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The white churches responded. They showed us the letters they were sending him; they really wanted him to come to their church, made a pitch. They did not return our phone calls. But I wanted to know, given your background, whether you had any insights on this. Why were they uncomfortable with this? My intuition is a kind of suspicion about the motivation driving the question.
That is to say there is a certain characterization of black church practice that can — that could have easily fallen into a certain characterization, of President-elect Obama, of the church itself, and black communities generally. And start, you know, looking at, you know the bulletin and showing up to funerals. Yeah, you know, these sorts of things. If I could get back to the beginning of your talk, when you were presenting Romney and Obama in the same group — this notion that religiosity and revelation can be separated in the public sphere.
During the campaign, I talked to a lot of both liberal and conservative evangelicals after those speeches.
Religion and Race in America
And, the liberal evangelicals said, yes absolutely right. The conservative evangelicals, by and large, were very cynical about both of them. How would you respond to their response? No, I think at that point it becomes the occasion to begin to have an argument, to begin to have a conversation. On what grounds would you say — that their revelation is not your revelation. Both of you identify as Christians. How would you then differentiate your view from theirs? If not, then what role might their understanding of revelation play?
In other words, it becomes the occasion for a substantive and hopefully nuanced discussion. Now, the assumption is that, typically, folks who hold that view are not up to nuanced discussions. At that point their views, as the late Richard Rorty would say, constitutes a conversation stopper. Maybe I, naively perhaps, am not committed to that notion. Those moments of marking hard differences for me become moments for democratic deliberation, not moments to shut down democratic deliberation — even though our typical response is that those moments are actually shutting down deliberation.
And let me just make an advertisement for strong democratic deliberation. If you go to pewforum. That was a very civil moment of democratic deliberation. I do want to say that we did a whole session on Mormonism with Bushman. Yeah, at this point. At lot of the folks I spoke to said it was really just a play for votes. And they were deeply cynical about it. But for me — I said this at lunch today — if your interest is not about who wins the White House but rather about democracy as such.
My interest has always been throughout this process: And part of what I want to say is that my sister — she would be so angry with me right now — but my sister and I have heated discussions —. We have heated discussions, and I think many of us have those sorts of discussions in our families, in our personal relationships. And then Richard Starr and Cathy Grossman. I read that speech a lot. I read it again about two weeks ago. I read it because I thought it was at the time pitch-perfect. It was like the Republicans owned religion and the flag.
It seemed to me that that was more or less the simple message. We will accept everybody, and he specifically talked about believers and non-believers. I think tolerant is sort of an arrogant word: I thought it was completely embracing of everyone and totally pluralistic in a way that I have never heard anybody speak about religion — any sort of public personality speak about religion in this country. Certainly — I felt that way when I listened to it.
That was my perception. Not only that, but certainly not people who were secular in any way. Did he not make a statement that there is no —. I thought that was appalling. By the way, I would say quickly, Sally. Governor Romney did come out about three months ago and say, I made a big mistake in that speech. Also, I just want to ask you one more question. Where do you think Obama should go to church? These stories mean so much to me. They orient me to the world. They become the source of what I take to be the beautiful. They allow me to understand myself as an ethical and moral agent as well.
But I understand how religious vocabularies provide us with the languages requisite to weather the storms. I can concede that. But my thinking is that the stronger claim is that religious claims in public spaces must be subjected — must be accessible to public reason. I mean, both of you being Jewish and E.
I remember thinking about that — inaudible — speech was brilliant for a bunch of reasons. I mean, it was —. It took back the political ground that liberals have conceded to conservatives, and it — the point of it as I understood — was trying to give liberals a way to talk about religion and politics. I thought it did that very effectively. You know, in a way that I would find persuasive, that we could enter into a dialogue on sort of neutral terms as it were. Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal rather than religion-specific values. It requires that their proposals be subject to argument and amenable to reason.
I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all. I agree with what Jacob said about his speech. Because what was on his mind was, how do I get through the Iowa caucuses? And he was right — as it turned out — he was right to worry about getting through the Iowa caucuses.
Okay, back to — did we finish? It may complicate the discussion, but it is short-winded. Is it not the case that the strong claim is not simply something that pastor Neuhaus and candidate Obama are making but is in fact embedded in modern jurisprudence? Your answer is yes? Sure, I actually am sympathetic to your point about believers coming clean on the reasons for their arguments. But by doing so, they may in fact be guaranteeing that they will lose the argument in the public square.
They may win it democratically. They may persuade a majority of their fellow citizens, but they may have guaranteed a public policy loss by winning it in that way. I think that may have been part of the motivation for — certainly for Neuhaus and his book. We actually got into some of this last night. Jumping off some of your comments today — my questions have changed as the day has progressed, in the last half hour — on the subject of black churches.
