As we watched the televised images of the noxious, violent white nationalist protests in Charlottesville this week, many of us felt our blood pressures rise. Many of us were, and are, angry. Many of us have been for some time about the resurgence of white supremacy and anti-Semitism we see all over the world.
In a time like this, Christians might ask whether we should, in fact, be angry. Should we not instead just conclude that this is what a fallen world is like and pray for the final judgment to come? If you are feeling distressed and heated, you have reason to be. White supremacy makes Jesus angry.
One of the many remarkable things about the picture we get of Jesus in the Gospels is how relatively calm he is. When his disciples are panicking in a life-threatening storm, Jesus is asleep. When villages reject the message, the apostles are angered but Jesus is not. Threatened with arrest and even execution, Jesus meets his accusers with tranquility. The Scriptures show us two things that make Jesus visibly angry: religious hypocrisy and racial supremacist ideology.
Jesus spoke gently with those on the outside of the people of God, even those deep in sin, but of those who claimed the name of God, he was sharp and direct. Jesus called the religious leaders “hypocrites,” “blind guides” and “whitewashed tombs … full of the bones of the dead.” That’s far from the kind, subdued way by which he spoke to the woman at the well, or the tax collectors and prostitutes. Likewise, we see perhaps the most angry picture of Jesus in his earthly ministry at the Temple when he took up a whip of cords and drove the sellers out of the holy place.
Why was Jesus so angered? After all, the money-changers were there to do a service for those offering sacrifice. He told us why. “Is it not written, ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations?’ ” Jesus said. “But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’ ”
The passage Jesus cites is from the prophet Isaiah’s vision of the day when “the foreigners,” those of all the nations, will be brought in to the people of God. “Let no foreigner who is bound to the Lord say, ‘The Lord will surely exclude me from his people,’ ” Isaiah said. “And let no eunuch complain, ‘I am only a dry tree.’ ”
In some way, those who clamored for space in the temple courts were blocking the way of those God had welcomed into his house of prayer. Jesus reclaimed the space for the God who desires all tongues and tribes and nations to worship him through Jesus Christ.
The religious leaders and those keeping the worship of God from the nations had something in common: Both were seeking to keep people away from the kingdom of God, people they didn’t feel were worthy of it. Jesus plowed through their barriers, and kept plowing, even after his resurrection from the dead. Immediately upon his enthronement in heaven, Jesus poured out his Spirit on those from nations all over the world. Seeing the multiethnic, multinational reality of these Spirit-bearing people, many were “amazed and perplexed,” asking, “What does this mean?”
What it meant was that Jesus was the house God promised to build, a house of prayer for all nations. Jesus further showed this by immediately building his African church, calling to himself a leader in, of all things, a eunuch, just as the prophet had foretold.
This is important for us right now because many of those advocating for white supremacy claim to do so in the name of Jesus Christ. Some of them speak of “Christendom” — by which they mean white European cultural domination — and not of Christianity. But many others are members of churches bearing the name of Jesus Christ. Nothing could be further from the gospel.
“Blood and soil” ethnic nationalism is not just a deviant social movement. It is the same old idolatry of the flesh, the human being seeking to deify his own flesh and blood as God. The Scripture defines this attempt at human self-exaltation with a number: 666. White supremacy does not merely attack our society (though it does) and the ideals of our nation (though it does); white supremacy attacks the image of Jesus Christ himself. White supremacy exalts the creature over the Creator, and the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against it.
This sort of ethnic nationalism and racial superiority ought to matter to every Christian, regardless of national, ethnic or racial background. After all, we are not our own but are part of a church — a church made up of all nations, all ethnicities, united not by blood and soil but by the shed blood and broken body of Jesus Christ.
The church should call white supremacy what it is: terrorism, but more than terrorism. White supremacy is Satanism. Even worse, white supremacy is a devil-worship that often pretends that it is speaking for God.
White supremacy angers Jesus of Nazareth. The question is: Does it anger his church?
Russell Moore is the president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.