White Jesus

The Architecture of Racism in Religion and Education

by Alexander Jun (Author) Tabatha L. Jones Jolivet (Author) Allison N. Ash (Author) Christopher S. Collins (Author)
©2018 Textbook XXVI, 120 Pages


In White Jesus: The Architecture of Racism in Religion and Education, White Jesus is conceived as a socially constructed apparatus—a mythology that animates the architecture of salvation—that operates stealthily as a veneer for patriarchal White supremacist, capitalist, and imperialist sociopolitical, cultural, and economic agendas. White Jesus was constructed by combining empire, colorism, racism, education, and religion; the by-product is a distortion that reproduces violence in epistemic and physical ways. The authors distinguish White Jesus from Jesus of the Gospels, the one whose life, death, and resurrection demands sacrificial love as a response—a love ethic. White Jesus is a fraudulent scheme that many devotees of Jesus of Bethlehem naively fell for. This book is about naming the lies, reclaiming the person of Jesus, and reasserting a vision of power that locates Jesus of the Gospels in solidarity with the easily disposed. The catalytic, animating, and life-altering power of the cross of Jesus is enough to subdue White Jesus and his patronage.
White Jesus can be used in a variety of academic disciplines, including education, religion, sociology, and cultural studies. Furthermore, the book will be useful for Christian institutions working to evaluate the images and ideologies of Jesus that shape their biblical ethics, as well as churches in the U.S. that are invested in breaking the mold of homogeneity, civil religion, and uncoupling commitments to patriotism from loyalty to one Kingdom. Educational institutions and religious organizations that are committed to combining justice and diversity efforts with a Jesus ethic will find White Jesus to be a compelling primer.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • Advance Praise for White Jesus
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • List of Figures
  • Foreword
  • Tabatha L. Jones Jolivet
  • Locating Ourselves
  • Alexander Jun
  • Allison N. Ash
  • Christopher S. Collins
  • White Jesus
  • About the Cover
  • Notes
  • Chapter 1. Introduction: The White Architecture of Salvation
  • Introduction
  • The White Architecture of Salvation
  • Black Jesus
  • Roadmap of the Book
  • Notes
  • Chapter 2. White Civil Religion, Empire, and Dominance
  • Introduction to Myths and Empire
  • Merging Christianity and the State
  • Race and Religion
  • Civil Religion
  • Concluding Thoughts on “Giving to the Emperor”
  • Notes
  • Chapter 3. How Christianity Became White
  • Introduction
  • Christianity and Whiteness
  • Reconstruction
  • Jim Crow Laws
  • Segregation and the White Christian Mind
  • The Klan and the White Christian Norm
  • White Theology and the Complicity of Silence
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • Chapter 4. The Religious White
  • Introduction
  • The Politics of White Individualism
  • The Politics of White Silence
  • Politics of the Religious White
  • Political Packaging and Marking
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • Chapter 5. White Saviors Proselytizing “Pagans”: Missionaries, Boarding Schools, and Adoption
  • Introduction
  • Missionaries in Hawai‘i
  • Indian Boarding Schools in the Continental United States
  • White Families and Brown Children
  • Conclusion and a Way Forward
  • Notes
  • Chapter 6. Whiteness in Christian Higher Education
  • Introduction
  • White Theology and Christian Education
  • Origins of White Christian Higher Education
  • White Christian Flight
  • Racist Policies, Practices, and Climate
  • The Religious White and Christian Higher Education
  • Evangelical White Out
  • Roots and Fruits
  • A Way Forward
  • Notes
  • Chapter 7. White Worship
  • Introduction
  • Decolonizing Music in Korea
  • Amazing Grace
  • Black Church Musical Tradition
  • Normativity of White Worship in Christian Colleges
  • Worship Normativity and Paradox
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • Chapter 8. Before Jesus Became White
  • Reclaiming a Biblical Vision of Justice
  • The Radical Vision of Jesus’ Open Table
  • The Tower of Babel
  • Demons on the Other Side
  • Do You Love Me?
  • A Way Forward
  • Notes
  • Afterword
  • Index

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Figure 1.1: Mural of Jesus

Figure 1.2: “Knowledge Over Time” Mural

Figure 2.1: American Flag Draped on a Church

Figure 5.1: American Progress by John Gast

Figure A.1: From a Viewing Platform, a Snapshot of the Mural, América Tropical, by David Alfaro Siqueiros

| xi →


We begin this journey by telling our stories. In the following pages each of us explains our experiences and encounters with the topic.

