A coalition of Christian leaders released a declaration Friday demanding White Christians and Black church leaders act on their spiritual and social obligations in various capacities to combat racism in the wake of the violent white supremacist movement that reared its ugly, unhooded head in Charlottesville, Virginia, recently.
“In Charlottesville … the violence of white supremacy visited our nation once again because its demonic presence has not been exorcised from us,” the “Charlottesville Declaration” states. “From the founding of this nation until the present hour, the idolatry of whiteness has been a pro-death spirit within our republic. It is easy for us to scapegoat the domestic terrorists who incited violence that ended in the deaths of three Americans. We can call them extremists who do not represent American values, but upon closer examination, the ideology deployed as a weapon in Charlottesville haunts every institution of the country, including the church.”
The signatories of the “Charlottesville Declaration” call on White Evangelicals to unequivocally condemn ungodly ideologies of racial superiority. These ideologies, historically promoted by White Christians who claimed Biblical support for abuses like slavery and Jim Crow segregation, have led to divisions in the church and the oppression of Native Americans, Blacks and other minorities since the nation’s founding.
The declaration also calls upon the persevering Black church to wield its pastoral-prophetic mantle to help guide the conscience of a nation still burdened by racial divisions and social injustices.
The “Charlottesville Declaration” signatories also appeal to “Christians of good will to join in reading, learning, and acting on insights found in the ways in which the church both legitimated and resisted white supremacy throughout the last several centuries.”
Their ultimate aim is to have white supremacy “cast out and dismantled.”
“We need a revival of spirit, a revolution of values and the abundance of righteous justice in this land,” the document states.
It concludes: “We fight for victory in the name of Jesus our Lord! Amen.”
The “Charlottesville Declaration” comes just two weeks after various anti-Semetic and racist white nationalist and alt-right groups, including the KKK, converged for “Unite the Right” rallies in the small college town in Virginia.
Gathered under the claim of protesting the removal of Confederate monuments, racist demonstrators left the nation aghast when images emerged of several hundred participants marching with lit torches and shouting statements such as “White lives matter!” “You will not replace us!” and “Jews will not replace us!” on the campus of the University of Virginia. On April 12, the following day, violence erupted between “Unite the Right” demonstrators and counter-protesters, some of whom included “anti-fascist groups, local residents, members of church groups, civil rights leaders and onlookers,” The Washington Post reported. In the middle of the melee, James Alex Fields Jr. allegedly rammed his car into a group of counter-protesters, killing Heather Hay and injuring at least 19 others. Separately, two Virginia state troopers, Lt. H. Jay Cullen and Berke M.M. Bates, were killed when the helicopter they were flying in to monitor demonstrations crashed.
President Trump sought to reassure Americans of the country’s unity when he made a series of statements about the violent and hate-fueled protests in Charlottesville. However, the president alarmed many when he initially failed to explicitly denounce the racist groups involved and attributed the “egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence” to “many sides.” Trump, who eventually went on to decry the removal of “our beautiful” Confederate statues, has been staunchly defended by members of his Evangelical Advisory Board, including Jerry Falwell, Jr., Robert Jeffress and Paula White—who has insisted that Trump is a born-again Christian.
These recent events, compounded by the post-election revelation that 81 percent of White Evangelicals voted for Trump despite his racially offensive and sexually explicit remarks, has deepened frustrations and feelings of alienation among Christians of color toward White believers and White-led churches and denominations
Q&A With ‘Charlottesville Declaration’ Author
Jemar Tisby, president of the Reformed African American Network, co-authored “The Charlottesville Declaration” with CJ Rhodes, pastor of Mt. Helm Baptist Church and chair of the National Baptist Convention USA, Inc.’s Commission on Ecumenical Relationships.
Tisby explained the motive in crafting the document and how he and fellow signatories plan to move forward with it in a brief Q&A conducted via email with Faithfully Magazine. The interview follows below.
How many Christian traditions/denominations are represented among the individuals listed at the end of the declaration?
The initial signatories represent a variety of denominations from Presbyterian, to Missionary Baptist, to Southern Baptist. The tie that binds the initial signatories is a familiarity with and respect for the black church tradition—a legacy we draw upon to help us engage in today’s Civil Rights movement.
I see that the Rev. William Dwight McKissic, Sr. is also listed as a signatory. Did you and CJ Rhodes specifically seek him out with this declaration? If so, why?
Rev. Rhodes has known Rev. McKissic for some time, and I have recently made his acquaintance. For years Rev. McKissic has demonstrated an outspoken zeal for unity in the Southern Baptist Convention and the church beyond. Most recently, his prophetic denunciation of the “alt right” at the SBC’s annual meeting in June made him a natural ally in the battle against white supremacy.
“… every Christian minister should be actively and intentionally involved in dismantling the idol of white supremacy in the American church.”
Are there any particular influential/highly visible/outspoken White leaders you all plan to lobby to see the kind of action the declaration is calling for?
In the coming days we may reach out to specific Christian leaders to make them aware of the Charlottesville Declaration. But every Christian minister should be actively and intentionally involved in dismantling the idol of white supremacy in the American church. We aim simply to lay the word of God before our brothers and sisters in Christ so that we can all share this burden as we stride toward freedom.
Same question but for such leaders linked to/a part of the Black church.
