Plantation Jesus: Race, Faith, and a New Way Forward

Plantation Jesus: Race, Faith, and a New Way Forward


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Not long ago, most white American Christians believed that Jesus blessed slavery. God wasn't bothered by Jim Crow. Baby Jesus had white skin. Meet Plantation Jesus: a god who is comfortable with bigotry, and an idol that distorts the message of the real Savior. That false image of God is dead, right? Wrong, argue the authors of Plantation Jesus, an authoritative new book on one of the most urgent issues of our day. Through their shared passion for Jesus Christ and with an unblinking look at history, church, and pop culture, authors Skot Welch and Rick Wilson detail the manifold ways that racism damages the church's witness. Together Welch and Wilson take on common responses by white Christians to racial injustice, such as "I never owned a slave," "I don't see color; only people," and "We just need to get over it and move on." Together they call out the church's denials and dodges and evasions of race, and they invite readers to encounter the Christ of the disenfranchised. With practical resources and Spirit-filled stories, Plantation Jesus nudges readers to learn the history, acknowledge the injury, and face the truth. Only then can the church lead the way toward true reconciliation. Only then can the legacy of Plantation Jesus be replaced with the true way of Jesus Christ.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781513803302
Publisher: Herald Press
Publication date: 05/22/2018
Pages: 196
Sales rank: 553,804
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.40(d)

About the Author

Skot Welchis the principal/founder of Global Bridgebuilders, a firm focusing on cultural transformation and inclusion that serves a wide range of clients in the U.S. and in more than seven countries. Welch has worked in international business and diversity and inclusion management for nearly twenty years.

Rick Wilsonwas an Emmy-winning producer and writer in print and broadcast media. He was cohost, with Skot Welch, of the popular radio program Radio in Black and White, which covered topics related to race, ethnicity, and cultural competence. Wilson died in 2014.

Andi Cumbo-Floydis a writer, editor, and writing coach whose books including The Slaves Have Names, a book of creative nonfiction that tells the story of the people who were enslaved on the plantation that she calls home. She and her husband Philip run a small farm in central Virginia.

Read an Excerpt



Introducing Plantation Jesus

Get over it."

The voice booms from the back of the sanctuary. The pastor has just led her white congregation in a tense but respectful discussion about racism in the United States. They have talked about Black Lives Matter and the Confederate flag. They've discussed the murders at Emanuel AME in Charleston and the tiki torches of Charlottesville. They have shared family histories of loving their black nannies and stories about the grandfathers of friends who were lynched. They haven't gotten many answers, but it seems everyone agrees that racism is a real problem.

That is, until the man in the back, who has been silent with his arms folded for the whole conversation, stands up. "Get over it," he says loudly. "Those people just need to get over it! Slavery ended a long time ago. Racism isn't a problem anymore. Come on; we even had a black president."

And just like that, the entire conversation comes to a standstill.

This scene plays out again and again in American churches today. One person's dismissal of a problem shuts down conversation. White Christians who don't see the realities of oppression and racism in our country lob the "get over it" grenade, or variations of it. End of conversation.

Once on our radio show, Radio in Black and White, we did a show called "It," as in "Get over 'it,'" and we encouraged people to call in and articulate what "it" is. We wanted people to tell us what they thought people needed to forget, overlook, or dismiss. What did they want all of us to get over? Did they want us to get over slavery? Racism? Oppression in general? Or would they delve deeper?

On the show, people offered all kinds of rationale for why they felt people of color should simply be "past" what happened "so long ago." They talked about how they thought conversations about these things just make racism worse. They shared that people shouldn't continue to bring up things that didn't even happen to them. And a few brave souls admitted that when they said they wanted people of color to "get over it," they were really just saying they didn't want to feel uncomfortable anymore. They admitted that they didn't know how to proceed in the conversation about race without "offending" someone.

We appreciated these honest answers the most. From our perspective, people who say we all need to just "get over it" are actually getting rid of their own discomfort. The continuing racial separation in the United States and white people's culpability in that separation makes them uncomfortable. Asking people of color and others who simply can't "let it go" to "get over it" displaces that discomfort a bit.

