A Response to Time’s, “White American Christianity Needs to be Honest about Its History of White Supremacy”

A few days ago, a person reached out and asked me to share their response to a recent controversial Time Magazine article. This individual did not feel free or safe to share the following with an attached name. I think this voice deserves to be heard. The following is what was sent to me:

Recently Carey Wallace published an article in Time Magazine online entitled, “White American Christianity Needs to be Honest about Its History of White Supremacy.”

There is so much wrong with this article, it is difficult to write a refutation of it, yet the truth is important… and the mistakes made here related to history, to logic, to rhetoric and to biblical Christianity are worth consideration. Please do not misunderstand, this is not an attack on the person of Wallace herself. She is beautiful, worthwhile, unique, and beloved by God and has immense value, simply by being part of humanity itself.

Her ideas, however, are not created equal. And it is here that we must dissent.

Wallace, in general, makes several alarming and incorrect claims: 

First, that current Christian leaders, decrying the violence at the Capitol are doing so blindly, in bad faith, and that the violence is the “logical conclusion of “white American Christianity.”

Second, that the history of the American church is primarily racist and white supremacist and always has been. She gives an odd litany of historical examples as evidence, which bear examination.

Third she conflates the violent mob at the Capitol and the “white American church” completely and says they are the same, literally saying of the mob, “It is us.”

Fourth, she claims that “many Christian institutions and leaders have failed to speak out directly against racism and white supremacy…” saying that “We know if we confront these foundational American sins directly” our members will “tear our institutions apart – and knock us from our coveted positions.”

Fifth, she says that the way out is to admit our fundamental belief in our own superiority, racism, historical ignorance, and our willingness to be violent and ignore violence when it suits our preferences. That the “path to healing” will involve a great deal of work to overcome, and “we must do that work.”

So, let us start at the beginning.

The first mistake here is saying Christian leaders saying that the violence at the Capitol is wrong is somehow a shirking of responsibility and accountability for their own part of the narrative that led us to this place.

This is incorrect for several reasons. One, Christianity is clear that non-violent resistance even to actual government repression and abuse is the only path espoused by the New Testament. While the notion for a just war can be argued scripturally, there is no such thing as a Christian idea of jihad. Jesus healed the ear of the centurion guard attacked by Peter, saying that “if we live by the sword, we die by the sword.”

The overwhelming majority of the early Church leaders were martyred and at no time did the Church rise in violent revolt, even in the face of clear societal and government sponsored injustice. This is something that we must agree on in this context: violence is bad. Violence that emerges from the guise of “peaceful protest” is worse. 

The opportunity here is for all Americans to say that the Capitol riots are a bad idea and that those responsible for criminal activity and insurrection, destruction of property and loss of life in this way should be held accountable according to the laws of our land. That this should never be excused or celebrated, but rather, condemned and as appropriate, punished. 

What is odd is that this is the position all serious Americans hold… except for people looking to alter the purveyance of the narrative for their own political or personal benefit.

Wallace is refusing this opportunity for unity of non-violent principle… indeed, refusing a fundamental American solidarity in favor of an attack on the “white American church” (what does that even mean in the real world?) to get a sanctimonious article onto the pages and online presence of Time.

Second, her claim that the church in America is racist and always has been is a stunning rewriting of history. Let’s go through her list of dubious historical examples and claims one by one:

– The Doctrine of Discovery, 1493 (Wallace claiming that the Church sanctioned the notion of taking land and liberty from non-Christian people was encouraged and endorsed by this)

As a non-starter, while there is an ongoing argument as to the demographic set of the Portuguese, Spanish people are considered Hispanic (and not white) so how they are the source of white supremacy in the church through the ages should be viewed with some suspicion.

Continuing, this was a Papal Bull dividing the known world between Portugal and Spain for the purpose of managing these world powers in the amazing period of oceanic discovery, increase of colonization, and trade. It may be arrogant in retrospect to assume that the whole world is ours and you can have this half of it, but there was no clear intent to dispossess, destroy or pillage inherent in the Bull itself. It seems obvious enough that this was an attempt to prevent war between these powers over newly discovered trade routes and the New World.

