Jeannine Hill FLETCHER. The Sin of White Supremacy: Christianity, Racism, and Religious Diversity in America. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2017. pp. 194. $28.00 pb. ISBN 978-1-62698-237-6. Reviewed by Ella JOHNSON, St. Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry, Rochester, NY 14618.


In this book, Hill Fletcher takes up the necessary task of demonstrating how Christianity has participated in White supremacy. She demonstrates the close relationship between Christian supremacy and White supremacy throughout US history, in order to show how it has shaped our contemporary context. Only once this relationship has been recognized and named, declares Hill Fletcher, can the work of challenging this relationship and building alternatives to it occur. She says: “If Christians desire a world of racial justice and religious integrity, understanding the sin of supremacy and theology’s role within it is our only way forward” (2).

Through the six chapters of her book, Hill Fletcher does just that. In the first half of the book, she illustrates how Christian ideas were used to construct and shore up ideologies of White supremacy and how this relationship shaped legislation and thus the concrete conditions of racialized disparity. In the next half of her book, she re-reads the Christian traditions to show how it has “the resources to mobilize a rebalancing of the world” (107).

Chapter one details numerous, sobering episodes to demonstrate how theology has played a role in shaping the United States into a “White Christian Nation” (5). Hill Fletcher first narrates the longer theological tradition of Christian supremacy. For example, she discusses the ideology of “no salvation outside the church,” which was espoused and promoted by the Catholic Church in the age of discovering the so-called “New World.” In doing so, she demonstrates the interplay between colonialism, theology, and faith formation. For instance, Hill Fletcher shows that: “With a racial hierarchy as part of the natural order of things, non-White, non-Christian others were assessed to be deficient on a sliding scale of humanity, with the absence of Christianity the key determinant of greater and lesser humanity” (10). The tight relationship between these two pillars of White supremacy and Christian supremacy, as Hill Fletcher demonstrates, had detrimental effects on the Native people in the land that would become the United States. It was also used by White Christians to justify enslaving Africans. Hill Fletcher next draws attention to how these historical examples of “religio-racial supremacy” underwrite a “White racial frame” in contemporary theologies (29-30). She considers her own Roman Catholic tradition, particular in Vatican II documents and more contemporary documents, and reveals of “theo-logic” of White Christian supremacy (30). She demonstrates the operative idea, for example, in the year 2000 by the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith’s declaration, Dominus Iesus, that, in her words: “Difference is not only deficient, it is ‘gravely deficient’ in matters of salvific proportion” (39).

In the next chapter, Hill Fletcher considers the actual material outcomes produced by the intellectual tradition of White Christian supremacy. Through documentary evidence she shows how in legislation and policy the United States has sought to create a White Christian nation. She convincingly demonstrates how White Christians, backed by a theology of White Christian supremacy, created a structural reality in which they enjoy higher levels of measures of wellness in education, economic security and health than the non-White population in the US. This “theologically informed ideology of White supremacy” is most clearly seen in the attitudes, policies and actions that Hill Fletcher points out were used by White Christians to dispossess Native peoples, enslave Africans and African Americans, and extract work from Asian and Latino persons (82).         

Chapter three goes on to illustrate the racialized disparity of economic well-being in the current US landscape with statistical evidence. She theological analyzes the disparity and reveals how: “The White racial frame reads the unjust distribution of well-being as evidence of White righteousness, rather than recognizing the kingdom of evil that disparity represents” (107). As a warning for all theologians, she clearly shows how “What we produce in the symbolic capital of our theologies cannot be disentangled from the social and political worlds in which we live” (101).

Once this bleak history of the religio-racial project has been understood, Hill Fletcher claims that the Christian tradition can be re-examined for its more hopeful resources. This is the task of chapter four. She reads the Christian scriptures with an eye for their anti-racist theologies and teachings on love of neighbor. She then specifically reads each Gospel and uncovers how each focuses on a liberating theme: for example, Mark’s gospel teaches “love in the mode of healing” (114); Matthew’s gospel centers on “the apocalypse of judgment (118); Luke’s gospel proclaims “the radical power of love of enemy” (121); and John’s gospel builds “the foundations of love in intimacy” (124).

Chapter five next considers the crucifixion of Christ as the most helpful resource for promoting a way forward in love today. Rather than functioning for the dispossession on non-Christians and non-White persons, she reads the Crucified One as indicting Christians for the way we have contributed to the weighted and racialized world. She says that “we are the crucifiers, where our theologies of supremacy underwrite legislation that secures well-being for some and not for others” (157). In one particularly practical section of the chapter, she calls Christian to change their iconographies (and White color) of Christ. “The proclamation of Christ as universal model of humanity, when joined with the representation of Jesus in White form, visually aligns Christ with Whiteness” (150).

In the last chapter, Hill Fletcher considers persons from the Christian tradition who offer us practical steps in contemplating our own judgement of Christ, the Crucified One. She explains: “The Crucified One and the crucified people serve as the criteria on which to judge the successes and failures of our love” (162). For example, she discusses Ignatius of Loyola and his words on self-transformation and Dorothy Day and her advocacy for the dispossessed. The call for healing the divisions caused by the religio-racial project of Christian White supremacy, for Hill Fletcher, entails building relationships across both racial and religious boundaries. Decisions made by local ordinaries, in addition to legislative policies, must be attended to in this project. Only will this create a world that follows the “Christian vision…for the well-being of the 100 percent” (174).

For my part, as a professor of Christian, Roman Catholic, theology, I find this book extraordinarily helpful. Up to this point, the most authoritative book on the subject of white supremacy in the Roman Catholic tradition has been Bryan Massingale’s Racial Justice in the Catholic Church. Hill Fletcher’s book goes beyond Massingale’s study to review the tradition in an even more sobering way, in order to show the relationship between Christian supremacy and White supremacy. Her book could not be more timely in light of current political events. As such, I recommend it fully for all Christian theologians to read and take seriously in their own work, and I believe the book should be for every student of Christian theology today.