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“A Time of Reckoning for (white) Christianity” Reflection by Fumi Tosu

Yesterday, we celebrated the inauguration of the country’s second Catholic president and its first female (Black, Asian) vice president. The election of Kamala Harris to the vice presidency, in particular, is a landmark moment for our democracy. 

Yet, we are also aware of the deep rifts that remain in our society. We have not turned the page on the violence and racism we witnessed at the Capitol on January 6.   

As a Jesuit, Catholic organization, we are deeply troubled not only by the overt violence and white supremacist ideology of the Trump supporters who stormed the Capitol two weeks ago, but by the justification of their actions in the name of Jesus and Christianity. “Jesus is my Savior. Trump is my President” read one sign. “Jesus 2020,” read another. Video footage by a reporter from the New Yorker shows a man yelling in the Senate chambers, “Jesus Christ, we invoke your name!” to a loud chorus of “Amen!”   

This, of course, is not the first time Christianity has been co-opted to serve the needs of the powerful – it happened in the Roman Empire after Constantine, it happened in Nazi Germany under the direction of a “Reich Bishop,” it happened in the Christian justification of slavery in this country, and it is happening today in the white Christian nationalism at the heart of the “America First” movement. We see in this movement a nostalgia for an imagined white Christian America, with MAGA adherents claiming Jesus as the tribal god of a white America – a god full of vengeance, wrath, and violence.  

But isn’t there another Jesus? What happened to the Jesus who created a resistance community in opposition to the imperial and religious forms of domination and oppression? That Jesus wove together an inclusive community of fishermen and prostitutes, lepers and Samaritans, even former imperial collaborators and tax collectors to create a movement of dreamers who imagined a whole different way of being in the world – a vision they called the Reign of God.   

The history of the Church is replete with examples of this tension between disruptive movements for justice and institutional preservation of power. Where do we fall? Is the Jesuit Volunteer Corps Northwest a prophetic movement for justice, or an imperial collaborator for the status quo? The honest truth is, we are and have been both.   

The Jesuit Volunteer movement began in the 1950s in Copper Valley, AK, when volunteers helped staff a newly-opened Jesuit school for Native Alaskan children. While the majority of our volunteers built authentic relationships and provided genuine cura personalis – care of the whole person – as best they could, we also know we contributed to the destruction of native culture and the expansion of a dominant, white, U.S. culture. In the 1970s, many conscientious objectors to American imperial advancement in Vietnam became Jesuit Volunteers, choosing to serve life rather than become agents of death in a far-away land. Yet then, as now, charity carries the danger of becoming a paternalistic gesture that reinforces existing power structures rather than creating authentic relationships of empowerment. We know that we’ve done both. 

We acknowledge that the white Christian Church in America has participated enthusiastically in the imperial and colonial endeavors of white settlers, often to its own benefit and enrichment. In the process, we contributed to the attempted erasure of Indigenous peoples and cultures, as well as the destruction of local ecosystems. The Jesuits, and JVC Northwest, have been complicit in that legacy. We acknowledge, too, that there is a direct connection between that legacy and the violent raid of the U.S. Capitol by white Christian nationalists. 

Yet we also claim another strand of the Jesus movement – one that is prophetic, rooted in community, and committed to justice, equity and inclusion.  In that strand of Christianity, diversity is strength, love is informed by critical analysis, and God is not white. We know we have a long way to go, and we know if we are to seek unity and healing, we must first seek accountability. We dig deep, drawing on the rich tradition of our ancestors in faith who were animated by the same Spirit of liberation and justice that burned in Jesus. We turn to you, our community, because we know we can’t do it alone. Will you join us, and help us live into the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible? 

16 thoughts on ““A Time of Reckoning for (white) Christianity” Reflection by Fumi Tosu”

  1. Beautifully written, Fumi! It’s a great model of repentance: humbly accepting our complicity, turning around, and seeking to make things right.

