| November 12, 2020
But among the sizable minority of Americans who disagree with each of these statements, more than 80 percent voted for Donald Trump. In other words, a denial of systemic racism has become a defining trait among Trump’s strongest supporters. According to the exit polls, this divide over systemic racism is now the tip of the spear in the new culture wars, producing greater polarization than the issue of abortion.
“Heresy” means in Greek (amongst variants) “a self-chosen opinion” (Strong’s). And if chosen, as with all opinions, it can be unchosen. This is what metanoia entails: “change of mind, repentance” (Strong’s). In that light, please visit Christians Against Trumpism & Political Extremism.
Then there is this delightful piece full of why Trump is so harmful to be sure, but gently asking for dialogue, October 26, 2020, by Hello, Neighbor: My Letter to a Trump Supporter–“The only way we will love our neighbor as ourselves is by getting to know our neighbors, even in the midst of our differences.” I love that.and addressed to Trumpers:
Further is this eloquent appeal: White, Conservative, Christian Friend—I Wish You Really Were Pro-Life.
Also, a new book addresses Religious Right Wing Trumpism/extremism: Republican Jesus: How the Right Has Rewritten the Gospels.
Please see the article’s author’s book highlighted below. Image is clickable.
Please see too my book review of Kristin Kobes du Mez’: Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation.
Jennifer Rubin in an April 21, 2021 piece in The Washington Post–Opinion: Two stats show why Republicans are so fixated on suppressing the vote–writes hopefully:
The second statistic behind the Republicans’ collective panic attack has to do with their solid core of supporters: White evangelical Christians. As I pointed out last month, Gallup finds that the percentage of those attending any religious institution has dropped below 50 percent, the first time in 80 years of its surveys. Churches are losing younger Americans at a remarkable rate:
The decline in church membership, then, appears largely tied to population change, with those in older generations who were likely to be church members being replaced in the U.S. adult population with people in younger generations who are less likely to belong. . . .
The two major trends driving the drop in church membership — more adults with no religious preference and falling rates of church membership among people who do have a religion — are apparent in each of the generations over time.
If Republicans cannot find enough non-college-educated Whites and, worse for them, cannot count on White evangelicals (more than 80 percent of whom voted for the MAGA party) to keep pace with the growth of nonreligious voters, their nativist party — driven by fears of an existential threat to White Christianity — will no longer be viable at the national level.
Republicans, in essence, are trying to eke out as many election cycles as they can with its shrinking base. Deathly afraid of alienating the most rabid MAGA supporters, they continue to stoke racial resentment, fear of immigrants and bizarro conspiracy theories — all of which push away non-Whites, women, college-educated voters and younger voters. In sum, Republicans’ base is vanishing and they haven’t the slightest idea what to do about it — other than a possibly self-destructive effort to disenfranchise voters.
We read in an article by Michael Gryboski, Trump-supporting evangelical leaders Franklin Graham, Al Mohler recognize Biden as winner:
Franklin Graham, president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and longtime Trump supporter, responded to the [Electoral College vote] news in a Facebook post Monday evening. He said that rather than focusing on the disappointment with the result, he was “grateful” for the Trump administration.2
An article published March 26, 2021, entitled: Good Lord! Who Are These People?, reads:
And there is so much more. For example, a Marine who sent me an email telling me I was correct when on public television I described today’s infantry rifle squad as having Jews and Muslims in its ranks, as well as atheists, agnostics, and others, but I was also instructed to rest assured that when this Marine – the one writing to me – got to a combat zone and entered some heated action, one of his first kills would be these fellow non-Christian Marines.
Or the scores upon scores of other emails that arrive at MRFF computers daily with such invective in their contents that others unaware of such traffic, when shown it, are utterly appalled. Or, on the other hand, the copious emails from solid Marines, soldiers, sailors, and airmen and women, asking MRFF to help them cope, fight, and defeat some of these fundamentalist Christians who, often with their commanders’ blessing and even help, are making the lives of these other service members pure hell. MRFF has over 73,000 such military clients presently.
If Republicans cannot find enough non-college-educated Whites and, worse for them, cannot count on White evangelicals (more than 80 percent of whom voted for the MAGA party) to keep pace with the growth of nonreligious voters, their nativist party — driven by fears of an existential threat to White Christianity — will no longer be viable at the national level.— Jennifer Rubin
But this article by Leonardo Blair is hopeful: Beth Moore draws flak and praise after warning Christians against ‘dangerous’ Trumpism.
