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The Mind-Forged Manacles of America’s Racist Churches

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 Southern 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 me his well-worn one last September.

Like other great gardeners since the dawn of creation 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 over 20 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. And Paradise, California, is a highly churched town which includes the Episcopalian Church I attended as a boy over sixty years ago. It now sports a large rainbow flag and strenuous signs that say “OPEN AND WELCOMING TO ALL.”  What can one say except, “They have some nice ideals.” Christian fundamentalist churches don’t have to advertise that. It is their default position from their founding.

From my direct observation, the  Christian Fundamentalist churches I’ve attended have all — every single one — had congregations composed of all the races. From my auditing of hundreds of 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 moment, 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 Massachusetts Bay Colony puritan 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. I am aware of the millions of my fellow white  and   African-American citizens seems to have convinced themselves that America is just one large plantation from sea to shining sea, but once out of the Democrat Plantation Farms of our worst run cities, that fades away quickly.

This is not to say that fanatic race hatred does not exist inside certain fundamentalist churches. It does. But those would be churches that would be very, very unwelcoming to a man of my heritage. These would be the churches that first launched  our late and unlamented president Barack Obama onto his decades-long voyage through his political sewer. 

That, at least, was my remembered impression from when Obama and his “pastor” were a team and then, not quite so much a team when it came to Obama’s political needs. But I may have misrememberd so I went back to check and, there it was, from more than a decade past: 

“When it came to treating her citizens of African descent fairly, America failed. She put them in chains, the government put them on slave quarters, put them on auction blocks, put them in cotton field, put them in inferior schools, put them in substandard housing, put them in scientific experiments, put them in the lowest paying jobs, put them outside the equal protection of the law, kept them out of their racist bastions of higher education and locked them into positions of hopelessness and helplessness. The government gives them the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law and then wants us to sing “God Bless America”. No, no, no, not God Bless America. God damn America — that’s in the Bible — for killing innocent people. God damn America, for treating our citizens as less than human. God damn America, as long as she tries to act like she is God, and she is supreme.” Jeremiah Wright controversy – Wikipedia

 Indeed, scanning the tapes of the Reverend Wright Church that Barack Obama  attended during his rise 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 an inner-city  church formed almost exclusively of African-Americans. That seems to me, according to the evidence of my senses and then endless proclamations of progressives, to be where racist sentiments are currently being preached with fire and conviction. And where they receive a hearty AMEN.

Reverend Wright has since retired to his cushy 10,000 square foot home in a very white suburb to enjoy the fruits of his hate mongering. His church goes on. And on. And on. 


I am sensible, as I write the above, that such beliefs and behaviors are not true of the majority of African-American Fundamentalist Churches.  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 demographic nature of such racist 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 along with many blacks’ conviction of the deep and unexpungable racism of the United States,   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 devoted to making God and His America great again has swept across the land, a profound sleep has fallen over this realm of black fundamentalism. It is as if for some black churches it will always be 1859. 

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 Christian message of salvation, brotherhood, and forgiveness; but instead of damnation, division, and hate.

Playing those vicious sermons from this remove was like watching people letting themselves be hypnotized for the greater glory, not of Christ, but of men like Wright and Obama. 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.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Terry April 26, 2018, 6:50 PM

    “Born and baptized an Episcopalian, I am a member of no church.” Ditto with me. I believe in God. I have a King James version Bible. I do not have any connection to ‘organized’ religion as practiced in brick and mortar or board and bat, Preacher run houses of worship. They are totally contrary to the original intent of the Judea-Christian writings.

    Read Voltaire for clarification if you will.

  • OldFert April 26, 2018, 6:50 PM

    Reminds me of “the Reverends” as a political block as portrayed in “The Wire.”

  • Janet April 26, 2018, 7:45 PM

    I guess Catholic is not even worth mentioning. No need to go there.

  • Rob April 27, 2018, 5:26 AM

    Every Christian should join a church because Scripture requires it. Granted, there is no direct command in Scripture that says, “Every Christian must join a local church,” but two factors in Scripture indicate that every Christian should be a member of a local church: https://www.9marks.org/answer/why-should-every-christian-join-church/

    But if you find yourself in a church where the leadership is characteristically abusive, you should flee. Flee to protect your discipleship, to protect your family, to set a good example for the members left behind, and to serve non-Christian neighbors by not lending credibility to the church’s ministry.

  • Casey Klahn April 27, 2018, 6:51 AM

    Fundamentalist church; I haven’t heard that phrase in years. It goes deep into American history and our psyche. I once took a post-grad course on it, taught by George Marsden, who wrote a book on the subject. It is typically a low-order church (this is not a qualitative description, but one of polity), and is, or was, described as evangelical and believing or holding onto 5 tenets or doctrines. They were a bit different from one another wherever you looked, but essentially Bible-beliefs. Whacky? What are you saying? That the Bible is whacky? That the doctrines aren’t there? They’re there.

