S4, Ep. 13: White supremacy and Christian nationalism: A conversation with the Rev. Dr. Jay Augustine
The Rev. Dr. Jonathan C. “Jay” Augustine joins Amanda and Holly for a wide-ranging conversation about white supremacy, Christian nationalism and religious freedom.
How can we best understand the overlap of white supremacy and Christian nationalism? The Rev. Dr. Jonathan C. “Jay” Augustine joins Amanda and Holly for a wide-ranging conversation during Black History Month as we explore the way Christian nationalism devalues Blackness in our country. A pastor, preacher, lawyer and author, Dr. Augustine shares the differences between racial discrimination and ethnic discrimination we see throughout American history as well as the polarization and “otherism” we see today. He also reviews the various methods of reconciliation and what we all can learn from the Black Church as we seek to envision a just society and embrace a fuller understanding of religious freedom, including its ability to liberate.
Segment 1: How to have a religious freedom conversation that respects all (starting at 00:43)
Learn more about the work of the Rev. Dr. Jonathan C. “Jay” Augustine by visiting his website.
Dr. Augustine delivered BJC’s 2022 Walter B. and Kay W. Shurden Lectures on Religious Liberty and Separation of Church and State. You can watch all three presentations on our YouTube channel:
- And Who Is My Neighbor?
- Religious Liberty & Christian Nationalism: A Political History & Problematic Present
- Making America Great Again?: Christian Nationalism & Attempts to Undermine Democracy
Dr. Augustine’s new book is titled When Prophets Preach: Leadership and the Politics of the Pulpit (Fortress Press, 2023). It will be released March 28, and you can pre-order it from Amazon or from Fortress Press.
Segment 2: Christian nationalism’s white-centric idea of belonging (starting at 12:47)
Amanda mentioned the Christians Against Christian Nationalism statement and the line in it that says the ideology “overlaps with and provides cover for white supremacy and racial subjugation.” Read the entire statement online at ChristiansAgainstChristianNationalism.org
Holly mentioned Dr. Augustine’s previous book, which is Called to Reconciliation: How the Church Can Model Justice, Diversity, and Inclusion (Baker Academic, 2022). It is available wherever books are sold, including Amazon.
Segment 3: What can everyone learn from the Black Church? (starting at 30:07)
Amanda mentioned remarks by Dr. Jemar Tisby during an event at The Brookings Institution. BJC Tweeted out a clip of his remarks, available here.
Respecting Religion is made possible by BJC’s generous donors. You can support these conversations with a gift to BJC.
Transcript: Season 4, Episode 13: White supremacy and Christian nationalism: A conversation with the Rev. Dr. Jay Augustine (some parts of this transcript have been edited for clarity)
Segment 1: How to have a religious freedom conversation that respects all (starting at 00:43)
AMANDA: Welcome to Respecting Religion, a BJC podcast series where we look at religion, the law, and what’s at stake for faith freedom today. I’m Amanda Tyler, executive director of BJC.
HOLLY: And I’m general counsel Holly Hollman. Today we’re going to welcome a special guest to the podcast to join us as we discuss race and religious freedom. It’s a topic BJC is committed to exploring and understanding as part of our mission to defend faith freedom for all, and its significance to our mission has become more clear in our efforts to fight Christian nationalism. As we explore this topic, we’re excited to hear from the Rev. Dr. Jay Augustine.
DR. AUGUSTINE: Hey, it’s a pleasure to be with you.
AMANDA: Great to have you here, and we’re having our conversation during Black History Month, a time marked each year to celebrate the achievements and contributions of Black Americans. It’s a good time for all of us to listen to and learn from Black leaders, theologians, and community members, those with us today and those throughout history.
And, of course, Black history is part of American history that we should always be willing to explore. February provides a yearly reminder to put that practice into intentional focus. And so this year, to honor Black History Month, BJC’s social media channels are highlighting advocates and partners as we explore how Christian nationalism overlaps with white supremacy and racial subjugation.
