Many churches across the United States have a picture of a golden calf hanging in their churches. It’s not a literal golden calf, but it is instead is a painting that has been replicated more than 500 million times: Waller Sallman’s Head of Christ.
Sallman’s Head of Christ is part of a larger, more insidious issue within mainline Protestant churches in the United States: white supremacy. If Jesus continues to be depicted as a white, fair-haired individual, we are denying the high probability of who Jesus was when he walked the earth: a poor, Brown-skinned Palestinian Jewish man.
In normalizing an idolatrous white Jesus, we have deformed how we speak about God in the present day. Instead of adhering to a crucified God and recognizing the present-day crucifixion of Black and Brown bodies, Jesus has become tied to a distorted theology of glory, the place where God is not.
Many who stormed the Capitol grounds on January 6th were white men; some looked so eerily similar to Sallman’s popular depiction of Jesus. Many of these white men were professing a “Christian” faith that compelled them to undertake violent actions that day. Out of the multitude of disturbing photos from that day, one of the images of that day unsettled me to my core. A white man wrapped in a flag supporting 45 was kneeling and praying before a cross. The levels of idolatry deeply disturbed me, and I also couldn’t help but wonder in what community did this individual learn about God and Jesus?
Wrapped in a banner of a death-dealing administration, bowing before an instrument of death upon which a poor Brown Jewish Palestinian man was tortured to his last breath showed me that this is the United States of America. This is a United States created for those who crave power and worship the idol of white supremacy.
I believe the marriage between Mainline Protestant Christianity in the United States and white supremacy have caused a major, death-dealing distortion of how we not just talk about God, but also how we experience God. Idolatry takes us away from the ever-lasting abundant life of God and tries to distract us with the shiny item of the moment. May our vision of faith be clear, and may we accompany and guide one another when we falter.
How we talk about God is a life-or-death matter. Not just a spiritual death, but also a physical death. There is also a death of imagination when we limit the image of who God is when the Word made flesh is limited to a mere idol.
Rev. Tuhina Verma Rasche is an ordained minister of Word and Sacrament in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, serves as the Digital Campus Pastor at University AME Zion Church in Palo Alto, CA, and is the Young Adult Coordinator for Arts|Religion|Culture: A Society for Theopoetics. Tuhina also loves reading, terrible action movies, and has traveled the world trying to find the hole-y in meditating on donuts.