Add to this that the 1493 decree was largely ignored, by both sides and was completely superseded by the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494, made between nations directly, without the intervention of Papal Bull.

Further, this was not universal and is contradictory to the practice of many early colonists, including Roger Williams in Rhode Island, the Pennsylvania Quakers, the Dutch West India Company, and many others. These groups and individuals purchased land from the local Indian tribes at a fair price with currency, complete with treaty, trade agreements, and title. If the Doctrine of Discovery gave carte blanche to steal from indigenous people, then why would anyone bother to purchase land?

Many serious scholars in this space believe the Doctrine of Discovery to be better read as the exclusive right to trade and enter into treaties and agreements with the local inhabitants, rather than just an odd declaration of possession saying, “their stuff is now your stuff, as long as they aren’t already Christians.”

Did this period involve conquest and abuse that was illegitimate on Christian grounds? Certainly. But this is under the heading of “people are going to do bad things to each other” and not a direct result of the so-called white supremacist nature of the church.

– That the Puritans, instead of spreading the gospel, engaged in genocide and that they “had virtually exterminated the Pequot people” within their first decade in the New World

Is it bad that you must wait for the laughter die down before fashioning a factual response? 

Yes, let us review the great bloody conquerors through history: Genghis Khan, Nicodemus, Xerxes, Alexander the Great and a group of Puritans from Connecticut with buckles on their hats. The top sheet of this one seems to be a stretch.

In looking at accounts of history related to Native Americans in colonial and early America, you must start with the uncontested idea that not all the Indian tribes are the same. Depending on how you count them, there are currently 562 distinct Native American tribes. Most of them have their own polity, their own language, their own traditions, and a rich and varied history.

Most of them were peaceful (or peaceful until provoked) nomadic tribes… but some of them simply were not. There were some tribes that were more aggressive and given to war and conquest than their fellows and the Pequot tribe was clearly on more warlike side of the fence. Their name, in their own language means, “The Destroyers” and the earliest historical colonial account describes them as a “Terror to all of their Neighbors.”

The Pequot war started with the Pequot murder of innocent English traders and the escalation into war which included numerous other local Indian tribes who fought on the side of the colonists. While it is true that some of the factions in the Pequot war were Puritans, this was a governmental, colonial and local war… not a weird Puritan jihad. To characterize the Pequot war as the church continuing its unending passion for white supremacy is incorrect, and at minimum, a ridiculous historical over-reaching.

– That the Puritans expelled the good actor Roger Williams because he believed in the separation of church and state and that this was “inscribed in the American Constitution”

While the establishment clause of the first amendment talks about the government not starting a state sponsored church (like the Church of England) the phrase “separation of church and state” does not appear in the Constitution at all. Once more Wallace gives us a swing and a miss.

The phrase comes from a letter from Jefferson to the Danbury Baptist Association in Connecticut in 1802, where Thomas talks about a “wall of separation” between state and church. Ironically, the point of Jefferson’s letter was the protection of the ideas and influence of the church, not the other way around.

For Wallace’s persecuted and heroic example, it is better to say that Roger Williams was a mixed bag. He believed in buying land from the Indians rather than just taking it from them and was instrumental in the founding of Rhode Island. That was good.

He also was a handful and a troublemaker. This was mostly bad. His trouble with the local government was because of direct sedition against King James and his trouble with the local church was through his belief that the Church of England was irredeemably corrupt and should be separated from completely. 

To defend him as an ideological genius who was persecuted because he wanted to keep church and state separate for human flourishing just is not accurate. The best you could say is that this version of Williams is quite incomplete… until we get to this troublesome fact:

Roger Williams directly recruited the Narragansett Tribe to fight and kill… wait for it… the Pequots, in, wait for it again, the notorious and previously mentioned Pequot War.

At that point, the question for Wallace is troublesome. Is Roger Williams an ideological hero who was persecuted by a dogmatic and racist colonial church, barely surviving his flight into the woods while physically sick and heroically heroic? Or is he a white supremacist who through the racially motivated and genocidal ideas of the church is gleefully killing Native Americans in a frenzied Puritan bloodbath? 

