Katharine Gerbner writes in Christian Slavery: Conversion and Race in the Protestant Atlantic World that before there was the ideology of white supremacy, there existed what she calls “Protestant Supremacy.” Gerbner writes about Anglicanism in Barbados what was also true in America, “The Anglican Church in Barbados was exclusive, the domain of slave owners and government officials. … The planter elite believed that their status as Protestants was inseparable from their identity as free Englishmen. Like their counterparts in England, they purchased pews, memorialized themselves within church walls, and used the church as a place for both punishment and politics. … Unlike the parish churches in England, however, the Anglican Church in Barbados was restricted. It separated masters from their enslaved ‘heathen’ laborers and marked Anglo- Barbarians as both English and free. The association between Protestantism and freedom was so strong that most slave owners came to dismiss the idea that their slaves were eligible for conversion.”
How this kind of Christian identity functions and furthers the social oppression and cultural dislocation of people around the world can be considered if you want. It is not a choice that one simply comes to. There are no formal directions; it is not something that one simply arrives at. Instead, you either see it or you don’t.
It is a question for the conscious Christian, those who are aware of the ghastly and grim differences between the Jesus of the New Testament and the practice of Christianity in America in its racialized, hyper-politicized and militarized form. It is the quest for the dissatisfied with what has been and those who are simply not interested in the cultural projections of what will be. It’s not trendy or fashion- forward. It won’t be captured in polls or represented by a politician. Because it is other- worldly.
It is the work of those who are interested in a faith tested to ensure that it is not self- centered or self- serving. Because Christianity does not really work for us but it works against us and our tendencies. If it is easy and causes no complications, no consternation, produces no ramifications that go against social norms, if it does not make obvious the competitions of our flesh, then we are doing it wrong– or not at all. Faith in Christ leads to crucifixion: “Take up your cross and follow me” (Matthew 16.24-26).
Clearly, I am having my doubts about the expressions of Christianity on Sunday mornings at 11 a.m. and those I view at their multi- sight locations at various times. Because if Christianity is serving our purpose or that of society, if there is any word in front of it that aims to define it, describe it, validate it– as if Christ’s life, ministry, death and resurrection are insufficient– if Christ is primarily used to doing something for you other than the work of salvation, if there is a narrative that seeks to explain God’s plan for the world other than that of Christ, if is not the means and the end, then this is not faith in Christ.
Instead, we are merely Christianizing our belief system, divinizing our top of the pile, king and queen of the hill position in the world, making pseudo- sovereign decisions about bodies temporary and created before and outside of any system. This is not apart of one’s identity in Christ. Instead, it is human, carnal and ungodly. Because there is no supremacy but God’s in this world or any other– created or imagined. And if there is some other, color- coded, black, white or otherwise, well then, I have questions.
Because there cannot exist multiple supremacies.