So, the Christian math looks like this: our infinite sinfulness is wiped clean by the self-sacrifice of a man who is infinitely good.
This is our mythos: we are a ransomed people saved by the skin of our savior’s teeth. Thank God for this violence, because our salvation was bought by bloodshed. We could not be saved without someone else’s pain.
This is the same math that makes it so hard to imagine anything other than white supremacy.
Sometimes, this is a Christian nation after all. Our religious mythology and our national mythology are inextricable. Who are we – any of us – without an origin story?
We tell this story of holy and necessary retribution when we steal land. We tell it when we enslave. We tell it again when we ban immigration, cage children, and scapegoat: we cannot be saved without someone else’s pain. So, we need the pain of the marginalized to uphold the salvation of the few.
They say that you can train an elephant to stay in a circus ring by training it from infancy. Tie its leg to a post, and it’ll learn where it cannot go. Untie it as an adult, and it won’t stray.
I think our cultural imagination works like this, too. If we convince ourselves that we can only have safety at someone else’s cost, then we also cannot imagine racial justice without the suffering of white people. We cannot imagine power-sharing without the subjugation of the powerful.
In short: it’s hard to imagine anything other than white supremacy because white people are terrified of being treated the way they’ve historically treated others. How can we be saved without their pain?
But those of us seeking justice have a different aim – not to flip the tables of subjugation, but to eradicate subjugation altogether.
And this is Jesus’ math: not an equal exchange of blood for salvation but a wellspring of mercy that surprises and overwhelms us. And this is the origin story from which we can derive limitless alternatives to white supremacy. (Two examples of power-sharing and restorative justice include South Africa’s Truth & Reconciliation process and the Diné (Navajo Nation’s) Peacemaking Program – an alternative to the Western court system. So many other examples exist, but this is a blog post and not an academic paper.)
If Jesus died to atone for our sins, then the holiest justice is nothing more than a bartering system. But if Jesus died because of sin, and we are beloved even so, then God’s infinite love is revealed. Our faith impacts our cultural ideology, and ours is not a faith of scarcity. It takes an act of spiritual imagination to believe that something else is possible – something other than white supremacy, other than retribution. Who are we to limit what God has deemed limitless?
Image by Hayden Williams / Stocksy United