Tabatha L. Jones Jolivet

It is fitting that I (Jones Jolivet) meditate on “White Jesus” and the construction of racism, religion, and education this day, Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday customarily follows Mardi Gras, a day often filled with gluttonous traditions that punctuates the end of Carnival season. Today is also the day after U.S. President Donald J. Trump’s first address to Congress. I feel the thickness of death suffocating the air we all breathe in the age of Trumpism. Journalist John W. Scheon aptly points out that the message “was a speech full of promise—and promises. And, judging by the number of times President Trump said the word, he followed through on his pledge to put America first.”1 The wisdom of Dr. Maya Angelou helps me to appraise reality: “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”2 I believe President Trump when he commands chanting crowds with recitations like “Make America great again,” for he is appealing to familiar forms of tribalism and nationalism. I am also certain the mythology of White Jesus has gotten ← xi | xii → President Trump here, catapulting him to this very moment in the empire’s history.

Today, I write as an act of spiritual activism, which leads me to reflect deeply upon not only White Jesus, but also the cross of Jesus of Bethlehem (contemporary Palestine), all the while committing anew to fasting, praying, and almsgiving this Lenten season. It is my annual practice to attend an Ash Wednesday mass, and this year I decided to attend an evening service close to my home. I arrived at a local Catholic church and sat in one of the back pews, which gave me perspective. The parish was filled with people of diverse ethnic backgrounds, and this pleasantly surprised me. The choir and accompanying musicians offered beautiful sacraments of music that reminded me of my grandparents’ mass of old, “Lamb of God” and “Mercy, Lord.” The homily was a succinctly profound message about the urgency and significance of living what is most important “now.” Children and elders alike received the ashes burned from palm branches, and parishioners shared “the peace of the Lord,” wet with holy water and illuminated by dimly lit candles. Amid the ashes of our lives and the world, White Jesus commands center stage. Not only does the omnipresence of this symbolic rendering of a cross-hung White Jesus fill the sanctuary and overshadow the tabernacle—where holy communion awaits—this presence pollutes the air like a smog, and my soul aches. Metaphorically and spiritually, I choke like the miner’s canary3 from the noxious gases that threaten to irreparably poison my lungs and the atmosphere we all share. Although a parishioner confessed aloud in prayers of petition the grief of collective sin—racism and xenophobia—White Jesus still threatens the church and the air we breathe. This White Jesus undoubtedly is a fraud, a Sweet’N Low4 version of Jesus whose life the Gospels recount. The presence of White Jesus is inescapable. Ingesting and maintaining the beliefs, narratives, practices, and institutional investments that are bound to White Jesus is not only hazardous for our collective spiritual health, it is idolatrous. Surely, the “spiritual death” Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. warned the nation and church about is near. Our saccharin diet leads us here.

Locating Ourselves

We, the authors, ascribe to Christian faith and practice—all the while striving (imperfectly, to be sure) to witness to the cross of Jesus in our everyday lives. We worship in diverse communities of faith, yet equally aspire to embody the same Christian virtues, and we work professionally in Christian colleges and ← xii | xiii → universities. Like members of the Princeton Theological Seminary faculty, we confess our complicity “in the sinful entanglements” that have engineered not only the current sociopolitical terrain,5 but that also lace the nation’s founding and its most treasured institutions—among them, Christian colleges, universities, and churches—many of which are beholden to White Jesus. We confess that we have too long delayed our public critique of the powers and principalities at work in our institutions and lives. We have all too often forgotten that “no institution or government can demand the kind of loyalty that belongs only to God.”6 As we unpack and make sense of the architecture of salvation through racism, religion, and education, we feel compelled to locate ourselves in the conversation by revealing salient dimensions of our social group identities that shape how we “see” the world.

