White Christians and Racial Justice: Prioritizing Christian Ethics Over Political and Media Alliances

Our alliances matter. In recent history, there might not be a more critical moment for considering our alliances. Wisdom is not needed to make sense out of a clear right or wrong but rather it is most precious when discerning thorny and layered matters. The inclination to seek out sources that are echoing our own biases and political orientations with very little challenge is tempting.  However, unchecked, it robs us of the opportunity to develop discernment and pray deeply for wisdom as the book of James implores us. Scripture reminds us of the sobriety we must exhibit in engaging sources of information and the importance of being able to truly “test and approve what God’s will is — His good pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2). That is why we believe it’s crucial that Christians examine the influences that are shaping and confirming their views on race. White Christians often ask me, “What can I do to help?” I believe applying the principles in this article is one of the most important ways that Christians can work toward racial justice at this time. – Dr. Christina Edmondson

As a white Christian who has been working in the area of racial justice and inclusion for nearly two decades, it is very encouraging to see the recent surge of white Christians who are speaking out against racial injustice and looking for ways they can be a part of the solution. If you are one of those people, this article is especially for you. I will be focusing on a topic that I tried to avoid for many years, but which I discovered is essential for white Christians who want to work toward racial justice: the relationship between white Christians, racial injustice and politics.

Specifically, I will share some data and reflections regarding the powerful alliance that currently exists between white Christians, the Republican Party and Fox News. It is a difficult, complex and emotional topic. I know and love many brothers and sisters in Christ who support the alliance and believe it is, “defending Christian values.” In the past, I believed that as well. But, in this article, I will share some reasons why I now believe that, in many ways, the alliance is supporting racial injustice and working against Christian values.

The data I will share is from a two-year research project I am currently directing called the Race, Religion and Justice Project. The RRJP is a partnership with the Barna Group, lead researchers Drs. Glenn Bracey and Michael Emerson (co-author of the book Divided by Faith), several universities/organizations and Lilly Endowment. To our knowledge, it is the largest study of racial dynamics in U.S. Christianity that has ever been conducted.

Why Focus on This Topic?

Some readers will probably wonder, “Don’t all political parties and media outlets have issues? Why are you just focusing on the alliance of white Christians, the Republican Party and Fox News?” Here is why: a very large percentage of white Christians are Republicans and trust Fox News (see data below). I find that many white Christians are unaware of the historic roots and current impact of the alliance in regard to racial injustice. Of course, racial justice isn’t the only moral issue that Christians should care about, but it is very important and relevant in our society.

The point of this article is not, “Republicans are always wrong on race.” and “Democrats are always right on race.” U.S. history and current events show that the reality is much more complex. Republicans and Democrats have been on the right and wrong side of race issues. Oftentimes, the same political leader has been on the right and wrong side of race issues. The point I am attempting to make is that we must avoid unquestioning allegiance to political parties, candidates and news sources that prevent us from, “doing justice and righteousness.” (Jeremiah 22:3)  As Christians, it is important for us to have an accurate understanding of what is taking place and then evaluate each party and candidate on a policy by policy and decision by decision basis. Then, we can effectively use our political power to help promote racial justice at local, state and national levels. 

I agree with Pastor Tim Keller’s comments:

Another reason Christians these days cannot allow the church to be fully identified with any particular party is the problem of what the British ethicist James Mumford calls “package-deal ethics.” Increasingly, political parties insist that you cannot work on one issue with them if you don’t embrace all of their approved positions. This emphasis on package deals puts pressure on Christians in politics. For example, following both the Bible and the early church, Christians should be committed to racial justice and the poor, but also to the understanding that sex is only for marriage and for nurturing family. One of those views seems liberal and the other looks oppressively conservative. The historical Christian positions on social issues do not fit into contemporary political alignments. So Christians are pushed toward two main options. One is to withdraw and try to be apolitical. The second is to assimilate and fully adopt one party’s whole package in order to have your place at the table. Neither of these options is valid.

What the Research Says

As part of the RRJP, we conducted a national survey of 3100 individuals in August 2019. In the survey, 78% of white practicing Christians and 87% of white evangelicals indicated that they were Republicans and they believed Fox News provided the most reliable information. We defined “Practicing Christian” as someone who describes themselves as a Christian, attends church at least once a month and says their religious faith is very important in their life today. 

The following are three examples of the responses we collected with our survey. The abbreviations used in the graphs are PC (Practicing Christian), FN (Fox News trusters) and Rep (Republicans).

