About the Capitol, White Power, James Cone and Repentance

As I sit with the reality that white supremacists broke into the Capitol building in Washington yesterday, meeting what can only be accurately described as a friendly police opposition, I’m struck by how uniquely American the whole scene is. We have nearly 500 years now to witness to the fact that the existing power structures serve a select few.

And the thing is that the insurrectionists of Jan 6 2021 were not those served by the existing power structures. What occurred instead was an army of aggrieved, weaponized poor and working class. But the miracle is that, instead of marching for their own sakes, they were instead invading the Capitol in support of an outwardly fascist president and his party, who own much of the blame for the massive gap between the rich and the rest of us in American life.

It is now crystal clear that the American Evangelical (white) church is complicit. After denouncing protests in the summer of 2020 that called for accountability in the wake of the murders of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and a host of other blacks, browns and poor whites at the hands of police, the new sin was to name racism. The new sin was to be “held captive to Critical Race Theory.” But, of course, this was always and only a thin veneer to hide the deep, undeniable realities of race in America today, shaped by genocide, by stolen people, stolen land, stolen capital and stolen families.

These same people calling for “law and order” (itself an age-old racist trope) have now abandoned any pretense and will demure. They will distance themselves. They will blame leftists and antifa. They will equivocate.

But they should repent.

This morning I woke up with James Cone’s words on my mind. He wrote:

Today that same Church [he’d been quoting prominent theologians who defended slavery in the 1800’s with books like Slavery Ordained of God] sets the tone for the present inhumanity to blacks by remaining silent as blacks are killed for wanting to be treated like human beings. Like other segments of this society, the Church emphasizes obedience to the law of the land without asking whether the law is racist in character or without even questioning the everyday deadly violence which laws and law enforcement inflict on blacks in the ghetto. They are quick to condemn Black Power [or BLM or Critical Race Theory…or] as a concept and the violence in the ghetto without saying a word about white power and 350 [now 400] years of constant violence against blacks. It was the Church which placed God’s approval on slavery and today places his blessings on the racist structure of American society. As long as whites can be sure that God is on their side, there is potentially no limit to their violence against anyone who threatens the American racist way of life. Genocide is the logical conclusion of racism. It happened to the American Indian, and there is ample reason to believe that America is prepared to do the same to blacks.”

Cone, James. Black Theology and Black Power. 1969, p. 74-75.

The good news is that, as long as it remains today, we have the opportunity to repent. To acknowledge our wrongs.

To change our ways.

It may be painful for some to reckon with repentance on this scale but damnit, it’s necessary for people who claim to believe the gospel.

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