Scandalous Grace in an Era of White Supremacists
During Super Bowl XLVII, the Coca-Cola Company set the internet on fire.
The one-minute ad titled “It’s Beautiful” aired during the pregame commercial break, and by the end of the night, public response to the ad quickly outpaced interest in the game itself (a 43–8 blowout win for the Seattle Seahawks against the Denver Broncos).
The advertisement featured the patriotic ode “America, the Beautiful” sang in seven different languages while the camera panned over a diverse subsection of American citizens — men in cowboy hats, Latino children, Muslim women in hijab, a gay couple, and an Asian family.
The ad immediately launched two warring hashtags on Twitter — #SpeakAmericanand #AmericaIsBeautiful.
Coca-Cola re-ran the ad during the 2017 Super Bowl to similar celebration and outrage.
On August 12, 2017, white nationalists, neo-Nazis, and Klu Klux Klan members rallied to protest the removal of Confederate monuments in Charlottesville, Virginia. Anticipating violence, the governor of Virginia declared a State of Emergency in Charlottesville.
Clashes between the protesters and counter-protesters came to a head when a 20-year old white nationalist plowed his car into a group of counter-protesters — killing one and injuring nine.
While everyone agrees all is not well in the United States of America, we have to acknowledge the fact that a return to the status quo or “good ol’ days” is not what is going to “save her.”
In an interview with the New York Times, Eric Kaufman, a professor of politics at Birkbeck University in London, describes white nationalism as
the belief that national identity should be built around white ethnicity, and that white people should therefore maintain both a demographic majority and dominance of the nation’s culture and public life.”
It should come as no surprise that parallels are frequently drawn between the white nationalist movement and the Nazi party.
Until recently, most white Americans could perceive the U.S. as an extension of their own ethnic identity. However, as a result of changing demographics, civil rights movements, the rise of feminism and multiculturalism, the perception that the nation revolves around their cultural identity has been irrevocably challenged.
In her 2011 research paper “White Fragility,” Robin DiAngelo, PhD, wrote,
White people in North America live in a social environment that protects and insulates them from race-based stress. White fragility is a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves.”
People accustomed to privilege will always perceive any shift in the social status quo — even if doesn’t directly affect them — as a threat to their cultural superiority.
White nationalists cast themselves as a persecuted people with rapidly shrinking rights and cultural superiority; equality and diversity will always be frightening words to members of a dominant culture.
Every Heart, A Story
The opposite of love isn’t hate.
Hate is one of the many byproducts of fear.
You cannot hate what you do not also fear.
Fear outwardly manifests itself in dozens of damaging behaviors: racism, bigotry, apathy, silence, intolerance, laziness, violence, self-loathing, depression, and
One of Jesus’s first followers said, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.”
The most repeated refrain in the Bible is “fear not” for a reason.
As Christians, we are called to a hope greater than fear.
Love does not coerce or force.
It does not use shame or fear to motivate.
And this is where a lot of Christians really miss the mark.
Ever since the rise of the “Moral Majority” and “Religious Right” in the 1970s, mainstream Christianity has been operating from a “defensive offensive” strategy.
Rather than positioning themselves as a movement of grace, love, and justice, the dominating cultural narrative spread by hardline conservative pundits and cultural watchdog groups is a narrative of persecution, moral decay, and isolation.
One of the most effective ways for a formerly powerful group to preserve its social values and culture is to recast itself as a persecuted and entrenched minority.
Persecution is an incredibly effective unifier of people. And unfortunately, this “persecution complex” disturbingly overlaps with the tactics employed by the white nationalist movement to rally their base.
As the body of Christ, the church should be at the forefront of any movement revolving around reconciliation, justice, redemption, and love.
But we can’t do this if we are constantly caught up in our own “war against culture.” It’s hard to love and invite people into a movement if we are constantly at odds with the very people we are commanded to love.
Maybe the reason the church has lost cultural significance in recent decades is not a result of an overarching media conspiracy, but because many of us in the church have lost the ability and capacity to truly love our neighbor.
The Church has an opportunity to lead the way.
But we’re going to have to put down our swords.
In 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said,
We must face the fact that in America, the church is still the most segregated major institution in America. At 11:00 on Sunday morning when we stand and sing, and “Christ has no East or West,” we stand at the most segregated hour in this nation…The first way that the church can repent, the first way that it can move out into the arena of social reform, is to remove the yoke of segregation from its own body.”