Example 1: In general, in our country these days, would you say that Black people are treated less fairly than white people, white people are treated less fairly than Black people, or both are treated about equally in regard to hiring, pay and promotions? (White respondents only)

In the graph above, the columns are sorted from left to right by the groups that were most likely to select the most accurate option which is, “Black people are treated less fairly than white people in regard to hiring, pay and promotions.” Studies focused on employment practices consistently determine that to be the case. For example, a recent analysis of 24 field experiments, which included data from more than 54,000 applications across more than 25,000 positions determined, “…at the initial point of entry — hiring decisions — Blacks remain substantially disadvantaged relative to equally qualified whites, and we see little indication of progress over time.”

As you can see, respondents who were not practicing Christians, not Republicans and not Fox News trusters were the most likely to select the most accurate option. Practicing Christians who were not Republicans and not Fox News trusters were the second most likely to select the most accurate option. Respondents who were practicing Christians, Republicans and Fox News trusters were the least likely to select the most accurate option.

Example 2: Historically, the United States has been oppressive to minorities. (White respondents only)

In the graph above, the columns are sorted from left to right by the groups that were most likely to select the most accurate option which is “Strongly Agree” (blue). Tragically, the history of the United States is filled with examples of minority groups being oppressed. Here are a few examples of the many that could be given:

  • From the 15th to the 19th century, the U.S. government authorized over 1,500 wars, attacks and raids on Native Americans.
  • From the 16th to the 19th century, 12.5 million people were kidnapped from Africa and sent to the Americas as part of the the transatlantic slave trade. Approximately 3.9 million of the 10.7 million who survived the journey were enslaved in the United States.
  • During the 19th-20th centuries, historians estimate thousands of Latinos in the U.S. were killed due to acts of racial violence.

As you can see in the graph, the results for this question were similar to Example 1. Respondents who were not practicing Christians, not Republicans and not Fox News trusters were the most likely to give an accurate response. Practicing Christians who were not Republicans and not Fox News trusters were the second most likely to give an accurate response. Respondents who were practicing Christians, Republicans and Fox News trusters were the least likely to give an accurate response.

Example 3: Respondents who said the term “undocumented immigrant” made them feel angry. (White respondents only)

Respondents who were not practicing Christians, not Republicans, and not Fox News trusters were the least likely to say the term “undocumented immigrant” made them feel angry. Respondents who were Republicans and Fox News trusters and not practicing Christians were the most likely to say the term “undocumented immigrant” made them feel angry.

Similar trends to the examples above are found all throughout the data we have collected. We have found there is a strong correlation with being a white Christian, Republican and Fox News truster and having problematic racial views. White Christians who are not Republicans and not Fox News trusters are much less likely to have problematic racial views.

The relationship between being a Republican and Fox News truster and problematic racial views is an example of a reciprocal correlation. In reciprocal correlations, reality A contributes to reality B and reality B contributes to reality A. Being a Republican and Fox News truster contributes to problematic racial views and problematic racial views contribute to people choosing to be Republicans and Fox News trusters. 

That is important to understand because correcting the issue is not as simple as asking Republicans and Fox News to support more accurate and productive racial views. The sad reality is that if the Republican party and Fox News started supporting more accurate and productive racial views, many of their white Christian supporters would likely look for another political party and news source. In order to correct the issue, we must also address why many white Christians have historically held to problematic racial views.

The Historic Roots of the Alliance

So, why does being a Republican and trusting Fox News have a reciprocal correlation with problematic racial views? And, why is there such a strong alliance between white Christians (especially white evangelicals), Republicans and Fox News? Thorough answers to those questions are well beyond the scope of this article. But, one helpful place to look for answers is the 1960s and the friendship between Billy Graham and Richard Nixon. Graham encouraged Nixon to run for president while they were on vacation together in 1967. Although Graham (who described himself as a Democrat who voted independently) never officially endorsed Nixon, he made many public, favorable statements about him during his campaign. For example, according to A Prophet with Honor: The Billy Graham Story by William C. Martin, Graham introduced Nixon’s wife at a Portland Crusade in May 1968 and explained, “…there is no American I admire more than Richard Nixon.” 