He was a theological — it was a theological, Malcom X -esque religious movement that is very recent from the other discussion about the black church. But there was also immediately a cultural component. They have vestiges of early pagan religions that they formed out of, like Easter has it, Passover. These — and by pagan I should say animist or polytheistic. And therefore, as we become more integrated and if a white person goes to these churches. I thought my answer to Rachel in some ways echoed this point, when she said that should we see the disappearance of —. But those denominations are also reflective of an increasing maturation of black communities within the United States.
Because in fact it is that context which calls it all into being. So black churches provide in interesting sorts of ways the first public space for African-Americans to engage in the kind of deliberations around the circumstances of their conditions of living. And to that extent it becomes a site for a certain kind of exercise of citizenship, a certain kind of democratic participation. If you accept that there is a cultural component to these churches certainly that came out of racial segregation, they are not that today.
Though visually they are, as you point out — the most segregated hour. Right, it — absolutely. I would prefer that he did that. That hard distinction has to be called into question. So we have to begin to see this as much more continuous, as opposed to discontinuous. And I actually think and I wonder if you agree or disagree, that people react very differently when a politician says Jesus Christ than they do when they say God. Because virtually something-plus America has some idea of God, but not everybody agrees about Jesus. People react very differently to those terms.
The people who opposed Proposition 8 , the people who did not want to see Proposition 8 pass, and did not manage to recognize with the clear onrush of black vote, Hispanic vote, Mormon vote in various corners that there needed to be some communication with those communities — was their failure to reach out to these communities just ignorance?
Or was it racism or just incompetence on their part that they did not speak to these concerns and make their case to the evangelical block and Hispanic communities? I think there was a sense in which the proponents for Proposition 8 out-organized the opponents. Thirdly, there was and there remains a decidedly conservative dimension to African-American evangelicals and African-American churchgoers who came out in dramatic numbers in support of Obama and that extended to their position on Proposition 8.
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Part of what needs to happen, of course, is a kind of vibrant debate among African-American Christians who opposed Proposition 8 and their friends, with their fellow citizens on this issue. I think they were out-organized. Really, really interesting talk — thank you so much.
Well, they may or not — they may be brief and they may not. You know, Obama casts himself as kind of a Joshua generation. So how big is the Joshua generation versus the more liberation theology Moses generation? Go ahead — and do you mind if I follow up after that? That was something I thought would never really happen, except in the mind of Jim Wallace , which was the rise of the religious left.
You heard about the Matthew 25 Network and you saw white Protestants, many of them white evangelicals, organizing around this notion of social gospel — which is huge in the black church. Then on the other side we have seen in the last couple elections conservative black leaders, religious leaders, siding with more of the evangelicals — mainly on the gay rights issue and on abortion.
Are we actually seeing a kind of realignment or a more powerful knitting together of progressive black and progressive whites — motivated by social gospel ideas on the one side — and then the knitting together of conservatives on the other? Just really quickly I think, you know, in just a shameless plug for my book In a Shade of Blue: Pragmatism and the Politics of Black America , the last chapter of that —.
Yeah, In a Shade of Blue: Pragmatism — laughter — and the Politics of Black America. The book actually came about as a result of my work with Tavis Smiley on the Covenant with Black America. I went around the country — really having town-hall meetings with folk all around the country trying to create a deliberative space for African-Americans to reflect on their condition.
It was a really fascinating moment. I mean I grew up in a household with my mom who had her first baby in the eighth grade and my dad never graduated — graduated only from high school and delivered mail. Now I have an endowed professorship at the age of 40 at Princeton. Or you talk about Michael Nutter or Adrian Fenty or you talk about all of these folk — these Harvard folk — who are behind the scenes of Obama — the Harvard black cabal, as it were.
When Obama talked about Jeremiah Wright as not acknowledging the progress, he was in an interesting sort of way marking — however deliberately and strategically — marking a generational divide that is confounding black communities right now. Black folk, particularly Obama, are now using the language of governance as opposed to the language of struggle.
This is a really fascinating —. Byron you were next and I think —. I remember — I visited Trinity and —. I called in June, I think, the person who I had worked with arranging my visit. A couple of weeks later, I called. This was the first person that Reverend Moss had hired, and I call her on her cell phone not at the office. I do know that there was an interesting tension there. We know that the voting trends have shown that African-American voters when you control for race tend to actually trend to the right in interesting sorts of ways around issues — around capital punishment, around, shall we say, core social value issues.
African-American communities tend to trend towards the right in terms of ideological spectrum. There is an interesting alignment — I actually blog when I can on Beliefnet. You know, Robert Thurman , the Buddhist scholar at Columbia blogs on there as well. It has led to an interesting kind of alignment. We must begin to have these kind of internal arguments as to what we mean by Christian witness, as to what we might mean by living the life of Jesus in public. This is a conversation that is beginning to be had, and I hope that the substantive outcomes will be to the benefit of democracy in the U.