    Now, lets look at what a Fundy is and does. He or she is an evangelical with an attitude. Mostly anger. Well, specifically anger. Professor Marsden defined it down as “someone who is angry about something.” It is based on a virulent anti-intellectualism in America. We like our people as base as possible, and if you are smart, then for gosh-sakes don’t wear that shit on your sleeve.

    Jump to anger. Be offended. Often. This will get you in the door at a Fundy church. Not very Paulian, but very American.

    Now, apply this to the black church. Now apply it to leftists.

    God save me from fundamental anger, and the disdain of knowledge. It’s one reason I read here.

  • Gordon April 27, 2018, 7:17 AM

    I know quite a number of Wiccans. Very many I have met have some sort of vague “I was so abused in Xtian church” justifications. As near as I can tell, most of them just didn’t like living by Christian rules. That’s fine. It’s not my problem. But I do get rather annoyed at how many will condemn Christians and their churches at every opportunity. I will listen to very little of this. If they persist, I look at them and ask, “Where were you born?” Because every hospital in the Twin Cities (except two built in the 1990s} had either a Christian sect name or a saint’s name in its original name. All were started by Christians. This includes all of the county hospitals.

    I ask them, “Do you go for treatement at St. Odin’s? Or Wiccanist Hospital? No? Why not?”

  • SHUFFLEBOARD April 27, 2018, 8:02 AM

    Shopping for years. I was saddened when my methodist church turned methodically left, and I left. Went to some fundamentalist churches and felt revived, but vaguely embarrassed at some of the rolling in the aisles and speaking in tongues acts put on by the less-than-stable members of the congregation.
    My wife fell in with an evangelist church. It’s great, the people are great, the message is great, the studies are great. I interviewed the pastor when we had them for dinner – he promised no one handles snakes or rolls in the aisles; but the congregation is pretty old so maybe that’s why…

  • Ray April 27, 2018, 8:03 AM

    Southern Baptist Republicans? Don’t you mean Southern Baptist Democrats? The Southern Baptists broke from the Baptist church because they supported slavery. The Republicans were against slavery. Lincoln was a Republican.

  • pbird April 27, 2018, 8:52 AM

    Goodness, I haven’t thought about crazy old Chuck for years! He’s still at it?

  • Jim in Alaska April 27, 2018, 9:04 AM

    Was going to write a long rambling comment but instead

    Good read!

  • Anon April 27, 2018, 10:24 AM

    “Born and baptized an Episcopalian, I am a member of no church.”

    I always enjoyed church. I enjoyed the singing and endured the preaching. Lots of people, perhaps 2000 or so in our Episcopal church when I was young. I never believed in god but I believed in religion and being a good person. I did not think our priests and others believed in god either. Religion is after first and foremost a political system where you control the members for fun and profit. Actual believing is not required but practiced appearance of believing is. I knew our church leaders and they were intelligent so in my mind of course they didn’t believe and they knew as I did that the bible and the religion was simply a political system of control over the people. Less so in mordern times than it was a couple hundred years ago but they think long term and were simply in waiting until the political winds gave them more power once again. I don’t think most of the congregation believed either but like anyone attending church they kept up appearances. A few of the very old believed I suspected and some of the less astute believed. I soon discovered that I was not good at keeping up appearances in the face of almost fairy tale level sermons about hell and heaven. If they could stick to the 10 commandments and moral good it was OK but the really bizarre stuff kind of scares you to think anyone actually believes that. Did I want to go to church every Sunday and be in the same room with 2000 other people who actually believed there was a devil down in the bowels of the earth or a god up somewhere between us and the moon??? So I miss the singing and co-mingling with good people but I can do without the myth and sanctimony.

  • Grizzly April 27, 2018, 6:23 PM

    I was raised Lutheran, my wife was raised Presbyterian, but we consider ourselves Christians first, and the denomination of the church we attend (if it has one) is incidental. I have been to the occasional fundy church meeting, but most of the churches we have belonged to have been, I would say, non-fundy evangelical. As it happens, these days we hang out with the Baptists; our church in Maryland belongs to the Southern Baptist Convention, but you wouldn’t know it from the name or by walking through their doors. No pulpit, no altar, no organ. Music is all Christian rock, complete with stage fog. And you have to dig around and ask in order to find out that it is associated with any denomination at all. And not a trace of racist attitudes that I can detect. The congregation is maybe 20% or so black, same for the staff. The senior pastor’s personal political views probably lean to left of center, but it is quite rare that he tips his hand in that regard. He never preaches about politics. And I would guess that over half the congregants are Republicans, and the larger proportion of the remainder are probably conservative Democrats (yes, there is such a thing), but I have never taken a poll on the matter. (We have a very large proportion of military families.) The best thing is that they really, really care about the gospel, reaching people for Christ, and being His ambassadors, His hands in our community. It is quite a blessing when you can find a church like that.

