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 …

On Pseudo-Christianity

I have long said that if a person cannot, will not, or does not follow the words of Jesus, then that person cannot call oneself a Christian. As Christians, we are called to imitate the way Jesus lived and to follow his words. Short of doing that, a “religious” person who attends a Christian church cannot claim to be a Christian. At best, he or she is a church-goer.

The president this week “disagreed” with Jesus’ lesson to us to “love our enemies,” and he doubted the faith of those who say they pray for their enemies. (https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/trumps-politicization-of-the-national-prayer-breakfast-is-unholy-and-immoral/2020/02/06/529518e4-4931-11ea-bdbf-1dfb23249293_story.html) Jesus said for us to do that, most starkly in the Sermon on the Mount. Yet, the president rejected the words and teaching of Jesus as his “enemies” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Republican Senator Mitt Romney listened,

It has been interesting to listen to people marvel at African Americans voice forgiveness for the persons who have killed their loved ones. The most recent example of a black person forgiving someone was Brandt Jean, who publicly forgave the white police officer who shot and killed his brother as he sat in his own apartment. (https://www.npr.org/2019/10/03/766866875/brandt-jeans-act-of-grace-toward-his-brother-s-killer-sparks-a-debate-over-forgi) His act did not endear him to many; in fact, many Christians – black especially but others as well – have scoffed at Jesus’ directives to forgive, to “turn the other cheek,” and to treat enemies with respect.

But if the truth be told, had not the words of Jesus been pounded into the psyches of black people, we as a people would have been long gone. We did not have any support for our lives and our rights – not from white people, not from the system, including Congress and the US Supreme Court, and we did not have the same access to weapons as did white people. Nonviolence saved protesters on the street; struggling to “do” the words of Jesus saved the souls and spirits of protesters as they continued to fight their enemies on a daily basis.

In a book I wrote some years ago, Forgive WHO? The Struggle to Obey God’s Awful Command, I examined this directive given to us by Jesus. It is as distasteful as it is difficult. It makes one feel weak because the natural human inclination is to fight stones with stones, and yet when the playing field is so uneven, it is a given that the powerful have more stones they can access, and therefore to wipe out their opposition.

The power of Jesus’ words is their ability to empower and strengthen people, who show a weird love – the love of God – and stand in front of their oppressors in spite of their pain and anger. It is doubtful that anyone “forgives” his or her enemies right away; that seems humanly impossible, but the words of Jesus become seeds in bruised souls and begin to sprout even as the victim of evil works to breathe through their pain. The act of forgiving first helps the one who has suffered an attack or affront from any number of sources. It is the highest, most supreme show of strength one can exhibit.

Those who do not, cannot, or will not forgive display what hatred and anger and resentment does to one’s spirit. The president is an example. He only wants revenge; the desire is eating at him, so intense that even in a “prayer breakfast,” where supposedly devout Christians have gathered to honor God, he cannot hold his pain within him, and he openly disavowed the words of Jesus the Christ.

And the Christians-in-name-only applauded him and laughed, which says at least to me that something is awry in their souls as well.

There is much confusion about forgiveness. Forgiving doesn’t mean you become best friends with the one who hurt you (no need to set up a time for “tea and crumpets), but it does mean that you lose the visceral reaction you experience when you even think of what the person has done to you. It frees you even as your abuser drowns in bitterness and anger.

What we have seen this week in this president and in the religious nationalists is a love of power, not of Jesus. We have heard – and will continue to hear and see – his words of anger and contempt for those who he deems as being his enemies, and he will spew his venom all over this country and everything he touches.

He and others might claim to be “Christian,” but they cannot be. They adhere to something that can only be called “pseudo Christianity,” something which has no foundation and teaches nothing about how to be one’s best self in the face of abject evil and attacks.

Those who fight with fists claim that they are strong. Dictators, who cannot stand to be criticized or challenged, and who kill and/or destroy anyone who does either, also claim to be strong,  But their quest for absolute power, and their willingness to put God and the instructions for life given by Jesus the Christ on the periphery of their lives, makes them the weakest people of all.

A  candid observation.

Why Evangelicals Love Mr. Trump

In spite of all of the bad news – morally, economically, and politically – which has come out about Donald Trump from the moment he announced his intention to run for the presidency, nothing has been bad enough for his “base,” – which includes a wide swath of white evangelicals- to desert him. Continue reading “Why Evangelicals Love Mr. Trump”

Deciphering the Meaning of Christianity

Following the announcement that his wife would be working at a school which bans homosexual teachers and students, Vice President Mike Pence said that the found the resulting criticism “deeply offensive.”