That’s actually a line in the Christians Against Christian Nationalism statement, and it’s an important truth. You know, since we launched that campaign in 2019, we have gotten different types of questions, of course. But that one line about Christian nationalism and its relationship to white supremacy has received the most questions and frankly, some pushback, including a considerable amount of self-righteous indignation from detractors.
So we want today to focus on that truth and bring that conversation to this podcast and hear from someone who is also focused on this project.
HOLLY: For those who don’t know him, Dr. Augustine, who goes by Jay, is a pastor, a law professor, an author, and an advocate. He serves in both ordained ministry and the academic world. He’s the senior pastor of St. Joseph AME Church in Durham, North Carolina. He’s a law professor at North Carolina Central University, and he’s a missional strategist with the Duke Center for Reconciliation. Dr. Augustine is also part of a group of national social justice leaders who speak for the equality of all human beings while advocating for policies of diversity, inclusion, and belonging.
He’s been published in law reviews throughout the country, and next month, he has a brand new book coming out about today’s topic. That book is called When Prophets Preach: Leadership and the Politics of the Pulpit. In this book, Dr. Augustine addresses the core of white Christian nationalism and talks about the church’s responsibility to call it out, so no wonder we wanted to have him as our guest. Dr. Augustine, welcome.
DR. AUGUSTINE: Thank you so much, Holly. It’s a pleasure to be with you. And thank you, Amanda. It’s always a joy to be with you guys. Thank you so, so much.
AMANDA: I guess the last time we got to be together, we got to be together in person, because Jay delivered our 2022 Walter B. and Kay W. Shurden Lectures on Religious Liberty and Separation of Church and State at Mercer University in both Macon and Atlanta, Georgia. And all three of your presentations were so powerful, and we will provide links to those videos in our show notes today, so it is fantastic to have you on Respecting Religion.
DR. AUGUSTINE: Thank you so much. And it was a joy to be with you then, and it really is a joy to be with you again today, so thank you so, so much.
AMANDA: You admitted to us before we got on that you are a regular listener of Respecting Religion, so you know that we talk about religion, the law, and what’s at stake for faith freedom today. So to get us started, can you talk a little bit about your personal interest in religious freedom? Why is this topic so important to you?
DR. AUGUSTINE: Sure. And I love the way you say I admitted that I listen. Right? I proudly ‑‑ I’m very proud to listen to you. I enjoy listening to you.
HOLLY: [Laughing] You tell all your friends and neighbors, don’t you? Come on!
DR. AUGUSTINE: Exactly, exactly. [Laughing] Right. Exactly. Religious liberty is something that I think has been important ‑‑ I know has been important since the beginning of our civilization. It is something that is constitutionally ingrained in who we are, but it’s something that has fallen short of receiving constitutional validity and practice.
It is something that I feel is a part of assimilation, an attempt to fit in. Many people are denied the religious liberty that they otherwise want to exercise or would exercise. Oftentimes the rights of people to express themselves freely are suppressed because of a dominant narrative. That narrative oftentimes is hand in hand with white Christian nationalism, but it’s oftentimes hand in hand with subjugation or with prejudice.
So religious liberty for me as an African American, I look to it as someone who serves as ordained clergy in the Black Church, in the African Methodist Episcopal Church in particular. I think about those who went before me. I think about those who were motivated by Jesus’s love and liberation, opposed to a narrative of subjugation, those who fought for right for others, those who founded educational institutions to make sure that opportunities would be extended where opportunities otherwise did not exist.
So religious liberty means so, so many things, but for me, more than anything else, it means the ability to exercise one’s true beliefs, not to be subjected by a dominant narrative and to participate in society as one deems appropriate by one’s own conscience.
HOLLY: Well, Jay, I love how you said that it’s constitutionally ingrained in us, you know, a little play on words there about how we are born free, and we also have this tradition in our Constitution to seek freedom for all.