I remember after the race speech as they were filing out of the room in Philadelphia, I asked a number of black ministers, what their reaction was —. And on the other hand you had Obama kind of declaring that this stuff was beyond the pale. And I think I heard you earlier making a little reference to them being, you know, pulled out of context. What is it in your view?
When we look at that speech — that sermon in its entirety, that moment is a particularly powerful and incendiary moment, of course. That suspicion can find itself articulated in the pulpits in very powerful ways. Part of what I was trying to suggest at that moment is that, first give folks in the pews a little more credit. And suspicions about the state emanate from pulpits that are black and white all the time.
And I remember this question — I forget who said it — are we going to — it was in the media — are we going to start vetting all of the things said in American pulpits? And then suddenly it went silent. What was your personal reaction — what was your first reaction when you first saw the sound bites of Reverend Wright like all of us saw them? My first reaction was a political one: I was just wondering why was this so late in the game? And secondly I thought —. You remember it was the Senator Clinton campaign that helped get it going. If it is the case — and Jeffrey said it. If our nation is a purveyor of evil in the world — if one is a believer — it is not, shall we say, oblivious to the judgment of God — no matter how we tell the story of America being the shining city on the hill, it seems to me.
No, my point is simply this: I think those are qualitatively different theological claims, that America is suffering the judgment of God because of its culture of sin has defined —. And maybe — am I wrong in — I think those are two different sorts of claims. This a slightly self-interested question, but we were talking a little over lunch about the impact of the Obama election on African-American studies.
The big issue for me is what Barbara alluded to in her question — the first part of your question. And he explicitly says that he — what the Catholic Church got right was the structure. The relationship between market, media, theology and the generational impact is really having a substantive impact on the form and content of African-American religious life.
How do we think about that in relation to President Obama? But it certainly suggests that this institution that has historically been seen as the site for so much political work — recognizable political work — is changing dramatically. And so then we have to ask ourselves, what sorts of political work will follow from that? Let me just ask a follow-up.
You were talking about the transformation taking place within the church. You referred several times, earlier, to liberation theology and the black church; so what happens, theologically, when Joshua gets to the promised land? Does liberation theology still animate those churches, or does something new happen because here we are? Well, the basic premise of liberation theology as I understand it was that Jesus sides with the oppressed.
But now he kind of correlates, with questions around patriarchy, questions around the circulation of capital — so wherever there is oppression, Jesus speaks. And so to that extent, liberation theology — at least how I read Cone — always has a place and a role. But one of the interesting things about it is that liberation theology never really found its footing in actual pulpits; you can actually almost count the number of folks who self-identify, like Jeremiah Wright, on two hands.
And so Cone writes The Spirituals and the Blues — the book on the spirituals and the blues — as a source for theological reflection. So people are beginning to write much more complicated works — studies of black religion — that are not driven by the telos of black liberation theology. We have, next, Perry Bacon. Hillary Clinton did all of this and got a lot of black pastors to endorse her, a lot of congressman that were black endorsed her, and won a very, very small percentage of the black vote — more than you would have expected, even.
Does Charlie Rangel have less power in his community because he endorsed the wrong person? How do you think it affects these traditional leaders in both churches and African-American leaders in politics as well? And the second question — this is sort of unrelated — is what kind of role do you think someone like a T. Jakes will play in politics in the next five or 10 years? Does he avoid that? Does he get into that, and so on?
Well, I think black churches will remain extraordinarily important sites for political organizing and mobilizing. There will be an array of challenges to an established, black political class in every locale. So the traditional brokers of African-American politics are vulnerable. In each instance, there will be vulnerability. They will have much more viable challengers. Constituencies will be much more critical. Precisely because the demographics of those constituencies are changing, given this kind of influx of young, new voters as we saw in the national election.
Dionne is next, and then Eleanor and Kevin. And Jeffrey, did I see you nod to me? I did have just one tiny thing I guess, maybe, I could —. Because of the transcript, E. I will say, but just, I hate to bring back up the subject of Jeremiah Wright, but following up a little bit on what Michael asked, let me put the question this way: Does that rob that strain of its juice? It certainly complicates it, Peter. Whether or not the traditional rhetorical modes will be as effective — I hope they will be — we would have reached an interesting phase in the maturation of African-American politics if one could rail against Obama as one has railed against Bush, without recourse to language, which historically has been the language of racial authenticity.
Instead of us saying, Clarence Thomas is wrong, those of us who might disagree with his judicial philosophy — too many people find themselves saying that Clarence Thomas is a sell-out. But that particular strain that also contains maybe even as aspect of conspiratorial thinking, that talked about the CIA and AIDS and stuff, of which, one gathered, there was something of a receptive ear.