    Reply
  2. Wow! Excellent. I applaud the ant-racism work JVC is doing. Yes there is a long way to go.. and you are taking the first steps which in turn helps me as an FJV take those steps.

    Reply
  3. I find your views secular and completely biased in your views. Media reports indicate that violent participants in the attack of the Capitol included left-wing “activists”. If you demonstrated a more balanced point of view, your opinions might have some credibility.
    Where was your outrage when Virginia Governor Ralph Northam(D) coldly descried how he would murder of a newborn on National Public Radio?
    Where was your outrage when a self-proclaimed supporter of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders (I) nearly murdered Congressman Steve Scalise (R) Louisiana) and four others as they practiced for a charity baseball game in Alexandria, VA?
    Where was your outrage when 50 Secret Service Agents were injured protecting then-President Trump from violent leftist protesters in June, 2020?
    Where was your outrage when President Joseph Biden, Vice President Kamela Harris, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, (D) California and their entourage, the most vocal and active proponents of expanded abortions in the United States and worldwide, publicly attended a very Mass at Saint Mathew’s Cathedral in Washington, D.C., extensively covered by the media which made the Catholic Church appear collusive in supporting these politicians’ shameful expansion of abortion, which many view as the selective genocide of poor and minority people..
    As a JVC in Nome (1969-1970) I believe that your statements foment hate. Look into your own heart and soul before you sit in judgement of others, before you can claim to know the heart and soul of another soul. You’re not God. You’re not reaching out in charity toward finding mutual understanding as a missionary to those souls around you with whom you disagree. Are you bringing Christ’s love to others?
    Historically, mistakes were made in the name of God. But the Holy Spirit, with gifts of Wisdom and Understanding, among other gifts, have opened our eyes to injustice. You need to trust in God;s love and grace. Pray more. Give up the arrogance of condemning and judging others. Be a true Jesuit missionary bringing a new heart to others. I will certainly pray for an open and loving Jesuit heart for you.

    Reply
    • Breathe.

      Outrage is a natural experience when confronted with the evils of the world.

      Breathe.

      Evil can be seen on each end and throughout the entire political spectrum. Failure to publicly acknowledge an evil is not necessarily to condone it.

      Breathe.

      You are neither your opinions nor your emotions. It is projection of this error to attack others for their opinions and emotions – in doing so may inadvertently trap them in these identities and beliefs.

      Breathe.

      We come from many corners of the world. We are a diverse community. We have diverse values. Thank you for bringing your concerns and your values to light. I ask of you, how could we present these concerns in a more gentle and loving manner in the future? Thank you for your service as a Jesuit Volunteer. May you continue to grow in spirit.

      Reply
  4. Well written essay on the need for reckoning of race relations. However, the opening sentence celebrates the inauguration of our second “Catholic” President, a problematic statement. The President and his Vice President have made it clear that they support a woman’s “right” to terminate the life of a baby through abortion and that they will work to expand that “right”. God gives us the gift of life. He did not bestow on us the right to decide to reject this gift and to terminate life, especially the life of a defenseless baby. Abortion is not just another issue that a President must deal with, it’s a fundamental moral matter. Make no mistake, abortion is a cancer in our society. I fear for our society as the new President feeds this cancer for the next four years.

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  5. Thank you for this beautifully written and humble perspective. I’m so glad that JVC:NW is digging deep and doing the tough work. There is much to be done.

    Tracey Spahr Wingold
    FJV, Yakima, 92-93

    Reply
  6. I don’t think that one should defend or excuse the January 6, 2021 riot by citing a riot by “leftists” in late May 2020. Neither are defensible. Until we all commit to non-violent protests and, better still, working towards dialogue we will continue to have these behaviors coming from both sides of the political spectrum.
    In the same manner, condemning abortion does not necessarily translate into making it less likely; to actually do so means being willing to provide the medical care and social services to both make abortion a less desirable choice on the part of those pregnant and to support the child and mother after the birth–something that has usually been overlooked and certainly underfunded. And being anti-abortion certainly does not provide justification for racial bias.