That Wallace is clearly unaware of this is not surprising. Every single one of her historical examples is wrong, often hilariously wrong, which by itself is impressive. Surely you could accidentally get something right occasionally by picking arcane historical examples at random.  Instead, we are getting obscure stories from poorly researched secondary sources and then piecing these together to support a pre-considered narrative of the church as racist.

Except they do not, because literally all of the “examples” come apart with any scrutiny of verification whatsoever.

That she did not do her homework is a problem; that not a single one of her examples hold up to any scrutiny is a problem; and that she puts contradictory stories and “evidence” in her article without even realizing what she is doing, is a problem.

– That the founders believed Native Americans were “merciless Indian savages” and the Constitution “defined African-Americans as three-fifths of a person” resulting in the explicit idea in our Constitution that black people are “not quite human”

Wallace almost scores a point, then drives it right off the rails with the tired and uninformed three-fifths argument.

With the Iroquois and Pequot as exhibits A and B, sometimes indigenous tribes were merciless and savage, killing men, women, children, and even infants in murderous raids (like the 1622 Jamestown Massacre as an example).

Does this justify categorizing all Indians as “merciless” and “savage?” No, it doesn’t. 

But remember, this was Jefferson writing and the specific grievance in the Declaration was the British fomenting of violence with aggressive Indian tribes for their own political ends.

Jefferson himself famously said that Indians were, “in body and mind equal to the whiteman” and were endowed with an innate moral sense and a marked capacity for reason. Clearly Jefferson didn’t believe that all Indians were “merciless and savage” in a dismissive and prejudicial way.

From there, we recall that the “three-fifths” clause of the Constitution was included by abolitionists to limit the number of representatives in Congress from slave states. Remember that the number of delegates sent to Congress was based on population, with higher population resulting in more delegates.

The slave states in the early union were pushing for slaves to be counted, and this idea was rightly resisted by abolitionists who did not want extra seats in Congress given away.  If successful, you would have had a large non-voting population providing for additional Congressional delegates who did not represent their interests, and in fact represented their oppression. 

The three-fifths idea was to limit this dynamic and was explicitly conceived and executed to benefit the work of abolition in the American system.

And not to be a naysayer, but what exactly does this have to do with the white supremacist white church in white churched America?

– That Jefferson’s primary source of wealth was a factory staffed with enslaved children

Stop it. Jefferson’s primary source of income and wealth was inherited, in the estate of Monticello. It was increased through marriage to a wealthy family and further increased through his political service as Secretary of State, as Ambassador and as President of the United States, along with being an attorney, writer, and inventor of various items.

Yes, Jefferson owned slaves. Yes, his slaves were primarily extended families that lived and worked together. Yes, some of them were children. Yes, this was immoral, unethical, and wrong. Yes, he profited from their labor, this is not news. 

And yes, once again, all these things about Jefferson have literally nothing to do with the church in America being racist and white supremacist.

– That slaves did not start becoming Christians until 1800 because slave-holders actively avoided sharing Christianity with their slaves

Nope. Google the “Great Awakening” and read about the thousands of slaves who came to Christianity in the 1730’s.

– That the Quakers excommunicated Benjamin Lay because he was an abolitionist, dying “unwelcome as a member in any Quaker church”

No. Benjamin Lay eventually became discouraged with his life in an overall way, with the death of his wife and his frustration with the abolitionist movement.  In the last years of his life, he lived in a cave, near an orchard, as a vegetarian and basically, as a hermit.

He was disciplined in the church, not for abolitionist views, but for how aggressively he made his point. At one juncture, he emptied a Bible, put a bladder filled with red liquid in it and in a strident talk about how injustice left the people there with blood on their hands, stabbed the book, spraying red liquid all over the crowd. He had a point. He was passionate about his point. He was literally carried out of that meeting by people who did not appreciate how he made his point, and he pointedly did not resist. 