And now that that country has —. Well, in the flawed sort of way that it can — I mean, you know, we express ourselves in sundry ways in public life, and one of them is electing the person who leads us and makes policy. Now that this country has chosen that man to lead it, what happens to that particularly, in my view virulent, strain of thought? Does that go away, now? So I think that will remain, precisely because the Pew data has already shown us, or demonstrated, this extraordinary gap between those African-Americans who are living in hyper-concentrated spaces of poverty, where, as William Julius Wilson says, work has simply disappeared, and those of us who have gained access to mainstream social capital in ways that black America could never have imagined.
And so among those folks who are living in resource-deprived communities, blackness is still circulating in particular sorts of ways — a certain kind of ministry continues to work, continues to have power. I want to go all the way back to the beginning about this whole public reason debate, which has driven me crazy for some years now. On the other hand, I also think that people should be free to — and may even have an obligation — to say that they, in fact, have religious reasons for taking a particular political position.
And then, the other one is, again, just to go back to Jeremiah Wright. I remain, at the end of all this, mystified by the Wright we ended up seeing. If you talk to an awful lot of people in the church writ-large, including some fairly conservative people, there was a lot of respect for Jeremiah Wright floating around out there. How do you square this person we saw, especially, toward the end of that controversy with the person you heard described by an awful lot of people in rather positive terms over a very long period of time?
Right, I mean, let me take that first one — the last one first. So there was a kind of interracial dialogue that was taking place within that denomination that Jeremiah Wright was at the forefront of. But Chicago is a unique space, particularly in terms of African-American politics.
And so part of what — let me give you the answer that was said among my friends, who happen to be preachers. They said, you leave the pews at church, and what happened is, at the National Press Club, he brought the pews with him. There are ways in which we talk at home, and then there are ways in which we talk outside. And that line was blurred, and he suddenly became Louis Farrakhan. So much so that in the blogosphere, there was this slideshow of Obama and Jeremiah Wright, Farrakhan and Jeremiah Wright, Obama and Jeremiah Wright, Farrakhan — it was this really interesting thing.
I think what happened was a ministry that had been defined in interesting sort of ways by a profound commitment to the social gospel. It was often articulated within the context of a black community that is subject to particular kinds of forces, a ministry that is also influenced by the languages of black nationalism.
Through his own theological orientation, it went public; and it went public in the National Press Club and got in all sorts of trouble. So I would want to say, E. And the kind of — you know, I get this from the philosopher Robert Brandom — and Jeffrey Stout has channeled this through his own work, Democracy and Tradition — he is a colleague of mine. Expressive democracy, and part of expressive democracy —it involves, for the most part, this insistence on the exchange of reasons.
Attention is there, but the overriding value, again, is my commitment to expressive democracy. I think it sends a powerful message. I was waiting for them to say it. They move Muslims from the photo op. I was waiting for the Obama campaign to speak powerfully in the very way that General Powell spoke, and I think by having Barack Hussein Obama said as his hand is on a Bible will be a profound symbolic moment. I know my son will revel in it, and I will revel in it with him. So I think it will be wonderful.
Do you not think he repudiates himself if he then chooses this official occasion — the most official of occasions — to use his middle name? If it did appear, it was immediately considered the dirtiest of dirty politics. Specifically, what do you see happening over the next four or however many years, in terms of how he deals with them and how, perhaps, the black church deals with him? Do they have an ally there, or is he under any sort of special obligation to reach out to them?
And what comes to mind is, Obama allowing Ebony to have him on the cover as the man of the year. And doing it in interesting sorts of ways — he had to be mindful — his folks had to be mindful of how that would be perceived. You know, Ebony is like, our magazine. The second thing is that I think African-American communities have already been primed to not expect anything from Senator Obama, or President-elect Obama. Primed by his campaign, because the campaign provided African-American communities with this response when African-American communities wanted him to specifically address their issues.
What was the response? I am the president of America. I will be the president of America. I will go on record as saying I think we might have seen the Obama campaign set African-American politics back a generation. There was a gaping hole there. So at that very moment in which we had an opening in order to generate a more vibrant deliberative space for black folk of a variety of interests to engage in the back and forth, Obama would come into black communities and talk about personal responsibility as opposed to policy.
That was the condition for him being elected. I really believe that. Now, are those costs too high? Can you — is my mic working? I want to go back to Jeremiah Wright.
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- Religion in Black America.
The projects that he did in community outreach were extraordinary. He had this fantastic — and in two, minute sound bites, his entire career was destroyed. When you look at what he said — because I went back and looked at some of the other quotes from other religious leaders.