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  7. I liked the reflections of Fumi Tosu. When I read the words Jesus is my Savior I thought immediately of the Crusades. We need to remember that America is a land of Immigrants and also secular. There are many religions being followed now in America. All should be tolerated. After all, all religions believe ultimately in one God.

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  8. Thank you for sharing your views. We are a community of diverse opinions and life experiences. While we don’t claim to have the answers, we want to offer this online space to engage in difficult conversations. Thank you for participating in the dialogue as we each strive to live lives of compassion and joy.

    -JVC Northwest

    Reply
    • A group of white crybaby insurrectionists who are brainwashed by their cult leader stormed the Capitol in DC. They wrap themselves in the trump flag and shout they love Jesus and act in his name and pray they can overturn the election by terrorizing and intimidating the people we voted into our government.

      The USA is a secular nation and supposedly a nation guided by the rule of law. The law also happens to have legalized abortion which has absolutely nothing to do with 1/6/21. Whether Catholics like it or not, abortion is safer when it’s legal. You don’t like it? Don’t have an abortion. And for the lousy men who feel they should have a say about it, I suggest circumcision. That will help solve the problem.

      Reply
  9. What is missing is condemnation of all acts of anarchy. Antifa, and the organization BLM also are using violence and continue to do so in Seattle and Portland. Please do not paint the 75-80 million people who voted for the republicans platform in the same category as the radicals who stormed the capital. I condemn ALL the violence- please let me know if you do also.

    Reply
  10. JVC Spokane 1971-2, Bethel Alaska, 72-76. My time in JVC shaped my work over the past 50 years (youth work, family healing, struggles with substances, mental health, community organizing, strategic nonviolent resistance, university teaching … I also had a small part in the development of Quaker Voluntary Service). So clearly, for me, absolutely formative. As in the original essay above, the Christian church has failed in dramatic and systemic ways through nearly all of its history—ways that constantly must be challenged from within and without. My own spiritual journey took me to unprogrammed Friends (Quakers) some 20 years ago, but I remain attentive to the directions of the Catholic Church, since its potential for making powerful impacts supporting social and environmental justice remains. But so do systemic and structural violence supported by the institution. (Pope Francis is valuable example of how critical steps in some areas can be taken, although more powerful commitments is needed.)

    Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in are critical areas for massive improvement in nearly all institutions and societies; those important goals, however, in many cases focus primarily internally, and the Church (and each of us) clearly carries a further global responsibility. In my view, therefore, JVC carries obligations to change both internal and global; it has also helped many of us to grow in these areas.

    Now, the Jesuits … So much has been written about their contributions and failures for centuries, of course. Issues that have arisen from the time I joined JVC to the present are deeply and continually disturbing, I have known many of those involved, and these issues clearly call for deeper and frankly more open struggle. In my times in Alaska (both 70s and 80s) I knew personally of some of the damage done to the vulnerable. The Franciscans in the Southwest (I now live in New Mexico) have a similar and in many ways historically deeper history of oppression to come to terms with, with many reparations owed. Strategic nonviolent action has tremendous potential to encourage real commitment to change to address such issues, powerfully—and lovingly, both in institutions like the Church(es), and society. (Strategic Nonviolent Power: The Science of Satyagraha, Athabasca University Press)

    From my somewhat distant perspective, the day-to-day commitment of JVC to justice and nonviolent resistance to oppression has naturally varied some over time given shifting contextual factors and self-examination, and that history offers much to learn for dealing both with internal DEI challenges, and for examining program directions. Our moment in history offers tremendous opportunities, given emerging movements, new commitments in some governments to constructing justice, and growing awareness within communities. Such Living in Truth (Havel) will require committed, loving, and liberating action by JVC while accompanying the marginalized (Paul Farmer).

    Thank you JVC,
    In the Light
    Mark

    Reply

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