This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

White privilege, white nationalism, racism and Charleston

There is a reason, perhaps less in importance but perhaps just as insidious, why Christian communities of faith need to stop in their tracks and post a new life sign about the end of racism in the Church. That reason is the growing, venomous and potentially culture-crushing development in the U.S. of white nationalism.

Perhaps you don’t know about it, and I confess I didn’t until I read Vanderbilt University’s law school professor, Carol M. Swain’s book, The New White Nationalism in White America. Her piece of research that is also well-written (and these are rarely combined) investigates the growth of white hate groups in the U.S. I admit, the book frightens me.

The church can be an answer, a bold and beautiful answer to white nationalism because it can create an environment where Pentecost is practiced in such a way that an alternative society, one not known by racial difference but by common humanity and spirituality, can perform the gospel for all to see.

Here’s the view of white nationalists:

Contemporary white nationalists draw upon the potent rhetoric of national self-determination and national self-assertion in an attempt to protect what they believe is their God-given natural right to their distinct cultural, political, and genetic identity as white Europeans (p. 16).

Three factors provoke white nationalists in the U.S. today:

  • affirmative action (and Swain is about as level-headed as anyone I’ve read on this topic);
  • immigration policies that are driving the inner-city African-American community, especially males, into unemployment;
  • crime rates — and these are enveloped in the ideology of political correctness (which drives legitimate discussions underground). (I don’t know much about the immigration problem, except that I know it is serious.)

White nationalists play the diversity card insidiously — arguing that they are entitled to their ideology. Identity politics is the name of the game. Hate groups are all over the U.S. (she has a map of them on pp. 78-79).

There are parts of Swain’s book that, because she trots out the real statistics, make me sick, but it is the sort of sickness you’d rather know about than be surprised by when it is too late. She has a fierce independence of mind, making her a perfect candidate for “purple politics,” a politics that gets beyond classic cultural wars of our day. I find myself in disagreement at times, but her points are always well made.

“What we need to do,” she says, “is to refashion a collective identity that can transcend race and therefore thwart our increasing drift toward tribalism” (p. 252). What she is saying here is exactly what Jesus says in the kingdom vision: Who are we? We are God’s kingdom people who are called to perform the gospel in our world for the good of others and the world. A clear calling for the U.S. Christian is a summons to create an alternative community with a collective identity where racism is is a category that once was.

Swain believes the gospel has the power to create that alternative society. These words:

Once a devotee to New Age religions, I have become a born-again Christian water-baptized by immersion in the name of Jesus Christ according to the dictates of Acts 2:38 (pp. 420-421).

She’s also seen it all, for she is an African American who, like the Delphic oracle, knows whereof she speaks.

Her recommendations, which are numerous — and numerous within what I would call a kingdom vision of the gospel. So, we are led to ask, “What can we do about it? What can we do about racism in our culture? What can we do as Christians?”

Carol Swain, who comes at the entire issue of racism and racialization from the angle of the development of white nationalism in the U.S. and who is proposing macroscopic solutions, or a way toward macroscopic solutions, offers all kinds of purplish — beyond the classical red and blue solutions. I’ll avoid stereotyping either solution.

Here are Carol Swain’s recommendations, and as I said already there is a fierce independence of mind at work here. No one, I suppose, will agree with everything, but there is something behind every suggestion she makes.

Ideas for improving American society:

1. Honor free speech by permitting race to be discussed honestly.
2. Address and acknowledge the legitimate issues raised by white nationalists.
3. Abandon all race- and gender-based double standards.
4. End all racial preferences in employment and promotion.
5. Provide public funds in public schools for more vocational training.
6. Invest public dollars so all can at least attend community colleges.
7. If racial preferences are to be used, remove immigrants from eligibility for such.
8. Protect minorities with a more observant system for finding discrimination.
9. Dramatically reduce immigration, enforce laws against illegal aliens working.
10. Politicians need to listen to more than just recognized leaders among minorities.
11. Replace earned income credit with direct monthly wage subsidies.
12. Establish partnerships with car dealers and government to help the poor with transportation.
13. Establish more humane guidelines for collecting child support.
14. Provide audit studies of state-run social welfare agencies.

What black leaders can and should to to help reduce racial hatred:

1. Make the reduction of black crime rate the number one issue.
2. Stop treating riots as an opportunity to press for governmental largesse.
3. End discussions and demands for racial reparations.
4. Highlight the progress that African Americans have made.
5. Start condemning and stop contributing to the illegitimacy rate.
6. Use African Americans’ faith as a tool to change behavior.
7. Provide legal aid to convicted felons so they can learn what they can do.
8. Institute training to help young blacks on how to deal with police when they have been stopped.
9. Read the books, articles and web pages of enemies.

Explosive stuff on all sides here. She knows the problems, and she’s got strong views on this stuff, and they are not always a stereotyped solution.

Scot McKnight is the author of The Jesus Creed. He blogs at, where this post originally appeared.

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