As you know, BJC has been around for more than eight decades, and we are constituted as a group of denominational bodies, but also includes individuals as well. And, you know, part of our history is that we brought Black and white denominational groups together. Yet we recognize that we haven’t always lived up to that, to understanding the different experience the way Black and white Americans experience religious freedom.
And so I wondered if you could say something about how you see this understanding of religious freedom being different for Black and white Americans, in the Christian tradition.
DR. AUGUSTINE: Absolutely. Oftentimes ‑‑ and I will jokingly say this sometimes in the pulpit when I reference what we have seen perhaps in the last 40 years from our evangelical brothers and sisters, some who are much more conservative, in the conservative wing of Christianity, if you will. I will oftentimes joke about which Jesus do you serve, which Jesus do you believe in.
The Jesus that I serve as a Christian minister is one who believes in equality of all, one who advocated for equality of all, one who certainly was egalitarian in practice, one who embraced those who were pushed to the margins. And that is not the narrative we have often seen by some in the more conservative side of Christianity, particularly in leading up to the 1980 presidential election.
Here with Jimmy Carter obviously, the announcement coming that his final days are here, he’s in hospice care. He’s decided not to go back to the hospital but to stay at home, and paying great respect to him with the 1976 as the year of evangelical, the year he was elected to the presidency, but to have those who were also self-described evangelical Christians to turn against Carter because he embraced a love and liberating side of evangelicalism, where he wanted to integrate, for example, Bob Jones University. He wanted to withhold funding from schools in the South that wanted to subjugate Blacks rather than accept Blacks and rather than embrace the gifts and graces of Blacks.
So there’ve been two very different sides of Christianity, if you will, at least for the last 40 years in the United States of America. I think over the course of the last few years in particular, as we have seen a narrative called Make America Great Again, I think there’s been a great deal of buyer’s remorse. I think some people have said, quite frankly, This is not what I signed up for, this level of polarization, this level of “otherism,” this level of racial and ethnic enmity.
So for me, religious freedom has been about liberation. It’s been about expressing rights. It’s been about fighting for love, fighting for the opportunity to love who you want to love, and it’s been about creating an America for all, and that is part of the history, I’m proud to say, that is deeply ingrained in the Black Church and something I do celebrate, especially in February as it’s Black History Month.
HOLLY: Well, that answer really points out how this is a continuing calling and struggle. Right? And it also reminds us how the fight for religious freedom has to make room for this kind of conversation.
DR. AUGUSTINE: Absolutely.
HOLLY: You’ve talked about a lot of the political polarization and the political use of Christianity. Do you think that there’s some kind of vision of religious freedom that people need to engage in that has the possibility of bridging some of these divides?
DR. AUGUSTINE: Sure. So I will say as a very proud native of New Orleans — and here we are recording on what I call Lundi Gras, the day before Mardi Gras ‑‑ I used to have a T-shirt that said, Everywhere else it’s just Tuesday. Right? But we’re recording on Lundi Gras, the day before Mardi Gras. I want to give a nod to my hometown and do like a preacher does and talk in metaphors.
And the metaphor, the analogy I like to oftentimes use about people coming together for pluralistic perspectives or bringing diverse people together is gumbo. Gumbo to me is wonderful, because gumbo as part of our American system of metaphors, our history of using metaphors, is much different than the melting pot of years past. The melting pot in years past suggested an assimilation in order to fit in. Gumbo, however, speaks to an authenticity, a belonging, a space where you are welcomed just the way you are.
As I think about religious freedom and I think about what I referenced earlier, constitutionally ingrained but something that has not always manifested in practice, I think about the ability of people to be like gumbo, where shrimp can be shrimp, oysters can be oysters, crabs can be crabs. People can all come together and practice their respective faiths without having to try to assimilate to a dominant narrative in America that oftentimes, quite frankly, has been wrapped around Christian nationalism.
