On a recent national radio program, the host interviewed several Muslims about Islam and terrorism. He asked, “What is it about Islam that seems to attract or instigate violence?” One of the guests immediately responded, “We could ask the same thing about Christianity. After all, the KKK is a Christian organization.”
The issue of the KKK (Ku Klux Klan) and Christianity is somewhat complicated by the fact that the KKK has changed and evolved over the years. There are no KKK groups today that have direct ties to the KKK of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
It is generally recognized that the KKK has had three or four different manifestations. The original Klan was organized after the Civil War during Reconstruction. Many Confederate veterans and other Southerners saw their way of life evaporating before their eyes with “Yankee carpetbaggers” and former slaves taking what they felt to be rightfully theirs. They organized to try to prevent the decline of their culture. Some in the KKK sought to reestablish and/or preserve slavery. That specific incarnation of the Klan faded after Reconstruction.
The second incarnation of the Klan started around the time of World War I. Jobs were scarce in some areas, and many whites felt “their” jobs were being taken by black workers. The Klan was reborn as an organization of intimidation—trying to scare off black workers so that white workers could have the jobs. The intimidation often took the form of violence, including lynchings. The federal government began to focus on and prosecute Klan crimes, and once again the organization faded.
The third incarnation of the Klan came about in the 1950s and ʼ60s as a response to integration and civil rights legislation, seen by many white Southerners as federal intervention. Today’s Klan, which may or may not be directly traceable to the Klan of the ʼ50s and ʼ60s, operates much more like a political party.
KKK is not a trademarked term. Any group can call themselves “KKK” and hold a wide variety of beliefs and practices—just as many divergent groups today would call themselves “Christian.”
The largest KKK-affiliated group today, the Knight’s Party, clearly promotes some themes that would seem to be in line with evangelical Christianity. Their Annual Faith and Freedom Conference is held at Soldiers of the Cross Bible Camp and is billed as “3 Family-Friendly Days.” Activities include Bible studies and gospel music concerts. Guests at the camp are expected to exhibit “Christian behavior.”
The Knights Party website also states that they want to extend the blessings of Christianity to all, regardless of color or race. The Knights require all members to “profess a belief in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.” The group is pro-life, supports traditional marriage, and promotes home schooling.
The group states that they do not hate other races or religions but emphasizes that the United States was founded as a white Christian (Protestant) nation. They want to restore the foundation that is, in their eyes, being eroded by the increase in the non-white, non-Christian population. Unlike the KKK groups of the past, they disavow hatred and violence. They also disavow white supremacy. They feel that all people and all races in the U.S. will benefit by a return to the foundation—however, they make it clear that the foundation should include a majority white population firmly in control of all aspects of government, society, and culture.
Yes, the Knights Party (and most other KKK groups) claims to be Christian. However, claiming to be Christian is a far different thing from being Christian. Jesus said in Matthew 7:22–23, “Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” Simply claiming the name of Christ does not mean an individual or an organization is truly Christian.
If the KKK were still involved in lynching, bombing, and blatant white supremacy, it would be easier to answer questions about whether the KKK is a Christian organization. Since most modern KKK groups disavow these things, the answer has to be more carefully nuanced.
Can a group that is truly practicing biblical Christianity exclude people based on their ethnic or racial background? The answer is a definitive “NO.” Central to the truth of the gospel is the acceptance of all races based on faith in Christ. Galatians 2 mentions an incident in which Peter had separated himself from Gentile believers. Paul confronted him, pointing out that Peter’s conduct was contrary to the truth of the gospel (Galatians 2:14). The central issue is that God accepts all people based on faith in Christ, regardless of race or ethnic background. To indicate anything different is essentially a denial of the efficacy of the gospel. The New Testament envisions a church made up of people from every ethnic group joining in praise: “I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb’” (Revelation 7:9–10). If this heavenly diversity is God’s goal, no truly Christian organization can make distinctions based on ethnicity.
Christians are admonished to have the same humility and generosity as Jesus: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others” (Philippians 2:3–4). If there is anything that comes through loud and clear from today’s Ku Klux Klan groups, it is that they are fighting for the rights of “their people—white people.” A focus on one’s own rights to the neglect or exclusion of the rights of others is inherently unchristian.
To summarize, the KKK of the 19th and 20th centuries was decidedly anti-Christian in its beliefs and actions. While it disavows violence, the modern/current KKK still holds some blatantly unbiblical/unchristian beliefs, and is soundly rejected by every significant Christian denomination.