(405) 425-5070

Understanding racial oppression and the church

Hughes presents a heartbreakingly clear picture of America’s struggles with race

One great joy I find in reading is the connections I discover in seemingly unrelated books.

Last year I read The Gospel Comes with a House Key: Practicing Radically Ordinary Hospitality in Our Post-Christian World by Rosaria Butterfield and Letters to the Church by Francis Chan. These books expose the failure of many mainstream American Christians to understand the full implications of living as Christ in the world.

Richard T. Hughes. Myths America Lives By: White Supremacy and the Stories That Give Us Meaning (second edition). Champaign, Ill.: University of Illinois Press, 2018. 280 pages.

Richard T. Hughes. Myths America Lives By: White Supremacy and the Stories That Give Us Meaning (second edition). Champaign, Ill.: University of Illinois Press, 2018. 280 pages.

We fail to grasp what hospitality really is — and what it looks like, functionally, to love and serve those around us. Instead, what I see a lot is fear and a deep desire to erect walls between us (especially if we’re parents) and the world with its various dangers, influences, bad habits and behaviors.

This is an understandable flaw, given that the Bible reveals a sort of tension — being in the world but not of it. It’s easy for us to fall off the horse on either side.

I found more connections to these concepts in Myths America Lives By; White Supremacy and the Stories That Give Us Meaning by Richard T. Hughes. This isn’t a title I would normally pick up, but I cannot overstate the importance of this book.

Hughes, a renowned historian among Churches of Christ and professor emeritus at Pepperdine University, surveys not only our contemporary racial conflicts in America but also the various religious, philosophical and political movements — dating back to Henry VIII — that have shaped Protestantism. He follows these movements through the founding of the United States, through the evolution of our troubled race relations and through the development of Christian groups in America.

For those of us who struggle to understand the racially charged polarities of today as well as the highs and lows of our American past, this book paints a heartbreaking, damning and ultimately clear picture for today’s Christians.

In this second edition of Hughes’ work, first published in 2004, he highlights six “myths” that he claims exist at the heart of the American experience —  including “The Myth of the Chosen Nation,” “Nature’s Nation,” the “Christian Nation,” “Millennial Nation” and the “Innocent Nation.”

For those of us struggling to understand the divisions in our society, this book provides an opportunity to consider the lessons history has for us.

Tackling hundreds of years of philosophy, history and theology is a daunting task, yet Hughes’ work is extensive and illuminating. He gives primacy to the oft-neglected or forgotten voices of prominent people of color — Yolanda Pierce, Charles Blow and Toni Morrison to name a few.

Hughes writes, “As a Christian, I understand that the one I seek to follow has asked us to see the world through the eyes of people who suffer oppression at the hands of the world’s elites.

“Oppressed people will tell us the truth, I believe, in ways that the world’s elites, the wealthy, and the power brokers typically will not. The elites will not because they have too much to lose. But oppressed people have nothing to lose, and that is why we need to hear them clearly.”

The topic of race is undoubtedly, emotionally and politically charged at this moment. (When is it not?) It may be with gritted teeth that some of us approach this book.

Amber Jimerson

Amber Jimerson

But Hughes is correct in his conviction that listening to the oppressed is a timeless charge from the word of God. For those of us struggling to understand the divisions in our society, this book provides an opportunity to consider the lessons history has for us.

This book, combined with those I’ve read recently, shows me that the attitudes that prevent us from showing hospitality and serving those different from us have been present from the very beginning of our country. When we don’t trust anyone but our “own” — however we define it — we misunderstand our mission.

Amber Jimerson is a homeschooling mom of three children. Her husband, Thailer Jimerson, preaches for the Brownsburg Church of Christ in central Indiana.

Filed under: book review Christianity and oppression Opinion oppression and faith oppression and religion Race Reviews

View Comments

Don’t miss out on more stories like this.

Subscribe today to receive more inspiring articles like this one delivered straight to your inbox twice a month.

Did you enjoy this article?

Your donation helps us not only keep our quality of journalism high, but helps us continue to reach more people in the Churches of Christ community.

$
Personal Info

Dedicate this Donation

In Honor/Memory of Details

Card Notification Details

Credit Card Info
This is a secure SSL encrypted payment.
Billing Details

Donation Total: $3 One Time

{amount} donation plus {fee_amount} to help cover fees.