Workshop: White Supremacy Distorted the Biblical Narrative

Dr. Karen McKinney, Biblical Studies professor at Bethel University taught the workshop “White Supremacy Distorted the Biblical Narrative” at the Do Justice Conference.
How the Anglo-Saxon Myth was Born

The original belief was that the Normans (from France) who conquered Europe corrupted the English church and Anglo-Saxon society in the Conquest of 1066.  

Blood became very important in this new nation.”
The Reformation (1517-1648) was in part about cleansing the English church and society of the Norman contamination.

“We hear about the Reformation, it’s not just about changing the church, there was a group that wanted to get rid of the Normans.The early English reformers were intent on restoring the English church and society to their free Anglo-Saxon past,” said Dr. McKinney.

The Pilgrims, Puritans, Whigs, and Levelers (all portions of the English reformers) became the early settlers in the “New World” (1620 – 1650’s).

“They were coming with this ideology of pure Anglo Saxons. They were coming with the goal to build an Anglo-Saxon, Christian nation, not like the one they got pushed out of.,” said Dr. McKinney.

The early settlers in the “New World” believed themselves to be “the Israelites in God’s master plan.” America was to be a “city upon a hill.” In America, the myth shifted from the belief in the superiority of Anglo-Saxon to the belief in the superiority of Anglo-Saxon blood.

“Blood became very important in this new nation,” said McKinney.

Four Biblical Distortions
  1. The idea of the “New Israelites” is conflated with Anglo-Saxons. So Aboriginal peoples are conflated as Canaanites, which is interpreted as Evil.
  2. Prior to 1667, slaves who converted to Christianity and were baptized were set free because you cannot hold your Christian brother in bondage. After 1667, slaves who converted to Christianity and were baptized were no longer granted freedom from slavery. In 1705 the VA Slave Act said that all black, indentured servants are now slaves for life. “This allows white Christians to beat, torture, rape and kill slaves with impunity,” said McKinney.
  3. The “curse of Ham” from the story of Noah has been interpreted to mean anyone who is black will serve their white brothers. “Now, I don’t know how Ham’s brothers got to be white. But this ideology has been used to justify black enslavement in America and apartheid in South Africa,” said McKinney.
    Whiteness is constructed in opposition to blackness. It’s something that people made up. The notion of race is social. God made one race, the human race.”
  4. Romans 13 which talks about being subject to the government because God put the government in place, and that the government works for the good of people. “Well, that is subjective, the government does not always works for the good of SOME people. Romans 13 is often applied to justify unjust laws. It is used in a racial way and to distort scripture,” said McKinney.
America’s Grand Narrative

America has a grand narrative. The founding fathers believed in the supremacy of the Anglo-Saxon peoples and the superiority of their institutions. American Exceptionalism is a part of our grand narrative.

Americans are the New Israelites. The inhabitants of the land are “Canaanites” to be driven off the land, to be driven farther and farther west. Viewing natives as unequal, and pushed off their land and their homes.

Manifest Destiny is used to teach the destiny and greatness of America as God’s vision for the world.

“If people got hurt in that (i.e. the Native Americans loss of land, Japanese internment camps) that was part of manifest destiny,” said McKinney.

Construction of Whiteness & White Supremacy Ideology

“Whiteness is constructed in opposition to blackness. It’s something that people made up. The notion of race is social. God made one race, the human race,” said McKinney.

If white supremacy is an ideology that has permeated our church, then we have to adopt an alternative ideology.”

“Whiteness is the marker of a superior people, an exceptional people,” said McKinney. “As a chosen people of God, whites are closest to God, non-whites are far from God. This gives Whites the right to exclude, the right to claim land, the right to stake out space, the right to own our body and own your labor, the right to be cherished property.”

Internalized racism superiority is a complex multi-generational socialization process that teaches White People to believe, accept and/or live out superior societal definitions of self, and to fit into and live out superior societal roles.

“This is what we’re socialized into, even today with the legacy of white supremacy. Whether it’s in the church or in society.”

3 dimensions on the construction of whiteness:
  • White Structural Advantage – Occupy the location of dominance politically, economically, culturally and numerically in racial hierarchy. The structures themselves have been so set-up as to favor and privilege white people.
  • White Normativity – Normalization of whites cultural practices, ideologies, and location within the racial hierarchy. “This is just how things are”
  • White Transparency – Tendency of whites not to think about norms, behaviors, experiences, or perspectives that are white specific. A Lack of Racial Consciousness

“The majority of white people don’t think about being white, you don’t get up and think ‘what am I going to do with my white self this week.’ This is the reality of a racialized society. White people don’t have to have that consciousness, they don’t have to think about it if they’re white. Often times you lack a racial consciousness,” said McKinney.

Responsibility of the Oppressed:

  • The oppressed must ”cry out for justice”
  • We have to name it, march, protest, publish

Responsibility of the oppressors:

  • Oppressors have the responsibility to bring justice, because they’re in a position of power.
  • You have to embrace the oppressed communities, and this is not easy, because you’ve been socialized not to.
  • You have to acknowledge history and contemporary realities, what’s going on in the world today, and understand that you make meaning of what happens in life through your own racial lens.
  • We have to work at personal cost, and organizational cost, it’s going to cost us something to uphold human dignity by bringing justice.
3 Action Steps:

1) We have to take the lead, open doors, speak up, hold ourselves accountable to operate with alternative ideologies. If white supremacy is an ideology that has permeated our church, then we have to adopt an alternative ideology. What is the ideology going to be, what does it look like? That’s the work you’re going to have to do.

2) Have to have an awake consciousness. You’ve got to be awake when it comes to race.

3) Have to become a bi-cultural or multi-cultural person, a person who understands and can function in more than one culture. And you have to hold other white accountable for their personal, organizational and systemic change.

 

What participants are saying:
White supremacy is very taboo, people don’t like to hear about it, or racism period. I like that it can be talked about especially in a place of worship with so many demographics of people.” -Tierre Caldwell, Mentor with The Power of People Leadership Institute
This workshop was a really good balance of fact and opinion. I am leaving feeling like a need to read more. When you hear something different than what you learned, you want to do some research. It left me wanting more, which is a good first step.” – Elizabeth, New Hope Church

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