A Review of
Decolonizing Christianity: Becoming Badass Believers
Miguel De la Torre
Reviewed by Ryan Meek
If you looked past the legitimate protests of 2020 to the far fewer instances of looting and rioting, this book is not for you. De la Torre says that this book is not for anyone who upholds the continual colonizing of nationalist Christianity. Suppose you can look past the “ethical incompetence and moral negligence…and [the] employment of the biblical text to justify public policies and personal behaviors” that continue to uphold a system of violence and oppression. In that case, this book is not for you. If you are a white Christian who tends to “wallow in self-pity over [your] complicity with racist structures,” you are “ignoring the pain being experienced by others” (2). If you are a white Christian willing to listen to De la Torre humbly, and if you wish to learn, then this book is for you.
Indeed, in Decolonizing Christianity: Becoming Badass Believers, De la Torre speaks directly to his main audience of vulnerable communities of color throughout our country who have believed the “lie of white supremacy” (7). These are communities who are continually told they are less-than by our governmental and religious systems. De la Torre tells us that white Christianity must reject its nationalist tendencies and rhetoric that is quick to come to the aid of the status quo (9).
De la Torre does not pull any punches when describing the stream of Christianity that represents a very vocal minority of Christians in America. Despite the small numbers, nationalist Christianity is a dangerous force. It perpetuates the continuation of the lie of white supremacy that has relegated “dispossessed communities…to be among the least of these for our time” (7). Over many generations, this lie has denied the humanity of vulnerable communities and ignored the teaching of Jesus.
From a perspective on the “underside of white Christianity,” De la Torre spends the remainder of the first and second chapters walking his audience through some history and recent consequences of mixing Christianity and nationalism. Of course, he writes about the usual suspects of Hitler, Franco, and Novo, who recruited the complacent Christian to commit atrocities against their neighbor. However, the most scathing criticism should be that nationalist Christians “have made a Faustian pact…for access to the very things Jesus rejected” when tempted in the wilderness (25). Jesus “refused Satan’s temptations…of profit (bread), privilege (celestial protection), and power (all the kingdoms of this world)” (25). De la Torre connects this Faustian pact to modern nationalist Christians who attempt to elevate partisan political agendas over the gospel’s agenda, which self-sacrificially seeks the betterment of “the least of these” (Matthew 25:40). The agenda found in the gospel does not include culture wars against or politics that overlook whole groups of vulnerable people.
When Christianity and nationalism are mixed, a new agenda is created– one that is light years away from the gospel. Phrases like “religious freedom” have been redefined to justify the opposite of what they signify. The ability to redefine these terms only comes with the privilege built upon the power that subjugates and corrupts the gospel to retain power and privilege. The danger of Christian nationalism is in its power to use perceived infringements of freedom against vulnerable communities. This power leads to scapegoating vulnerable communities, which end up in the atrocities committed by Hitler, Franco, and Novo for similar reasons. Considering this history, De la Torre rightfully criticizes Christian nationalism, and his corresponding pugilistic tone throughout this work is justified. He emphasizes that he is writing for the survival of vulnerable communities, and that they are worth the fight.
De la Torre is fighting for the same people to whom God continually shows kindness and mercy throughout the scriptures: the widow, the orphan (because we took them from their parents), the foreigner, and the poor (Zechariah 7:9-10). He worries that “white churches hide behind flowery religious platitudes. Their acts of omission and commission have much to do with their indifference toward the least of these” (80). White churches cannot continue in their apathy while the vulnerable communities in our country suffer. Again, the status quo and white Christianity must be rejected in these forms.
Ultimately, De la Torre emphasizes that the falsehoods found in the construct of whiteness have corrupted the teaching of Christ so much that it needs to be dismantled. The structures built by whiteness should not stand, and Christians need to reclaim the badass revolutionary message of Jesus of Nazareth. Complacency has no place in the process. Peacekeeping has no position in this process. Musing on the story of sheep and goats in Matthew 25, De la Torre calls us to stand with the sheep against the idolatry of civic religion based on whiteness.
De la Torre traces a line from the liberation theologians like James Cone, Oscar Romero, and Gustavo Gutierrez throughout his work. He writes, “The first act of any liberationist project must be to decolonize our own minds, which have been conditioned to see reality through the lens of the oppressors” (189). The lens needs to be redirected to the cross, and the work of the church should reflect this. Followers of Jesus need to lean into the work that is rooted in the gospel. There should be no more hiding behind a false “spiritual message.” This message is concrete and has real-world consequences.