It’s been a conflation of cross and country that says people have got to behave a certain way, believe a certain thing, look a certain way in order to, quote/unquote, fit in. That, again, for me is the metaphor of the melting pot of the past. Now, however, I really believe America is better, particularly from a religious liberty perspective, with a bowl of gumbo, where everybody can fit in and be their full, authentic selves.
HOLLY: I like that, and I’m getting a little hungry, so ‑‑
DR. AUGUSTINE: [Laughing.]
HOLLY: I agree. That kind of conversation might be able to bring people together and just recognizing that we are all created in God’s image, and we have these differences. But if we see that, if we see that in ourselves and see that in others, there is, at least, the way forward to a religious freedom conversation that respects all people.
DR. AUGUSTINE: Absolutely, absolutely.
Segment 2: Christian nationalism’s white-centric idea of belonging (starting at 12:47)
AMANDA: Well, you’ve already touched on this topic a couple of times, Jay, so let’s dive more deeply into the topic of Christian nationalism, which I’ve called a number of times the single greatest threat to religious freedom for all that we face in this country today. And listeners of Respecting Religion will know that this is a theme and a topic that we return to quite a bit on our show, in part because of our leadership of Christians Against Christian Nationalism and our attempt to bring greater understanding of this topic to a larger audience.
And so at Christians Against Christian Nationalism, whenever I talk about Christian nationalism, I think it’s important to start with definitions. So at Christians Against Christian Nationalism, we define it this way: Christian nationalism is a political ideology and cultural framework that merges American and Christian identities. It’s one definition, and so to start our conversation, I’d love to hear how you define Christian nationalism.
DR. AUGUSTINE: And I think that is very fair. I think that’s a very accurate definition. I see it as a conflation of cross and country that says there is a dominant power narrative that is oftentimes rooted in white Anglo-Saxon Protestant practices. And if you are not within that category, then some way you are devalued or valued as less than those who are, and it’s a question of where you fit in.
When we think about America’s history, particularly in immigration, it was oftentimes said that America is a country of immigrants. Well, when you think about that, people came to America, different peoples, different ethnicities came to America for different reasons. Oftentimes people practiced different religions.
There were lots of Catholics that came that did not fit into the narrative of Protestantism. There were those who came that were Buddhist that did not fit into the narrative of Protestantism. There certainly were those who were Jewish that did not fit into the narrative of white Protestantism.
So I certainly concur with the definition of Christian nationalism. It is one that I write about in the same regards. It’s one that I certainly embrace in my practice as a pastor, in calling the church to fight against and speak against the narrative of Christian nationalism. Simply a conflation of cross and country, one that I believe has no place. And I do agree with you. It probably is the single most powerful threat we have to our domestic way of living in the United States of America.
AMANDA: And I noted in that definition how implicit in your definition is this white-centric concept of American society and concept of belonging, full belonging, in American culture, that it’s not just being a Christian but being a particular type of Christian, specifically a white Protestant Christian, which tracks with, of course, those who held power at the time of the founding. You know, even though we have this constitutional promise, as you’ve pointed out, we haven’t lived up to that promise throughout our history.
So at Christians Against Christian Nationalism, we acknowledge that Christian nationalism ‑‑ and I’m quoting here ‑‑ “often overlaps with and provides cover for white supremacy and racial subjugation.” What do you think about how we’ve addressed that topic there? Is it fair? Is it enough?
DR. AUGUSTINE: I think it’s very fair, and I attempt to put a magnifying glass, particularly on my forthcoming book. And, Holly, I deeply appreciate you lifting that up. When Prophets Preach draws distinctions with respect to racial discrimination and ethnic discrimination. And I want to be clear that they are not one and the same.