He basically was saying, the chickens have come home to roost. One right after the other, these people have said exactly the same thing that he said. But I also think that Jeremiah — he, in a way, was representing, as everyone knows, an older group. I went to the National Press Club the day that Jeremiah Wright spoke, and I was there as a guest, and so I was not in the press — the press balcony was up there.
Lisa Miller, my colleague — several of my colleagues were sitting up in the balcony with the press, and I was sitting downstairs. And his speech was really good, smart, very on-the-money. And it was so amazing to me that my perspective was so completely different from theirs because of where I was sitting and the response of the crowd that I was listening to. I then went over to the Shiloh Baptist Church, where they —. There was an entire day, from 9: His whole family was there. One after the other of educated Ph. Each one spoke about slavery and the pain of slavery, each one.
And so we sound differently, we look differently, the rhythm of our speech — our tone — our voices are different. And so folks are having a difficult time wrapping their minds around it. I always say this, very quickly: I said to myself, if he had the right advisors, somebody would have told him, sign the book contract for six figures, write the book, and then the book tour will justify you being out there.
And I think a lot of folks in the African-American community asked — why are you going out, doing this? Why are you feeling the need to defend yourself in this way, at this moment? And so there was support but there was also a kind of confusion about his motivation and whether or not ego got in the way.
Can you explain, quickly, his relationship to Louis Farrakhan — his friendship? No, Farrakhan was honored in his church, and as a member of the community in which he lives. This builds on the current conversation. You keep saying that Reverend Wright needs to leave the pews in the church; how does that jibe with what your thesis is, about being able to speak authentically in public spaces and about religion? Truly, I mean, divorced from the political implications, which I understand —.
No, I think my point was not about the substance of his claim, but the performance of the claim. So you concede that there are certain moments when it might not be in your best interest to speak authentically about the religious motivations that inform your opinions and values? That moment when he looks this way, and then he runs back to the thing — and so there was a sense in which —. Before I go to Byron York, a quick point, if Peter could get his permission. And I would go further, not to suppose motivation for your thesis, professor.
But it seems to me that if theologically motivated — if faith-motivated folks go into the public arena and make a faith-based argument. If you actually go into the public square and actually preach what you believe, which we have also seen, as Michael pointed out, from Pat Robertson and all those guys, you lose.
It only stands a chance of winning if, in fact, you find a way that it can be cast in terms of reason and stripped of its spiritual aspect. So, for example, she might make the case that scripture views homosexuality as an abomination, and I might argue with the resources of Eugene Rogers , a professor at the University of North Carolina, who makes the case that on scriptural grounds, same-sex love is actually justified — on scriptural grounds.
You get the point?
Religion and Race: A Historical and Contemporary Perspective
In that sense, I might be trying to generate consensus disingenuously, but I might not concede that just yet. In the case of —. This is a deeply, deeply theoretical proposition and point, and I think it best, would be continued over drinks. Well, we actually did this some years ago — we had Rick Warren here and the conversation just kept going and going and going, and finally, I said, well, we could have this over cocktails, of which Rick did not join. But Byron, you can be the person to give us the — take us into the break —.
I want to move away from Reverend Wright. Pollsters often ask the question, what do you think is the most important issue that the new president or the new Congress ought to address? We all know the issues in this election with the economy and before that, gas prices and Iraq and Bush-fatigue the whole time.
It was all about race. The question is, how do we deal with the ghastly ghosts of our past? America has this extraordinary ability to retreat into its innocence — or its perceived innocence. These ghosts are constantly reminding us of how earthly and human this fragile experiment in democracy has been. So I think it was all about race. I think his election, for African-American communities in particular and for the nation more generally, is a signal that the true work now begins, as opposed to, we should all pat ourselves on the back.
I think the true work begins January This written transcript has been edited for clarity, spelling, grammar and accuracy by Cheryl Jackson. About Pew Research Center Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping the world. It conducts public opinion polling, demographic research, media content analysis and other empirical social science research. Pew Research Center does not take policy positions. It is a subsidiary of The Pew Charitable Trusts. No, no, no, no, no, she was just getting in line.
You want to take interjections? On that one point, Lauren? That was nice of you. In 25 words or less. In 25 words or less? So the same holds for white churches? Yeah, I remember that. Inaudible — them out. He was a candidate. And do you disagree with that or agree with it? I thought it was a stronger version of the claim. I can do the scene.
Enslavement of Africans and their descendants, as well as conquered Native Americans, displayed the power of white Protestants. Even 19th-century American anti-Catholicism and anti-Mormonism intersected racial identifications. At the same time, just as religion has supported racial domination in American history, it also has inspired calls for self-determination among racial minorities, most notably in the 20th century. With the long shadow of slavery, the power of white supremacy, the emphasis on Native sovereignty, and the civil rights movement, much of the story of religion and race in American history focuses on Americans white, black, and red.
