Review and Response to “White Too Long”
The book “White Too Long” by Robert P. Jones is one of those books you don’t read lightly. The subtitle is “The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity.” This is a powerful book from the aspect that it is quite uncomfortable to read – and for good reason. The book traces the history of white supremacy through American Christianity. The author essentially argues that American Christianity has helped maintain white supremacy through the centuries here. In example after example, it is pretty clear, in painful and ugly ways, that this isn’t a stretch.
Jones offers these insights and historical references and stories not to tear the church down, but for the church to be realistic about it’s past so that it can change in order to move forward.
In Jones’ research he shares what he found – that this isn’t just a Southern Christian problem, or what many would call an Evangelical problem. When it comes to race, there aren’t much differences in the areas of the country or the denominations.
Jones dives deep into the history of American Christianity, examining the long term impact of the Confederacy and slavery and their impact on Christianity – how many believed that “the Confederacy was the culmination of God’s plan for the world.” (pg. 37). He gives historical examples of Christian pastors who not only argued for slavery, but actively worked to keep white American Christianity as the core of American Christianity. He shows how long after the Confederacy ended, it’s influence remains to this day.
Jones holds nothing back in examining history. There is no whitewashing what happened. He lays out what happened for us to read with our own eyes in horror. He tells stories about white mobs who lynch men and women right after worship – with no opposition from anyone in church authority. These aren’t one-off occurrences. They are systemic and they took place around the country.
Reading the book is not easy – nor should it be. Having said that, the point of the book is not to make white people feel guilty either. It’s to offer hope – that the past doesn’t have to be the way we go forward. The last portion of the book is dedicated to stories of change. Jones talks about the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum in Jackson, MS. He writes about the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, AL. And he talks about the story of two Baptist churches in Macon, GA (one black and one white) who have been making in roads in racial reconciliation. And he writes about a memorial to lynching victims in Duluth, MN.
In the final chapter Jones talks about moving towards responsibility and repair. The point here isn’t about the argument that is so often heard – “I didn’t own slaves, so I’m not at fault.” No you didn’t. And that’s not the point, as Jone’s argues. Jones says that the goal isn’t reconciliation actually – it’s racial justice. Justice is a biblical idea related to righteousness. Righteousness is about being in a right relationship. Justice is about making things whole. Justice is about restoring Shalom.
“Perhaps the most important first step toward health is to recover from our white-supremacy-induced amnesia. It is indeed difficult – and at times overwhelming – to confront historical atrocities. But if we want to root out an insidious white supremacy from our institutions, our religion, and our psyches, we will have to move beyond the forgetfulness and silence that have allowed it to flourish for so long. Importantly, as white Americans find the courage to embark on this journey of transformation, we will discover that the beneficiaries are not only our country and our fellow nonwhite and non-Christian Americans, but also ourselves, as we slowly recover from the disorienting madness of white supremacy.” (Pg. 235).
Overall, I would rate this book as one of the top ten in my library because of its impact.
I highly recommend this book. If you are willing to read it and want to talk about it, I’m open for that conversation. Let’s work our way through it. Let’s talk. And then let’s figure out the journey together. Doing this work alone is not what we are called to. It’s not about imposing guilt, it’s about being in a right relationship with God and others. This is holy work. I welcome you to work with me.