The great heresy of supremacist theology

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How do you justify evil? You make it sound really, really good.

I’m not just talking about your garden variety spin-doctoring. I’m talking about taking the most vile evil, and clothing it in the appearance of a good that is beyond reproach.

This has been the art of powerful, white men for millenia. Slavery? Bringing savage heathens into Western Civilization, introducing them to Jesus Christ and giving them something productive to do. The wholesale genocide of Native Americans and raping their land? Saving savages from their lack of faith, leading them to Jesus Christ and giving them a superior culture. Claim to lead “the other” to Jesus, deny them their culture, their land, their lives, rape them for profit, and plant a few crosses in the soil you’ve soaked in their blood — this is how you wrap evil in Christ.

This has been a habit of Christian pastors, politicians and profiteers since Judas first discovered you could twist faith in Christ for unholy profit. This is not new. It is not a unique means of justifying discrimination, hatred, ignorance and downright evil in the name of Christ. It’s not some novel approach invented by any 21st Century Christian fundamentalist. But, one recent blog post by Pastor Wade Burleson, of Emmanuel Enid, deserves critical attention. 

In his August 17th blog post, titled “I’m a Christ Supremacist, Not a White Supremacist,” Wade leans on the old argument made by generations of bigots: “I’m not a racist/homophobic hate monger … look at my Black friend, my gay friend.” Pay no attention to the substance of my words; to the opportunistic bigotry of men like Charlie Kirk, with whom I surround myself; to my divisive and hate-filled teachings, or to the great profit and pleasure I garner from oppressing “the other” in the name of Christ. No. Pay no attention to any of that. Just look at my gay friend. My Black friend.

This deflective tactic is used so often, to defend so many flavors of bigotry, it has its own unique term: Tokenism. Look at my token Black friend. Check out my token gay friend. Wade starts with name-dropping fellow conspiracy theorist Dinesh D’Souza, then takes a huge leap to the ultimate token brown friend: Jesus Christ.

The argument starts with an obvious, if still oft-refuted, statement: “Jesus was a Man of color …

Jesus was not white like I am. His skin was darker hue, and His hair was wooly and textured. Jesus was a brown middle-eastern Man, not a white European man.” Soooo…Jesus wasn’t a white guy. On that, Wade and I agree. But, then Wade takes it to a wild conclusion that is entirely at odds with the blood-soaked history of his beloved “western civilization,” namely that he, and those like him, couldn’t possibly be racists, because they follow a brown Jesus.

This line of thinking is explained as “Christ Supremacy.” As Wade himself explains, “I’m a Christ supremacist, not a white supremacist.” In other words, “I’m a supremacist — I’m just a supremacist in a way I think I can defend by attacking your faith if you ask questions.” Sure, “Christ Supremacist” sounds good to those who like to place themselves on some level above those who don’t fit into the Protestant, conservative Christian demographic. Of course, the notion of being a supremacist in the name of Christ — in the name of God Incarnate, born in a manger, who rode a donkey into Jerusalem to be executed on a cross — is completely antithetical to every fiber of Christ’s Gospel. But let’s set aside our worries over opportunistic heresy, and take a look at what “Christ Supremacy” has looked like throughout the history of the post-Constantine Church. 

From oppression of the Jews (which began almost immediately after Christians were no longer oppressed by Rome), to the Crusades, the wars of Reformation and Counter-Reformation, to the Inquisition, christian justification of the slave trade, Jim Crow, segregation,misogyny and LGBTQ+ oppression, Christian history is chock full of “Christ supremacists” who felt empowered and called by a perverse twisting of Christ’s teachings to marginalize, if not kill, those who don’t fit the mold.  

All major world religions have fallen prey to this spiritual sickness at some point. Hindu supremacists have killed Buddhists. Buddhist supremacists have waged genocide against Muslim Rohinhya. Muslim supremacists continue to wage war against Christians. And Christian supremacists have killed pretty much anyone who’s stood in the way of profit and power.

To be clear, there’s never been a movement in history based on the notion of “supremacy” that didn’t soak itself and the world in innocent blood, and that tendency has been particularly egregious among “Christ supremacists.” But, to Wade’s line of thinking, (and again, Wade is only our local symptom of a much wider and older problem in the Body of Christ), it doesn’t really matter how much blood you have on your hands, as long as you have Jesus on your lips.

