The independent news organization of Duke University

How do we get it right?

searching for canaan

Welcome, folks, to the Biden Administration. 

That's right: we are just shy of a week into the administration, and Biden has begun furiously working to correct course for the disarray that has been the past four years. And as the nation begins to move past the insurrection of January 6, 2021, it has brought with it several phrases…

“This not what America is about”

“The American dream has been shattered”

“The nation is reeling”

“How did this happen?”

And my personal favorite,

“We have to find a way to heal from this and work together”.... 

What I have found most interesting about this whole scenario is that it seems to have shocked so much of white America and opened up the perfect space for a dialogue on how we got here.

Was the attack on the Capitol unsettling, unnerving and emotionally nerve wracking? Yes. 

Did it create worry for the safety of the nation leading up to the inauguration? Yes. 

However, if you so happen to be a Black person in America, it was not, in fact, new… Oh, except for that part where the police were nice to the rioters, that part was actually shocking…but not really, because those protesters were *whispers* white. 

See, the larger part of this conversation that newscasters and politicians only play at discussing is the race issue, as well as the way institutions–such as the church and the government–were not only complicit in, but active perpetrators of building the climate that allowed for such foolishness to take place. There are many think pieces and news reports on how the government played a role, so instead I will turn my head to the church, because we have not placed the proper amount of burden on this institution for its sins in this situation. There is no doubt that “[white] Christian nationalism was one of the underlying themes of the nearly all-white insurrection at the Capitol.”

Following the scene at the capitol, we have seen several pictures of large crosses, the Holy Bible in front of Trump flags, along with flags that said things like “Jesus saves”  and “Jesus 2020,” mimicking the style of Trump campaign flags and posters. The question is here: how?

How did the so-called followers of Christ become the same people trying to uphold racism and topple the government? Well, friends, it all boils down to two words… Trash Theology

And no, I do not mean niche theology, bad theology or unsound theology. I mean trash theology. 

The theologies we saw make themselves overtly apparent on January 6 arise from a group of people who believe a narrative that paints them as victims, while simultaneously entitling them to incite terror as their “right.” But don’t let their dog-whistling about “Jesus” and “prayer” fool you. The Christian nationalism of Trump’s supporters is a violent and discriminatory ideology where neighbor-love is circumscribed by adherence to Trumpism. They are the product of a theological construction that has played into and centered their whiteness, without so much as a mention of the marginalized or the true tenets of Christ. As Andrew L. Whitehead accurately asserted, the insurrectionists “believe that God has a specific plan for this country, and that their vision for the country has been given to them by God...Christian nationalism at its core is this desire to see Christianity be privileged in the public sphere.”

While some of the blame for this trash theology does belong to the individuals themselves, it also belongs to the larger institution. There was nowhere near enough condemnation of racist, anti-Black, homophobic, xenophobic bigotry from the church throughout the past presidential administration. Yes, certain pastors, congregations and denominations made their voices heard in opposition and worked to combat the harmful narratives and policies that were perpetuated; and some faith leaders would go on to condemn the actions of January 6th. However, by and large, the church as a whole did not go any further than offering these empty platitudes of condemnation, and avoided using the pulpit for its true purpose of justice, mercy and grace. 

As the country reacted, saying, 

“This not what America is about”

“The American dream has been shattered” and

“The nation is reeling,”

It did not also stop to understand that not only is racism not a new phenomenon in this nation, it is one brought forth by the perpetual inability of this nation to hold its institutions accountable. Instead of vowing to move forward with strong condemnation of racism and fear-mongering, the church only asked… 

“How did this happen?”

Instead of offering teachings of true justice, mercy, grace and accountability, the church said...

“We have to find a way to heal from this and work together”.... 

Working together is not what we need. Accountability is what we need. Part of loving thy neighbor is telling them when they have lost their way, when they not only crossed the line, but destroyed its entire existence. To love our neighbor, we must not be complicit in their wrongdoing, but teach them the ways in which they have distorted the truth of Christ and the message of the Bible.

This love in the form of accountability is only possible if the church is willing to restructure what it deems the core teachings of the faith. Instead of simply seeing Jesus as a savior and eraser of sins, we need a deepened understanding of Jesus’s work, much of which included working with and liberating the marginalized.

Along with this must come discernment about who is allowed to stand in pulpits on Sunday. Shepherding souls and minds is not a calling to be taken lightly. The church, across congregations and denominations, should require a theological education that allows for the decentering of white Christian normativity.

If the church does not make these changes, we will continue to see the rise of such nonsensical ideologies, that not only harm the Christian church and its believers, but this nation as a whole.

Tatayana Richardson is a Trinity senior who is tired of white people being ridiculous. Her column, "searching for Canaan," runs on alternating Mondays. 

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