‘White Jesus’ Tried in the Court of Black Lives Matter
But Americans have their limits, and persecuting religious icons---no matter what faith---may be it.
For about a month now, America’s major cities have treated to nightly orgies of old-fashioned, rope-and-torch iconoclasm. Statues of variously “problematic” historical figures (including both Robert E. Lee and, for some reason, Ulysses S. Grant) are defaced, torn from their rivets, and set on fire.
As cooler minds have always known, it was only a matter of time before these iconoclasts moved out of the public sphere and into the private. But that day came much sooner than many of us anticipated.
Enter Shaun King, one of the founders of Black Lives Matter and a doyen of the cultural elite. Last Monday, Mr. King issued gave his followers a rather disturbing order:
Yes, I think the statues of the white European they claim is Jesus should also come down. They are a form of white supremacy. Always have been. In the Bible, when the family of Jesus wanted to hide, and blend in, guess where they went? EGYPT! Not Denmark. Tear them down.
Yes. All murals and stained glass windows of white Jesus, and his European mother, and their white friends should also come down. They are a gross form white supremacy. Created as tools of oppression. Racist propaganda. They should all come down.
The Christian Postidentifies King as a “retired pastor,” which is a pretty big stretch. In 2008, at the age of 29, Mr. King founded a church in Atlanta called “Courageous Church”—only to step down four years later, aged 33, because his congregation didn’t really like him. “I think in some ways I moved people too quickly for their comfort and it just didn’t work,” he explained. “Some people really loved the changes and transitions that I was proposing, but it didn’t work.” I guess so. In fairness, destroying statues of Jesus and the saints went out of vogue with Protestants a good four hundred years ago.
I’m not questioning Mr. King’s faith, of course. Far be it from me to read another man’s soul! For all I know, he’s a devout Christian. But I think it’s fair to say that his animus towards White Jesus is more political than theological.
Having said that, it’s true that most Protestants still disapprove of religious statuary, even if it’s been a while since they’ve had a good ol’ Beeldenstorm. Presumably, then, Mr. King doesn’t have any White Jesuses to smash—being a retired pastor and all. So, he wants to destroy someone else’s property, not his own. (Fancy that.)
I wonder: has Mr. King asked non-white Catholics if they feel “oppressed” by White Jesus? Probably not. Thankfully, Rasmussen did, and they found that fewer than one-third of blacks agree that images showing Christ with fair skin ought to be removed.
But that’s typical of guys like Mr. King. They’re always ready to take offense at things that aren’t offensive, on behalf of people who aren’t offended themselves
Take another example: the statues of Saint Junípero Serra that were destroyed in California last week.
Born in Spain at the turn of the 18th century, Saint Junípero was a Franciscan friar who founded nine Catholic missions across the American West. Aside from winning the souls of the native peoples for Christ—something that most Christians believe is good and admirable pursuit—he was also a scathing critic of the Spanish authorities’ treatment of indigenous Americans. Yet protestors complain that he “baptized” Spanish imperialism, and so he, too, has to go.
As for Hispanics themselves, they actually like Saint Junípero. I don’t mean the decadent, self-righteous undergrads who tore the statues down, of course. They don’t like anything. I mean the ones who speak Spanish in the home growing up—the first- and second-generation immigrants—the little Columbian abuelas who, like the little Polish babushkas, have pictures of White Jesus in their living rooms.
California’s Catholic bishops, led by Archbishop José Horacio Gómez of Los Angeles (who was born in Mexico), responded to the destruction of Saint Junípero’ statues saying that he “was not simply a man of his times,” but “a man ahead of his times who made great sacrifices to defend and serve the indigenous population and work against an oppression that extends far beyond the mission era.”
In another context, Pope Francis (who was born in Argentina) once called Saint Junípero “one of the founding fathers of the United States, a saintly example of the Church’s universality and special patron of the Hispanic people of the country.”
That’s one of the reasons why Latinos really love Saint Junípero. He reminds Hispanics—and all Catholics—that we’ve always had our role to play in building this country. We were not imports or add-ons, but integral members of the American experiment.
Yes, colonialism was often brutal. But the commingling of Spaniards and Native Americans is what created the Latino people. I doubt Saint Junípero’s critics will have much luck convincing Hispanics that the existence of Hispanics is racist against Hispanics.
I’m not Latino myself, if you can believe it, but my mother’s the descendent of English settlers and Mi’kmaq Indians. And the Mi’kmaq went through something very similar to Hispanics a few years back: a bunch of white SJWs decided that one of their saints was racist and so decided to wipe him from the history books.
The saint’s name is Aspinquid, and he wasn’t so much racist himself as he was a figment of the white settlers’ racist imagination.
The legend goes that Saint Aspinquid was a Mi’kmaq or Abenaki chief who allegedly spread the Gospel to sixty-six tribes across America and is buried in a great tomb on Mount Agamenticus in York, Maine. It turns out that Saint Aspinquid may or may not be a myth. New England historian J. Dennis Robinson—who, when not checking white privilege, looks as though he enjoys sailing around the Cape in Nantucket Reds and drinking blueberry ale—seems to think he was.
Mr. Robinson writes on his blog that the myth of Saint Aspinquid is “dangerous” because
it muddies the waters; it distracts from the already difficult search for the historic Indian leader himself without adding detail. This is a white-man’s Indian—savagely romantic, culturally fascinating, potentially dangerous, even sexy—but ultimately powerless, obedient, and contrite.
What he leaves out is that Saint Aspinquid’s cultus contains practically zero white people. It’s almost exclusively a Mi’kmaq thing—or, at least, it was, until the J. Dennis Robinsons of the world set out to erase his legacy. For a while, Saint Aspinquid was a kind of patron saint to the Mi’kmaq. His feast day (May 16) was to the Algonquin peoples what Saint Patrick’s Day is for the Irish, or what Saint George’s Day was to the English before we decided that religious observance was also racist.
Here’s the irony: our J. Dennis believes that his European ancestors—out of some vile sense of racial paternalism—imposed their beliefs on the Mi’kmaq by converting them to Christianity. And how does he intend to right that wrong? Why, he’s going to impose his own beliefs on the Mi’kmaq, of course!
Maybe I’m too optimistic, but I don’t see this wave of destructive violence lasting much longer. Iconoclasm just doesn’t sit well with Americans. That’s one advantage to living in a pluralist society: we’re forced to see the goodness and the beauty in faiths that we don’t ourselves believe in. Whether it’s a mob of SJWs tearing down a statue of Christopher Columbus in Boston or a band of Islamists desecrating the tomb of a Sufi saint in Libya, we don’t abide such violent, small-minded bigots.
We lasted three months under the coronavirus lockdown before we got sick of it and went outside. I’d be surprised if this new wave of iconoclasm lasts even that long. Our republic was founded on the noble principle of not letting someone else tell you what to do—and, regardless of their religion, I firmly believe that most of countrymen will not tolerate these self-righteous, twenty-something busybodies. We don’t all believe in Heaven, but all true Americans share one common creed: “Leave me the Hell alone.”
Michael Warren Davis is the editor of Crisis Magazine. Read more at www.michaelwarrendavis.com.