A dear friend once told us that telling people to get over slavery is like telling your grandfather to keep World War II to himself. We wouldn't expect him to suppress the stories and experiences of that violent, horrific war. We know those experiences were important to him, and you know they shaped who he is as a person. Why would it be any different with slavery or the long history of racism in the United States? Those experiences built the America we know today; they are important to our understanding of ourselves as people, and they have, in every way, shaped our identities as people in America.

In fact, to deny the history of slavery and its legacy today is to deny something fundamental about who we are. Denying the ongoing harm, trauma, and oppression caused by centuries of slavery is to deny the fact that the image of God within people of color was systematically battered, bruised, and imprisoned.

That's why we can't just "get over it."

Meet Plantation Jesus

Denying the pain of someone else's past or present requires being comfortable with the suffering of others. It's in this space of denial that we meet Plantation Jesus: a god who is comfortable with pain and suffering, an idol who can only exist in oppression and codified bigotry. Plantation Jesus provides a faith-based justification for racism. Plantation Jesus is a false god who lives within systemic and institutional racism, who continuously distorts an authentic Christian message, and who is complicit with unequal treatment for financial gain.

Plantation Jesus has been around since the earliest days of Colonial America. He made it possible for white Christians to participate in and bless the transatlantic slave trade, during which 12.5 million Africans were shipped to the New World. Plantation Jesus blessed the practice of baptism and giving a "Christian" name to captives in chains as they boarded slave ships, as they were stacked like cordwood, and as they were forced to live in their own waste for weeks and months on end. Plantation Jesus' name was on the lips of slave traders and ship owners who named these ships Madre de Deus (The Mother of God), Hope, and Jesus of Lubeck — also known as "The Good Ship Jesus."

Plantation Jesus enabled the wealthy and powerful figures from the planter classes in the United States — which included religious leaders and presidents — to go to church on Sunday while raping and torturing enslaved people the rest of the week. Deacons and elders said his name as they put on white KKK robes to engage in state-sponsored terrorism — the bombings, beatings, murder, and torture — of the Bible Belt's Jim Crow apartheid system. Plantation Jesus was the reason that churches and Sunday schools sometimes dismissed early to participate in the vigilante justice of lynchings, which happened in every American state except two between 1880 and 1968.

As an idol, Plantation Jesus has served a portion of the U.S. population very well. He is a god who sits high on the porch of his plantation in heaven and proclaims that the problems of the people in the field, his workers, are not problems he has any role in creating or solving. This god separates himself from those he views as less worthy, maintaining his superiority by creating distance between himself and his people by using hierarchies and oppression. He does not move among his people. He tells them to use the back door. He sits on his porch and watches, removed from their problems. He is not a friend; he is only a cold and distant master.

In Plantation Jesus' view, racism isn't real anymore, if it ever was. In his world, we need to look ahead instead of "dwelling in the past." Plantation Jesus is a god who believes in racial hierarchies even as he wants to obscure the fact that they exist, who puts tradition and country above love and equality, and who sees challenges to the existing systems of oppression as "troublemaking" or "causing drama."

Plantation Jesus is the god of white supremacy: the system that undergirds the belief that white people are more valuable than others. In many Christian churches, he still speaks. Plantation Jesus has allowed us to brutalize each other. It's as simple as that.

But this thinking — this Plantation Jesus thinking — that wants us to "put our past behind us and move on" is hard to question, much less overcome, because America is a nation built on white supremacy. No matter our race or ethnicity, it's very difficult for any of us to see what is really going on because we are living within a system that, by its very nature, is designed to make us ignore or overlook the inequalities and injustices built into its bedrock.

The apostle Peter realized that being Jewish didn't make him an ethnic elite. He writes, "You yourselves know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile; but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean" (Acts 10:28).

We need to do the same. It is time to dismantle the power of white Christian supremacy. We need to stop following Plantation Jesus, stop partnering with white supremacy, and stop approving its message. Instead, we must uncover the real Jesus — the Savior who was constantly reaching across divides, bridging gaps, righting injustices. By saying no to Plantation Jesus, we can begin to say yes to Jesus Christ of Nazareth, in whom "all things hold together" and through whom "God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things" (Colossians 1:17, 20).

