By Robert P. Jones
As I came of age in Woodville Heights Baptist Church, on the white working-class side of Jackson, Miss., I internalized a cycle of sin, confession and repentance as a daily part of my life. Though I wasn’t aware of it at the time, this was a double inheritance. Beneath this seemingly icy surface of guilt and culpability flowed a deeper current of innocence and entitlement. Individually, I was a sinner, but collectively, I was part of a special tribe. Whatever our humble social stations might be, we white Christians were God’s chosen instruments of spreading salvation and civilization to the world.
The power and sheer cultural dominance of white Christianity in America historically bound these contradictory sensibilities together. But today we are witnessing the unmaking of this white Christian worldview, and it has unleashed remarkably destructive forces into American life.
Understanding this dissolution is the key to deciphering one of the most vexing puzzles in our politics: how a purportedly sober Christian worldview has become a volatile cocktail of fealty to Donald Trump, wild-eyed rants about vaccines, faith in QAnon conspiracies and hysteria over critical race theory.
Understanding how we got here requires entering the white evangelical cultural world, one in which I grew up…. Looking back on it now, it’s clear that this intense preoccupation with personal sin, by design, kept our field of vision shallow and allowed us to sit, Sunday after Sunday, “silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained-glass windows,” as Martin Luther King Jr. put it so devastatingly in “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”
Robert P. Jones, Ph.D., is the CEO and Founder of Public Religion Research Institute and is the author of White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity and The End of White Christian America.
This article was originally published on Robert P. Jones’s #WhiteTooLong substack. To read more and sign up, go to robertpjones.substack.com.