Facing Up To The Evidence

There is a robust argument among pundits and scholars over the comparative contributions of economic insecurity and racial anxiety to Donald Trump’s election. It is an argument that rests on an ahistorical “either-or” approach to voter motivation (anyone who has studied German attitudes in the period after the first World War understands that economic fears fed the not-so-latent anti-Semitism.)

That said, we make a mistake–as I have argued previously–if we minimize the role racism played and continues to play in America’s electoral politics. One aspect of the uncomfortable discussion we need to have focuses on the history and persistence of racism in Evangelical Christianity.

It is a discussion that self-aware Evangelicals are now having. As Nancy Wadsworth recently wrote in Vox,

I spent the first 15 years of my career as a scholar studying American evangelicals and race, and in my view, the failure to consider motivations rooted in anxieties about race and gender as an explanation of evangelical Trump support represents a striking omission. The history of American evangelicalism is intensely racially charged. The persistent approval for Trump among white evangelicals ought to prompt far more critical self-reflection within the evangelical community than we’ve seen so far.

Evangelicals’ tenacious affection for Donald Trump is not a bug driven by expediency. Instead, it reflects defining features of American evangelicalism that become clearer when we examine the historical record. Doing so reveals that when white conservative evangelicals feel threatened by cultural change, the old demons of racism and misogyny, which lurk at the heart of the American evangelical tradition, return with a vengeance.

Wadsworth recounts–and dismisses–analyses by Evangelicals who find the support for Trump to be “transactional.” She also takes issue with aspects of Michael Gerson’s more nuanced and widely-read critique of Evangelical Trump supporters.

Michael Gerson lays out a particularly condemnatory, yet nuanced, version of the Christian anti-Trump lament in a lengthy, elegant essay in the April issue of the Atlantic. He frames Trump loyalty as “the last temptation” that could forfeit evangelicalism’s future and despoil a long legacy of positive contributions to American culture.

Cheerleading by second-generation Christian right figures like Falwell Jr. and Franklin Graham, Gerson writes, is “not mere gullibility; it is utter corruption.” Allowing hatred of their political enemies to “blind” them to Trump’s attacks on people of color and women is a tragic mistake, he suggests.

Gerson offers a 150-year summary of evangelicals’ positive work in the public sphere to make the case that, despite some missteps along the way, white evangelicals have mostly been on the right side of moral and social issues, historically. But his history is strikingly lopsided, reflecting a characteristic amnesia among evangelicalism’s boosters.

Wadsworth reminds readers that Europeans considered the indigenous people they encountered when they came to America to be uncivilized “heathens”–a belief anchored in a white Christian worldview employed to justify various forms of missionary conquest.

On the question of chattel slavery, evangelicals do not just appear as the abolitionists Gerson cites approvingly. The institution had millions of champions among conservative Christians who drew on Scripture and Curse of Ham theology to defend white supremacy and black subordination. Gerson fails to mention that every major evangelical denomination split along regional lines based on divisions over the slavery question. In fact, the vast bulk of Southern white evangelicals defended slavery, clung to the Lost Cause, fought Reconstruction, and designed and defended Jim Crow.

As the Kentucky General Baptist Association put it in 1860:

Among the white race in the Southern States there is no difference of opinion upon this subject: all are united in the opinion in reference to the political, intellectual, and social inequality between the colored people and the white races. And the people of our Commonwealth generally feel that the present condition of the colored race in this country accords both with the Word and the providence of God.

The entire article is eye-opening for those of us previously unaware of this history. Racism truly is America’s original sin. We will not eradicate it–from Evangelical Christianity or from any of the other constituencies in which it holds sway–until we confront the major role it has occupied, and continues to occupy, in our common life.

 

28 thoughts on “Facing Up To The Evidence

  1. “Racism truly is America’s original sin. We will not eradicate it–from Evangelical Christianity or from any of the other constituencies in which it holds sway–until we confront the major role it has occupied, and continues to occupy, in our common life.”

    It’s the ROOT CAUSE of our present self-destruction. We will continue to descend as a country unless it is immediately faced. That’s what Donald Trump is all about. Let’s stop kidding ourselves.

  2. Where did those “white southerners” come from because they weren’t Americans?

    Racism is a distraction from classism. As long as the whites and blacks fight each other, guess who wins?

    The self-aware MLK, Jr. saw this and started the Poor People’s Campaign in 1968…he was quickly assassinated. The Elite need us to stay divided and racism is a perfect wedge issue.