Race, we know, is a social construct. It is based on immutable characteristics. When one looks at me and one sees me, one can say, “There is a Black man,” because society says that someone with my physical characteristics is deemed as Black, which goes back in history to say the opposite of white, and therefore, it’s less valued, so forth, so on. Certainly white Christian nationalism has devalued Blackness in America. There’s no doubt about that. It’s devalued others who are not white, devalued them less than white.
But in terms of ethnic discrimination, that for me has been very problematic with our history, and I made reference to it with Catholics and Jews who may look — at face value — who may look like part of the dominant class. But because they are from a different culture or because their religious practices are different, because some of their familial practices are different, some of their cultural norms are different, and they don’t fit in with the “myth of America being God’s chosen nation” and the original Founders and what they embraced as white Anglo-Saxon Protestantism. Then oftentimes, those individuals are castigated or subjugated, too.
So the narratives of racial discrimination and ethnic discrimination have continually played out through the history of America in various ways, and oftentimes, the core or the roof of it, we see, is white Christian nationalism, a power grab that is certainly laced and intertwined with racial discrimination.
AMANDA: I’m really glad that you drew that distinction between racial and ethnic discrimination and how those manifest differently. One thing ‑‑ and I referenced earlier that we have gotten some pushback to this even calling out a connection at all between white supremacy and Christian nationalism. And I think it would be helpful if you can give some examples about how this plays out. How do we see white supremacy and Christian nationalism coming together in white Christian nationalism?
DR. AUGUSTINE: I will lift up two very painful examples for me, one more so than the other, but certainly both are very painful. In the wake of the 2015 massacre at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, the shooter, who was, as far as I’m concerned, a very sick bigot, lifted up a white manifesto, a white replacement theory in noting that his cultural norms of white Anglo-Saxon Protestantism were being replaced in America by minorities, Jews, etc.
The exact same political framework was lifted up by the shooter last year in 2022 outside the Tops grocery store, after the Tops grocery store massacre in Buffalo, New York. It is a framework that devalues others. It places a premium on God’s “original intent” for America as a chosen nation.
And, again, those who don’t fit in with that political framework or those who don’t fit in with that racial or ethnic framework are deemed as less valuable and consequentially still treated more like chattel than like people. That is very, very problematic, and it plays out over and over and over with the devaluation of certain groups.
So those are just two examples that to me are deeply painful, but I think we need to lift up and elevate to talk about the examples that they are.
AMANDA: I appreciate your vulnerability in sharing those horrific examples of what white Christian nationalism looks like in the hands of violent, deadly extremists.
DR. AUGUSTINE: Absolutely.
HOLLY: And it seems like, Jay, that as you point that out, it’s hard ‑‑ you know, you can’t really deny that’s what we have in those examples. But what Amanda was talking about as the pushback is I think that there’s an impulse in some Christian circles just to say, there’s no way, you know. Christianity can’t be racist. So, you know, you have this struggle, that Christians don’t to be associated with that, and they just say that’s, you know, sick bigotry. There’s nothing in Christianity about that.
And yet we’re faced with this is what played out, that you had these examples of people mixing their understanding of Christianity and racism. And in your book, one of your responses that you call for is more prophetic preaching. How can that address this problem that we see in Christianity that we have to face?
DR. AUGUSTINE: The role of prophetic preaching, the role of the prophet, is to envision a space of love and of liberation, perhaps that may not exist, but as my mother used to say, to call a thing a thing, to call something out that needs to be called out and address it, not to hide from it but to envision something, to share it with others that this is something that should be, even though it does not exist, and to create a space where we move toward that.
As I think about the need for prophetic preaching, let me lift up what I call the other side of Christianity, meaning not a side that is loving and liberative but a side that is subjugating and a side that is rooted in racism, whether it’s called racism or whether it just looks like racism in practice.
