As an evangelical Latina who since college had attended mostly white churches, I was always a bit of an outsider. But something changed this year. This last year has clearly shown me how deeply the white church has embraced white supremacy.
It started after I heard that 81% of my fellow Evangelical Christians voted for Trump.
I started looking side-eye at my neighbors, people who were good Christians. They gave generously; served sacrificially; talked enthusiastically about God’s love, and embraced white supremacy emphatically.
Notice that I did not say they yelled racist slurs in public or worked overtly toward keeping people of color out of certain neighborhoods or leadership positions. That’s why I missed it for so long.
Many of the white Christians in my life talk a lot about unity, inclusion, and a desire for a multi-ethnic church. But their actions and choices promote systemic racism and white supremacy. It is disorienting and confusing, reminiscent of James’ words in his epistle:
“Both fresh water and salt water don’t come from the same spring, do they? …can a fig tree produce olives? Can a grapevine produce figs?” – 3:11, 12.
So what does this disorienting and confusing support of white supremacy look like in many of our white churches?
It looks like a popular Evangelical magazine asking for funds to translate articles into Spanish for their Spanish edition instead of paying Spanish-speaking writers.
Translating Christian magazines into Spanish seems like a good thing – right? Unity and diversity – right? But if you dig a little deeper you see that by translating white writers into Spanish, you are actually enlarging white voices and helping to draw readers away from indigenous Latinx voices.
It is disorienting because it looks like having majority white speakers at a Christian conference because you claim you did not know where to find speakers of color. This is a topic that has been covered well here at The Salt Collective.
It is disorienting because it looks like claiming that no pastors of color applied for the open position, so you were forced to hire another white male. A variation on this one is claiming that every person of color who might have applied was not a good “culture fit” for the church or to point to a person of color who was hired and did not work out.
It is disorienting because it looks like only giving opportunities, like jobs and platforms, to the people in your immediate social circle, which just happens to be all white. As long as you do not live a multicultural life, you can default to this excuse without guilt.
It is disorienting because it looks like refusing to speak about racism and white supremacy from the pulpit and relegating it instead to a vague prayer for peace toward the end of the service and neglecting to mention the violence against black lives in the very city where the church holds services.
It is disorienting because it looks like church members talking a good game about God’s concern for the poor and marginalized but making sure their kids do not go to school or socialize with children from the neighborhood.
It is disorienting because…It even looks like me: A Latina allowing myself to be the token minority at mostly white churches.
I was a member of a white church in an urban context where many of the members were white Christians who moved there to serve the city. Yet often I heard their resentment of the Latinx people in the neighborhood in complaints about immigration and loud mariachi music (which was not even mariachi but raggaeton, but that is a story for another time). I listened to these complaints and said nothing. Sometimes I even agreed, as if it were the responsibility of the neighborhood to conform to white suburban culture and not celebrate their quinceañeras until the early hours of the morning.
That same community had hired a Puerto Rican pastor to serve the church, whose neighborhood consisted of mostly Mexican and Central American first and second generation immigrants, a plan that failed miserably because Latinxs are not a monolithic group.
The blame for this failure was often placed on the mental health of the Puerto Rican pastor rather than on the fact that despite his health, they lacked the cultural awareness to support him well. I seldom brought this up even though it was the first thing I thought of when I heard the story. The next pastor hired was a white male, whom I welcomed, too, because I wanted to enjoy the fruits of assimilation into white church culture, even at the expense of not advocating for my own community.
And when I saw that few people in the church sent their kids to the local neighborhood schools, in effect saying that the resources in the community were not good enough for their white children but just fine for the children of color, I failed to call this out as white supremacy. I would reason that I do not have children, so I do not know what it is like to make decisions about children’s education. But having been a teacher myself, I knew that no matter what kind of school children attend, their education will not suffer if their parents are educated and engaged with their children’s learning. This is a fact well supported by research.
Even in the midst of these glaring examples of white supremacy, the church did good things and many of the people there were and are my friends. That is what makes white supremacy difficult to recognize and call out when you are in its midst–I was focused so much on the intent of the community and not on its impact.
And to be honest, for the many years I spent in white churches, I had a lot of hope that my being there, along with a handful of other people of color, represented a desire for diversity and inclusion. And perhaps, it did.
But now as I reflect on that time, I also see how my presence probably contributed to white supremacy. Because I was willing to assimilate into their environment, I may have inadvertently created the expectation that diversity was about the assimilation of people of color into white worship spaces, rather than creating a true multi-ethnic space for everyone. That feat would require giving up what was comfortable and “normal” for the white worshipers, something most white churches are not willing to do. Instead, they create what I have heard called a “church plantation,” a space where they do not have to learn at the feet of diverse leaders but can feel good that there are people of color in their midst.
Now that I have seen this, I cannot un-see it. It makes me angry. It makes me feel hopeless and despairing. And it is the reason why I can’t be a member of a majority white church anymore. But the good news is that immigrant churches and black churches abound in my Baltimore neighborhood, so I have not left the Church or even evangelicalism, just the white church.