    We now have a new Poor People’s Campaign started and we’ll see how the Elite’s mouthpieces handle this one.

    By the way, did anyone notice the price of gas yesterday? Bloomberg expects oil to reach $100 a barrel soon. Who’s profiting from Trump’s withdrawal from the Iranian Nuclear agreement?

    More stupidity or profit driven?

    Racism, like all social ills, is the result of a capitalistic system which instills competition at a very early age versus collaboration/equality.

  3. RACISM IS A POLITICAL MYTH

    “It is beyond the power of philosophy to destroy the political myths. A myth is in a sense invulnerable. It is impervious to rational arguments; it cannot be refuted by syllogism. But philosophy can do us another important service. It can make us understand the adversary. In order to fight an enemy you must know him. That is the first principles of a sound strategy. To know him means not only to know his defects and weaknesses; it means to know his STRENGTH. All of us have been liable to underrate this strength. When we first heard of the political myths we found them so absurd and incongruous, so fantastic and ludicrous that we could hardly be prevailed upon to take them seriously. By now it has become clear to all of us that this was a big mistake. We should not commit the same error a second time. We should carefully study the ORIGIN, the STRUCTURE, the METHODS, and the TECHNIQUE of the political myths. We should see the adversary FACE to FACE in order to know how to combat him.”

    “The Myth of the State” by Ernst Cassirer (Doubleday & Company, Garden City, N.Y., 1955) p. 373

    [Cassirer, was one of Germany’s premier political scientists who escaped the Nazis and immigrated to America in the 40’s. He died shortly thereafter, but was able to write this magnificent book before he died. It was published after his death.]

  4. Marv beat me to my thought to copy and paste the comments above from the blog. Our racism, as throughout history and the world, goes deeper than skin color or religion. We speak of the Republican evangelicals but no one speaks to the issue of the countless number of denominations of “Christianity” here and in all other nations. Not even Wikipedia can answer the question of how many denominations of Christianity are active today. The current neo-Nazi, White Nationalist, KKK foundation based in evangelical Christianity appears to me to be one more denomination; born of need and necessity of the 1% and the GOP to lure in the majority of Americans who do not have the wherewithal to seek the actual Christian base of said “evangelicals”.

    I don’t believe I am going off the subject when I ask if the age-old argument between those who believe Jews to be a race of people vs. those who recognize it as religion is still going on. How much actual anti-Semitism is included in the Republican evangelical support of Trump, et al? Jared Kushner is a Jew; Ivanka Trump converted to the Jewish religion prior to their marriage; is the anti-Semitism which has always been part of American racism, now covert due to their influence over Daddy Trump? Can the Republican evangelicals or their staunch followers even name the races they seek to rid this country of? We are all very much aware of the black/white racism which has been rampant in this country for centuries; at some level, no matter how small, it is deeply ingrained in each of us. Trump has included his personal hatred of all Hispanics and views Muslims as a race converging on this country from around the world coming here bent on destruction, in his war on race.

    I know this is already long, MG, but I am going to use another analogy here. I recently commented on a movie I had seen (and still highly recommend) which deeply affected me on many levels. “Downfall” is a German/Austrian production of Hitler’s last 10 days in the Bunker prior to his suicide; it is written from books and documents found in the Bunker and interviews with his remaining generals and staff and post WWII documentaries. The movie begins with a brief clip of the interview with his secretary who states she didn’t support Nazism, she was just curious when she applied for that job. The movie ends by returning to her documented interview and her statement that she knew nothing of the Holocaust that went on as she worked directly with Hitler. Trump, his administration and supporters and the evangelicals appear to me to be of the same caliber “good Germans” as that secretary who could not have been that blind but blatantly lie about the foundation of their full support of Trump as he blatantly destroys democracy, America and Americans in their personal war on race with their escalating attacks and diversion tactics.

    Per Sheila, “Racism truly is America’s original sin.”

    Per Marv; “It’s the ROOT CAUSE of our present self-destruction.”

    End of diatribe.

  5. “But philosophy can do us another important service. It can make us understand the adversary. In order to fight an enemy you must know him. That is the first principles of a sound strategy.”

    Thanks again, Marv. Using this quote to refer to Donald Trump; how can we possibly understand or know him, which is to know his mind-set, which is a mentally unbalanced, unstable, whirling dervish, having no discernible “set” to understand or to know?

