Ed Gaskin is our featured blogger this week. Ed is a Black Protestant Christian running Greater Grove Hall Main Streets; he attends Temple Beth Elohim in Wellesley as well as Reservoir Church in Cambridge. He has also co-taught a course with professor Dean Borgman called, “Christianity and the Problem of Racism” at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary for over 25 years. Read below to hear Ed describe his reflection on a billboard on I-93.
As I drive along I-93, I see a billboard in Dorchester of a white, pale Jesus who looks more like a scary ghost from a horror movie than the Jesus I have come to know in my spiritual journey. I consider myself a Judeo-Christian, practicing both Judaism and Christianity. On any given weekend, you will find me at Shabbat services on Friday and in church on Sunday. I am a conservative Christian who believes in the fundamentals of the Christian faith when it comes to traditional Christian doctrine.
When I see a ghost-like Jesus, it scares me, and it should scare you too. The ghost-like Jesus is a political statement, and the political values and ideas it represents are scary: primarily white supremacy and white nationalism. In my article, “Whitewashed: How a Jewish and brown Jesus became an Aryan,” I explain the history and politics around the creation of the white Jesus.
That white Jesus has always been on the wrong side of history, starting with Martin Luther, the father of the Protestant reformation, who was deeply antisemitic. Some scholars have said the Holocaust would not have been possible without his teachings. White Supremacist thinking reflected in the church and state led to the Doctrine of Discovery, which established a religious, political, and legal justification for colonization and seizure of land not inhabited by Christians.
The Doctrine of Discovery was a church doctrine, not a national political policy, yet it was cited in U.S. Supreme Court decisions as late as 2005 and formed the basis for the 19th century concept of Manifest Destiny — the belief that the United States was destined by God to expand its dominion and spread democracy and capitalism across the entire North American continent. Through Manifest Destiny, the United States justified the forced removal of Native Americans and other groups from their homes. Similarly, the notion of American exceptionalism argues that the United States is uniquely virtuous and superior to other nations, in part due to its historically Christian roots.
It should be no surprise, then, that Germany claimed to be practicing conservative Christian values when following Hitler. Nazis worshipped the white Jesus.
Such beliefs mixed with Christian nationalism and white supremacy form a toxic Kool-Aid ingested by too many Christians today. They worship an orange Jesus, who gazes out from billboards with his fake tan. Despite the four years of his presidency — and more on the campaign trail — during which he was documented as telling more lies than any president in history, many people who identify as Christians are still willing to say with a straight face that this grifter, this orange Messiah, best represents the Christian faith and is the person they want as commander in chief.
Indeed, the Ku Klux Klan is a Christian organization, and those who participated in the January 6 insurrection describe themselves as patriots in the Christian fight for God and country. The John Birch Society, claiming God was on its side, promulgated the fear that communists had infiltrated the government in the 1950s and 1960s, leading to official steps aimed at removing them, including a blacklist.
In contrast, consider the revolutionary groups of the 1960s: Black Power groups and others that wanted to overthrow the government. None of them, not even modern-day socialists or anarchist groups such as antifa have traveled an inch in their journey relative to Trump followers, who successfully infiltrated every aspect of our government, from the legislative branch to the Department of Justice, the judiciary, and every level of the executive branch, including the White House.
The term “Christian terrorism” should be an oxymoron, but sadly it is not. When the extent of the planning involved in the January 6 attempt to overthrow our government was exposed, it demonstrated that Christian insurrectionists were the pros, and all the others were mere paper tigers. We should have been fearing conservative Christians in government all along, not communists or anarchists.
The Founding Fathers understood this. In reviewing the sweep of history, they saw that consolidating religious and political power was too dangerous, so they required the separation of church and state.
Now you know why the white Jesus scares me.