North Carolina pastor: If you’ve embraced mainstream Christian culture in the past generation, you’re really just pushing ‘white Jesus’

Oh for crying out loud.

I have my own issues with the modern church’s depiction of Jesus as an Anglo-Saxon knockoff of Mike Rutherford, although it did allow for the clever re-use of Mike’s Spitting Image puppet.

But it’s one thing to find it kind of silly that people don’t realize Jesus was a Middle Eastern Jew and surely looked the part. It’s another thing to do what Charlotte, North Carolina pastor Greg Jarrell has done here.

Everything you were exposed to in Christian culture since the 1980s poisoned you with racism!

In 1980s and ’90s suburban Raleigh, N.C., almost everybody was in on the secret, but that did not stop us from buying into the story that the culture of our Christian nation was under attack by the forces of godless liberalism and moral relativism. The resurgent Moral Majority, though, kept us supplied with books and knick knacks and chrome-plated fish emblems for our cars. The playlist in our heads was Steven Curtis Chapman and Point of Grace, both the music of our moment and also the image of it — clean cut, just a little bit country, and white.

A row of t-shirts hung in the back of The Sign of the Fish, for those not ashamed to proclaim the message through apparel. “What Would Jesus Do?” some shirts asked. Others ripped off marketing slogans in half-clever ways. A red shirt with white script announced that Jesus, like Coca-Cola, was “delicious and refreshing,” or something like that. And one shirt, ever seared in my memory, asked, “How can it be a moral wrong and a civil right?” (Confession: though it embarrasses me now, I remember the shirt still because I thought about buying it.) Which civil rights were moral wrongs was unclear, but that was part of the whole project. The Moral Majority, the Reagan Revolution and the Southern Strategy were all built on making tacit statements that resulted in the outcomes of white supremacy, but without naming those desired outcomes in racial terms. Debates were thus about “busing” and “welfare queens” and “voter fraud,” concepts designed and marketed to appeal to the biases of white people without seeming crass. A narrow vision of morality mattered in the movement — a morality shown in the Trump era to be expendable as needed. What really mattered was not morals, but power.

The merchandise in that Christian bookstore, and others like it, was not the gospel of the God whose aim was to “bring good news to the poor and to proclaim release to the captives,” as in Luke 4. Nor was the product a pathway into the mind of Christ, who, as we had memorized from Philippians 2, “humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death.” What filled the shelves, sold to people who were usually doing the best they could to follow the Jesus they had heard preached, was the theological reinforcement of a peculiar half-god: white Jesus. White Jesus’s portrait hung in our churches. He blessed our search for power and our pursuit of an imagined past. We bought the sentimental Thomas Kinkade paintings that showed a “pastoral scene of the gallant South,” as Billie Holiday sang about in Strange Fruit. But edited out of those Edenic landscapes was the strange fruit the soil beneath us had produced — “the bulging eyes and the twisted mouth.” Our selective memory made white Jesus into the most dangerous kind of god — one we made in our image. He would usher in a spiritual renewal devoid of any renewed political or ecclesiological imagination. Conveniently, he would only ever turn over the tables of the folks we despised. He would only ever use his bullwhip to cleanse someone else’s temple.

Jarrell apparently runs an inner-city ministry that puts an emphasis on catering to a largely minority population of people in need. Kudos to him for that. I pray that his ministry helps people and bears much fruit for the Lord. It’s a wonderful calling and I’m glad he’s been obedient to it.

Unfortunately, he also seems to be following the pattern of a lot of Christians who go down this laudable path of ministry: The spirit of pride wells up in them, and they start getting the idea that Christians not similarly invested in this community must be a white supremacist.

Not only that, but they get to thinking the entire modern-day Christian culture is really one of white supremacy, because it doesn’t put the same emphasis on minority communities that they do.

This usually involves a lot of projection, which we see with Jarrell’s weird claim that the Christian culture he despises believes Jesus “would only ever turn over the tables of the folks we despised.” Who teaches that? No one wants to think that Jesus’s assault against sin is aimed at anything they do, but we all recognize that when he turned over the tables of the moneychangers, he was putting  a stop to the use of God’s house for people’s own gain rather than for God’s glory.

If some conservative Christians delude themselves into thinking that can’t be about them, I have no doubt some liberal Christians do the exact same thing. Maybe even Greg Jarrell.

Yet he seems pretty sure of himself when he accuses almost the entire American church of caring nothing for the salvation or well-being of non-white people – and of being led into this apathy by a collection of trivial cultural phenomena, some of which haven’t bee in play for three decades.

This is one of the pitfalls of becoming so culturally woke. You reach people you might otherwise have never reached, but you can also develop a sense of moral superiority about yourself vis-a-vis others who stayed in more conventional lanes.

Thinking of Jesus as a white guy with long hair and a beard is pretty silly. It doesn’t make you a white supremacist. Neither does any of the other stuff Greg Jarrell thinks does.

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