America was built on White Supremacy (WS) – a statement that draws anger from some people – nevertheless, it is true. A nation that gives rights to one group – white, landowning males – is by its very definition a WS nation. As we have become a “more perfect union”, we have changed much of this – we recognized that our founders were wrong to exclude women and people of color, so we added amendments to our Constitution – which is part of what makes that document and our nation great. One of the most amazing things about our Constitution is that, from its beginning, religious pluralism was law, even if it wasn’t consistently practiced. No religious test is necessary to hold elected office, and the first right included freedom to practice (or not) the faith of your choice. These were hugely important to our young nation.
And yet, almost a century after we began, we fought an internal war to end slavery. A century after that, we had internal struggles to have civil rights for all people. Racism is our original sin. The Klan and the Nazis had free reign in America for a long time, and we continue to see the increase of WS groups nationally. In the state I live in – Pennsylvania – we have seen a dramatic increase in hate groups over the last decade. Last October, a synagogue in Pittsburgh was attacked. Yesterday, two mosques in New Zealand were attacked.
We fought a war against Nazis, and we overwhelmingly say we reject WS, and yet these movements thrive. While there is no way to eradicate these movements, there are ways to minimize their outreach. I think it is time to go after White Supremacy: we need to advertise and educate about this evil, and arrest and imprison those who espouse hate. We have done amazing things to treat cancer, raise awareness about domestic violence, and combat HIV/AIDS. We need to treat WS as a terrible, deadly illness and find ways to heal our world.
If this were an easy thing to do, we would have accomplished it a long time ago. I don’t know how exactly to achieve this, but we know that these groups exist, and we can see how they recruit. Why not start with Facebook and Google? They have amazing abilities to control and disseminate information, and while that is a slippery slope, it can also be part of the answer. Why not create ways in which hate speech and WS sites are linked to the FBI? Why not have oversight that keeps an eye on the creation of textbooks, so that what happened in Texas is made illegal? https://www.newsweek.com/company-behind-texas-textbook-calling-slaves-workers-apologizes-we-made-380168. How about keeping politicians honest by not allowing their rhetoric to go unanswered?
All of us should be in mourning with our Muslim neighbors. If you know someone who is Muslim, you should reach out to them in the same way you reached out your Jewish neighbors last October. They should know that all of us – regardless of our faith practices – fully support them and completely condemn hatred. We should go to our places of worship this weekend and speak up. We should let people who have hateful attitudes know that we condemn their behavior. There is no room for hate in our houses, our nation, or our world. This is a cancer I think we can beat.
Steve Ohnsman has been the pastor of Calvary United Church of Christ in Reading, PA, since 1999. He has a BA in Religion & Philosophy from Wilmington College (OH), an MDiv from Drew Theological Seminary (NJ), a DMin in Christian Ethics from United Theological Seminary (OH), and a PhD in Leadership from Alvernia University (PA).