However, this is not the whole story.
Mexican-Americans and Latinx immigrants bring Catholic and transnational connections, but their presence has prompted xenophobia. Additionally, white Americans sought to restrict the arrival of Asian immigrants both legally and culturally. With the passing of the Immigration and Nationality Act of , the religious, racial, and ethnic diversity of the United States increased further. This religious and racial pluralism in many ways reflects the diversity of America, as does the conflict that comes with it. African American religions , Native American religions , whiteness , racism , nativism , colonialism , immigration.
The relationship between religion and race in American history is a complex and varied one. Since both are analytical categories rather than stable ones, the historical and cultural contexts shape how religion and race intersect and interact. Similarly, religion and American assumptions about religion are also social constructions. Historian of religion Jonathan Z. Smith has long illustrated how religion is not sui generis but rather the result of human activity.
For example, European Christians first developed ideas about religion broadly and what it was in moments of encounter and conflict with non-Christian communities. Their initial definitions of religion, then, looked strikingly similar to descriptions of Christianity. American ideas about race developed amid struggles for social domination, competition for economic power, and questions of property.
Ideas about race were inextricably linked to these issues. Throughout American as well as world history, certain races were seen as more evolved, more cultured, more developed than others—and thus better.
For the most part, Europeans and Euro-Americans held such assumptions and placed themselves atop the evolutionary spectrum. In the United States, assumptions about race were constructed in tandem with settler colonialism. To achieve this would require economic success and western expansion. Slavery involved the colonies and then the young nation in an international chattel slavery trade, and while the United States would formally close the international slave trade in , an illegal international slave trade continued, exemplified by the illegal arrival of the slave ship Clotilda as late as , and the nation possessed a robust domestic slave trade through the Civil War.
One need only look at the U. Census form or apply for a job to see how the categories of race and ethnicity continue to order American lives. Not surprisingly, racial hierarchies developed alongside religious hierarchies. During the era of European and American colonialism, taxonomies of religion included Christian, Jewish, Muslim, or idolatry; natural and primitive religion or high religion; natural religion or ethical religion. These distinctions were not without judgment. Around the turn of the 20th century, many scholars of religion subscribed to an evolutionary model of religion that ranked world religions on an evolutionary scale, and this model ran concurrent to an evolutionary model of culture.
This meant that the more evolved societies allegedly had more evolved religions. Scholars like James Freeman Clarke in The Ten Great Religions explained how belief in one deity as opposed to polytheism denoted a more sophisticated and less tribal religious worldview. Written texts allegedly expressed more developed religious components compared to those religious traditions that emphasized ritual or practice. Christian, Western, and often Protestant scholars picked the elements of an evolved religion based on their own cultural background.
Native American cultures were diverse before European contact, and this diversity extended to religious beliefs, practices, and understandings of the world. Native Americans cooperated with neighbors but also warred with neighbors. The three primary European powers that came to the new world—Spain, France, and England—offer interesting contrasts in their approaches to religion and race. For the Spanish conquistadors who came with guns to seek gold for the glory of God and Spain, Catholicism was a significant part of their cultural identity. Spaniards were known for their forceful colonial style.
The Spanish enslaved large numbers of natives very early, especially in the Caribbean, and forced them to work in the mines or in the agricultural fields. The work was hard and death rates were high. When encountering an indigenous settlement, Spanish conquerors often read a document known as El Requerimiento The Requirement that offered natives two choices: French colonists and soldiers did not enslave Native peoples to the degree of the Spanish, but they too viewed Native Americans as savages.
The Jesuit Relations , a collection of letters, journals, and travel logs from French Jesuit priests in New France, contained detailed descriptions of native culture. Evangelizing the Native American in colonial New England involved an important multistep process. The Puritans believed that the Native Americans needed their righteous religion and their civilized culture. This English assumption is depicted clearly in the official colonial seal of Virginia , in which a Native American kneels before the English monarch.
Queen Elizabeth holds her coronation orb and scepter, bejeweled with a Protestant cross, while the Native American offers tobacco. Following this, the English abandoned many praying towns and sold a number of Wampanoag Indians into slavery in the British Caribbean.
Religion in Black America - Wikipedia
As European and Native American interactions continued, some Native Americans increasingly viewed Europeans as a different race. As they saw the French make clear distinctions between themselves and their African slaves, the Natchez claimed racial power by identifying themselves as superior to the French. Historian and ethnographer Le Page du Pratz refers in his writings to a story told to him by Louisiana Natives.
In it they referred to an ancient flood that killed many on earth and the ancestors of all the Red Men were those who sought safety atop a mountain. Native communities across the United States adopted racial discourse as part of their arguments for sovereignty as they pushed back against colonial and early republic assumptions of white superiority.
