Coming to Grips with Christian Nationalism

The scriptures say that we do not wrestle against flesh and blood but against powers and principalities. Specifically, Ephesians 6:12 says, (in the King James Version KJV) of the Bible): For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against power, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”

It never occurred to me that different groups of people who call themselves Christian interpret not only this verse differently, but words in the entire Bible. What some groups of Christians call “truth,” another totally dismisses as being against the will of God.

As I grew up, I came to realize that not everyone who reads the words of Jesus interprets them in the way I was taught. I was stunned, still, though, when I read that the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV), questioned about his belief in the Bible, and in the words of Jesus the Christ, said upon being asked if he understood the story of the Good Samaritan, and the “Great Commandment,” that says we are to “love our neighbor as ourselves” said, “Of course I know the scriptures! But nowhere do the scriptures say that we do not get to choose our neighbor!”

That interview stunned me. I grew up believing the words of Jesus, found in the Gospels, could only be interpreted one way. In fact, I grew up believing that the Bible could likewise be interpreted only one way. The words ..were the words, not at all difficult to read and understand. In my way of thinking, there was no question as to how they should be interpreted.

But there is and there have been vastly different ways of interpreting words which have given life to oppressed people. In her book, The Power Worshippers, Katherine Stewart notes that Christian Nationalists have a very different worldview – based on their interpretation of the Bible. First of all, many believe that the New International Version (NIV) Bible is sacrilege – that it “perverts Jesus Christ into Lucifer.” She also notes that this group of people believe that “scripture opposes public assistance for the poor unless it passes through church coffers, that it votes against environmentalism, that it opposes gun regulations, favors privatization of schools through vouchers, and tells us that same-sex relationships are an abomination and emphatically does not want women to have access to comprehensive, twenty-first-century reproductive medical care.” (pp.16-17)

This group also believes that “true Christians” are supposed to exercise dominion over the “seven mountains” of culture: government, business, education, the media, arts and entertainment, family, and religion.”(p. 25)

This is a movement that is not dying but instead is growing and has been for some time. It is a group that would have approved of the late Bob Jones, founder, and president of the Bob Jones University, who said in an Easter Sunday morning broadcast in 1960 that “God is the author of segregation.”

These ways of looking at the Bible are totally anathema to me, and I suppose to many others, but the truth is, those Christians who are not a part of the Christian Nationalist movement need to be aware and actively engaged to making sure a different interpretation of scripture is being taught. The Bible’s directives to believe in justice, to take care of those who are hungry and thirsty and naked and lost seem clear to me, as does the meaning of the Great Commandment, but what is clear to me is almost considered blasphemous to members of the Christian Nationalist movement.

In my work studying how black and white people see God, I already determined that there are two different gods for each ethnic group. I am not the first person to decide this; white theologians in history decided the same thing, some deciding that their God could not possibly have created black people. But the fact that “the Bible” can be and is the object of such disparate interpretations is rattling, to say the least.

Stewart notes in her book that many Christian nationalists feel persecuted; that feeling is behind their cry for “religious freedom.” Progressive Christians, she says, have been way behind in getting their message out. She says “progressive religious voices have figured out only how to grab a headline here or there for the benefit of sympathetic audiences. They do not know how to seize the reins of political power.”

It seems that if ever there was a time for “progressive religious voices” to make themselves heard, it is now, because the Christian nationalists are on a mission to seize political power by using their version of the meaning of God, Jesus, and the Bible.” Living in denial of what we are facing seems not only troubling but an indication of a lack of awareness of what is going on. People tend not to believe that “the worst” can happen to them: not in their neighborhoods, their schools, their country …and in their religion. That is a way of thinking which always proves to be wrong.

In this time of transition, those who disagree with the Christian nationalists need to step up and speak out …or be forever forced to hold their peace.

A candid observation …

Being Religious Doesn’t Justify Bigotry

How in the world did religion become the operative excuse to justify bigotry?

In amazement I have watched and listened to reports of state legislatures passing bills that use religion as the seedbed from which the determination to refuse civil rights to the LGBTQ community.

Shaken and angered by the United States Supreme Court’s upholding of the right of same-sex couples to marry, and now being made to deal with the reality that transgendered individuals are a part of society, state lawmakers have gone over the edge.

All this change has been too much for them to bear. They yearn for the way America “used” to be, where LGBTQ people stayed “in the closet” and would not dare even suggest that a law be passed to make their marrying legal. And …they yearn for an America where “girls were girls and men were men.”  Archie Bunker, Norman Lear’s choirboy for “the good old days” when white supremacy reigned unfettered, put his yearning into song with his wife Edith every time “All in the Family” came on. (http://artists.letssingit.com/archie-and-edith-bunker-lyrics-those-were-the-days-48fhzf1) Lear’s ability to portray bigotry in a comedic role was brilliant, but the reality of bigotry in real life caused no such laughter.