  6. When your eyes are raised to “heaven” or closed during prayer, you can avoid eye contact with real people.

  7. The problem with the use of terms like “evangelicals” is that they generally represent a diverse group of folks. For example, about a third of evangelicals in the US are people of color. In trying to understand what drives “Trumpism” we really need to leave the door open to multiple factors playing a role. Furthermore, the more “we” (oops I plead guilty) stress racism as “their” motivating factor the less possible it becomes to have any meaningful dialogue with them whatsoever. If we continue to ignore a significant voter shift from Obama to Trump and finally succeed in convincing ourselves that what we are looking at is almost exclusively a manifestation of racism, we enhance our chances of losing the war.

  8. JoAnn,

    “Thanks again, Marv. Using this quote to refer to Donald Trump; how can we possibly understand or know him, which is to know his mind-set…….”

    Trump with the help of Steve Bannon HIJACKED the Religious Right/Far Right Movement that’s been constantly gaining momentum since the late 60’s. To understand Trump, you have to understand the movement he hijacked. First of all, you need to know its ORIGIN.

    “How much actual anti-Semitism is included in the Republican evangelical support of Trump, et al? Jared Kushner is a Jew; Ivanka Trump converted to the Jewish religion prior to their marriage; is the anti-Semitism which has always been part of American racism, now covert due to their influence over Daddy Trump?”

    The anti-Semitism, with the help of the Israeli controlled ADL, has been COVERT since the late 60’s. Donald Trump has brazenly exposed it to whole world……. MASSIVE AID to Israel in exchange for MASSIVE COVERT ANTI-SEMITISM. It’s called a MODUS VIVENDI, put together by the leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention and the Anti-Defamation League in the early 80’s.

  9. If Trump and/or Pence walked into a Real Christian Church.
    They’d probably burst into flames …

  10. Alan,

    “If we continue to ignore a significant voter shift from Obama to Trump and finally succeed in convincing ourselves that what we are looking at is almost exclusively a manifestation of racism, we enhance our chances of losing the war.”

    What do you expect to win by FAKING IT?

  11. African-Americans are marching again, this time across America, for a real good reason. Does anyone in their right mind believe they’re going to support a political party that’s covering-up massive, deadly racism?

  12. An attention to history is instructive. While other theological factors played a part, all the major American Protestant Christian groups split over slavery in the 1840s and 50s: Presbyterians, Baptists, Methodists, and others. The reactionary character of the Southern Baptist Convention today grows out of its pro-slavery stance taken over a 150 years ago. As well, individual Catholics divided North v. South while a very conservative Pope Pius IX (“Pio Nono,” he of papal infallibility infamy) was sympathetic to the Southern Confederacy during the American Civil War.

    It’s all been there in plain sight.

  13. The following is from an important article by Chris Hedges in “The New York Times” on January 6, 2005:

    Princeton, N.J.

    FRITZ STERN, a refugee from Hitler’s Germany and a leading scholar of European history, startled several of his listeners when he warned in a speech about the danger posed in this country by the Christian right. In his address in November, just after he received a prize presented by the German foreign minister, he told his audience that Hitler saw himself as “the instrument of providence” and fused his “racial dogma with a Germanic Christianity.”

    “Some people recognized the moral perils of mixing religion and politics,” he said of prewar Germany, “but many more were seduced by it. It was the pseudo-religious transfiguration of politics that largely ensured his success, notably in Protestant areas.”

    Dr. Stern’s speech, given during a ceremony at which he got the prize from the Leo Baeck Institute , a center focused on German Jewish history, was certainly provocative. The fascism of Nazi Germany belongs to a world so horrendous it often seems to defy the possibility of repetition or analogy. But Dr. Stern, 78, the author of books like “The Politics of Cultural Despair: A Study in the Rise of German Ideology “and university professor emeritus at Columbia University, has devoted a lifetime to analyzing how the Nazi barbarity became possible. He stops short of the calling the Christian right fascist [in 2005] but his decision to draw parallels, especially in the use of propaganda, was controversial.

    “When I saw the speech my eyes lit up,” said John R. MacArthur, whose book “Second Front” examines wartime propaganda. “The comparison between the propagandistic manipulation and uses of Christianity, then and now, is hidden in plain sight. No one will talk about it. No one wants to look at it.”

    “There was a longing in Europe for fascism before the name was ever invented, ” he said. “There was a longing for a new authoritarianism with some kind of religious orientation and above all a greater communal belongingness. There are some similarities in the mood then and now, although also significant differences.” He warns of the danger in an open society of “mass manipulation of public opinion, often mixed with MENDACITY and FORMS OF INTIMIDATION.” He is a passionate defender of liberalism as “manifested in the spirit of the Enlightenment and the early years of the American Republic.”

