in which I detest but the unrepentent content of his deadly and yes, racist character.

Posted by: Denny at September 22, 2009 6:30 AM

The Rev. Wright type churces and congregations wear Christian clothing only because it is familiar; the Black Muslim fashion is too alien, and has peculiar demands. The Reverend makes no demands of them, only of others. This is familiar territory.

Posted by: james wilson at September 22, 2009 7:16 AM

I love this post! Great job! Not that I am at all biased, of course, by my own generations ofWASP Episcopalian forebears and early church. Or by attending a Protestant evangelical church now that embraces people of every race, political view and former religious identity. Theologically rigorous (back to my family's original Puritan roots undiluted by Virginia planters?) but generous hearted people. So glad you wrote this. Hope you have a good church home now.

Posted by: retriever at September 22, 2009 9:17 AM

Very perceptive article. As a white female growing up in South Carolina, I have faced black against white racism all my life. In the last 10 years or so, I have had black people try to tell me what I think about God, even though they haven't asked me what I think. A small example is when a black co-worker and I were discussing our churches and out of the blue she said,"You know Jesus wasn't a blonde-haired, blue-eyed white person like all of your pictures show him." First of all, as I explained to her, I don't have "pictures" of Jesus, but even the oldest prints and paintings that I remember seeing obviously portrayed a dark-haired, dark-eyed, olive-skinned person. He was Jewish. I felt like this was an attack meant to claim that blacks have a monopoly on Jesus' heritage. Maybe he was black but it doesn't matter to me. Jesus isn't looking at our skin color, but at our hearts. I don't care what color His skin was. Not only are black churches more often openly racist, they are often the funnels for tax-payer funded programs that are supposed to help the under-privileged but are really designed to make them either forever dependent on government handouts, or put them in jobs where they are under-qualified and overpaid, or help them to qualify for housing they can't afford and will lose. The pastors and preachers provide a consistent message of entitlement, social justice and government reparations to keep the congregations angry and stirred up against their perceived enemy, the all-powerful old white man (which is personified by the GOP). One of the justifications that black hate-preachers like to use is that the Bible and Christianity were used to justify slavery. This is also an argument that many anti-Christian people adapt for their purposes (like feminism). They are throwing rocks and hiding their hands, while siphoning taxpayer money to use for political purposes and for their (the preachers') own pockets. Their congregations are too blind to see this and willingly swallow all manner of lies. They are deceived by the Enemy, they are captives of the Lie. When they accept God, he will open their eyes although it may not happen right away. Christianity is a journey and God reveals His secrets to each of us only when we are mature enough to receive them. My only hope that racism will end is that God loves ALL of us, even Muslims and Atheists.

Posted by: Laura at September 22, 2009 11:15 AM

A profound and excellent essay. As the truth always is. Thanks, Gerard. Again.

Posted by: W. at September 22, 2009 12:23 PM

Good article.

Why are all the links to Little Green Footballs? I wasn't aware that it's a liberal site, I perceive it to be an IslamWatch site.

Posted by: Hannah at September 22, 2009 1:38 PM

As far as I know, fundamentalist Christianity as America has it is almost unknown over on this side of the pond. Unfortunately, we have our share of racists over here too - but I much doubt that any of them are practising Christians.

However, large numbers of anti-white, anti-gay, and anti-Semitic sermons are regularly preached every day over here, and pointing that out gets you labelled by our "liberals" as a racist of the first water. Where? Clue: the peak day for such sermons is Friday.

Posted by: Fletcher Christian at September 22, 2009 1:38 PM

Gerald, Very thoughtful essay. I had my own spiritual odyssey from dope fiend leftist Viet Nam vet to born again Christian. Grace is a wonderful gift that keeps on giving. Keep looking, The prophet Jeremiah said ,"You will find me when you search for me with all your heart"

Posted by: bill at September 22, 2009 7:29 PM

Welcome to the spiritual cafeteria, Gerard. American religious life, how strange. But if you're going to be here, at least try the meat and potatoes. In regards to food metaphors, you might sum up this article with the first council's advice to gentiles: 'Abstain from blood, things which are strangled, and food sacrificed to idols.'

Posted by: RiverC at September 23, 2009 4:58 AM

I've been to many Black-churches, and found camaraderie and joy. They treated this White-dood with friendship and open-understanding...

The racism seen in SOME Black churches stem from one man, and one man alone named Cone. He started "Black Liberation Theology" back in 68 or 9, and Wright was one of his students. THIS is what Obama's "christian-belief" is. (small c)

Black Liberation Theology Doctrine:

theology refuses to accept a God who is not identified totally with the
goals of the black community. If God is not for us and against white
people, then he is a murderer, and we had better kill him. The task of
black theology is to kill Gods who do not belong to the black community
... Black theology will accept only the love of God which participates
in the destruction of the white enemy. What we need is the divine love
as expressed in Black Power, which is the power of black people to
destroy their oppressors here and now by any means at their disposal.
Unless God is participating in this holy activity, we must reject his

Posted by: Patvann at September 23, 2009 11:24 AM

re: LGF...