In an interview which aired on NBC, the vice president said: “…to see major networks attacking Christian education is deeply offensive to us.” ( https://www.nbcnews.com/feature/nbc-out/mike-pence-calls-criticism-wife-s-job-anti-lgbtq-school-n960091) He continued, saying, “this attack on Christian education should stop.”

Pence’s remarks are a reminder that there apparently is no standard definition of what Christianity is and what Christians should do. While Christians throw around the words “love” and “mercy,” claiming them as the nucleus of what Jesus the Christ taught, in reality, many Christians practice neither – at least not in an undiscriminating manner.

Some of the most devout Christians are also the most rabid racists, sexists, homophobes, and xenophobes. In spite of there being one Bible, in which the Gospels are fairly clear about the requirement that those who follow Jesus the Christ treat all people with dignity and love them as siblings, many Christians ignore that requirement and defend their right to do so.

In her book Mississippi Praying, author Carolyn Renee Dupont concludes that “the racial crisis precipitated conflict of the meaning of Christianity.” As Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King noted over 50 years ago that the “most segregated hour of the week” happens on Sunday mornings, Christians are known to exclude people of different races, colors, and ethnicities.

In Mississippi and all over the South during the 60s, activists sought to integrate worship services at white churches, only to be turned away at the doors. Mahatma Gandhi tells the story of how he was once carried down the stairs of a Christian church he tried to enter. (https://www.kansascity.com/living/religion/article18756585.html)  “Were it not for Christians,” he is reported to have said, “I might have become Christian.”

Racism sparked bitter debate about what Christians should do and how they should act, with Christian ministers preaching the “rightness” of racism from their pulpits. The records of what they preached are troubling; one pastor preached that “Liberals delight in talk about making God relevant for our day and his idea of making the Gospel relevant is finding in it the social messages for the issues of the day.”

It is clear that people read the same words read by “Christians” are read in entirely different ways, depending on one’s race, culture and political proclivity. To some, a Christian teaching in a school which openly discriminates on the basis of one’s sexuality is a bold obfuscation of the meaning of Christianity. Some believe Jesus said to love everyone; others believe that the Gospel gives Christians the right to practice bigotry. There is still, as Dupont noted, “a crisis in the meaning of Christianity.”

There is likewise no agreement about the meaning of the cross. For many black people, the cross is the symbol of victory over death and injustice, but for many whites, including members of the Ku Klux Klan the cross is a symbol of hatred.

Methodist Minister Joseph Simmons initiated the practice of burning crosses in this country in 1915 on Stone Mountain, Ga. The Ku Klux Klan would wear white as a sign of purity and would burn crosses to signify the “Light of Christ.” They would also use the Bible as a weapon to justify and support the practice of white supremacy. (https://www.sltrib.com/news/nation-world/2018/04/10/revisiting-the-preacher-who-used-christianity-to-revive-the-ku-klux-klan/)

Clearly, those who have been oppressed by the white supremacist system would not, have not and did not view the Christ in the same way. To them, Jesus the Christ was and is the sign of hope, one who urged love, respect and service to and for “the least of these.” Jesus was the one who showed us how to live, according to those who are oppressed, and that “way” is not the way that Pence and his wife – and countless others – have chosen to practice Christianity.

The crisis was precipitated by racism but has been fed by the other phobias which exist in human society. Jesus loved and talked to the misfits – from women who had committed adultery to lepers. It was his unconditional love for all that helped Christianity become the world religion that it has become, but those who practice bigotry in the name of Jesus would challenge this argument vociferously.

It is disappointing that the wife of the vice president is willing to participate in bigotry based on sexual orientation and gender; it makes one think that both she and her husband probably practice bigotry in other areas as well, comforted by the way they believe in Jesus the Christ and what he stood for.

If Christian education promotes bigotry, something is deeply wrong – but one feels that way if one reads the Bible with a certain set of eyes. Apparently, the Pence’s eyes and my own are as far apart as the east is from the west.

A candid observation…

The Impotency of Silence, White Supremacy and Lessons from My Mother

One of the best and most powerful lessons my mother taught me was the lesson of “guilt by association.”

“If you’re with someone who’s doing something wrong and the police come, you’re going to get arrested too, even if you haven’t done anything.”

