Why Compare the BHI and the KKK?
The latest social media spat within Protestantism surrounds a statement made by the known celebrity apologist Dr. James White involving the BHI and KKK.
The Black Hebrew Israelites (BHI) are a fairly new sect that has developed in the religious world—particularly America. Multiple positions they hold are counter to historic Christian views. Some articulations of their views are nuanced but the primary focus is that Africans and others impacted by the Atlantic slave trade are the true Israel (e.g. "Hebrews") and thus God’s chosen people. They reference Old Testament prophecies to establish this, but after this generic premise, a chasm between different sects arise. For the purpose of this article I will mention the extreme viewpoints of some in this camp:
- White people will be slaves and oppressed in New Heavens & New Earth
- White people are the Edomites and evil
Other extreme comments can be found regarding violence to white people, who they view as evil. They also believe in observance of the Old Testament laws and thus have a works righteousness dynamic—they oppose any reformation soteriology. There are hardly any connections to historic orthodox, catholic Christianity.
With many criticisms of doctrine in the camp of the BHI, it remains hard to equate them with the doctrine and historical actions of the KKK. This is what makes Dr. White's comment so historically invalid and reprehensible. I quote:
“These people are racist in a way that make the KKK look like amateurs, in comparison to these guys. They get away with it because they are of a different color and you can be racist if you're that color. But … this is the worst example of using and abusing religion as a cover for racism that you’ll ever see.”
The majority of Dr. James Whites followers have decided to insert the word “today's/modern time” to justify the claim that the BHI has more impact and growth than the KKK/white supremacist in our present communities:
The original statement—“the worst example…that you’ll ever see”—in Dr. White’s quote shows that this is not limited to the current time period, but even if we ignore close to hundreds of years and focus merely on recent history is this claim true? Dr. White highlights the religious tones of the BHI but relatively ignores that the KKK has claimed to be a “Christian” organization throughout its tenure. As recently as 2014, a leader of the Traditionalist American Knights of the KKK argued that they are a “Christian” organization. It is an extreme claim that BHI as a group are the worst example of using and abusing religion as a cover for racism—let alone to the extent of making the KKK seem like amateurs.
In 2015, a radical group that goes by Anonymous released documents outing possible/potential KKK members. This list includes people like Frazier Glenn Miller, convicted of the murder of three people at a Jewish site in Kansas 2014 (still pretty recent). The list has been shown to not be entirely accurate, but it still demonstrates a noticeable KKK present in the United States of America that is unmatched by BHI. Wikipedia has sources for a list of purported—and relatively recent—politicians associated with the KKK:
Robert Byrd, Hugo Black, Edward Jackson, Rice Means, Clarence Morely, Bibb Graves, Clifford Walker, George Gordon, John Tyler Morgan, Edmund Pettus, John Brown Gordon, John Clinton Porter, David Duke, Benjamin F. Stapleton, Warren G. Harding, Harry S. Trueman.
This list includes politicians from the 1920’s until the 1980’s, ending with David Duke, a guy that (poorly) attempted to run for president. Yes, he lost, but to even be considered a possible candidate for president of the United States shows a level of societal influence and impact that no member of the BHI has ever had. President Trueman's (1945) connection to the KKK is not solid, but circumstantial evidence has created a likelihood that he was connected to this domestic terrorist group. Pure numbers show that even with the recent growth of BHI it is nowhere near ingrained in the fabric of American society as the KKK and white supremacist thought.
On June 17, 2015, a young white male named Dylann Roof entered into a bible study at an African Methodist Episcopal church. He sat there as if genuinely attempting to fellowship with these beloved saints. Ultimately, he shot and killed nine people in that church. Later, reasons for the shooting became known because he confessed a desire to start a race war. Other details have come out showing the murderer posing with symbols of white supremacy and neo-Nazism.
Considering I write this is 2018, I hope this event is not dismissed as out of “today’s context” by people attempting to limit the scope of Dr. White's claims. If the theoretical impact and growth of BHI supposedly exceeds the KKK, I’d expect to hear about the BHI community committing mass genocide or having a serial killer in their midst. As of yet, that is not the case. Yet, it is not a mere theory of a Christian apologist personality that nine funerals were held to lay these saints to rest.
Further, how much actual history do we have to ignore to force a context that makes this statement true? During my lifetime there are multiple examples of terror by the KKK.
On June 7, 1998, James Byrd was murdered by three white supremacists in Jasper, Texas. They dragged his body behind a pickup truck on an asphalt road. What led to this tragedy? Nothing but hate for black people, the same ideology that fuels the KKK. Mr. Byrd accepted a ride home and was murdered. Not just murdered but tortured. They beat him severely, urinated and defecated on him, and chained him by his ankles to their pickup truck before dragging him for approximately 1.5 miles. One of the murderers had a patch that showed his affiliation with a gang of white supremacist known as the Confederate Knights of America. This gang is directly tied to the KKK. For a group that some claim has a lack of influence and decreasing violence in recent decades, examples like these show otherwise.
Similarly, the last recorded lynching by the KKK was in 1981. The lynching of Michael Donald. His body hung from a tree in Mobile, Alabama. No matter what his accused crime was, the United States does not conduct law and order in this manner with no trial taking place. This type of terror has never been attributed to a BHI group.
We can disagree with the BHI's theology and their vile comments, but are we really going to compare words and threats with funeral services and actual death? Even if words are to be compared with actions, there are white supremacist groups that talk just as vile as BHI. It is only a broken logical process that assesses a position which says horrible things as worse than a position that says similar things and has actually fulfilled its threats.
1981 is not so long ago. This lynching happened during my lifetime. Michael Donald was born in 1961 and more than likely he’d still be alive today! The grandmother and grandfather of my kids are still alive and were born around this same time period. How can we state that this reign of terror is not apart of the current context when people born the same year are still alive and active today?
I truly believe the statements made by Dr. White and currently defended vigorously by his supporters are horribly wrong. No matter what spin is put on the statement, it is false and playing off of stereotypes concerning black people in America—the anger and dangerous black male stereotype to be exact. There is no way a verbal threat can be categorized as worst than actual violence. Each example listed in this piece shows actual violence done in the name of white supremacist thought. Even if we limit the scope to say “Dr. White, meant it in today's setting,” we have two murders of people linked back to this thought process (Dylann Roof and Frazier Glenn Miller). We also have the last known lynching being recorded in the lifetime of middle-aged people in America. The only way to prove Dr. White’s claim to be true is to throw out all of history.
Ignore the white supremacists' marches in 2017 and every other example prior to January 1st, 2018, there are still white supremacist groups that say things just as vile and evil as the worst Black Hebrew Israelite quotes. One is left asking why or specifically how this group is defined as the worst! Unfortunately, I can only conclude that this is race baiting at its finest. There is no basis to support Dr. White's comments. He will dig his heels in even more and so will his followers. The fact is that his claims are false.
All of this is similar to how he dug his heels regarding the last racial divisive issue when he grabbed almost every stereotype to apply it to a Black kid that littered and flipped off the cops. (Stereotypes such as “it’s a 70% chance he never met his father,” “he would be the father to kids he will not support,” and other baseless claims.) Calls for repentance were ignored. He simply got support from his favorite black friends to justify his statements and no repentance ever came forth.
To conclude, I’d like to state that there is no way Black Hebrew Israelites are the worst example for using religion as a cover to hide racism. I do not know if Dr. White is a racist or not, but I do know that with a platform as far-reaching as his, I pray he uses his words and accusations more carefully.