Even if, in retrospect, we agree with him, no one is putting Benjamin Lay in charge of the budget – even if he was ultimately right, he was a little unhinged. 

But he still went to church with his Quaker community and was still allowed fellowship and the opportunity to speak. His “removal” did not shun him, nor did it formally socially ostracize him. It only limited his ability to hold direct leadership and set policy in the Quaker church.

         – For the vast majority of American history, Christian ministers have spoken with passion and vigor in favor of slavery, segregation, and white supremacy

That is an odd way to say something. Over an extended period of time, small and rogue subsets of people have said all kinds of stupid things.

This would be like saying:

For the vast majority of American history, scientific astronomers have spoken with passion and vigor in favor of the earth being flat. Therefore, science is bad and useless.

In both cases, this is a partially true statement being used for a ridiculous conclusion. The problem is that the number of Christian ministers speaking in favor of racism is an incredibly small subset of the larger group, and they have never, ever been credible or serious in their biblical analysis, exposition, or teaching. 

Without googling, name three of them. 

Name the major works of those who held the view that slavery was good, that blacks were not fully human, that their captivity was secretly good for them and that we still ready today because they were amazing. 

If you can’t, that fact might be worth considering. 

There have been heretical cranks from the very beginning. There will continue to be heretical cranks. Heretical cranks do not invalidate the church, the beauty of the gospel, or Christianity. This is not news either.

The implication that all Christian ministers have spoken passionately in favor of racism is not true and has never been true. The Christian Abolitionists in America were there in the very beginning and it was their voice that put the idea that slavery is bad front and center on the national stage.

– That even Abolitionists thought African Americans were not fully human https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part4/4i2978.html


No serious abolitionist believed African American people weren’t fully human. The entire point of their movement was that they were fully human, and you do not get to own fully human humans as property.

The link given as presumed “evidence” of this is to a Q&A about implicit racism in the northern abolitionists and is quite a stretch to even get there. Apparently, some groups wanted Frederick Douglas to talk about his personal experience, while he wanted to talk more broadly about several abolitionist issues. It was a difference in opinion and tactics, not a question of his humanity at all.

– That the KKK was deeply rooted in the church in America, both in the North and the South 

It is true that many members of the KKK, past and present, consider themselves Christian. This is true in the same way that some extremist terrorist groups, committing acts of violence and suicide bombings consider themselves Muslim.

Are all Muslims terrorists? Is terrorism “deeply rooted” in Islam? If you say “no” to that idea as a blanket statement, then also say “no” to the KKKs relationship to Christianity for the same reasons.

Because some people on the lunatic fringe of the violent and racist KKK also went to church, is not evidence in any way that the church is fertile ground for a “deeply rooted” movement of racism. It only means that wrong, racist, and violent people can belong to multiple groups if they want to.

Here is a short history of the Klan. Notice the complete lack of any single reference to the church, except as a target of violence.


– That Christianity Today opposed MLK and called the March on Washington a “mob spectacle” 

This one has a lot of nerve and is perhaps, more egregious than the other false claims being touted. For Reverend Billy Graham was a friend of Dr. King, putting him in front of his own crusade in New York and raising his message to an audience of national prominence.

When arrested at Albany, it was Billy Graham himself who posted King’s bail personally and was an acknowledged ally in the movement to civil rights. Never let a good deed go unpunished. For the magazine that Graham founded, comes under attack, falsely and without fact or honor, saying that Christianity Today stood in opposition with Martin Luther King Jr., and in solidarity with racism and white supremacy. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Let us look at an actual quote given by the editor of Christianity Today at the time of the March on Washington:

Henry also notes that the magazine as a whole did not entirely agree with Dr. King’s practices, stating, “the magazine opposed the disrespect for law implicit in mob demonstration and resistance, when a single well-publicized protest could have thrown the issue into the courts where justice issues were to be resolved;” https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/58826015.pdf

This is not saying that the protest on the national mall was a mob spectacle. It is a differing opinion related to tactics and there is a point to be made. Many of the peaceful protests of Dr. King’s activity were met with violence, with arrests, with injury and with harm to the protesters. Is it possible that instead of siding with racism, that Carl F. H. Henry, one of the most thoughtful and promising theologians of his generation… was concerned for the protesters themselves? And seeking a path for dissent that would be more public and less likely to be met with arrogant violence?

