FOLLOW UP TO A conversation with author Carter Heyward
The Seven Deadly Sins of White Christian Nationalism: A Call to Action
April 5, 2023
Wednesday, 1:00 pm–2:00 pm EST
WATER thanks Carter Heyward for exploring with us her new book The Seven Deadly Sins of White Christian Nationalism: A Call to Action (Roman and Littlefield, 2022). On the day after the arraignment of the first American president to be criminally indicted, few topics are more relevant than White Christian Nationalism.
The video can be found at: https://youtu.be/Vf1gCz7kvGI
The Rev. Dr. Carter Heyward is an Episcopal priest who now refers to herself as a “Universalist Christian.” She is a feminist liberation theologian who cut her teeth on social change in North Carolina where she learned firsthand how white racism works. She and teenage friends insisted on desegregating a summer camp and thus she began a lifelong commitment to justice.
She earned an undergraduate degree from Randolph-Macon Women’s College, a masters in Comparative Religion from Columbia University, as well as an MDiv and PhD from Union Theological Seminary in New York City.
Her ordination on July 29, 1974 was a feminist milestone in church history. She was key to the successful effort by 11 women to be ordained which was at that time against the institutional Episcopal Church’s usual way of operating (but not its church law, or so I learned recently). Those women and their ordaining bishops can rightly claim credit for polity shift in what we now see as a model of non-violent structural change. Her later coming out as a lesbian added luster to the historic event and set a trajectory for her LGBTIQ+ leadership in religion.
Carter taught at Episcopal Divinity School from 1975 until her retirement in 2006. Her pioneering work in feminist studies included her important reflections on LGBTIQ+ issues, including her foundational book Touching Our Strength: The Erotic as Power and the Love of God. She has written or edited 17 books, most recently the volume we are discussing today.
Carter lives in an intentional community in the mountains of North Carolina, on the beautiful Red Bud land. Her lifelong love for animals is expressed in the therapeutic riding center that she has developed. She reports that her volunteer work these days include being Vice President of the local chapter of the NAACP and playing fiddle with the Bold Gray Mares group whose name I adore!
Carter, welcome to WATER and congratulations on this book which has already opened new conversations.
Carter began the conversation by describing the origins of the book. Four white Protestant women began to write about the January 6th insurrection together. As the materials grew, Carter decided to publish her part of the work in what is now The Seven Deadly Sins of White Christian Nationalism.
German theologian Dorothee Soelle wrote about white Christofascism. This clued Carter to the seriousness of evil unfolding in the U.S. over more than four hundred years. Sin results in evil; sin is generally social rather than personal. Sin is a social failure, systemic at its root. As the great great granddaughter of slave owners, Carter tries to be an anti-racist racist given the racist context in which we live.
The Seven Deadly Sins which take particular shape in the U.S. include:
- Lust for Omnipotence—power over
- White Supremacy
- Misogyny and Homophobia (as named in the work of Beverly Wildung Harrison)
- Capitalist Spirituality—valuing the individual over against the common good; need to talk about Democratic Capitalism (a la political economist Robert Reich)
- Domination of the Earth and Its Creatures
Add: Christian Anti-Semitism; gun violence; and the sin of silence.
Definition of white Christian Nationalism:
This comes from sociologists Andrew Whitehead and Samuel Perry, Taking America Back for God: Christian Nationalism in the United States (NY: Oxford University Press, 2020, p. 10): “a cultural framework…(that) includes assumptions of nativism, white supremacy, patriarchy, and heteronormativity along with divine sanction for authoritarian control and militarism.”
Christians need to reject white Christian nationalism, and any suggestion that the U.S. is a Christian country.
Note: Participants were from Germany, Ireland, Canada, Ecuador, and from a variety of religious and non-religious backgrounds, most with Christian roots.
- A colleague from the South shared her biographical similarities with Carter– coming from slave-holding families and connections with Randolph-Macon College. Both are “post what they were raised” in terms of religious tradition and other aspects. (Editor’s Note: Jeanette Stokes reported in the chat that he Randolph-Macon women who sat in at Patterson’s Drug Store were Mary Edith Bentley, and Rebecca Owen plus 4 Black male students.)
CH spoke of the 1970s anti-racism efforts in Ashland, Virginia where Randolph-Macon is located. She spoke of Union Theological Seminary in NYC where so many women and people of color were studying at that time. But she was not content to simply “gaze out the window.” She referred to the work of womanist theologian Katie Geneva Cannon whose “pebble ethics” urges us to do what we can, even tossing a pebble without knowing where it will go, what impact it will have.
- A Lutheran colleague from the Gender Justice Office of the ELCA (who lived in the Carter Heyward House as part of her Lutheran Volunteer year in Chicago) brought up the ELCA document on white Christian nationalism. She asked Carter for any tips to help people become more receptive to the work.
CH replied about writing an accessible book, aligning with people in congregations, acknowledging the fear that many feel about difficult issues. For example, exploring the “Blackness of God” can be frightening to some white people.
- An Irish colleague raised the matter of the sin of silence. With the visit of President Biden to Ireland this week, the silence around his complicity with war needs exploration. Irish people were on the streets against Ronald Reagan over his bellicose views, but Biden as a Catholic (though Ireland is no longer culturally Catholic) seems to be immune from such because people perceive him as a good person despite the war machines that many democracies, including the U.S., support.
CH reflected on the U.S. military agenda as foundational to American culture. Her own work on violence needs to be deepened to include gun violence and the violence of war with damaging results.
Added note—the same analysis would go for immigration on which Biden as a Catholic has been disappointingly conservative.
- A United Church of Canada lesbian minister described Christian nationalism in Canada as different from that in the U.S. She and colleagues are trying to deconstruct a white, straight, cis gender, male Jesus. Where do sexual orientation and gender identity fit into this analysis?
CH said people tend to identify Capitalist Spirituality as a hard topic to discuss, likewise the nexus of misogyny and homophobia. Despite years of feminist and womanist liberation work in the Christian tradition, little progress has been made.
We have barely scratched the surface.
- Another Canadian colleague commented that Carter’s work is internationally important. Canadians are critiquing their own capitalist spirituality and are keen to prevent theocratic values from arriving there. Still, they are grateful for prophetic voices in the U.S. like Carter’s.
CH spoke of her admiration for Canada and her enthusiasm for Louise Penny’s writing.
WATER thanks Carter for her work and her generosity in sharing it with us. We look forward to more such opportunities to explore issues and engage in common action to eradicate White Christian Nationalism.