ARCC News – Racism in the White Evangelical Church

This month, we are excited to share “ARCC News” and an original article as a companion to Season 2, Episode 6 interview with Lori Kelly.

August 2022

Racism in the White Evangelical Church

For those following the major civil rights debates across deepening ideological rifts in America, it’s difficult to ignore the evangelical church as a major political faction. white evangelical Christians in particular have largely entrenched themselves as ultra right-wing voters. In the 2016 election, this group made up 46% of Donald Trump’s supporters and has become known for its enmity toward equality for women, people of color, LGBTQ+ communities, immigrants, and other marginalized groups.

What may be more difficult to grasp is this group’s precise religious identity and how evangelical right-wing politics came to have so much national influence. The evangelical church is in fact a decentralized mix of mainstream and non-denominational Christian churches that share 4 main elements of evangelism. white evangelical churches have a well-documented history of racist beliefs and practices, as (to a lesser-known and less homogenous extent) do mainline white Protestant churches and the Catholic Church.

Here’s how white evangelical Americans became radically conservative voters and how their political mobilization drives racism and general white separatism in American politics today.

Early Origins

American Evangelism emerged in the mid-18th century and has been most dominant in the southern US (currently, in the lower Midwest as well). Southern Evangelists originally promoted resistance to both elite Anglican plantation owner culture and the institution of slavery, but reversed this position to gain more regional influence and converts in a growing slavery-supported economy. This and other events established a direct historic and continuing correlation between evangelicals and racism.

White evangelicals began to restrict the freedoms of women and Black individuals in church and in society, and some preachers even used passages from the Bible to justify white supremacy and the practice of slavery. After the South lost the American Civil War, the exclusively white Protestant Ku Klux Klan (KKK) exploited both Southern resentment and white Protestant ideals of moral and racial purity nationwide in order to gain support for its fascist vision of America—and for violence as the means to achieve this end.

White Evangelism in the 20th Century

In the early 20th century, the KKK gained unprecedented white evangelical and Protestant support for its anti-Black, anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic, and anti-Semitic agenda. In the late 1950s and ‘60s, white evangelicals retaliated against racial desegregation by opening private Protestant “segregation academies,” arguing that the legal rights being granted to Black Americans threatened their own.

When preacher Jerry Falwell Sr. launched the Moral Majority movement in 1979, evangelicals as well as white Catholics, mainline Protestants, and other fundamentalists became increasingly active as conservative Republicans, and this collective Christian Right solidified in the 1980s. In addition to opposing equal rights for Black Americans, right-wing white Christians also mobilized to restrict women’s civil and reproductive rights as well as the rights of non-heterosexual Americans and other marginalized groups.

In addition to its Republican politics, American Evangelism also became known for its anti-intellectualism, which some historians attribute in part to the fervor of the Pentecostal revivals of the 20th century. Prioritizing charismatic demagogues and personal religious experiences over education and rationality has led many white evangelicals to distrust secular institutions and become more vulnerable to disinformation and conspiracy theories. This has had grave implications for both American democracy and civil rights equality in the 21st century.

Things To Know About Racism in the White Evangelical Church Today

Here are some facts about evangelical views regarding racism and politics today, and why they present so many roadblocks to a more equitable, anti-racist America:

●      Continuing Republican affiliation along racial lines. Research shows that as a group, white evangelical Protestants are still among the most conservative Republican voters in America. In contrast, 82% of Black Protestant churchgoers as a whole have Democratic leanings, and 72% of that group identifies as evangelical or born-again.

●      Strong voting influence and low educational attainment. As of 2016, about 26% of all American voters identified as white evangelical Christians. evangelicals are also among the least educated of religious groups: as of 2020, 70% did not have a college degree. Like past US presidents Nixon and Trump, other right-wing politicians can likely continue to win the support of this large bloc of voters using religious or secular revivalist showmanship, white nationalist rhetoric, and gross disinformation.

●      Denial of the causes and effects of systemic racism. white Christians are about 20% more likely than non-religiously affiliated whites to deny the role of systemic racism in civil and socioeconomic injustices against people of color. They are 30% more likely to believe that monuments to Confederate soldiers represent legitimate Southern pride rather than a glorification of slavery and racism.

●      Desire to abolish Critical Race Theory. white conservative Christians and evangelicals in particular feel that Critical Race Theory (CRT) is in conflict with basic Christian beliefs and that it poses an active threat to their identity and rights as Protestants and Americans.

In effect, it will be difficult to eradicate systemic racism and other civil rights inequalities in the US as long as a large and cohesive group of voters with fundamental Christian and white nationalist tendencies deny that such inequalities exist or are wrong. However, you can help to make America a more equitable place by educating others about the guises of racism, voting for anti-racist politicians and measures, and supporting nonprofits with anti-racist missions.

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