Do not take the institutions founded by one of the closest friends and allies of Dr. King and attempt to smear his legacy and work by deliberately misreading an out of context quote at the time. Or worse, be ignorant and accuse someone falsely of racism and white supremacy when the most direct evidence in this case calls for the opposite conclusion.

– That America is more segregated now than immediately after the Civil War.  

Nope. From the research link Wallace posts:

“…research argues that residential segregation [has] declined since 2000. However, the decline most likely reflects population shifts rather than improved federal housing policy. Specifically, the Black population declined in some neighborhoods due to (a) the end of the Great Migration in 1970, (b) the movement of an expanded Black middle class into White neighborhoods (Logan & Stults, 2011;Massey, 2015), (c) the reverse migration of urban Blacks to the South (Frey, 2015, 2004), (d) the gentrification of previously poor and Black neighborhoods, and (e) the entry of immigrant groups into neighborhoods reducing the isolation of Blacks (R. J. Smith et al., 2017).”

– That the American church is the most segregated institution in America

No. According to Pew, one of the best research organizations in existence, truly segregated congregations in America represent less than 10% of existing congregations and that number is dropping fast.

Let that sink in. In an organization where attendance and activity are completely voluntary, more than 90% of the time, Christianity is a place where skin color isn’t the primary concern. That the truth of the Gospel is a place that cuts across demographic lines – and that idea has been present in the church from the New Testament until now.

And if we look at the history of revivals, particularly in America, they tend to be quite diverse. The Great Awakening and Second Great Awakening, the revival of Azusa Street in the early 1900s… and the Jesus Movement of the 1960s all cut across racial and ethnic bounds.

Third she conflates the violent mob at the Capitol and the “white American church” completely and says they are the same, literally saying of the mob, “It is us.”


It is the province of racist and prejudicial thinking to judge an entire group by the actions of a few. There is always a lunatic fringe. There is always a bad actor. 

To paint an entire generation of believers, with their individual and corporate beliefs, with their diversity of color, demographics, class, education, background, outlook, story and cultural differences with the explicit blame of the Capitol riot is the worst kind of generalization. It simplifies the complexity of true faith and true human connection with faith in a way that is out of bounds.

Surely the church is made of people, and those people are imperfect and because of that, there will always be an example of someone falling short, of not being theologically correct, of not being possessed of such character as we might hope or expect. And if we are honest, a look in the mirror will reveal to each of us a similar problem.

But we are not the mob. We are the church. We are the bride of Christ and positioned by His love and His will at the right hand of the Father. There is no arrogance in that position, because by grace we did not do anything to earn it. But while there is a deep awareness of our flaws and need for grace, we are also surrounded by the biblical idea that God loves us more than life and that nothing, not even ill intentioned attacks on our deepest held beliefs and traditions can separate us from His love.

God is not an incompetent middle manager who is fumbling and bumbling His way through the church in history. Individuals, sinful, flawed individuals do not have the ability to stain or to sway His purpose of the church in the earth from His divine will and path. 

Are there bad examples of human behavior? 

Yes, that is why we need God’s grace and the advent of the church in the first place.

Fourth, she claims that “many Christian institutions and leaders have failed to speak out directly against racism and white supremacy…” saying that “We know if we confront these foundational American sins directly” our members will “tear our institutions apart – and knock us from our coveted positions.”

No. The consistent line of mainstream Protestant churches, of the Catholic Church, of the Episcopal Church, of the Greek Orthodox Church, and of the myriad denominations and independent entities sharing the gospel in this generation is this: God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son… and whoever believes in Him will not perish but will be drawn into a life that never ends.

And it does not matter what color you are. Racism and the true expression of the gospel are completely incompatible.