This is hard and deliberate work. We must first identify racist systems; only then can we begin to dismantle them. That work usually begins with recognizing how white supremacy operates in our individual lives.

Signs in the South: Rick's story

I (Rick) never wanted to take this trip. I was sixteen, and a long car ride with my brother and grandparents just didn't sound like anything I wanted to put my days to.

My thirteen-year-old brother, my mom, and I woke up on a steamy, hot August morning in 1961 and loaded into our car as my dad started it for the drive to Breezewood, Pennsylvania, from our apartment in New York City. Once there, my brother Tim and I would transfer to our grandparents' car for the nine-hundred-mile ride to Daytona Beach, Florida, where we would stay with our uncle Dick for a couple of weeks. Within my self-centered, hyperactive, sixteen-year-old-mind, nothing sounded appealing about this journey.

"The endless ride begins," I said to Tim as we sat in the backseat of our large '61 Chrysler 300 SE. Tim's blank, tired face mirrored my frustration, and in his features I saw the disgust and disappointment I felt in my chest. Because I hadn't passed my New York State driving test, we would be stuck with two drivers who were well into their sixties and not likely to break any land speed records. I did not understand the teachable moments that would unfold during this trip, moments that were only made possible by being with my grandparents — experiencing life within their pace, lens, and personal history.

When we finally arrived in Breezewood, we met up with our grandparents and, after a quick lunch, said goodbye to our parents. After barely two hours on the road, my grandfather began reading motel billboards, confirming the worst fears of two teenage boys anxious to get to Florida. "Howard Johnson's," he said, "Free continental breakfast — ten more miles."

"Ten miles?" I snapped back in deep teen angst. "We just got started!"

I hid my disappointment poorly in ice-cold stares directed at the back of my grandfather's head. But we were barely across the West Virginia line when the desire to stop for the day was too great for my grandparents. Thus a profoundly frustrating pattern emerged: we started late and stopped early for the next four days, living in slow, repetitive motion. It was like our own version of Groundhog Day. "We'll never get there!" I'd mutter to Tim, both of us deeply frustrated.

Over the course of our trip, however, I began to adjust to this glacial mode of travel. My grandma's remarkable skill in conversation and storytelling helped. As we passed gas stations with "Restrooms for Whites Only" signs hanging tidily from wrought-iron posts, my grandmother made sure we noticed them. Not only did she make sure we saw them; she made sure that Tim and I understood exactly what was wrong with a society that said black people and white people couldn't use the same bathrooms. When I asked where the bathrooms for black people were, she made sure that I took note of a rough piece of wood that was hand-painted with the word "Colored" and an arrow pointing to a shack behind the building.

As we listened to the radio, we passed by restaurants with the words "Whites Only" above the door. When we stopped at hotels at any time of day we chose, my grandma made sure I heard about how black people could not stay just anywhere and that they had to be careful about where and when they drove here in the South. As we passed through small towns like Florence, South Carolina, and Statesboro, Georgia, she continued to point out the signs: "Whites Only." "For Rent to Colored."

"Separate is never equal, Rick," my grandma said. "Everyone here has a choice: to accept what is 'normal' but legally unfair, psychologically terrifying, and culturally brutal; or to stand against it all as a giant, ongoing crime against humanity. You're going to have to make that choice yourself someday."

As we traveled, my grandma's voice rose and her eyes flashed. "It doesn't matter what they call this," she said. "States' rights, separate but equal, Southern gentility, law and order: it doesn't matter how normal it appears or how moral, right, and Christian it seems to be. The romance of a 'lost cause' or 'preserving our way of life' all sounds so good. In the end, what matters is what's right. And on every possible level, this is wrong. The only way to make that clear is to deal with it personally — everyone in their own sphere of influence — choosing what's right no matter what it costs."

She paused to further strengthen her words. "This 'lost cause' is lost because it marginalizes and ignores the authentic story of an entire group of people. It's terrifying, brutal, dehumanizing, horrific."

"How do they get away with it?" I asked.

"The rest of the country doesn't know," she said. "But that's about to change."

