A Christian Challenges His Coreligionists: 'Act More Christian Than White'

Jim Wallis, the founder of Sojourners, regards whiteness as a myth and white supremacy as idolatry.

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As a young man, Jim Wallis, the founder of Sojourners, participated in the Civil Rights Movement. He is, much more recently, the author of America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America. In remarks Wednesday at The Aspen Ideas Festival, co-hosted by the Aspen Institute and The Atlantic, he clarified that America’s original sin isn’t the mere fact of slavery.

“I mean, the Greeks were slaves to Romans and they tutored their children,” he argued. “No one destroyed their humanity and their families. Our original sin––and it was Christians, I'm a Christian––the Christians said we can't do what we're about to do to indigenous people and kidnapped Africans without taking away their humanity. So you create this invention that is white supremacy and superiority.”

In his view, “Whiteness is a myth, an ideology.”

And for many religious people in the past and present, he declared, whiteness is an idol. “White Christianity is an idolatry,” he said. “And idols separate us from God.”

Thus, he argued, “whiteness has separated white Christians from God.”

This belief informs a message he delivers to white Christians.

“What I say to white Christians is that if white Christians acted more Christian than white, black parents would have less to fear for their children,” he said. “The Black Lives Matter is not just a great movement, it is attacking the foundational principle of this country which said, indigenous lives and black lives don't matter.”

Email conor@theatlantic.com to join the conversation about his message.