Something happened inside Charles about the time of the election or before. In any case, he has lost his way right now. I pray he finds it.
Deep down, I believe him to be a very good man, and he runs a technically peerless site. I had to stop going there, too. It's kind of hard to see. These are strange days, and forever is a long, long time.

Sorry to be OT, Gerard. I just had to unload my mind re LGF. Thanks for putting this back up, as it goes to a deep truth that is almost fatally hard to speak to even now. I regret to say that it will become easier over the next few months. Today's speech at the UN by Obama has me deeply troubled. This is not going in a good direction, but it is all too predictable by now.

Posted by: mezzrow at September 23, 2009 6:19 PM

RE: lgf... I was one of the few to survive his various purges... mostly because I say for the most part nothing. Silence is an excellent weapon against him. But it is, as mezzrow is saying, very sad. I admired his technical work back in the day, and wished his site to keep growing.

Seems like what grew was his ego.

Most of my pals got cleared on in the whole Gates of Vienna / Fjordman kerfuffle. That was when Charles (who does not live in Europe nor did he venture there to investigate) proclaimed unilaterally that Valaams Belaang (or however it is spelled, forgive me my friends) was a racist, white supremacist party.

Symbols such as the Odin's cross and past associations were used to 'seal' the deal; the fact that they are a party that deals with elements that may be racist, racial, or ethnocentric at least, does not make them a party of white supremacists or Nazis. But I suppose Charles still lives in the world of the one drop rule.

Posted by: RiverC at September 24, 2009 4:21 AM

I am a minister's daughter. I attended more than "my share" of church and church programs when my father pastored churches in KY, TN, and NC. All were open to people of all races and each congregation had members of different races.

I attended my denomination's church schools through my freshman year of college. Again, all were attended by children of all different races.

I knew about racism only as a subject touched upon in classes I took (such as history classes) and from what I heard on the news. But, it was not something I really experienced first hand.
I am White and cannot speak for any of the Asian, Black, or Hispanic people I have known through my church. But, as an overly-sensitive type, I do not recall witnessing anything of that nature.

This is what I know: there are so many myths about "fundies," about our intelligence, our academic achievements, and our private thoughts about people who are "different." The reality from inside is this: members of my denomination, compared to the general population, have a higher percentage of advanced degrees; our test scores in church school were higher than those of our public school counterparts (I personally scored a 1400 on the SAT); I see more marriages of couples of different races inside the church than outside the church (I think this is because our religion is a stronger identifying factor for us than our individual races).

I could ramble on and on forever but I guess my main points are this:
A. "They" (liberals? mainstream media?) have no clue about religious people or what drives them. B. It is possible for groups of people to find common ground that transcends their outward appearance (race) that binds them together in common purpose.
C. No one can force "B" on other people and make it stick. You can force them to behave in a certain way but it only works if they are converted.
D. To quote my father, "the ground is level at the cross." A truly Christian church is the truest democracy there is. There *can* be true love among its members because each member recognizes they are a sinner who deserving of hell but is saved through the sacrifice of a sinless Savior who took our punishment upon Himself. When Christianity is at its finest is when the members of a church body put aside judgment of each other and turn that onto themselves. It's the recognition of what Christ did for ME, knowing my own sins all too well, that we can overlook faults in others. We are human too and no church is perfect (meaning the members attending it) but at least we strive for something better than this evil world has to offer, strive to live holy lives pleasing to God. A church such as J. Wright's is of this world and not of God.

And, coming back to my point "A," I have concluded that this is why the media/liberals/whatever, will never have any true understanding of the mindset of Islamic fundamentalism. While I do not, obviously, agree with the religion of Islam itself, any religious person can probably at least understand the what it is to be a BELIEVER. That should not be passed over lightly - a true believer who is a Christian is instructed in the Bible that they may be persecuted to death. One must be willing to die for the sake of Jesus' name. No political talks in this world will change that mind. This is why I pray for conversion of individuals who adhere to the Islamic religion. That is the only lasting path to peace.

Posted by: Karen at September 24, 2009 11:27 AM

I'm sure that someone has already mentioned this, G, but TUC"C" is no Christian church. Never, do any of its adherents mention that Christ died for the sins of all, nor have I heard the word "resurrection" come out of the mouths of its clergy or its adherents. And I bet BHO would spontaneously combust if he said the words "Jesus Christ."

Also I have never heard racism come out of the pulpit of a *real* Christian church with an all black congregation and I've been to many of them. TUCC is a cult and just as crazy a cult as the ones composed of all white people.

Posted by: baldilocks at September 24, 2009 7:09 PM

My comments are immoderate because I can't stand anyone having a different opinion and because my personal and semi-psychotic views go against the basic principles of democracy and free speech. Very deep down at the core of my being if there is any intelligent cell left in my delusional brain I must realize the nonsense that I preach. The only way I can succeed is to target the weak and vulnerable and keep people stupid, fearful and isolated from the facts.

Posted by: Andrew at May 13, 2011 12:40 PM