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Francis Wilkinson

The Theological Roots of White Supremacy

How white Christianity has helped grant moral legitimacy to racist attitudes.

A stained-glass window at the Washington National Cathedral in 2015.

A stained-glass window at the Washington National Cathedral in 2015.

Photographer: Alex Wong/Getty Images North America

Robert P. Jones is founder and CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute and author of the new book, “White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity.” Jones, who was raised a Southern Baptist in Mississippi, has a divinity degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and a doctorate in religion from Emory University. His book is a powerfully detailed history, not a polemic. I interviewed him, via email, last week. A lightly edited transcript follows.

Wilkinson: “Racism” is a popular subject right now. You use a term — in the book’s title and throughout the text — that has sharper edges and fewer ambiguities: “white supremacy.” That’s a phrase Americans typically associate with the Ku Klux Klan or other fringe groups. Yet how “fringe” is white supremacy to American culture?