European colonization of America opened the door to the development of a societal structure built upon skin color and ancestry. Europeans placed themselves on top of a God-ordained pyramid of humanity.
The created hierarchy developed in orchestration between business ventures and theological support from the Christian church sustained oppression for centuries. The church worked hand in glove to promote, permit, and proselytize white supremacy through colonization. To many, this may be an inflammatory view based on personal encounters. However, if we further explore the historical record, the actions paint an alarming image that cannot be sanitized or "white-washed.”
The doctrine of discovery, enacted by many Papal Bulls during the 15th century, provided a legal and ecclesiastical framework in which God had uniquely blessed white, Christian Europeans. The doctrine gave Europeans the legitimate right to oppress all people into their religion and, at the same time, take the land and be the “new administrators.” In this way, European invaders, first Catholic and later Protestant, brought the sword and God's Word to a new land given to them by God for their conquering. This is a far cry from the story of brave discovers or refugees looking for freedom of worship is taught, and so begins the collaboration on all levels of power to instate racist systems.
There is no biological basis for any human being's superiority or inferiority based on the amount of melanin in their skin. The race is a social construction exploited by and for Europeans to enslave native Americans and committed genocide without remorse.
Centuries of execution and oppression brought the development of the ideology and theology of white supremacy. This idea of superiority found a willing participant in the church, which used Genesis 9:18-21 to validate its actions. In the biblical story, Noah curses Ham, who became the father of Canaan and represented the earth's darker people. This biblical curse provided a useful framework to justify unspeakable cruelties.
As slavery became institutionalized as a standard practice, the church aided in the Biblical narrative's accommodation to support white people as a master and indigenous people and Africans as servants.
Comfort over Conscious
The economic boom of enslaving other human beings led to a growth in wealth in Europe and throughout the colonies. For many Christian leaders, enslaved African and indigenous people's monetary value was worth more than any potential soul saved in following the gospel. In their quest for riches, enslavers separated families – children from mothers, husbands from wives, and brother from sister, believing that human beings were chattel - of similar value as livestock or cattle. The church's actions and its leaders were contradictory and hypocritical, for it was the same church that taught the family's value to their white parishioners.
Both the Protestant and Catholic church essentially choose comfort over reflection and ignored whether or not the society was living out the message of Jesus Christ. The comfort in maintaining systems of oppression provided ease for creating a community based on white supremacy.
The Civil War did not topple the pyramid structure based on fealty to white supremacist ideology and theological practices; legally defined oppression only morphed. Indeed, 528 years of building a society based on a false hierarchy of race continued in the Jim Crow era and continues today. The church developed the theology needed to maintain a way of life.
White people continued worshiping in their sanctuaries and preaching what they believe was the gift of God - whiteness. Their worship of God-given whiteness made their practice of superiority outside the church the other six days of the week much more comfortable. As such, churches were part and parcel in developing laws that conserved the power structures mainly in silence with only a handful of objections. Christians saw no contradiction between their faith and the racism they practiced in subtle yet ubiquitous ways.
The practice of racism in this country depends on political, social, and religious cooperation and unity alongside the church's complicity– White Supremacy. Christian faith has been so corrupted in the United States that it saw bondage by their own hands as morally right and, as a result, show the lack of moral grounding of these institutions and it's practitioners.
Still to this today, we continue to suffer and struggle with the impacts and practice of racist ideology created over five centuries ago. The large movements in the last decades for liberation and freedom still carry the heritage of centuries of brutal oppression and separation based on our skin color.
How can a country's built-in blood and pain produce something useful? This story is the same in countries throughout the continent. Reflections are the necessary steps to reconstruct a more just church and society. The church can choose to lead for justice as opposed to justifying oppression. As an active member of the Christian church, our mission and God-given command denounce the church’s role in supporting white supremacist ideology to bring real healing.
The church worked against the message of Christ and worked in concert with a doctrine of white supremacist ideology. If we want to return to the message of Jesus of Nazareth, we must deconstruct and de-entangle Christianity from these evil roots.
Social psychologist and contextual theologian and Board member of Interwoven Congregations. She writes about the intersections between faith, ethnicity and politics.