  • andre April 27, 2018, 8:04 PM

    I am a pastor of a Pentecostal church. We have black, white, Latino people, people from Africa, people from Central America, Mexico Iran. Everyone gets along because it is the Spirit of God that brings the unity. Our message is straight Bible, but our Bible also tells us to speak the truth in love, and Jesus was full of grace and truth. the love of God gives us the grace to receive the truth of God. The message brings life and hope to people and sets them free. Remember Jesus said you will know the truth and the truth will set you free, not doing what you want, not following your whims and desires, but TRUTH. God has great power and a wonderful plan and He proved His love on the cross and proved His power in the resurrection. It is still the central message whereby we are saved.

  • Julio April 27, 2018, 9:31 PM

    Of course not @ Janet. All those weird and strident traditions and beliefs and the nerve of paying homage to the mother of Jesus. Don’t forget that! Where do they come up with this stuff…if I may:
    “Those who are seeking the true religion will never find it outside the Catholic Church alone, because, in every other religion, if they trace it up to the author, they will find some impostor whose imagination furnished a mass of sophisms and errors.”
    St. Alphonsus Liguori

  • Donald Sensing April 28, 2018, 6:34 AM

    OK, this came into my inbox:
    Priscilla Holloway
    To DSENSING@… Apr 27 at 5:13 PM
    Hello, sir. You are needed to comment at http://americandigest.org/wp/the-mind-forged-manacles-of-americas-racist-churches/. Everyone is tired of hearing from me, you can say it better than I can and it would be hypocritical for me to comment, since I rarely go to church. You are a man of the cloth. Please offer a rebuttal. Thank you.
    Sorry, Priscilla, I am not your Steppin Fetchit whom you can draft into your service. If you have a problem, take your own action. It may well be that "Everyone is tired of hearing from me," and I frankly can understand why. Besides, what is it that you want me to rebut? That Jeremiah Wright is a hate-filled racist down to the marrow of his bones, and that he rides Jesus like a mule to promote his personal agenda of hate-whitey and hate America? Ha, that is empirically provable.

    Nope, try to draft someone who knows nothing but what the Left tells him, and who listens to no other voices. Like Gerard, I gave that up years ago.

  • Kevin Dickson April 28, 2018, 6:57 AM

    I just tell people I’m a Roman Catholic Devangelical Zenist Existentialist Lutheran. I love Church people….the good ones…..and I even go sometimes. But mostly I just try to do those things that I know God wants me to do for others……as often as I can. Jesus said a man had to do two things. Love God and serve others. I see no point in making it anymore complicated than that.

  • Priscilla Holloway April 28, 2018, 7:32 AM

    Lighten up, Francis. I don’t think you’re my Steppenfetchit. Here was an opportunity to encourage church attendance and to do a bit of evangelism, best left to professionals, imho. I enjoy your blog and thought you might be the man for the job. You could just ignore the email, write me off as a crank or reply privately. Sorry I offended you.

  • Moneyrunner April 28, 2018, 2:34 PM

    Anon makes me curious. Why would anyone join a group of fakers? Why would anyone set foot, and make a contribution to an organization knowing that “the bible and the religion was simply a political system of control over the people?” And what does it mean to “believe in religion?” Why would anyone “believe” in religion; what’s the purpose?
    I’m fairly sure that many people join a church because of a spouse. Others join a church like joining the Rotary or Kiwanis, to make business or social contacts. Some do so for political purposes. I’m confident that Obama was part of Wright’s congregation for that reason, it being a very large and influential part of the Black community in Chicago.
    A church is not the local chapter of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare wearing a clerical collar. There’s a deep, fundamental difference. On the other hand, Anon is talking about Episcopalians. That could explain everything.

  • Anon April 28, 2018, 8:27 PM

    For many people church is a social activity. So for a lot of people that is reason enough to attend a church. I would assume from your tone that you have a reason that you attend church but inexplicably you seem unhappy that anyone might have a different reason from yours. Shame on you.

  • ghostsniper April 29, 2018, 4:18 AM

    “Others join a church like joining the Rotary or Kiwanis, to make business or social contacts.”

    I was actually told this one time, long ago, by a business associate, at a Rotary meeting.
    I didn’t do it, abandoned the associate, left the Rotary.
    The world began the day I was born, and it will end the day I am gone.