Professor laments heresy of 'white Christian theology' in Charleston attack

by Gregory Tomlin, |
People hold hands and pray during a prayer service at the farmer's market in Marion Square, near the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church where a mass shooting took place, in Charleston, S.C., June 20, 2015. Suspect Dylann Roof, a 21-year-old white man, is accused of shooting black worshipers at the historic church on Wednesday night, June 17, killing nine black men and women. A Chicago Theological Seminary theology professor claims the attack is the result of a deep-seated "white Christian" heresy of racial superiority. But, as the photo indicates, white and black Christians in South Carolina have joined hands and are praying and weeping together. | REUTERS/Brian Snyder

CHICAGO (Christian Examiner) – In spite of the prayeful gathering of Christians of all races in Charleston, South Carolina, a Chicago Theological Seminary professor has claimed the attack on the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in the city shows how idolatrous and heretical "white Christian theology" in America is.

Susan Brooks Thislethwaite, who teaches theology at the liberal seminary affiliated with the United Church of Christ, writes at Huffington Post that the massacre of black church members by an "avowed white supremacist," Dylann Roof, has much broader implications for Christianity.

"If you look carefully at what produced the massacre in Charleston, you can see American faith and life exposed, a freeze frame, a break in time," Thislethwaite writes.

Susan Brooks Thislethwaite is a feminist white theologian who teaches at Chicago Theological Seminary. She asserts the massacre in Charleston exposes American faith and life and shows "white Christian theology" to be idolatrous and heretical.

The feminist theologian, who is white, writes that "white supremacy" – like Apartheid in South Africa – is a "sinful policy." It is, in another word, "heresy" for white people to have superior attitudes, she claims. However, she offers no evidence as to where Christian churches in America have collectively employed this theology of racial superiority.

Thislethwaite also claims "gun worship is demonic," and writes "stand your ground" laws are racist and "the liturgy of the worship of the 'great god Gun.'"

To Thislethwaite, politicians protecting guns is the same as worshipping Moloch (or Molech), an Ammonite deity – sometimes worshipped contrary to God's law in ancient Israel – who required blood sacrifices of infants in order to be appeased.

A third point made by Thislethwaite is that forgiveness in the church is required. She writes forgiveness cannot be separated from repentance, but she also writes Americans too easily forget the past. She claims "white America" most of all needs to repent.

The professor also attacks the police in her blog posting. In it, she writes the police are over-militarized and decries the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Eric Garner, all black men killed by police or those classified as "white."

Police forces, she writes, "need to be required to take this step, along with confronting and eradicating the penetration of white supremacist attitudes in policing culture. Faith leaders must meet with their local governments and demand that these changes be made."

George Zimmerman, who killed Trayvon Martin and was found not guilty in the shooting death, is Hispanic.

For Thislethwaite, racist America is "a sign of the times." In particular, she writes, white Christians should pay attention to the racial crisis, admit their role in it, and change "white theology."

"I believe this means: rejecting white supremacy as heresy, calling out gun culture for the demon it is, truly confessing, repenting of and changing white racism, calling for the demilitarizing the police and promoting retraining, and in all this, listening to the teachings of Jesus Christ on how to read the signs of the times."

Thislethwaite's charges against white people are nothing new. In 2011, she wrote a blog post at the Washington Post titled, "When Christianity becomes lethal."

In it, she blamed the rampage of Norwegian terrorist Anders Behring Breivik, who bombed government buildings and attacked students on an island retreat, on conservative Christian theology. Breivik was a neo-fascist and not affiliated with any church. At times he described himself as a "cultural Christian" and at others as a follower of the Norse god ­­­­­Odin. Breivik, who wrote he did not have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, killed 77 people.

Thislethwaite, who is white, was president of Chicago Theological Seminary from 1998 to 2008. During that time, in 2006, the school established its Lesbian, Gay, Transgender and Bisexual Religious Studies Center. In 2007, it established the Center for the Study of Black Faith and Life (CSBFL).

According to the school's website, the CSBFL is "the first Center within a denominational seminary to seek connection with the larger Black Faith community inclusive of a variety of Black religions."

South Carolinians have rejected such conclusions as those offered by Thislethwaite. Churches have reached across racial lines to offer support and prayer services have been filled with people of all races. 

The Southern Baptist Convention again took up the issue of racial reconciliation at its annual meeting in Columbus, Ohio, earlier in June. Messengers, by a show of ballots, approved a motion to commend the SBC Executive Committee's "Review of the Southern Baptist Convention's Progress on Racial Reconciliation, 1995-2015."

The Convention also issued resolutions on race relations and reconciliation in 1937, 1939, 1940, 19411944, 1946, 1961, 1970, and 1995. The resolutions show an evolving attitude on race and the unseating of prejudice in the South's largest non-Catholic denomination.