She told all five us that at a very early age, and it stuck to me, on me and in me like white on rice. So when, for example, I was in Berkeley, California one summer and was out shopping with someone I considered a friend – and she urged me to put a swimsuit I liked into my bag, I panicked. She had lifted several swimsuits and wanted me to “join the fun.”

My mother’s words stung me like a swarm of angry bees; I pretended to go along with her, saying I was going to go back in the fitting room and try on a couple more and would meet her in a few minutes outside.

I did nothing of the sort. I went into the dressing room and stayed long enough to see her going away from where we had been and I made a beeline to another door out of the store, got on a bus and headed back to my aunt’s home.

That was in the middle ages; there were no cell phones back then, nor the internet. She called my aunt’s home several times but I never talked with her again. I didn’t tell on her, but I just stayed away.

I thought about that lesson as I was thinking about the rabid racial hatred that is swirling around us in the present time, and I was thinking about the silence of so many white people in light of all that is going on, making them as guilty of racist behavior as the most vocal racist.

Audre Lord, an African American, Lesbian, feminist writer and poet, wrote, “My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you.” She also said, “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.”

Silence is a tool appreciated and exploited by the system of white supremacy; the thought seems to be on the part of many “progressive” whites that if racism isn’t talked about, then it doesn’t exist. The use of silence also seems to be an insurance policy for some whites who appear to think that if they are silent they cannot be condemned for being a participant in an evil system which knows no boundaries to its quest to control, manipulate and destroy the lives of black people.

At the heart of white supremacist thought is the innate belief that black people are inferior. “The white race” as a construct cannot figure out why black people even exist; in the 19thcentury, some scientists and white theologians posited that there could not be one god, but there were, in fact, many gods, a slap in the face of the principle of monotheism.  Black people had been created by another god, and, that being the case, it was OK to subjugate, oppress and discriminate against them. Their white god didn’t see anything wrong with and would not condemn those who were full of racist hatred and who participated in and sometimes initiated acts of violence against blacks. They could easily lynch someone on a Saturday night and go to church the next morning to sing hymns, hear a stirring sermon and maybe even receive or pass out Holy Communion.

There have been a fair number of whites who say they hate racism, but they do not say much about it. They rest in the comfort of whiteness, protected by their silence; their whiteness is like a tree which provides shade on the hottest of days. They get offended if called a racist and are annoyed when the word “racism” is used in relation to some of the oppression which goes on, but internally, they know that the talk about racism and the harm it causes  is not superfluous, but is damaging many, many lives.

The fear of speaking out is understandable. In our history, those whites who spoke against racism were called “n”-lovers. They were ostracized and suffered in ways that ought not to have been the case. Silence was easier. But silence is complicity. Those who have shied away from actively helping to end racism are like friends of a person who is shoplifting. They are equally as guilty.

The current administration is bold with its belief in and practice of racism; the code words and phrases used have endeared the president to white supremacists, whose desire to “make America great again” is really a push to “make America white again.” Blacks, they believe, must know their place and stay there, and those whites who disagree dare not say too much for fear of the fallout.

People in this country have bowed to the petulant South, which has never gotten over its defeat in the Civil War, but the defeat did not mean the end of the war; it just meant that the war would be fought in a different way. The tools would be Jim Crow, lynching and other violent acts (which is none less than domestic terrorism), voter suppression, discrimination in housing, employment and finances. The war goes on; the troops of the South ever increase, while the metaphorical “Union,” i.e., progressive whites, have laid their weapons down and have basically let those who believe in racism have their way.

But the silence of progressive whites is toxic and, in the end,, will not save them. Even as the policies and practices of white people in power continue to compromise the lives of black people and other non-white, non-Christian people, the wounds caused by this metastatic condition will not heal. The poison which is the foundation of white supremacy will continue to seep out and infect everyone.  As long as white supremacy is alive and well, nobody is safe.

And no, your silence will not protect you.

That day in the store, once I realized my “friend” was shoplifting, I ran. I may have saved myself from being arrested but I often wonder if I should have “squealed” on my friend. I wonder sometimes if she kept doing that. But it didn’t matter; what I realized was that I had my own demons that I hadn’t corrected and being silent about them has not healed me or saved me. I, too, have found myself in situations where I chose to be silent rather than to speak up.

We cannot successfully run from evil; we have to face it and it is in the facing that we begin to weaken it. Too many of us are afraid to publicly come out against racism; the cost, we fear, is too great.

I would posit a different thought: that not confronting racism, calling it out, cutting it off at its knees, will result in chaos that will rage out of control. Our silence is not helping us; it is leading this country to a bad, bad place.

A candid observation …