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Future Hindsight is a weekly podcastthat takes big ideas in civic life and democracy and turns them into action items for everyday citizens.

Jan 21, 2021

The Lost Cause

Before and during the Civil War, Southern Baptist leaders argued that slavery was just and the slaveholding South represented the pinicle of human civilization. After the South lost, they began to espouse the idea of the Lost Cause—that the war on Earth may be lost, but God would ultimately redeem the South with the Second Coming. This idea became widespread throughout the South, and can still be seen today in Confederate Monuments like the one in Richmond, VA which reads “God Will Vindicate’ in Latin, a direct reference to the idea of the Lost Cause, and the salvation awaiting Southerners.

White Churches Perpetuate White Supremacy

The Southern Baptist Church was founded on white supremacist principles and helped maintain a quasi-caste system where white Christians benefited. Other denominations like Protestant and Catholic display similar blind spots to—and even affinities for—white supremacy. Regular churchgoers are no less racist than the average American, and church-going evangelicals hold more racist attitudes than the average. Under the Doctrine of Discovery, the Catholic Church encouraged Catholic explorers to claim the lands of non-white, non-Christians, and thus has held up white supremacy for hundreds of years.

White Christian America’s Warped Morality

White supremacy has warped and stunted the morality of white Christian Americans. After the Civil War, Southern Baptists argued civilization was in decline that could only be rectified by Jesus’s Second Coming. This belief focused on inner piety while waiting for Jesus to reappear – being “good Christians” – and overlooked the injustices caused by white supremacy in society. This inward looking theology created a moral framework that sought reconciliation without the work of repairing the damage and/or achieving justice.

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Robert P. Jones is the CEO and Founder of PRRI and a leading scholar and commentator on religion, culture, and politics. He is the author of “White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity,” and “The End of White Christian America,” which won the 2019 Grawemeyer Award in Religion. Jones writes regularly on politics, culture, and religion for The Atlantic online, NBC Think, and other outlets. He is frequently featured in major national media, such as CNN, MSNBC, NPR, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and others.

Jones serves on the national program committee for the American Academy of Religion and is a past member of the editorial boards for the Journal of the American Academy of Religion, and Politics and Religion, a journal of the American Political Science Association. He holds a Ph.D. in religion from Emory University, an M.Div. from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and a B.S. in computing science and mathematics from Mississippi College. Jones was selected by Emory University’s Graduate Division of Religion as Distinguished Alumnus of the Year in 2013, and by Mississippi College’s Mathematics Department as Alumnus of the Year in 2016.

Before founding PRRI, Jones worked as a consultant and senior research fellow at several think tanks in Washington, D.C., and was an assistant professor of religious studies at Missouri State University.

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