During his campaign, Nixon declared that he would be a “law and order” president. He criticized the Civil Rights Movement and claimed that their leaders were causing anarchy and unrest. With the strong support of Billy Graham and other white evangelicals, Nixon received 69% of the evangelical vote in 1968 and 84% of the evangelical vote in 1972, according to Jemar Tisby’s The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism. In 1971, Nixon declared a “war on drugs.” His domestic policy chief, John Erlichman, later explained that they were actually targeting hippies and Black people, as related in  Ken Wytsma’s The Myth of Equality: Uncovering the Roots of Injustice and Privilege.

We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or Black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.

Brian J. O’Connor and Lori Perkins’ Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Watergate: But Were Afraid to Ask details recorded conversations in the Oval Office in 1971 which revealed Nixon’s prejudice toward African Americans and Mexican Americans:

We’re going to [put] more of these little Negro b***ards on the welfare rolls at $2,400 a family—let people like [New York Sen.] Pat Moynihan… believe in all that crap. But I don’t believe in it. Work, work—throw ’em off the rolls. That’s the key… I have the greatest affection for [Black people], but I know they’re not going to make it for 500 years. They aren’t. You know it, too. The Mexicans are a different cup of tea. They have a heritage. At the present time they steal, they’re dishonest, but they do have some concept of family life. They don’t live like a bunch of dogs, which the Negroes do live like.

See Also

During the 1960s-1980s, a strong political alliance was formed between white Christians and Republicans through the efforts of Jerry Falwell and other evangelical leaders. Billy Graham spoke out about the dangers of the alliance. In a 1981 interview, he explained, “It would disturb me if there was a wedding between the religious fundamentalists and the political right. The hard right has no interest in religion except to manipulate it.” In a 2011 interview with Christianity Today magazine, Graham was asked, “If you could, would you go back and do anything differently?” Graham explained, “I … would have steered clear of politics. I’m grateful for the opportunities God gave me to minister to people in high places; people in power have spiritual and personal needs like everyone else, and often they have no one to talk to. But looking back, I know I sometimes crossed the line, and I wouldn’t do that now.”

To understand how Fox News fits into the white Christian and Republicans alliance, it is helpful to study the birth of the Tea Party Movement in 2008. It was not a coincidence that the Tea Party was launched only a few weeks into President Barack Obama’s first term as president. In 2006, a large study focused on religion and public life in America included interviewing 3,000 individuals. In 2010, many of the same individuals were interviewed again. As a result, the study was able to measure the views of many Tea Party members before and after the movement began. The study found there was a strong correlation with being in the Tea Party and being Republican, being white, having “a low regard for immigrants and blacks” and having a desire “to see religion play a prominent role in politics.”

It is also helpful to understand the key role that Fox News played in the founding of the Tea Party. As one paper explains:

Fox News in effect acts as a “national social movement organization,”…a resourceful national organization can help to provide “an infrastructure for collective action” by promoting “the diffusion of collective identities” and fostering “at least a minimal degree of solidarity and integration.” Fox News did these things for the Tea Party undertaking, promoting the label and providing a venue for the leading voices, articulating a sense of pride and power among conservatives discouraged after November 2008, and spreading information about how people could get involved in national occasions to display solidarity and collective voice. All of these are invaluable aids to collective action among dispersed, not previously interconnected people.

Because Fox News is a media outlet, many people view it differently from other social movements like the Civil Rights Movement (1950s), the Moral Majority (1980s) or the Tea Party Movement (2000s). But Fox News often functions like a social movement. It helps to coordinate collective action (voting, protests, etc). It presents information and training on how to view and respond to social issues (immigration, law enforcement, government policies, etc.). It provides motivation and solidarity for its “members.”

The powerful influence of Fox News has been very evident during the Trump campaign and presidency. A 2016 Pew Study found that individuals who voted for Trump named Fox News as their “main source for news about the 2016 campaign” five times more frequently than any other news source. In our RRJP survey, 81% of the white practicing Christians and 91% of the white evangelicals who indicated they voted for Trump also indicated that they trust Fox News. Last fall, a PRRI poll asked respondents if there was anything Trump could do to earn or lose their support. Republicans who said Fox News was their primary news source were nearly twice as likely to say their support for Trump was unshakeable versus Republicans who did not say Fox News was their primary news source.