I (Jones Jolivet) attribute to my ancestors and parents an early religious formation in Christian belief and practice. Their living faith was a cocoon for me, and I consider their transmission of spiritual wealth my greatest inheritance. As a small toddler, I can vividly remember my paternal grandmother, Lola Jolivet, giving me a set of pale-pink rosary beads and kneeling with me to pray the “Lord’s Prayer” before bedtime. This made spirituality real to me at an early age. I grew up in Houston and Austin, Texas in the U.S. South and came of age in the 1970s and 1980s at a time when critical victories achieved during the modern civil rights movement were newfound. My parents and their parents before them had lived in all-Black communities (which they treasured) under the system of U.S. apartheid and racial control—its contemporary manifestations still at work in insidious ways today.7 Both sets of my grandparents were Black Catholics, and so were my parents until they began attending an all-Black Church of Christ—an eccentric, post-Enlightenment religious movement that prized Scripture as the normative source of truth and revelation, a “blueprint” for salvation.8 Like Catholics at the time, members of Churches of Christ believed they were the only Christians. My immediate family had overnight gone from being occasional Catholics to devout believers. We religiously followed the “five acts” of worship in Scripture, and proselytized others with the “Plan of Salvation” that had been “made plain” in Sunday school, Sunday morning and evening worship, Wednesday night Bible classes, tracts, and gospel meetings. The “blueprint” of salvation—the path to eternal life with God—came as a result of hearing, believing, repenting, confessing, and being baptized … in a Church of Christ alone. While I never encountered renderings of White Jesus in a Church of Christ setting (like I had observed in mass), I still experienced the ominous logic of Whiteness in ← xiii | xiv → the traditions of my all-Black church. White dominance functioned in our traditions, practices, and interpretations of Scripture to constrain our spiritual imagination and experience of God.

I remember being baptized at a gospel meeting at Fifth Ward Church of Christ in Houston, where Jack Evans, Sr.9 was a guest revivalist and prominent preacher among the circuit of Black male evangelists in Churches of Christ. After listening to Evans’ sermon, being saved was urgent in my ten-year-old mind and confessing that Jesus Christ was the son of God and being baptized (“before Jesus returned”) seemed reasonable. Remarkably, I was awake during worship (I was prone to falling asleep during long services). At the “invitation,” I jumped from my seat to be baptized—and it never occurred to me that I should obtain my parents’ consent. My salvation was on the line, and I needed to secure my spot in heaven. The hymns we sang from the red book in our a capella tradition have never left me: “Just as I am without one plea, but that Thy blood was shed for me. And that thou bid me come to Thee. O, Lamb of God I come. Will you come to the fountain free? Will you come, ‘Tis for you and me; Thirsty soul, hear the welcome call. There’s a fountain open for all. Praise the Lord, Salvation has been brought down.”10

The religious and cultural influences of the Black Catholic church and Black Churches of Christ shape who I am today and inform my epistemological scaffold. I self-identify as a Black woman from the U.S. South, who navigates what Patricia Hill Collins describes as the interlocking nature of oppression, especially within academic institutions.11 As an “insider-outsider” to academe, my critical faith witness is grounded in the Black prophetic tradition, most especially intersectional Womanist thought and praxis.12 I also benefit from the enormous advantage I derive from privileged dimensions of my identity. I am heterosexual, middle class, able-bodied, documented, and highly educated. In my professional life, I have worked in White-dominant Christian universities. For this reason, I am actively engaged in a decolonizing project.

Alexander Jun


XXVI, 120
ISBN (Softcover)
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2018 (October)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2018. XXVI, 120 pp., 5 b/w ill.

Biographical notes

Alexander Jun (Author) Tabatha L. Jones Jolivet (Author) Allison N. Ash (Author) Christopher S. Collins (Author)

Alexander Jun is a professor of higher education at Azusa Pacific University. He earned a Ph.D. in higher education at the Rossier School of Education at the University of Southern California. Tabatha L. Jones Jolivet is an assistant professor in the Department of Higher Education at Azusa Pacific University. She holds a Ph.D. in education from Claremont Graduate University. Allison N. Ash is Dean of Student Care and Graduate Student Life at Wheaton College. She earned a Ph.D. in higher education from Azusa Pacific University. Christopher S. Collins is an associate professor of higher education at Azusa Pacific University and earned a Ph.D. in higher education and organizational change at UCLA.


Title: White Jesus
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148 pages