The Bible and White Supremacy
For centuries, religion and religious texts have been used to justify oppression; nowhere is this more evident than in terms of Christianity and the Christian Bible. People of authority have continually interpreted the Bible to meet the needs of their agenda of superiority and cruelty. These positions of power range from slave masters, to white townspeople, to law enforcers, to politicians. To be clear, this is not a commentary on religion itself, but rather a commentary on the ideals of supremacists and their means of justification.
It is not a secret that many slaves adopted the same religion as their white slave masters. Many people may wonder how or why slaves took comfort in the same God and text that seemingly made grounds for their enslavement. The reasoning behind the religious philosophy of slaves lies within the specific texts and beliefs they were introduced to by the people intending to control them. The book of Romans, specifically Romans 13, were widely spread and used as a means of establishing those with power and those without.
"Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? Do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same."
—A Letter to the Roman Church From the Apostle Paul, Chapter 13, Verses 1-3
Slave masters encouraged slaves to take comfort in Romans 13, for it was written that they were meant to be oppressed. This mitigated the desire for slave rebellion, despite slaves generally outnumbering slave masters. In addition, any heinous act done by a white person towards a Black person at this time became justified by God and the so-called fact that whites had the authority to regulate and discipline Black people.
Even after the south lost the civil war, they still reigned supreme in the “cultural war.” The idea that Black people should be subjugated to the authority of the whites was still the mass opinion of white southerners. Although enslavement could no longer legally take place, whites sought to “handle” the Black population through means such as lynching. Mass opinion held that this kind of authority was granted by God: “The claim that whites had the right to control the black population through lynching and other extralegal forms of mob violence was grounded in the religious belief that America is a white nation called by God to bear witness to the superiority of ‘white over black,” (The Cross and the Lynching Tree, Cone). White Americans persistently believed that Romans 13 was their call to action and authority over the Blacks, or the less powerful.
Although these accounts may sound like history that has since long passed, the practice of justifying racism and white supremacy of people in power through words of the Bible is still relevant. In response to Black lives being unlawfully taken by the police, “God is even given as a reason why black people should stop resisting when they are shot by corrupt cops. Recently, Romans, chapter 13, was used to disparage the Black Lives Matter movement.” People with authority and presence in the media have cited Romans 13 to reprimand victims of police brutality by saying they simply ought to respect authority, even when it is unlawful. For example, Robert Jeffress, the head of one of the largest Baptist congregations in Dallas, condemned the movement quoting the scripture. Jeffress said that he was sick of preachers disrespecting police because ‘the New Testament says in Romans 13:4 that law enforcement officers are ministers of God sent by God to punish evildoers.’(Coincidentally, this is the same pastor who said that NFL players should be happy they weren’t shot in the head for kneeling during the national anthem).
In June, a group of peaceful protesters consisting of Black people and allies were teargassed so that President Trump could have his photo-op in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Washington, DC. The President uses the Bible and Christianity to appeal to evangelicals and promote racist rhetoric, threatening marginalized communities and dividing our nation. The concept of God anointing white people with superiority and authority over marginalized groups is not a thing of the past, but rather a terrifying, relevant part of modern life.