Unfortunately, Trump’s track record on racial justice has been notoriously bad. When he announced his candidacy he declared he would build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico and demand that Mexico pay for it. He stated, “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best…They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” Tisby’s The Color of Compromise tells of an infamous meeting about immigration with top officials, Trump asked why the United States should accept more immigrants from “s***hole” countries such as Haiti and countries in Africa. Trump has referred to COVID-19 as the “Chinese virus” and “Kung flu” even though it encourages anti-Asian sentiment. Over the last few weeks, Trump has characterized the protestors standing for racial justice as “terrorists”, “professional anarchists” and “violent mobs.” Trump appointee Attorney General Barr ordered police/military to forcibly remove peaceful, racial injustice protestors from in front of the White House so Trump could pose for a photo in front of a church holding a Bible. The photo is tragically symbolic of the way that Christianity has been co-opted as a political tool through the alliance of white Christians, Republicans and Fox News. Needless to say, I strongly disagree with Trump’s claim that “…no President has ever done what I have done for Evangelicals or religion itself!” 

Fox News is one of the primary drivers of public support for Trump’s actions. Fox News often presents news segments or political commentators who explain why Trump’s actions are correct and in the best interest of conservatives and Christians. The logic Fox News commentators use to support Trump’s actions is often based on fear. There are frequently segments on Fox News that describe something that is “attacking Christian values” or “attacking freedom” or “attacking democracy.” For example, on June 26 Tucker Carlson made the following comments about the racial justice protests. I believe it is a good example of the type of fear-based messaging that contributes to a large percentage of White Christians having inaccurate and problematic views regarding racial dynamics in our country.

What looked like protests were in fact highly effective attacks on Donald Trump’s voters, his power base. Few in Washington clearly appreciated this, at least on the right. If they had, they would have told the country what was really happening. No, this is not about George Floyd. It’s not about police brutality. It’s a power grab by violent extremists. … What we’re living through right now, despite what people have told, you is not a local problem. This is a national crisis. The riots are designed to produce a national result — the destruction of our system of government and the removal of Donald Trump.

Conclusion: We must not support racial injustice while also trying to oppose racial injustice.

Effectively working toward racial justice in the U.S. requires changing systems. Changing systems requires addressing the powerful economic, political and religious forces that sustain them. That is never quick and easy. There is always controversy and pushback. It requires a willingness to prayerfully evaluate, challenge and change our political alliances and news sources if they are supporting racial injustice. If we recognize that racial justice isn’t a “nice, optional thing to do”, but a clear mandate in the Bible and life and teachings of Jesus, we will be willing to take those steps. If we are unwilling to take those steps, we will be yet another generation of Christians who decried racial injustice while also supporting economic and political systems that perpetuate it. I hope and pray we will do better.

One concrete step you can take to put the content in this article into action is to sign this petition. If we can gather a significant number of signatures, I believe it will send a powerful message to the Republican Party and Fox News. Of course, anyone is welcome to sign the petition (you don’t need to be white or a Christian).

In closing, here are a few additional recommendations for white Christians who want to help promote racial justice in our country:

  • Pray: Racial injustice is a spiritual stronghold in our country. No amount of sacrifice, political engagement, partnerships, education, reforms, etc. can undo that stronghold. We need God’s help.
  • Stand in solidarity: It is essential for us to stand in solidarity with people of color and declare our commitment to racial justice at this important historic moment. That can be done through peaceful protests, using our platforms to speak out, conversations with friends, etc.
  • Connect with others: Working toward racial justice is complex and difficult work. If you try to go it alone you won’t get very far. It is essential that you find experienced and knowledgeable individuals to learn from and work with.
  • Study the Bible’s teachings on social justice: A recommend watching “Justice” on bibleproject.com and reading God Loves Justice by Jessica Nicholas.
  • Study the history of racial injustice in the U.S.: I recommend watching “Race in America” on holypost.com and reading The Color of Compromise by Jemar Tisby.
  • Learn about “whiteness”:  It is important for those of us who are white to recognize how our race can shape our view of ourselves and other people. I recommend White Awake by Daniel Hill.
  • Evaluate your motivations: Many White Christians engage in racial justice activism because they consciously or unconsciously want to prove to themselves and others that they are not a “bad racist person.” That type of motivation will soon fizzle out. Our motivation must be grounded in love for others and a firm conviction that Christ calls us to practice justice in our lives and society (Matthew 23:23).
  • Join our newsletter: Please sign up for our newsletter at rjuc.org if you want to stay informed about the resources we are developing based on our research and the input of experts around the country. 

Chad Brennan and Christina Edmondson are currently co-authoring a book focused on practical ways that Christians can work toward racial justice in the United States. It is scheduled to be published by InterVarsity Press in the summer of 2021.

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