Racism and white supremacy are inconsistent with the idea of Imago Dei, the idea that we are created in God’s image, as creatures of spirit and love – not primarily of skin color and class struggle and a primal tribalism that overrides all else.

Racism and race supremacy is also inconsistent with an entire ethical and moral system based on the idea of love, and upon the golden rule. The ethical watchword of Christianity, and has been from the beginning, is that we love our neighbor as ourselves… and it just does not matter what color your neighbor is. We act on each other as we would want to be acted upon… and no one wants to be marginalized and judged by the color of our skin or the class of our culture.

This is one thing the church has gotten right… and it springs to the fore in every single revival of God’s spirit that the world has ever seen.

Jews and Greeks, men and women, slave and free, go into all the world and preach the gospel of God’s amazing to love to all nations (and by implication all races) … there is simply no way you can posit that the church in its expression in the real world, is fundamentally racist. And the churches in America, the more than 90% not just white church in America… while imperfect to be sure, has not strayed so far from this path as to be guilty of what Wallace is accusing the church to be.

Fifth, she says that the way out is to admit our fundamental belief in our own superiority, racism, historical ignorance and our willingness to be violent and ignore violence when it suits our preferences. That the “path to healing” will involve a great deal of work to overcome, and “we must do that work.”

We are actually close to a biblical idea here. Namely, that before we point to anyone else’s sin, we take a hard look in the mirror. However, scripturally, this is primarily an individual move, not a corporate one.

So, the biblical question is, in what ways specifically has the author (and perhaps reader) of this response worked to apprehend the truth of this issue personally? Through an examination of history, through a personal examination of thought and action, through an examination of assumptions that fuel decisions in the day to day life in the real world?

Likewise, what work, and what work specifically, has Wallace done to identify her own tendencies of racism? What are they? How did they creep in? Through a colonial tale of an aggressive Indian tribe that few have ever heard of? From an arcane Papal Bull penned for Spain and Portugal in 1493? 

Perhaps. But honestly, that seems unlikely.

To her credit, this article is a stunning admission of her fundamental belief of her own historical ignorance. There’s so much work to be done! We have to admit how much work!

OK, lots of work, let us stipulate that one as true. Next? What now?

We must do “that work?” What it the name of all that is holy does this even mean? For someone criticizing God’s plan in the earth as flawed and racist and employed with vague and unhelpful prattering and prayers – this is incredibly non-specific.

What work needs to be done? Obviously not any work regarding checking of original historical sources and academic rigor. Obviously not any work of understanding the larger picture and context for literally any piece of evidence given as systemic and historical racism in the church. Obviously not any acknowledgment of human frailty or complexity. Everyone is a racist! Publish my ideas in Time! My ideas are so brave and original!

No. This is pablum. It is groupthink. It is half a loaf and in our current climate, it is not helpful. This is what everyone is saying, thus it becomes what no one is saying… an incredibly popular herd line right now, repeated ad nauseum and without any specific action or remedy. 

Are these ideas, published by Time, anything more than a circular spiral of blame that is, at best, an inaccurate ranting of rumors untrue?

What work needs to be done?! 

This is a real question that needs an answer. We need a coherent response for a single thing that can be done in the real world by a real person to make literally Anything better.

Does racism exist? Of course.

It is better now that it was in 1960? Of course!

Do we have a personal responsibility to treat people well, as if they were actually Imago Dei? Of course! 

How about that as some good work to do? Even if you do not believe in the divine, we must treat people as if they were sacred.

Let us join Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln and Kant and Jeremiah and Shakespeare and Jesus and Martin Luther King Jr and treat people… even our enemies… with respect and with grace. To make this motion of the will, and to actually live out the promise of “all of us created equal” is work worthy of doing.

If we embrace the idea that everyone is in fact, created, and endowed by God with inalienable value and inalienable rights… and really embrace it… then that becomes a personal ecosystem where motivations of classism and racism cannot also exist.

If one of us does this individually, that will be good and a light to everyone they touch. If enough of us do this individually, then this value will become cultural, and once again a shared value of the larger group. 

When it does, it will shine a light of justice in society from the inside out.

– Anonymous

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *