Robert Crux | 3 October 2023 |
We live in a moment in history that’s been called an “infodemic.” Falsehoods spread like a virus. A tidal wave of media misinformation drowns out the truth.
Perhaps no other falsehood is more dangerous right now than “the great replacement theory,” a central tenet of white nationalism that is also promoted by some conservative politicians. Previously dwelling on the fringes of white supremacist circles, this conspiracy has allowed white supremacists to gain a political foothold in western nations.
As politics fractures around issues of race and ethnicity, there is more and more confusion about who is discriminating against whom. GRT (Great Replacement Theory) has given voice to these anxieties, fostering a heightened sense of tribalism that is spilling out into hate crimes and violence.
GRT needs to be called out in its various forms for what it really is: systematic racism and xenophobia.
What GRT is
It’s necessary for Christians to understand how this idea grew and spread.
White supremacists contend that the influx of immigrants, specifically people of color whom they consider to be inferior, will bring about the extinction of the white race. White supremacists ally with other right-wing extremists to say that liberals are part of a plan to replace the current white electorate with non-white voters from poor countries around the world, which is a major reason immigration has become a right-wing concern. These views are expressed most loudly by Republican and right-leaning news sources, because of the belief that immigrants who become citizens will vote for the Democratic Party—thus, they say, threatening the very survival of white culture and conservative politics.
As the United States population becomes more diverse, such replacement narratives are gaining traction. Conservative cable news viewers, conservative voters, and gun owners are more likely to believe their existence is being threatened by immigrants, Muslims, and all people of color. 7 out of 10 Republicans believe that the GRT is true and is being implemented.
According to a recent YouGov poll, 61% of Trump voters and 53% of Fox News viewers believe
“a group of people in this country are trying to replace native-born Americans with immigrants and people of color who share their political views”— a core tenet of the false conspiracy theory known as the “great replacement.”
GRT has contributed to white grievance, and even claims of anti-white discrimination in the United States. Doug Cuthand, a columnist for the Saskatoon StarPhoenix, points out that
There is no small amount of guilt contained in the great replacement theory—or “white genocide,” as some refer to it. They fear that the minorities will do to them what their people did to minorities in the past: discrimination, violence, and the tyranny of one race over the other.
Some say they just want to keep America white, as God intended. A few specifically say they want a white republic—and they appear willing to destroy America to get it.
While the phrase “great replacement theory” is vague enough to accommodate a spectrum of views from extreme to moderate, hiding behind these three words are centuries’ worth of racist and white-supremacist ideology. It echoes the Doctrine of Discovery, a 15th-century theological principle outlined in a series of papal bulls that was used for centuries to justify European Christians’ seizing lands already inhabited by indigenous peoples of North and South America, Africa, Asia, and Oceana, and the subjugation of their people. It provided a theological pretext for Christian rulers to seize the property and possessions of non-Christians, and sometimes even justified forced conversion.
Manifest Destiny was an extension of the Doctrine of Discovery, modified to meet the needs of the United States’ 19th-century colonial aspirations. Donald Scott of Queens College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York writes
“Manifest Destiny” became first and foremost a call and justification for an American form of imperialism, and neatly summarized the goals of the Mexican War. It claimed that America had a destiny, manifest, i.e., self-evident, from God to occupy the North American continent south of Canada (it also claimed the right to the Oregon territory including the Canadian portion). “Manifest Destiny” was also clearly a racial doctrine of white supremacy that granted no native American or nonwhite claims to any permanent possession of the lands on the North American continent and justified white American expropriation of Indian lands.
Modern replacement theory
that left-leaning domestic or international elites, on their own initiative or under the direction of Jewish co-conspirators, are attempting to replace white citizens with nonwhite (i.e., Black, Hispanic, Asian, or Arab) immigrants.
Josh Caplan of The Jewish Chronicle explains,
After Camus’ work achieved prominence in online Far-Right circles, the theory began circulating on notoriously uncensored message boards 4chan and 8chan. Here and elsewhere on the internet, the idea of the Great Replacement became merged with older antisemitic conspiracy theories.
The French white nationalist cry of “You will not replace us” later became a rallying cry that spread through Europe and later the United States. In August of 2017 white nationalist protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, marched toward a statue of confederate General Robert E. Lee carrying tiki torches, swastikas and semi-automatic rifles chanting “White lives matter” and “Jews will not replace us!”
GRT is here seen to be generally antisemitic. Adherents blame powerful Jewish individuals such as financier and philanthropist George Soros and other “elites” for plotting to diminish the influence of white majority populations in Western nations.
President Joe Biden has explicitly denounced GRT as hateful fuel for deadly violence—and he is right. In the minds of some GRT adherents, white people are under attack and must do whatever it takes to fight for their survival: this is an actual war that threatens the well-being of white people. Disenfranchised and disempowered white people have been encouraged by right-wing politicians to believe a life-or-death scenario of a “migrant invasion” that must be stopped before it conquers white America.
Replacement theory has been widely ridiculed for its blatant absurdity. It has been just as widely condemned for its encouragement of racist violence through its toxic allegation that nonwhite immigrants (as well as the Jewish figures who allegedly direct their immigration) pose an existential threat to whites. The latter criticism has been tragically validated by the occurrence of several mass murders in the United States and other countries by white racists who clearly indicated their adherence to replacement theory before or after their attacks.
What you are willing to kill for may be the ultimate test of what matters in your life. That was demonstrated in the 2017 Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally, when at least one counter-protester was killed by a member of the chanting mob.
Fabiola Cineas from VOX News writes
the shooter who killed 23 people in El Paso, Texas, in 2019 claimed he acted in response to “the Hispanic invasion” of the state….In 2018, a man who blamed Jewish people for helping to resettle immigrants killed 11 Jewish people at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.
Later, on May 14, 2022, when 10 Black people were shot and killed in a Buffalo, New York, grocery store, Steve Rose of The Guardian said
…the 18-year-old alleged shooter is said to have endorsed the “great replacement theory.” Jana Winter and Caitlin Dickson of Yahoo News report that “law enforcement officials said during a closed briefing…they believe the alleged shooter of the Buffalo shooting was directly inspired by Tarrant and the great replacement theory.
Dave Saldana in a piece in Reader’s Digest sums up the danger: “White Replacement Theory is a sociopolitical conspiracy theory with a body count.”
Christians and GRT
Understanding the Christian church’s role in conquering new territories under the Doctrine of Discovery and Manifest Destiny also explains why the great replacement theory is especially popular among Christian white people: white supremacy is historically integrated into the DNA of white Christianity.
While Christians should be the first to decry racism and xenophobia, their political identity often supersedes their spiritual identity. Among GRT believers are Christians from various churches and denominations who live in fear of the “other.” That fear often turns into hatred and violence, so it is no wonder that Christians’ loyalty to a temporal kingdom versus the kingdom of God is rightfully questioned by non-Christian observers.
White evangelicals, who frequently circulate this theory, seem convinced that they’re only doing what is best for America. They say they are defending the traditional Judeo-Christian way of life from immigrants who are undermining the “real” America. But investing holiness in a racist conspiracy theory only shows the desire of many white Christians to maintain their mastery over people of color.
First and foremost, the great replacement theory denies the imago dei (Genesis 1:27), the core belief that every person is made in the very image of God and possesses inherent dignity and equal worth. In contrast, replacement theory is super-charged by a belief in a hierarchy of human value that views white Americans as the “true Americans” and sees increasing racial, ethnic, and religious diversity as a threat rather than as a strength.”
The great replacement conspiracy theory is dependent on stoking the fears of Christians if it is to survive as a wedge issue in political campaigns. Christians who allow themselves to get caught up in a media-driven panic by politicians who are worried about being “replaced” by people who have the same skin color as Jesus are choosing a life of fear and anxiety over faith. We cannot allow racism to distort and blind us to who is our neighbor.
Robert D. Crux, Ed.S, worked as a teacher, principal, and superintendent of schools over a period of 35 years in Adventist education before retiring in 2016 to Lawton, Michigan, where he enjoys writing, reading, biking, model railroading, and, most of all, his grandchildren.