When I think about 2017, a new administration came to Washington, and I think about the problems ‑‑ there have been problems for years and years and years ‑‑ but the problems with immigration, I think about a Sunday school teacher who happened to be the attorney general of the United States of America, a devout Sunday school teacher who justified separating migrant children from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border by referencing Romans 13, the same Scripture or one of the same Scriptures that was used to subjugate Blacks and subjugate the Africans that were enslaved during enslavement in the South.
That is absolutely horrific, but it is something that has been a part of Christian practice, of devaluing and saying, “Here, here is the justification for it,” no different than, as an African American, I look back at the Genesis narrative, and I believe it’s Genesis 9, there is the Hamitic hypothesis. Some call it the curse of Ham. Those who are of brown skin, those who are not of what we would say today, the white Anglo-Saxon persuasion, those who are of darker skin are cursed. That is one of the great myths that has been associated with Christianity, and it has absolutely no merit whatsoever.
Jesus came to show love and liberation, and he showed it unconditionally to all peoples. The Acts narrative speaks of the disciples going throughout various parts of the diaspora, spreading Christ’s love and liberation to all peoples, not in a prejudicial manner, not in a discriminatory manner, but in an indiscriminatory manner to all peoples.
So we’ve seen two sides of Christianity over the course of American history, perhaps more pronounced in the public domain over the last few years because of the rise of white Christian nationalism, but there certainly is the need for the prophet to call a thing a thing and to speak truth to power.
HOLLY: That’s excellent. It’s both claiming what’s in the faith and in the Scripture, what we’re called to do and recognizing and being honest about our history and the failings of Christian voices in the pubic square.
DR. AUGUSTINE: Yes, yes, yes. I couldn’t agree more. And I will say, as someone who has been motivated by his faith ‑‑ and I hate to say not just as a pastor but being a pastor is something I love, but this was not my first vocation; it was not my first calling. My first calling was as a lawyer. For me, however, the two certainly merged. The two intersect, because both callings, the sacred and the secular, have been aimed at human empowerment and the fight for social justice and liberation for all.
I’m a native of Louisiana as I lifted before. Louisiana is so far in the Deep South, I like to say you get any further south, you’d be swimming. Right? So with all of the goodness I know that comes along with the gumbo, the beignets and all the other wonderful things in New Orleans, I do recognize culturally where Louisiana is, and I recognize the history of where she was.
As a lawyer, as a member of the Louisiana bar, I oftentimes was engaged in school desegregation litigation, representing people who needed a voice, because the South has a rich history, a history that we can’t always be proud of. My faith has compelled me to work as a lawyer. My faith certainly compelled me to seminary, to doctoral studies, to writing now as a minister in my pastoral service, and that’s an expression of free religion. That’s a free religious expression. Right? That’s how Christ motivates me to want to serve others. I hope others will embrace the love and liberation there and want to serve others, too.
HOLLY: I think you preempted this question, but I was going to ask: How do you, as a person of faith and someone who’s involved in preaching, how does that call to prophetic preaching translate to help society in secular areas? How does it speak to people who aren’t religious? But I think you’re talking then as a lawyer also, you have opportunities to seek the best and to work toward justice and reconciliation that’s kind of alongside but on a different path.
DR. AUGUSTINE: The work of the prophet, I would say, is in no way, shape or form limited to the congregation. The work of the prophet really envisions not just justice and equality within the four corners, if you will, or the four walls of the church as an institution, but the work of the prophet envisions a just society, a better society.
When I think about probably the greatest example of prophetic leadership in the 20th century, you mentioned the word “reconciliation.” I deeply appreciate that. I think about what I call civil reconciliation. What I have written about is civil reconciliation, where the primary exemplar was the ministry of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., during the Civil Rights Movement.
In my previous book, Called to Reconciliation, I lift up reconciliation in three ways: salvific, as in one is restored from a Christocentric perspective in their relationship with God through Jesus. I lift up social reconciliation, as to where human beings are equal to one another, male and female, and the like, because of Jesus.
