White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity by Robert P Jones

White Too Long Cover imageSummary: A pollster and social science researcher looks at the relationship between Christianity and white supremacy in the US. (White supremacy in the sense of a belief in racial hierarchy and superiority). 

The title of the book comes from a quote from James Baldwin. Baldwin is particularly relevant to our current age, which has been noted by many.

“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

I think there are really three main parts to the book. The first four chapters identify what Robert P. Jones means by white supremacy and tell the story of white supremacy in the US in a historical and cultural context.

All of that leads to the main point of the book, the research into the relationship between white Christians and racism. Jones is a pollster and researcher and is the owner and manager of PRRI, a polling company that specializes in polling around religion and politics, and racial/cultural issues. I have read and recommend his previous End of White Christian America. This book is really centered around the research. Jones has developed a Racism Index that asks indirectly about beliefs about race through 15 questions, mostly about policy issues. And then uses statistics to determine if Christianity (particularly white Christians) are more likely to score higher on the racism index.

I am going to give a longer quote than I normally do in my posts because the conclusion to this chapter is the main point of the book in my mind.

“A Summary of the Statistical Findings

We’ve covered a lot of statistical ground in this chapter. Below is a summary of the main findings:

  • White Christians think of themselves as people who hold warm feelings toward African Americans while simultaneously embracing a host of racist and racially resentful attitudes inconsistent with those warm feelings. The Racism Index provides a more accurate reading of white Christians’ views toward African Americans.
  • Harboring more racist views is a positive independent predictor of white Christian identity overall and for each of the three white Christian subgroups individually: white evangelical Protestant, white mainline Protestant, and white Catholic. By contrast, holding more racist views has only a very weak effect on white religiously unaffiliated identity, and that effect is in the negative direction.
  • Attending church more frequently does not make white Christians less racist. On the contrary, there is a positive relationship between holding racist attitudes and white Christian identity among both frequent (weekly or more) and infrequent (seldom or never) church attenders. And for white evangelical Protestants, holding racist views has nearly four times the power to predict the likelihood of identification among frequent church attenders than among infrequent church attenders.
  • The relationship between racist attitudes and white Christian identity is even stronger for each white Christian subgroup within the region in which they are culturally dominant: white evangelical Protestants primarily in the South and white Catholics in the Northeast; for the more geographically diffuse white mainline Protestants, the strongest relationship is in the Northeast, but the relationship is also significant in the South and Midwest.
  • When we reverse the analysis to predict racist attitudes, being affiliated with each white Christian identity is independently associated with an approximately 10 percent increase in racist attitudes. By contrast, there is no significant relationship between white religiously unaffiliated identity and holding racist attitudes.
  • Looking at the analysis in this reverse direction, church attendance has no significant impact on the relationship between white Christian identities and holding racist views. Frequently attending white evangelical Protestants, white mainline Protestants, and white Catholics are as likely as their counterparts who attend less frequently to hold racist attitudes.

This analysis leaves us with some remarkable conclusions. If you want to predict whether an average person is likely to identify as a white Christian, and you could know only one attribute about that person, you would be better off knowing how racist he or she is than how often he or she attends church. Or, to put it even more bluntly, if you were recruiting for a white supremacist cause on a Sunday morning, you’d likely have more success hanging out in the parking lot of an average white Christian church—evangelical Protestant, mainline Protestant, or Catholic—than approaching whites sitting out services at the local coffee shop.” (p183-184)

The last section of the book is two chapters that deal with the ‘so what now’ questions. Jones tells the story of two churches, one Black and one White, in Macon, GA, that have built a long-term relationship since 2015. This story, along with a memorial in Duluth, MN, and his own personal family history, are examples of how White people can grapple with the legacy of racism in their families and the reality of ongoing racism in the US. There are several good quotes in this section. But one I will share is from the grandson of a man who helped to lynch three Black men in Duluth, MN when he spoke at the dedication of a memorial to that lynching.

“I stand here today as a representative of [my great-grandfather’s] legacy, and I willingly place that responsibility on my shoulders.” Read continued, “As a family, we have used the discovery of this as a tool for continued discovery of ourselves. This means our past, present, and future selves, and a lesson that true shame is not in the discovery of a terrible event such as this, but in the refusal to acknowledge and learn from that event.”

White Too Long is well-written and worth reading. But if you have read widely on issues of race in the US, other than the chapter on his racism index and Christianity, there is not much that is fundamentally new. But that chapter did make it worth reading for me. Jones’ research matches similar research that Barna has been doing that will update Emerson and Smith’s Divided by Faith. That confirmation of two different research groups that have used different methodologies but have similar results I think should make White Too Long and Barna’s Beyond Diversity required reading for predominately White Christian churches.

I want to close with one last quote:

What few whites perceive, and this is a truth that has come late to me, is that we have far more at stake than our black fellow citizens in setting things right. As Baldwin provocatively put it, the civil rights movement began when an oppressed and despised people began to wake up collectively to what had happened to them.19 The question today is whether we white Christians will also awaken to see what has happened to us, and to grasp once and for all how white supremacy has robbed us of our own heritage and of our ability to be in right relationships with our fellow citizens, with ourselves, and even with God. Reckoning with white supremacy, for us, is now an unavoidable moral choice.

White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity by Robert P Jones Purchase Links: Paperback, Kindle Edition, Audible.com Audiobook

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