    “The radical right and the radical left see liberalism’s appeal to reason and tolerance as the denial of their UNIFORM IDEOLOGY,” he said, “Every democracy needs a liberal fundament, a Bill of Rights enshrined in law and spirit, for this alone gives democracy the chance for self-correction and reform. Without it, the survival of democracy is at risk. Every genuine conservative knows this.”

    “The Jews in Central Europe welcomed the Russian Revolution,” he said, “but it ended badly for them. The tacit alliance between the neo-cons and the Christian right is less easily understood. I can imagine a similarly disillusioning outcome.”

  14. “The Trojan Horse is an instrument of revolution, and revolution must of necessity use methods of deception, concealment, and intrigue. The Trojan Horse must, therefore, look like one thing on the outside; and it must be quite a different thing on the inside. It must appear to be innocent, while it actually works for its revolutionary objectives. It must appear to be concerned solely with things that appeal to all men of good intentions, while it actually is concerned with the one purpose of preparing for the revolution. It must appear to be loyally American, while it actually and entirely un-American.

    “The Trojan Horse in America” by [Congressman] Martin Dies (Dodd, Mead & Company, New York, 1940) p. 14

  15. Marv,

    The Poor People’s Campaign isn’t for African Americans. It’s the vision of MLK back in 1968. If you’ve heard quotes from LBJ, MLK’s shifting from civil rights to economic rights, anti-capitalism and anti-militarianism, cost him his life.

    When American’s get past color, real progress will be made. One of the recent pollings done by Norman Soloman said the 35 and under crowd want an inclusive third party to they left of the DNC.

    As the Boomers die off, this country will evolve and become color blind.

  16. The following if from “America Fascism + God: Sermons from a Heretical Preacher” by Davidson Loehr (Chelsea Green Publishing, White River Junction, V.T., 2005) p. 39-40.[ Loehr was a UU minister in Austin, Texas. This book eventually led to his dismissal]:

    “From 1988 to 1993, the University of Chicago conducted a six-year study known as the ‘Fundamentalism Project,’ the largest such study ever done. About 150 scholars from all over the world took part, reporting on every imaginable kind of fundamentalism. And what they discovered was that the agenda of all fundamentalists movements in the world is nearly identical, regardless of religion or culture.

    They identified five points shared by all fundamentalisms:

    4. There is an amazingly strong and deep resemblance between fundamentalism and fascism. Both have almost identical agendas. One scholar suggested that it’s helpful to understand fundamentalism as religious fascism, and fascism as political fundamentalism. Fundamentalists spurn the modern and want to return to a nostalgic vision of a golden era that never really existed. Likewise, “overcoming the modern”is a fascist slogan dating back to at least 1941.”

  17. The evangelicals also have the persecution complex, i.e., War on Christmas, no prayer in public schools, teaching evolution, etc. The Trumpet (aka Agent Orange) has played his cards well. Mueller has taken the place of the ancient Romans and is persecuting Agent Orange.

    The evangelicals are in his back pocket, and now his moving of the embassy to Jerusalem puts AIPAC in his other pocket. The dichotomy that should be there between these groups is not there. The evangelicals make it very clear unless you except Jesus as your savior, you are going to hell.

    All that information concerning evangelicals support for Agent Orange and Republicans is a given. Now, it is time to stop beating that horse.

    The millennial’s support of the Establishment Corporate Democratic Party is waning. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-election-millennials/democrats-lose-ground-with-millennials-reuters-ipsos-poll-idUSKBN1I10YH

    The Corporate Democratic Party reminds me of the poem Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley:

    I met a traveller from an antique land
    Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
    Stand in the desert . . . Near them, on the sand,
    Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
    And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
    Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
    Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
    The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed:
    And on the pedestal these words appear:
    ‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
    Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
    Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
    Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
    The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

    Joe Donnelly, Pelosi and Schumer are a good examples, “Of that colossal wreck” of the Corporate Establishment Democratic Party.

  18. JoAnn,

    “I don’t believe I am going off the subject when I ask if the age-old argument between those who believe Jews to be a race of people vs. those who recognize it as religion is still going on.”

