After a couple of slave rebellions in the early 19th century, American Christianity shifted irrevocably from a catalyst for slave liberation, to an additional shackle securing black men in bondage to white ones. After the Vesey and Prosser rebellions, whites largely oversaw slave worship to ensure that blacks were taught the value of submission and docility, the heavenly reward for those who suffered well, and the superiority of white men and women via fantastical biblical interpretations insisting that black skin was a curse from God.
The Jesus whom slaves were taught to worship was unquestionably white, as was God the Father who begat him. Black slaves worshipped white Gods--Gods who looked like their masters.
Of course, in the popular modern American fantasy, American racial history began and ended with Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech. But down here in the reality-based community, history's siren song still sounds strong and sickly sweet--if you're willing to listen.
To swat at rumors that he's a Muslim and alleviate fears of--and perhaps grab a vote or two from--white evangelicals, Barack Obama sat down with Megarich pastor, author and homophobe Rick Warren to woo evangelicals by saying things like, "I believe that Jesus Christ died for my sins and I am redeemed through him."
This may be true. But the man is a skilled politician, which means that the statement was also calculated to appeal to the chosen audience. He's trying to slaughter several birds with one stone here.
He wants to assure white evangelicals and the 80% of white Americans who call themselves Christians that he is like them, that he believes in their Jesus... that he obeys the rules of their Christianity. And in doing so via standard Christian verbiage, he gets the bonus of implying that he is appropriately docile, humble, racially neutered, if you will--something very comforting to what I will euphemistically call "racially conservative" evangelicals.
Let's get down to cases here: The Godly figure most American Christians see when they invoke the name "Jesus" is a white man. God's son is white. Thus, God is white. God created man--white men--in his own image. When a black man delivers his soul to the popular Jesus, he is also, in the popular mind, nodding a subtle assent to a central tenet of white supremacy--a white God.
Jeremiah Wright was so reviled in part because if his "black liberation theology," which worships a black Jesus. In America, this is considered "radical." However, African Christians have long worshipped black images of Jesus, just as Asians have worshipped Asian images, etc. Only here in America, where blacks live among a white majority and learned their catechism with a cleansing dose of white supremacy, is it considered "radical" for blacks to worship Gods that look like them.
There is a reason that Evangelical Christianity and race hatred are so often joined at the hip. In order to woo his large evangelical audience, Mike Huckabee rallied around the Confederate flag in his 2008 Republican primary run. In their book "Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America," Michael Emerson and Christian Smith wrote:
Our argument is that evangelicals desire to end racial division and inequality, and attempt to think and act accordingly. But, in the process, they likely do more to perpetuate the racial divide than they do to tear it down.
In the post-civil rights era, the heavily evangelical south also became the solidly Republican south. The Republican party has acknowledged its exploitation of race hatred to win political races and solidify its southern base. Racist appeals won them votes, and it won them the longtime fealty of Evangelical Christians.
As Obama woos white evangelicals, he must prove to them that he shares their faith. Part of their faith is a belief in a white Jesus and his white Father. Obviously, Obama's own religious conversion under Jeremiah Wright emerged from an entirely different image of Christ. But with Wright conveniently out of the way, it's a process of don't ask, don't tell. If white evangelicals are stupid enough to believe that Obama prays to a white man, he's smart enough to let them. He may also be white enough to avoid a really bad taste in his mouth for having done so.