Burleson seals his argument in favor of radical fundamentalism by fawning over two men: Brig. Gen. Richard Pratt, and Henry Morton Stanley. He extols the virtues of these men, of a man with a “passion to lead American Indians to faith in Jesus Christ,” and of an explorer “and his passion to lead African natives to faith in Jesus Christ.” 

Of course, Pastor Wade attempts to head off any criticism of his supremacist world views by objecting that any criticism is just “cancel culture,” and a “mad, modern culture” that will “mislead you.” So, let’s stipulate a few facts: Richard Pratt worked hard enough to rise from poverty and become a general, and a then-respected school founder and superintendent (more on that in a moment). And he was a christian. Stanley was a lauded explorer in Africa. And he was a christian.

So, a decent general-turned-school superintendent, and a failed soldier-turned-explorer. Both are credited with taking Christ to “savages.” Huzzah. Now, if we look any deeper than that, we begin to hear the cries, “cancel culture … critical race theory … oh the evils of modernity.” So, let’s not cancel anything. Let’s not cancel the darker, far more sinister story beneath the whitewashed, heroic tales of good, Christian men taking Jesus to lost souls.

Richard Pratt is best known for “innovating” so-called Indian schools. In an 1892 speech, Pratt affirmed he agreed with the sentiment that “the only good Indian is a dead Indian,” adding that what he really meant was, “that all the Indian there is in the race should be dead. Kill the Indian in him and save the man.” Oh, well, when you put it that way, Gen. Pratt, you sound very much like Wade Burleson, and his approach to LGBTQ+ people (a cancer to be removed, according to Burleson). 

Pratt’s innovation led to an Indian School system that stole children from their families, subjected them to horrid treatment, denied them their language and culture and stuffed untold numbers of them into unmarked graves. Burleson’s love of Pratt fits well with his choice for favorite president, Zachary Taylor, who signed the Indian Removal Act, setting in motion the worst phase in genocide of Native Americans. To understand the love of the day for men like Taylor, and later Pratt, it’s worth digesting the words in 1851 of California Gov. Peter Burnett, who predicted that “the war of [Indian] extermination will continue to be waged until the Indian race becomes extinct.” Sure, genocide is unsavory. But, it certainly turns a profit, and it can easily be explained away by anyone who will give murder a pass in the name of Christ. 

Even worse — if we needed something worse to be glorified in the name of Christ — we have the bizarre trail of evil that Henry Morton Stanley cut through Africa. I once spent an entire night writing an honors English thesis on Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” while listening to The Doors’ song “The End” on a loop — for 13 hours. I pray I never again come that close to the ugly psychedelic trip that is the journey into the hearts of men like Henry Stanley.

In his most important 19th Century exploration of Africa, Stanley became known for hunting Africans for sport. His camp became a moving horror show of rape and murder. In one bizarre incident, which perhaps speaks best to the unholy marriage of white privilege and cruelty, whiskey heir James Jameson, a member of Stanley’s party, bought a young girl for the price of six handkerchiefs, then gave her to a group of cannibals, so he could sketch and detail “for posterity,” how she was slaughtered, prepared, cooked and eaten. That’s a horrific anecdote. What’s not anecdotal is the estimated 10 million people who were murdered and worked to death after Stanley got into bed with King Leopold II of Belgium, and helped establish a colonial state of murder for profit. 

But, you know, they said some nice things about Jesus.

Paying lip service to Christ while glorifying men who perpetrated physical and cultural genocide isn’t exactly a convincing argument that 1) you’re not a white supremacist; and 2) you have a solid understanding of who Jesus Christ is, or what is written in His Gospel. There are many disturbing problems with American christianity, in its obsession with power and profit, its shameless fear of immigrants, and its glorification of cruelty and greed. These disturbing failings of a perverted, echo-chamber version of Christianity becomes dangerous — to the Body of Christ, to God’s children, and most of all to the marginalized and minorities — when they are weaponized in a system of supposed supremacy. 

“Christ Supremacists” seek to glorify themselves by taking their followers, and all of Christianity, if we let them, beyond that point — beyond the point at which Christ is no longer recognizable, where evil appears good, and the worst human tendencies of fear, greed and hatred are disguised as Christian virtue. Let us not follow this unholy path of hatred and oppression. Let us take up the cross, and walk in the bloody footsteps of Christ — footsteps of humility, love, and self-sacrifice, footsteps that carry us in both peace, and in the righteous fight against evil and oppression. Let us flip the tables on any and all forms of supremacism.

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