A book I’m enthusiastically recommending right now: Blood & Faith: Christianity in American White Nationalism by Damon T. Berry (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2017, 268 pp.; $29.95).
I spend a lot of my time thinking about how white nationalism and Christianity align. In Blood & Faith, Berry, a professor of religious studies at St. Lawrence University, does the opposite, examining hostility toward Christianity in white nationalism. His book is a solid primer on strains of white nationalism outside of the KKK, which is probably the white supremacist group most of us know the most about.
Across the groups he studies, Berry notes that, during the post-WW II period, white supremacists increasingly felt that neither politics nor religion was maintaining white rule. In response, some white supremacists rejected religion entirely (Revile Pendleton Oliver and Ben Klassen), while others folded nationalism into non-Christian religions.
For white supremacists critical of Christianity, the faith is troublesome because it is rooted in Judaism and pacifist (for Klassen, born into a Mennonite family, literally; for other Christians, in its ideals), preaching equality among all people (at least before God, if not before the law), with a Savior who died by execution rather than leading a revolution. If Christians were to truly follow their Savior “even to the point of death,” Christians-and the Western (i.e. white) tradition would die. Such a faith is suicidal, and white supremacists are chronically worried about white people’s own participation in their genocide (eye roll).
Christians should rightly be appalled at criticisms that the problem with Christianity is that it is too gracious, too humble, too fearless of death. Of course, as it is practiced in the US today, it is rarely these things. And if it were and if all Christians died because of it, that would be okay, too. As Christians, we can trust that if we all die living out our faith, God is still in control. And if Christianity itself becomes extinct, that’s because we’re no longer offering something useful to the world. Such a Christianity doesn’t really deserve to survive.
The criticisms of Klassen, Oliver, and others who hate Christianity because it is too weak slip into much American Christianity today. I see more and more Catholic believers drawing from the violent imagery of the Crusades in discussing their faith, and such images are all over the YouTube videos and social media sites of white supremacists. Christian handgun ownership is defended on the grounds that Jesus never meant for us to give up our lives. And ever since women have outnumbered men in American pews (since the 1600s), we experience periodic crises about the “femininization” of the church with backlashes that involve “manning up” the music, the sermons, and even our image of Jesus. American Christian also men fear and hate a “weak” Jesus, if not precisely for the same reasons or with the same vehemence that white nationalists who hate Christianity do.
Above, a VERY muscular Jesus hangs on the cross. Some white nationalists detest Christianity because it centers on Jesus’ willingness to die and his directions that his followers do the same. Many American Christians also have some qualms about a weak Jesus.
Oh, this statue? It’s located in a Christian sculpture park in Yeongcheon, South Korea. That probably makes some white Christians and white nationalists a little worried as well.
In the end, white supremacy’s hatred of Christianity is a good sign. It means that white supremacists have faith that, if done properly, Christianity can topple racist hierarchies.
Now, can we convince American Christians to do that work?