Paula White is a thin, white, barbie-like preacher who became popular by learning to preach like and appeal to black churchgoers. She’s been married three times (full disclosure: I’m divorced myself). She divorced her first husband soon after becoming a Christian. Along with her second husband, she started what grew to be a megachurch, largely attended by black folks. Paula’s lifestyle grew to include million dollar condos, private jets and so much swag that even Congress felt the need to investigate her. Paula now pastors another majority black megachurch and still makes her living from black dollars. She also became the latest high profile endorser of Donald Trump. So why are those negroes in her church still?
Understanding Paula White forces us to revisit America’s founding. The founding fathers, while not willing to fight slavery, generally saw it as a “necessary evil.” They thought it immoral and unfortunate but still gladly accepted the benefits. Slavery ultimately flourished because the church provided a much needed moral cover to assuage the nation’s conscience. The “Curse of Ham” and other theological tricks helped America to cast away its guilt. With every lynching and rape of a black woman, America kept a clear conscience because of its Christian faith. Indeed, the Vice President of the Confederacy even employed Christianity in seeking to justify the cause of slavery and secession. This history helps us understand why Dr. King had to write his famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” in which he responded to criticisms from clergy about his attempts to fight racial oppression.
This history also helps us understand why the church has been such a huge part of the success of the Republican Party since the 1960’s, in particular. As Civil Rights became the order of the day, racist backlash, particularly in the south, was exploited by the GOP for votes. In 1981, Republican campaign consultant Lee Atwater admitted as much when he said,
“You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”
Interestingly enough, it has been the “Evangelical” vote that the GOP has leaned on so heavily to win elections for decades.
The American “Christian” experience has largely been one of convenience. Our Christianity has always been subjugated to other interests, especially those of white supremacy and greed. So long as Christianity could safeguard slavery, right on. So long as “faith” could be used to maintain Jim Crow, sure thing. So long as that faith could help win elections, no problem. To be sure, the same voters that cited George W. Bush’s Christian faith in lending their support (including many prominent black pastors) gladly voted for Mitt Romney, a Mormon, choosing to ignore Obama’s profession of Christianity. It’s clear that Christianity has never been the true concern.
The issue is that Paula White and the American church by and large depend on the support of black people. We pack the pews and certainly help White and other ministers live lavishly with our tithes and offerings (to be fair, very few preachers live opulently). Yet when it comes to truly being committed to black freedom and combatting white supremacy, the church has been largely absent and all too often an active opponent. So why are those negroes still gladly contributing to their own oppression? It’s time they take seriously what Richard Allen did in 1787 or just leave.