On Easter Sunday, Christians Must Remember How Easily and Often Our Faith Is Used to Defend White Supremacy

Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, Think, April 1, 2018

Easter Sunday, when Christians around the world celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, is also—and not accidentally—a tragic anniversary in American history.

On Easter Sunday 1873, 145 years ago, hundreds of white men in Colfax County, Louisiana, took up arms after Sunday morning worship services and marched to their county courthouse to reclaim control of the local government from representatives who had been democratically elected by black and white people voting together. Standing their ground in the hopes that federal reinforcements would arrive in time, every defender of democracy at the Colfax County courthouse was murdered.

White Democrats across the South took their cue from this violent coup d’etat and developed the “Mississippi Plan,” which capitalized on the narrative of white fear to suppress black political power in the presidential election of 1876 and overturn Reconstruction through a compromise with Republican President Rutherford B. Hayes. This white supremacy campaign also sometimes goes by another name: the “redemption movement.”

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But faith stories have power to catalyze movements for good as well as for evil in our world. Any serious attempt to grapple with American history must acknowledge that faith has played a role on both sides of our major struggles—among the abolitionists and the defenders of slavery in the 19th century; among civil rights activists and segregationists in the 1950s and 1960s.

And what is true about our past is at play in the present: Christianity’s redemption narrative is being deployed again today toward disparate visions of what kind of nation America should become. {snip}

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As in Colfax County 145 years ago, faith didn’t moderate white evangelicals’ desire to hold onto political power in 2016; it fueled their resolve to maintain control by any means necessary.

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