Bigotry seems to be antithetical to the beliefs of all religions; a study of Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist and other religious dogma reveals texts that admonish the faithful to treat each other with respect and dignity. So it is puzzling that religion is so often, and has so often, been used to justify bigotry of any kind – racism, sexism and homophobia for starters.

Historically, the Christian faith in America was used and quoted as the basis and justification of racial segregation and hatred . Though racial discrimination based on the Bible was most obvious in the South, white churches in the North were not much better.  Douglas Hudgins was a well-respected theologian who lived in Mississippi. White believers in the South in general had convinced themselves, based on selective reading of the Bible, that God deigned that the White church remain just that – the White church. They believed that changes in race relations that permitted integration was a defilement and violation of “all that was sacred and pure.” (Charles Marsh: God’s Long Summer: Stories of Faith and Civil Rights, p. 83)  Hudgins preached the rightness of keeping white folks’ religion pure and said that civil rights, or the reach for civil rights by black people, was a “defilement of social purity and irrelevant to the proclamation of Jesus Christ as God.” (God’s Long Summer, p. 89, emphasis mine) ) Hudgins said in that same sermon that the cross of Christ had nothing to do with social movements or realities beyond the church;’ he believed that the Cross should inspire “decent white people toward the preservation of the purity of the social body.”

Even as the Civil Rights movement continued to move forward, fighting religious bigotry as hard as it fought political inequality, religion continued to rear its ugly head against “the least of these.” When Ryan White, the Indiana teen who contracted HIV/AIDS from having received contaminated blood used to treat his hemophilia, he was shunned by …his church. Church members, some of them, refused to shake his hand. (http://www.hemaware.org/story/remembering-ryan-white) No doubt, some of them refused to shake his hand because so little was known about the disease that people were genuinely afraid of contracting it, but some religious people shunned people with AIDS because they believed it to be the “homo” disease, meaning they understood that only gay men got the disease and gay men, the would tell you, were an abomination to God.

The dis-ease with different sexualities has persisted to the present day, with acceptance of it culminating for some in the ultimate affront against God: same-sex marriage. A wide swath of religious people are infuriated that the United States government has endorsed what they think is a sin. They repeat over and over their belief that “the Bible says” that marriage is between a man and a woman. Conversations about transgender individuals are almost non-existent, the thought is so heinous to many “people of faith.”

And so, as in the case of fighting racial discrimination, the Bible is being used again as the weapon to discriminate against the LGBTQ-Transgender community, and state legislators, individuals who take an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States as well as the constitutions of their states, are passing laws saying their rights as religious people are being threatened by the rights afforded to the LGBTQ and transgender communities – and they’re not having it. God is on their side, they believe. God would ordain and sanction their discrimination against these people. No “agape” love is to be afforded these people. They are an abomination and an affront to God and they, good, religious people, are going to make sure their religions remain “pure.”

Laws impinging on the rights of LGBTQ people, and transgender people,(http://www.cnn.com/2016/04/06/us/nationwide-bill-religious-freedom-sexual-orientation/index.html) have little to do with God and everything to do with a segment of the population wanting religion to remain “pure.”

The idea of purity has been a central point of much fundamentalist Christianity, again most notably in the South but everywhere. In 1964, as state lawmakers fought the federal government’s  intrusion into their “southern way of life,” those who yearned for the unfettered days of white supremacy and its attendant white privilege were no doubt aware of the poem, “Ode to Sovereignty:”

“O Sons of Mississippi, Remember your mothers; Remember your fathers and grandfathers and great aunts. Remember and salute. How, in this wilderness, they sowed And we reap what they have sowed. It is all for us, the Sovereign state, Of flowing rivers and happy Delta land; O Sovereign state, pure and white, O Sovereign state, where might makes right. O Mississippi, our words are trite But Thou art precious in his sight. O Sovereign state, Dear Homeland, Stand ye firm in these crisis days. Let not Truth confuse thee; God is on our side.”

The poem clearly indicates the belief that God is on the side of bigotry, that God loves the State of Mississippi more than God loves the people whom God created. There are a lot of problems with this theology, but one of the biggest is that the theology being touted as the justification of bigotry is not the theology, the will of God, as found in sacred scriptures. What is being attributed to God is actually the mindset of people; ideology is being presented as and justified as being …the will of God. Such a theology, were it true, would cast doubt on the sovereignty of God, questioning the “state of mind” of God when God created so many different kinds of people. Presumably, since there are in fact, LGBTQ people all over the world, and since there are transgender people all over the world, and people who are asexual and bisexual …there’s a problem if one believes in the ultimate sovereignty of God, which presumes a belief, or the  belief, that God created all things and all people.