The mass enslavement of native peoples by the Spanish prompted a large European debate about Native Americans: Was enslavement justifiable and did Native Americans have a capacity for faith? Some even wondered if Native Americans were fully human. He defended their enslavement because they were savages and heathens. They had a capacity for the Catholic faith but needed to be taught and nurtured. He suggested that colonial settlements import African slaves to work the mines and fields instead. Around the same time, Pope Paul III entered the conversation with the papal bull Sublimis Deus in , which stated that the Native Americans should not be enslaved but evangelized and instructed in European ways.
Though Native Americans were officially deemed human, they were still savages, and as savages they and Africans were inherently different from Europeans. Europeans and white Americans provided a number of reasons for slavery. Africans, they argued, had no civilization and no culture. Historians estimate that somewhere between ten million and thirty million Africans were seized during the African slave trade from the 17th to the midth centuries.
Though the colonies and later United States imported a small number of slaves compared to other parts of the Americas, slavery quickly became an important part of American culture and the monetary success of the new nation. Unlike the early, if largely unsuccessful efforts to evangelize Native Americans, slave conversions proceeded very slowly or were even nonexistent until at least the midth century. Many owners worried that Christianization would destroy the religious basis for slavery. Others argued that Christianization offered enslaved Africans the ultimate gift—salvation.
Conversion offered them something better than freedom, and thus Christian slaves were better off than Africans still across the ocean. In this argument, everyone allegedly benefited: Pro-slavery Christians cited numerous parts of the Bible to support their stance. They pointed to numerous references to slavery in the Pauline letters of the New Testament. Rather than denouncing slavery, Paul told slaves to be good servants and for owners to be good masters Colossians 3: Reason might suggest that pro-slavery Christians could use either the mark of Cain or the curse of Ham but not both; after all, the flood Noah and his family survived killed everyone else.
The essay notes some problems in using both the Cain and Ham rationale for slavery but only in the spirit of strengthening pro-slavery arguments. If God made Africans different, no human act could reverse the curse and the mark. In this view, the reputed curse of Ham and mark of Cain still marked African Americans as inferior.
Thus, abolition and support for black equal rights were not necessarily one and the same. Not surprisingly, ideas about whiteness and its inherent superiority developed alongside Christian arguments for slavery and black inferiority. Nineteenth-century visual images depicted Christ as white, and the mass images circulated by Bible tract societies and Protestant benevolent groups blanketed the American landscape.
As Paul Harvey and Edward J. Nativism prospered amid this religiously entrenched white supremacy from the 19th century into the early 20th century. Nativists were American-born Protestants who were opposed to all immigration, and from the s to the s, the massive immigration of Catholics from Ireland, Germany, the Italian principalities, and Poland, with some from Mexico and French Canada, constituted the largest threat to a perceived white Protestant hegemony in the United States.
As their immigration proceeded, Catholics surged from only eighty churches and seventy thousand worshipers to thousands of congregations where almost sixteen million Catholic men, women, and children worshipped by Whiteness might have been supreme in the new nation, but only a certain type of whiteness was desired. They threatened America because they bore allegiance to the papacy, a foreign power, and the common 19th-century equation of ethnicity with race only solidified white Protestant anti-Catholicism.
Non-Mormons targeted Mormonism for their claim that the Book of Mormon was sacred Christian scripture and especially for the polygamy that Smith introduced into Mormonism in the s. The Book of Mormon described Native Americans as descendants of a fallen and sinful group of early Hebrew Christians, and the church denied the priesthood to black Mormon men until This idea understood the different races to be akin to different species and ranked them by intellectual capacity and moral behavior.
A popular book, Types of Mankind , by Josiah C. White southerners wanted to restore antebellum white ideology no matter that slavery had ended, white northerners wanted to purify the South, and African Americans wanted to create their own autonomous personal and religious lives. All three groups saw their view of the future as the one desired by God. Their different idealized visions informed their criticisms of the others. Southern blacks appreciated the help northerners offered but were frustrated by their paternalism; additionally they found themselves terrorized by southern white hostility.
Southern whites found northerners unreasonable and blacks ignorant, while northern whites believed in the charitable benevolence of their goals though often viewed blacks as naively over-hopeful for contrition from white southerners. Colonial-era missions to Native Americans were only mildly successful. If Spanish and French Catholic missions were the most successful in gaining converts, disease and warfare that decimated Native populations often came to the aid of evangelists and colonial agents. At the beginning of the 19th century, most Christian missions to Native Americans had flopped.
Christianity was a key component of instruction. The Bible was employed to teach English, simultaneously denigrating Native languages and religions. Boarding school agents and teachers frequently cut the hair of Native children and dressed them in Euro-American clothes. More legislation over the course of the 19th century further supported such elimination. Though the Supreme Court would overturn the Removal Act, scores of Native communities were forced west nonetheless.