But I also lift up civil reconciliation, where individuals follow a prophetic ethic, and I like to say, if we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all people ‑‑ I don’t want to say all men ‑‑ all people are created equal, then the role of the prophet is to make sure society’s proverbial feet are held to the fire, and particularly governmental institutions, their feet are held to the fire, and that all must mean all, and the embrace that we envision in the church is an embrace that is equally important in society. So that really is the core for me of civil reconciliation, one aspect that I lift up in writing about reconciliation.
HOLLY: I’m glad you touched on that, and let me mention that earlier book, which I can definitely recommend to our audience. Dr. Augustine wrote a book called Called to Reconciliation: How the Church Can Model Justice, Diversity, and Inclusion. And it’s right there in the title. It’s how the church can model this for the rest of society. And I would say that as I read that, I not only felt the message that resonated with Christian teachings, but also with just the desire as also a southerner to bring people together and to be a kind of nation where we can be reconciled as equal citizens in the law.
DR. AUGUSTINE: Indeed. The Scripture teaches us that reconciliation is a ministry ‑‑ I’m going to Paul in the fifth chapter of 2 Corinthians. Reconciliation is a ministry that Jesus left to the church. I believe that to be true. I unpack it again in three aspects: salvific, social and civil. But it means that we have got to be deliberate in working toward one another or working with one another in order to have community and to move into a reconciling space.
The first book ‑‑ or the previous book, I should say, Called to Reconciliation, I think dovetails well with When Prophets Preach: Leadership and the Politics of the Pulpit, because civil reconciliation is about prophetic leadership. It’s about speaking truth to power, and it’s about the moral imperative that faith leaders have to fight for the rights of others, to speak for justice, to engage in civil disobedience when norms and narratives of dominance are unjust.
It’s about the ministry of Dr. King and how he went to jail over what we would call Easter weekend, on Good Friday in 1963, and wrote a treatise on civil disobedience, “Letter From Birmingham Jail.” But it’s about envisioning a just society and working to bring people together. That’s really the work of the prophet, and it’s not in any way, shape or form limited to the church. It really extends to all society.
Segment 3: What can everyone learn from the Black Church? (starting at 30:07)
AMANDA: Well, in this final segment of our time together, Jay, I want to pick up on a theme that you have already touched upon, and that is, you know, where do we go from here. How do we seek reconciliation? How do we work to dismantle white Christian nationalism?
And I just recently was at a public conversation about Christian nationalism at the Brookings Institution, and one of the speakers and panelists was Dr. Jemar Tisby who has also written quite a bit about Christian nationalism. And in his closing remarks to this question about what do we do, he had two things to tell the audience.
Number one, go to Christians Against Christian Nationalism and check out their resources, for which I was very grateful that he pointed people to our resources. And number two, learn from the Black Church. And I was really struck by that recommendation. And knowing, of course, that the Black Church is not a monolith, just like Black Americans are not a monolith, I wondered if you could speak to that. What can we learn from the Black Church as we seek to write a new narrative about religious freedom in this country?
DR. AUGUSTINE: What a wonderful question, and thank you so much for it. The role I see of the Black Church or the historical role it has played has been one rooted in liberation, rooted in love, rooted in respect for all, in fighting for a just society for all, fighting against discrimination, fighting against subjugation, fighting to embrace all people because all must mean all.
We’ve seen that through the church’s practices and prophetic leadership. We’ve seen it through the church’s implementation of what it believes through the founding of educational institutions to make sure opportunities are extended where they otherwise would not have been.
More than anything else, though, I deeply respect what you all are doing in the information advocacy you share, the invitations you extend to others to learn more about things that they may not be aware of. A few years ago, certainly Christian nationalism was something deep in academic laboratories, but it was not out in the public domain as much as it is now, and you all have done a wonderful job at BJC, a wonderful job of informing others about what Christian nationalism is. So I think information campaigns are also very necessary.