    From “The Idea of Racialism” by Louis L. Snyder (Van Nostrand, New York, 1962) p. 81:

    “In the nineteenth century, ANTI-SEMITISM and RACIALISM merged into one movement. The hatred for Jews that previously had been grounded on religious motives now sought justification in racial theory. The myth of a Jewish race was compounded in an attempt to provide a “scientific” cloak for political-economic attacks. The xenophobic concept of the Jews as an outside racial group gathered strength in Europe. Thousands of books and pamphlets were written to prove that the Jew was a cosmopolitan without national loyalty, that he possessed a shrewdness and selfishness that made him the master of the honest
    Aryan, and that he was a cancer slowly eating into the flesh of other races.”

  19. Monotonous,

    “Joe Donnelly, Pelosi and Schumer are a good examples, “Of that colossal wreck” of the Corporate Establishment Democratic Party.”

    Right on target, as usual.

  20. Granularity is a popular business term nowadays that refers to the amount and resolution of the details considered in data or analysis. Detail people always want more because they tend to believe the devil to be in the details, big picture people typically believe too much to be paralyzing and antithetical to action.

    One way to move the current topic towards a coarser view IMO is to lump a few of the currently under discussion personalities into a general category of authoritarian – people who feel class and order to be primal drivers of culture along with a sense of entitlement to a superior position in that order (for any of a multiple of reasons).

    It seems clear to me that the other useful end of a spectrum based on authoritarianism is liberalism, freedom for all instead of power for some.

    I think in the big picture those are the tribes competing for America. Both extremes are threatened by today’s unsettledness but authoritarians believe that the solution is to return to what was while liberals focus on going forward to what could be.

  21. No snapping fingers necessary. The Boomers are dying off. The last of the great white racists.

    Predictions are by 2050, non-whites will be a minority, even in the USA.

    The 35 and under crowd will lead this revolution as we stare at CNN and MSNBC to stay informed.

  22. Todd,

    “No snapping fingers necessary. The Boomers are dying off. The last of the great white racists.”

    “Sorry, whites will be the minority.”

    I don’t understand the meaning of the above. Whites were also a small minority in South Africa and ruled a much large majority of Blacks. Sorry, I’m living in the NOW and maybe a few years ahead, not 2050 and it has nothing to do with my advanced age.

  23. I’ve heard Evangelicals claim that God made 3 major races of mankind–the Negroid, Caucasoid and Mongoloid (if you buy into that theory) for a reason, and that people, in order to carry out God’s will, are to stay racially pure and not inter-mingle because God, in his wisdom, has a reason for there to be 3 different races. We should respect the will of God and not disturb his plan for mankind. This is the religious basis for miscegenation laws that persisted in the U.S. until Loving v. Virginia. This attitude was far-reaching. Even in the era of silent films, miscegenation laws forbade a white woman to be attracted to a man who wasn’t considered completely white. In “The Sheik”, for instance, the white female character falls in love with “Ahmed”. At the end of the picture, we find out that Ahmed was the child of white missionaries who died, so he was adopted and raised as a Middle-Easterner. Therefore, it was OK for the female lead to be in love with him. If they hadn’t added this little plot twist, the picture could not have been shown in certain states.

    The evangelical racial theory goes further in holding that God made the Negroid race to be inferior heathens, shown by their lack of development in Africa as compared to the other races (picture the stereotypic barefoot spear chucker with a bone in his nose wearing a shrunken head as a necklace), and therefore, it is God’s plan that Negroes should be captured and enslaved to serve the Caucasoid race, because God favors whites over blacks. Also, the Christian religion was preached to white people, not blacks or Asians, so they must be inferior. Asians are considered “inscrutable”, they worship some smiling fat guy we don’t understand, they dress funny and look different, so we leave them alone.

    These people were taught this as religious doctrine, so it’s way deeper than mere tradition. I don’t know if evangelicals are still taught these things as formal, official doctrine, but I wouldn’t be shocked if some sects still teach this. How do you combat attitudes that are indoctrinated into people from an early age as religious truth?

  24. Colonialism worked because we were isolated from each other. Not anymore. Look what’s happening to the Zionist Jews today for their actions against the Palestinians. World condemnation.

    The white supremacists/evangelicals are scared because the USA is getting browner and not from climate change. It’s called fear.

    Racism is/was a social human construct. This also means humans can deconstruct it.

    The ideal of unity is what Macron was condemning Trump/Congress about. It’s scares the Capitalists/Imperialists to death.

    The Poor People’s Campaign has nothing to do with skin color. It has to do with unity and equality.

    Watch how the media reacts. Another “Standing Rock” debacle??

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