She was right. While most of the country was focused on the Cuban missile crisis and the "space race," the civil rights movement was gaining traction. When the Freedom Riders' bus was bombed in May in Anniston, Alabama, the whole country was forced to understand that the issues of racism in the South were not minor, isolated, or hidden any longer. The tensions of that oppression were about to come to a head, and my grandmother knew it. Her fervor about injustice reached my teenage heart on those long days of travel.

My grandmother didn't understand a lot of things about the layers of bigotry in the North — her home state of Michigan being one of the country's most segregated. I had a lot to learn too. I could not have known it then, but at that moment, during a trip that I never wanted to take, a seed was planted in my heart to follow in my grandma's footsteps.

"Break-dance for us": Skot's story

I (Skot) grew up as a part of a family that valued community. My multiethnic family shared a huge house with my aunts and uncles in Grand Rapids, Michigan, so I was raised surrounded by men and women who loved me for all of who I was, including my identity as a black boy.

On the weekends, we had big parties that moved through all six of the apartments in that huge, white house. Music filled every room — James Brown, Gil Scott-Heron, Gladys Knight.

Sometimes my mom even let me DJ. I'd spin records and dance those hours away with people having healthy, rich fun. Not only did music fill our home; I went to concerts by some of the greatest black musicians of all time — from The Spinners to Rick James to Prince and Michael Jackson. I even got to meet Michael once. My understanding, through these musicians, was that black people could achieve (and were achieving) great things in our society. I wasn't oblivious to the prejudice and bigotry in the United States. But because of my family and our love of music, as well as our strong appreciation for history, reading, and civic engagement, I never operated in a deficit. Struggle was never a key part of our family conversation.

I knew racism existed, but not because I was a victim of it. Despite what Rick witnessed in the South and what was true for other people of color in the North, racism wasn't something that was happening to me. I was part of a family that was moving against racism. We were socially conscious folks who were working against our society's prejudices and bigotry. My family members went to marches and told me all about it. We were advancing the cause to end it. I was aware that we were coming against something. But the personal experience of racism? That just wasn't my experience, even as I grew up in the racial turmoil of the 1960s and '70s. I grew up knowing that black is beautiful and being black is a strength.

When I was eighteen, I encountered, maybe for the first time, racism in a personal way. I was traveling with Up with People, an international performance group, and we had just arrived in northern Germany. I was assigned to stay with a host family, and they met me at the airport and greeted me warmly. They seemed friendly, and I was glad they spoke a little English and that I spoke a little German.

When we arrived at their home, their teenage children told me they wanted to show me something in the basement. There, I found cardboard laid out on the floor in the center of the room. My hosts smiled at me and then at the cardboard. I looked at them and then at the cardboard.

Finally, one of them said, "We want you to break-dance for us."

I cannot even imagine what my face looked like in that moment. I told them I didn't know how. At first I couldn't even figure out why they had thought I would. Then I realized that they assumed all African American men knew how to break-dance.


Excerpted from "Plantation Jesus"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia.
Excerpted by permission of Herald Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Author Note 9

1 Where We Start: Introducing Plantation Jesus 13

2 Why Can’t We Talk? Ten Roadblocks to Real

Conversation 33

3 How to Know What You Don’t Know: The Face of Plantation Jesus 55

4 What to Believe: Reading the Bible on the Plantation 71

5 Who’s Got the Power? White Supremacy Doesn’t Just

Wear Hoods 85

6 Who We Worship: The Myth of America as a

Christian Nation 103

7 Where Is the Money? Plantation Economics Today 121

8 Where Do We Go from Here? Following the

Real Jesus 137

Resources and Exercises 153

Recommended Books, Films, and Documentary Series 173

Notes 179

The Authors 191

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Plantation Jesus: Race, Faith, and a New Way Forward 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
lmbartelt More than 1 year ago
Plantation Jesus will probably make you uncomfortable. And that's a good thing. With stories to challenge readers about what they believe about Jesus' physical appearance, biblical justifications for slavery and ways to engage others in hard discussions, Plantation Jesus opens the door to conversation so desperately needed in our current cultural climate. It's packed with resources and discussion questions and practical tips for applying this new understanding to your everyday life. This is a must-read book for the times that we live in.