I think when we look at the rise of antisemitism, particularly in recent years, and some very troubling alliances ‑‑ we’ve seen some NBA players I’m going to leave nameless, we have seen some popular entertainers I’m going to leave nameless. Those that I’m thinking about are African American, and we have seen them engage in very antisemitic behavior which for the life of me I cannot understand, but I think they are doing that because there is an ignorance, if you will.
I don’t mean ignorance to be pejorative. I mean ignorance simply because it’s ignorant. My mother used to say when I was a child, she said, Son, there’s nothing wrong with being ignorant, because ignorance can be cured with information. Ignorance can be cured with exposure. But there’s a dramatic difference in being stupid. Don’t you ever be stupid. Right?
So my point here is that when you engage in information advocacy, you address ignorance, because people are no longer ignorant once they know. And I think there’s so much that you all are doing, so many wonderful things at BJC that you’re doing, but I think there is a lot to learn from the example of the Black Church, the example of embrace, rather than pushing away, rather than castigating.
We’ve not seen the Black Church in a narrative where it has attempted to engage in vengeance. Instead, you’ve seen the Black Church as an exemplar of Jesus’s love in fighting for a space for equality, where everybody can belong, or if you choose not to belong, that’s your right, too. But the Black Church has been at the forefront of that for America, and I am really deeply grateful for the prophetic witness of the church.
AMANDA: Absolutely. Thank you for putting that into such stirring words. And I echo your call and Dr. Tisby’s call. There’s so much we can learn about religious freedom and about Christianity from the Black Church.
DR. AUGUSTINE: It is really a practice of embrace. Paul gets it right, I believe. Paul maybe says it best in Galatians in the third chapter. I’m paraphrasing. Neither Jew or Greek, free or slave, male or female, but you are now one in Christ Jesus. That is the example that the Black Church has lived out.
And let me specify. That oneness that Paul writes about, I don’t believe that oneness is the assimilation of the melting pot I was talking about. I don’t believe that’s the oneness. I believe the oneness Paul is writing about is the elimination of dominance, not the elimination of difference. Paul is not saying we all have to assimilate to be the same, but he’s saying that the dominant narrative must go away if we truly are to have full equality for all. And the Black Church has modeled that in a wonderful, wonderful way.
HOLLY: Well, thank you, Dr. Augustine, Jay, for this fun conversation. And thank you for this new book, When Prophets Preach: Leadership and the Politics of the Pulpit. We do have a lot to learn from each other and particularly the faith experience in the Black Church. I think it can help our conversations about Christianity and help our conversations about religious freedom.
DR. AUGUSTINE: Thank you so much. It’s such a pleasure to be with you. I deeply appreciate the invitation and the opportunity. Thank you both, so, so, much.
AMANDA: When Prophets Preach: Leadership and the Politics of the Pulpit is published by Fortress Press. It will be released on March 28, and it is available for preorder now, so visit our show notes for that link.
HOLLY: That brings us to the close of this episode of Respecting Religion. Thanks for joining us for today’s conversation. For more details on what we discussed, including links to resources, check out our show notes. We’ll also have the link to preorder Dr. Augustine’s new book.
AMANDA: If you enjoyed today’s show, share this program with others on social media and tag us. We’re on Twitter, Instagram and YouTube @BJContheHill, and you can follow me on Twitter @AmandaTylerBJC.
HOLLY: Plus, as always, you can email both of us by writing to [email protected]. We love hearing from you.
AMANDA: Thank you for supporting this program. You can visit our show notes for a link to donate to support this podcast and keep it free of sponsored content. And for more episodes, you can see a full list of shows, including transcripts, by visiting RespectingReligion.org.
HOLLY: We encourage you to take a moment to find out more about BJC and how we’ve been working for faith freedom for all since 1936. Visit our website at BJCOnline.org for a look at what we do and some of our latest projects.
AMANDA: Join us on Thursdays for new conversations Respecting Religion.