The Trail of Tears proved the severe harshness and inherent violence of this policy and foreshadowed what followed. In , Congress passed the Religious Crimes Code that banned traditional Native American religious practices on reservations. The federal and social repression of Native cultures also stimulated a growing Native American prophetic tradition.
While most scholars focus on the Ghost Dance movement of the late 19th century, it is important to note that during the War of , brothers Tenskwatawa and Tecumseh spread a prophetic vision of Native American past and future that inverted the Euro-American assumptions of white supremacy and Native barbarism. In early during an eclipse of the sun, a Paiute man named Wovoka experienced a vision in which he talked with God and saw a restorationist future for Native Americans.
Its message of an Indian millennium was no doubt attractive to oppressed tribal communities, and for many communities, the emphasis on dance and connecting with their ancestors maintained continuity with individual tribal practices. Christian missionaries working on reservations and the federal government both viewed the success of the Ghost Dance as a sign of failure and danger.
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The Ghost Dance movement spread and ended swiftly. On December 29, , U. The troops opened fire on a community of Ghost Dance followers, killing over two hundred men, women, and children. Many abandoned the Ghost Dance afterward. We will not talk more about it. White Protestant missionaries evangelized abroad as well as out west. Northern and southern whites each claimed that God supported their cause and demonized each other before the Civil War.
Immediately following the war, many northerners supported racial justice, black leaders, and racial uplift in religious terms, just as southern whites employed religion in supporting the Ku Klux Klan and, later, Jim Crow legislation enacting racial segregation. The popular revivals of Dwight Moody also brought white northern and southern Protestants back together under a common banner.
The power of whiteness was found elsewhere too, even in places dedicated to cultural diversity. In his opening remarks, event organizer C. Imperialism at home meant keeping a certain type of American under control and denying authority to those who did not fit the mold. Political organizations formed to keep Catholics out of power included the American or Know-Nothing Party in the s and the American Protective Association in the late s. Ignatius Loyola to rise up in arms and kill their Protestant neighbors as a precursor to a Vatican invasion of the country.
Though fictitious, many Protestants saw it as containing some truth. Jewish immigration in the late 19th and early 20th centuries led to an increase in anti-Semitism in America. White vigilantes labeled all three as dangerous others, but the law primarily focused on one of those three: For the most part, Jim and Jane Crow laws focused on physical segregation and voting. Segregation laws banned interracial marriages and kept Americans of different races separate in public spaces, public services, schools, and more. Segregation laws in western states often expanded restrictions against other races.
Literacy tests, which required voters to pass an exam in order to vote, were a common means of restricting black voters in the South. White Christianity was part of the muscle behind segregation. White southerners continued to call for the integrity of the white sacred order. Their slave-owning ancestors had argued that God takes care of humanity in the same way that they took care of their slaves. After the Civil War, Southern racists argued that God ordained the separation of the races and had given them different languages.
They quoted Acts In a nation and society ripe with legal and social racial segregation, African American churches and homes offered powerful social and religious spaces where African Americans could have control over their daily lives. The effective local and national racial segregation of many Christian denominations before and after the Civil War almost ironically created black churches and denominations where African Americans had authority to advance their own spiritual growth and civic engagement.
They became social hubs where black social clubs could meet and organize events. It then comes as no surprise that black churches became key centers in the protest for civil rights. Black Catholics had been advocating for equal political and religious rights since the 19th century. The first meeting of five Black Catholic Congresses, organized in large part by former slave and lay Catholic Daniel Rudd in , evidenced the desire of black Catholics to have more active voices in their churches. The Moorish Science Temple, also originating in the s, offered a new religious and racial identity for black Americans: Ali taught that a return to Islam and a recognition of their true ethnic and racial identity Moorish, which Ali associated with Morocco would help followers find real salvation.
Black churches brought together theological innovation and social critique. Prophetic religion is not a uniquely black church phenomenon, but it was particularly successful there. The old Hebrew prophets were social critics who spoke out about the corruption they saw around them. Thus, prophetic religion does the same. It critiques the current social authorities in power, identifies the corruption in the world, and includes a call for action.
The world is corrupt, but it does not have to be. People can change it if they have the courage to do so. Prophetic religion instructs listeners to not be passive bystanders. Speaking frequently from a perspective of prophetic religion was Martin Luther King Jr. King and the rest of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference advocated nonviolent protests. He and others—including his fellow clergymen, Ralph Abernathy and Fred Shuttlesworth, and many African American grassroots organizations—planned nonviolent protest campaigns across the South, leading to the Birmingham Campaign and the Selma-to-Montgomery march.
Black Christians were not alone in their critique of white supremacy. A charismatic and captivating speaker, Malcolm X eclipsed Elijah Muhammad in popularity.