Bigots who base their bigotry on their religious beliefs therefore reveal a serious doubt about the very sovereignty of God they claim to love. If God creates all things and all people, then God created people of different sexual persuasions. To reject human and civil rights to any of God’s creations seems to be an abomination in and of itself, based on religious dogma and doctrine that teaches us that God says to love and accept all people.

This line of thinking would come off as poppycock to any of those now fighting for “religious liberty.” Their quest has little to do with God and religious doctrine, but everything to do with personal bias and the inability and unwillingness to love and accept all people. God notwithstanding.

A candid observation…

The Reality of Two Gods, One Black, One White

I have long been troubled by the way white and black people interpret the same Bible. There is one Bible, one God, one Jesus …and yet white and black people interpret that book in entirely different ways.

Charles Marsh writes, in his book God’s Long Summer: Stories of Faith and Civil Rights,: “Of the images coming in the civil rights movement, none seems more replete with contradiction than that of white mainline Protestantism. In most cases, the Southern white Protestant adheres to an evangelical belief, the heart of which is the confession of a “personal Lord and Savior,” who has atoned for the sins of humanity. Yet in most cases, the confession remains disconnected from race relations …” (p. 6)  He further writes that “in the final analysis, concern for black suffering has nothing to do with following Jesus.”

The Rev. C.T. Vivian, who was a fixture in the Civil Rights Movement, said outright, “You cannot be racist and be Christian!”, something which I firmly believe. But for white people, that proclamation would draw sharp criticism. Writes Marsh, “If people took seriously their identities as Christians, they had no choice but to also give up the practices of white supremacy – and not only white supremacy, but also class privilege, resentment, the concession to violence, anything that kept one from sacrificing all for the beloved community…”

White people, for the most part, seem uninterested in having, helping form, or living in …a beloved community.

The so-called “attack on Christianity” is coming primarily from white Christians who, while they hate abortion and gay rights, including gay marriage, ignore the reality of racism and white supremacy. They seem incapable of feeling even a modicum of the outrage they feel about aborted violence for the already alive black children living in abject poverty and living on the outskirts of society. They seem disinterested in the fact that already alive children suffer horribly in this nation, from bad schools to inadequate health care. They seem all too willing to blame the children for their lot in life.

And yet they call themselves Christian.

Marsh writes that “white Christian conservatives …(remain) largely indifferent to black suffering, preoccupied instead with evangelism and church growth, and with personal vices like drinking, dancing and heavy petting.” In their religious practice, God, and God’s son Jesus, is all right with their blatant disregard for the plight of people of color.

While Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. relied on the presence of God for his work in the Civil Rights Movement, white supremacists called upon that same God to justify their actions. Sam Bowers, head of the Ku Klux Klan, saw as his godly mission the need to slaughter black people and those whites who worked for civil rights for black people. In his mind, those who worked for freedom and justice for black people had betrayed the Lord Jesus.  He wrote and posted publicly a manifesto that said outright that “if you are a Christian, American Anglo Saxon, who can understand” the practices of trying to purge the religion and the country of black and brown people, Catholics and Jews, then “you belong in the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan of Mississippi.”  He was dedicated to ridding his beloved America of the impostors who, in his mind, were an affront to God – who, we might assume if we read the scriptures, created us all.

The issue and the problem of this “two-God dilemma” of the United States is that it creates a group of people who are as religiously fanatic in their religious and ideological beliefs as are the hated Islamic radicals. They, too, think they are on assignment from God to destroy Americans. If and when God is in the center of a fight, it is hard to stop that fight before it does irreparable harm.

Of course, having God at the center of a fight can bring about good, too. Ironically, the same zeal that fuels hatred in the name of God fuels the desire for justice and mercy …in the name of God. The results of the Civil Rights Movement is testament to that fact.

Donald Trump is feeding into the “white God” group, a group which is adamant about there being an attack on Christianity, even as they attack radical Islam. It feels like a bomb ready to detonate. The white God, they would say, is on their side, while radical Islamists would say Allah is on their side.

The question for me is and has been for some time, “Why doesn’t the one God step in and stop this foolishness? God’s silence and inaction in shutting down forces of evil and hatred have perplexed me for the longest time. The other issue is, though, that the presence in this country of there being “two Gods, one black, one white” means that racism will never end. The religious fervor which uses God to justify racism and white supremacy is not about to wane. The white God is a God of Empire; the black God is a God of liberation …and those two Gods are never going to meet in the middle and merge into one.

That being the case, I don’t exactly know how we as a nation move forward. White Christians turn a deaf ear and a hardened heart toward the masses of black people who suffer because of white supremacy, while they wage war about the plight og unborn fetuses. Black lives do not matter to them, and really, never have.

And that is a troubling reality.

A candid observation …