Our hearts are finite vessels.
There is a limit to what our hearts can contain.
And we all have a choice to what to fill our hearts with.
And the question we have to ask ourselves is how much love and forgiveness are we pushing out of our hearts in favor of bitterness, paranoia, and fear?
Scandalous Grace, Scandalous Love
In the wake of sudden surge in protests and rallies on both sides of the issue, “racial reconciliation” has become a popular buzzword among the Christian evangelical church.
On the topic of reconciliation, Robert P. Jones says in his book The End of White Christian America,
But even more difficult is repentance, which requires those who have benefited from injustice to enter into relationship with those who have been and continue to be wronged, and to hold their gaze long enough to contemplate the real requirements of repair. More importantly, repentance requires the beneficiaries of injustice to resist the urge to ask for forgiveness before meaningful action has been taken.”
In the wake of the Charlottesville attack, I’ve been disappointed in a few of my progressive friends that I normally admire or look up to.
I’ve seen many people posting GIFs of protestors punching white supremacists in the face or clips from World War 2 movies showing U.S. soldiers gunning down Nazi troops.
But this is the wrong response.
Because retaliatory violence only emboldens and strengthens radical ideologies.
Nothing reinforces a persecution complex more than physical violence.
It’s possible to be anti-violence while simultaneously being pro-justice.
Just look at Jesus.
The first-century world Jesus inhabited was rife with injustice, oppression, and violence — perpetuated both by the occupying Roman military and the religious leaders desperate to maintain control of an increasingly dissatisfied and volatile populace.
No matter what you think of Jesus’s divinity, his three-year stint in public ministry was a masterclass in showcasing radical social empathy.
Whether it be tax collectors, women with “unclean” diseases, children, lepers, Samaritans, and yes, even uptight religious folks, Jesus showed his followers that no category or definition of love would ever be big enough to fully encapsulate God’s love for the world.
In his book Way of Love, Norman Wirzba says,
Christianity is best understood as a training ground in the ways of love. That is what Jesus began and what he wants his church to continue to do. And since love is a subject that is not fully known by memorizing formulas or studying textbooks, we should not be surprised that the Bible often resorts to stories as the best vehicles for training disciples in the ways of love, stories that invite us in and change us, so that we can live out this way of love for ourselves.”
But love also confronts injustice.
The alt-right, white supremacists, and modern iteration of the Nazi Party are now mainstream. They view the current political climate as an opportunity to firmly establish and legitimize their movement within the public sphere.
What once inhabited the dark corners of the internet and backwoods basements now marches in the streets of American cities, carrying torches and mimicking Nazi salutes.
In the coming days, weeks, months, and (let’s be honest) years, this public displays of bigotry, racism, and violence will only increase in frequency.
And we all have a choice.
Some people will publicly stand up for the injustice they experience and observe in their own community.
Others will stand in the gap for those whose voices have been repressed or muted.
But most will stay quiet.
And they’ll stay quiet for a variety of reasons. They won’t want to rock the boat, or say something that’s going to offend a family member, or they’re simply apathetic toward the whole issue because it doesn’t really affect them.
In the previously mentioned essay, DiAngelo includes “silence” and “leaving the stress-inducing situation” as examples of behaviors exercised by those who suffer from white fragility.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German pastor who played a pivotal role in the Nazi resistance movement during Hitler’s reign of terror. Dismayed at the apathy displayed by his fellow Christians, he said,
Silence in the face of evil is evil itself: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”
Bonhoeffer was executed by the Nazis at a concentration camp in 1945.
Your call to action probably won’t result in your death.
But you need to be aware.
Many, many people have suffered and died for the very issues that are being fought about in the streets of America.
It time for Christians to turn away from inward-facing isolationist tactics and toward a Christ-centered love and respect for all people.
Because at the end of the day, everyone is afraid.
And sometimes that fear is completely unfounded and irrational.
And other times it is very real and all-consuming.
And we have to be able to tell the difference.
Because we follow a God that “hears the cries of the oppressed” and so we must be prepared to be the vessels through which flow his overwhelming love and justice.
And whose side will we choose to be on?
Because the world is watching, but it won’t wait forever.