Churches Are Losing a Generation of Young White Men to White Nationalism

Imagine heading to Walmart for a shopping trip so routine you might not remember it the next day. You need batteries or hamburger buns, or it’s your regular shopping trip like you’ve done countless times before.

Then a sound like a massively loud firecracker rings out. More like dozens of firecrackers going off in rapid succession. For a brief moment your mind thinks, “What is that? It’s not the fourth of July. Why is that sound in a store?”

Then the chilling reality sets in—people screaming, running—it’s a live-shooter and the next bullet might be coming for you.

That’s a scenario that might have run through someone’s head in the latest in a string of mass shootings, this time in El Paso, Texas.

On the morning of August 3, a lone gunman, 21 years old, entered the Walmart in El Paso and started shooting. By the time the ordeal ended, with the shooter taken alive, he had killed 22 people and injured two dozen others.

Just minutes before he began shooting a manifesto believed to be attributed to the shooter was posted online.

The manifesto spoke of a “Hispanic invasion” and the FBI is treating this as a terrorist attack and possibly a hate crime.

The shooter was known to have frequented the online chat site 8chan, where users share violent messages about immigrants and people of color among others.

As communities of moral formation, churches, especially white churches, need to be preaching and teaching against white nationalism.

Why specify white churches? Because this is not a problem of black, Asian, Native American or Latin American people. Nationalism is not leading many racial and ethnic minorities to kill people in mass shootings. That does not mean such attacks never happen or never could happen, but the threat we’re dealing with now is from white nationalists. 

Listen to my full treatment of the topic on Footnotes.

Christian churches and institutions should also be defining white nationalism and white Christian nationalism so that their followers know how to spot it.  We should be talking about warning signs of antisocial and sociopathic behavior. 

The President of the United States openly uses terms like invasion” to talk about Latin American immigrants.  Some of these shooters have directly quoted or used ideas from the president, so churches need to be speaking out about the use and misuse of words, even and especially when it’s coming from the president. 

In short, we need to be treating white nationalism like the clear and present danger that it is. 

Instead of debating the phrase “black lives matter” or defending the supposed right to own assault rifles, Christians could be discerning what is going wrong with young men, specifically young white men, and how faith communities can give them a greater sense of belonging than an online chat site that traffics in white supremacy. 

This is one of the most urgent challenges for the church today. Can churches, especially predominantly white ones, offer a narrative that will dismantle white nationalism as an ideology and offer good news to those people lonely enough and angry enough to put bullets behind their beliefs.?

To hear more listen to this episode of Footnotes.

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