Historically black denominations like the National Baptist Convention, the Church of God in Christ, and the African Methodist Episcopal church, to name a few, have a legacy of deep faith coupled with social uplift. We hope and pray for their support in this effort since we lean on the wisdom of the black church tradition to move forward in boldness and love.
Anything you would like to add?
We would be honored if people who agree with the “Charlottesville Declaration” would add their names to the document and share it widely. We have been praying for a movement of the Spirit to help the American church honestly face its complicity with white supremacy as well as move beyond rhetoric and into action for the sake of justice. This simple statement could aid that effort, so we hope to share its message as broadly as possible.
Read the “Charlottesville Declaration”
An Appeal to the Church in America
For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 1 Peter 4:17
In Charlottesville, VA, the violence of white supremacy visited our nation once again because its demonic presence has not been exorcised from us. From the founding of this nation until the present hour, the idolatry of whiteness has been a pro-death spirit within our republic. It is easy for us to scapegoat the domestic terrorists who incited violence that ended in the deaths of three Americans. We can call them extremists who do not represent American values, but upon closer examination, the ideology deployed as a weapon in Charlottesville haunts every institution of the country, including the church.
Thus, it is with great concern for the soul of this nation that we, the signatories, covenant to “cry loud and spare not” (Isaiah 58:1) against America’s national sin, beginning within the body of Christ. White supremacy—often called by many names including racism, white privilege, “alt-right” and the KKK—is an insidious doctrine that in manifold ways steals, kills, and destroys the inviolable dignity of all God’s children (Genesis 1:26-28). It suppresses the truth of God (Romans 1:18), and walks out of step with the true Gospel (Galatians 2:14). All that is left for an unrepentant stance toward sin is God’s justice and judgement. Alas, many of the Lord’s followers remain hard of heart and hearing, making God’s judgement upon this nation seemingly inevitable.
Judgment begins with the household of God, which has been particularly instrumental in the creation and maintenance of racial inequity. From Puritan pilgrims to Evangelical revivalists, churchmen have been seduced by the spirit of the age, calling evil good and good evil. The blood of indigenous peoples, Africans and other people of color cries out from American soil to God our Maker. As premature calls for peace seek to silence the pregnant rage of this generation, the words of Scripture come freshly to mind: “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division” (Luke 12:51-53).
Because of this we do not need cheap grace, cheap peace, cheap reconciliation. We need a revival of spirit, a revolution of values, and the abundance of righteous justice in this land. Now is the time for the church to again be the moral compass for this nation. Now is the time for a prophetic, Spirit-led remnant to bear credible “word and deed” witness to the glorious Gospel of Jesus Christ.
As in the generation that preceded us, we especially call upon those born-again disciples who still cherish the authority of Scripture and the enablement of the Spirit. We declare that old time religion is still good enough for us in this new era, religion that provides us a full-orbed Gospel of evangelism and activism. May we be salt and light witnesses against the kingdom of darkness, knowing that we war not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. (Ephesians 6:12)
To this end, we call upon white leaders and members of the Evangelical church to condemn in the strongest terms the white supremacist ideology that has long existed in the church and our society. Nothing less than a full-throated condemnation can lead to true reconciliation in the Lord’s body. Additionally, this condemnation must not be in word only, but also in deeds that “bring forth fruits worthy of repentance” (Luke 3:8). As Dr. King notes in Letter from Birmingham Jail, white apathy is worse than white supremacy.
We also appeal to the black church to urgently remember its historic role of living within the pastoral-prophetic tension in U.S. Christianity. We call black Christians and others back to a prophetic vocation embodied in the ministries of Lemuel Haynes, Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, Maria W. Stewart, Richard Allen, Charles Price Jones, Charles Harrison Mason, Nannie Helen Burroughs, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Mary McCleod Bethune, Fannie Lou Hamer, Gardner C. Taylor, J. Deotis Roberts, and John Perkins. Now is the time to remind the nation and ourselves of the personal and social power of the Gospel.
Lastly, we invite Christians of good will to join in reading, learning, and acting on insights found in the ways in which the church both legitimated and resisted white supremacy throughout the last several centuries. Armed with saving knowledge and theological and historical truth, we can persuasively call for repentance and be repairers of the breach. White supremacy will be cast out and dismantled, God willing, by prayer and fasting. We fight for victory in the name of Jesus our Lord! Amen.
CJ Rhodes, D.Min. (cand.), co-author; Pastor, Mt. Helm Baptist Church; Chair, Commission on Ecumenical Relationships, National Baptist Convention USA, Inc.
Jemar Tisby, co-author; President, Reformed African American Network; Co-host “Pass The Mic” podcast
Tyler Burns, Co-host, “Pass The Mic” podcast
Dr. Christina Edmondson, CEO, Edmondson Consulting
Rev. Dr. Mika Edmondson, Author, The Power of Unearned Suffering
Lisa V. Fields, President, Jude 3 Project
Michelle Higgins, Director, Faith for Justice
Rev. Dr. Mike Higgins, Senior Pastor, South City Church
Rev. Earon M. James Sr., Lead Pastor, Relevant Life Church
Cornelius Lindsey, Pastor
Rev. William Dwight McKissic, Sr., Senior Pastor, Cornerstone Baptist Church
Elodie Quetant, Managing Editor, RAANetwork
Ekemini Uwan, Public Theologian