Then along came Donald Trump.
Moore’s criticism of the 45th president’s abusive behavior toward women and her advocacy for sexual abuse victims turned her from a beloved icon to a pariah in the denomination she loved all her life.
“Wake up, Sleepers, to what women have dealt with all along in environments of gross entitlement & power,” Moore once wrote about Trump, riffing on a passage from the New Testament Book of Ephesians.
Because of her opposition to Trump and her outspokenness in confronting sexism and nationalism in the evangelical world, Moore has been labeled as “liberal” and “woke” and even as being a heretic for daring to give a message during a Sunday morning church service.
One thing that jumps out at me as a thread running through the reception history of so much of the Bible is the distortion of meaning that occurs when texts by the oppressed become the scriptures of the powerful. Texts with a message of liberation from slavery are downplayed in favor of texts that safeguard that institution.
Biblical scholar Ekaputra Tupamahu has written an insightful article about whiteness in our field. I will have to take some time to grapple with the implications of specific things he says about the Synoptic problem. Here I want to focus on the broader subject of his article, the “stubborn invisibility of whiteness in biblical scholarship.” Esau McCauley’s Reading While Black has been getting a lot of much-deserved attention. I’ve been seeking to reflect on and incorporate the implications of these considerations into my teaching. I read while white, and most of my students do too, and doing so is full of privilege and pitfalls that are prone to go unnoticed in a way that reading while black, or a woman, or any other identity besides white male Christian is not afforded the luxury to.
And further on:
One thing that jumps out at me as a thread running through the reception history of so much of the Bible is the distortion of meaning that occurs when texts by the oppressed become the scriptures of the powerful. Texts with a message of liberation from slavery are downplayed in favor of texts that safeguard that institution. The ironic labeling of the opponents of Jesus in the Gospel of John, a swipe at leaders of a local synagogue to which this group of Jesus-followers had belonged but from which they have been excluded, becomes in the hands of non-Jewish readers a basis for antisemitism. The critique of empire in Revelation, read by white conservative American Christians, becomes a bizarre end-times rapture theology that predicts their vindication. That last one is especially striking as we have witnessed how readily Evangelicals will declare allegiance and pay homage to a deceitful leader and trade core elements of the teaching of Jesus for access to the reigns of power. It also strikes me that the whole notion of the “rapture,” not found in the Bible, encapsulates the essence of privilege nicely: white middle class American Christians feel they can simply assume that when hardships confront the whole world, their treasure in heaven will ensure they are spared, just as their earthly treasure safeguards their comfort and distance from the hardships others face on earth.
In the article by “Christianity Today” Editorial Roils Evangelical Waters, December 23, 2019, there are these prescient words–much to the chagrin we read of majority white evangelical America:,
Concluded [outgoing Christianity Today Editor Mark] Galli:
Unfortunately, the words that we applied to Mr. Clinton 20 years ago apply almost perfectly to our current president. Whether Mr. Trump should be removed from office by the Senate or by popular vote next election — that is a matter of prudential judgment. That he should be removed, we believe, is not a matter of partisan loyalties but loyalty to the Creator of the Ten Commandments.
In a lengthy rebuttal to the Christianity Today editorial, [noted Reformed theologian Wayne] Grudem offers an impassioned defense of Trump, something he also did in 2016, in a column titled “Why Voting for Donald Trump Is a Morally Good Choice.” Because Grudem carries considerable weight in certain evangelical quarters—to many, he’s an authoritative figure when it comes to biblical ethics—and because his position is representative of the views of many white evangelicals, it’s worth explaining why his case is ultimately unpersuasive.
What most stands out to me about Grudem’s case on behalf of Trump is that he is a near-perfect embodiment of an individual fully in the grip of confirmation bias and motivated reasoning. And in that sense, he is a near-perfect embodiment of some of the president’s most committed evangelical supporters.
In Grudem and those who think like him, you see astonishing intellectual, theological, and ethical contortions, all in the service of making Trump appear far better than he is. I have a hunch as to why: His supporters don’t want to struggle with the cognitive dissonance created by supporting a man who, if he were a liberal Democrat, they would savage on moral and ethical grounds.
I have observed firsthand that if you point out facts that run counter to their narrative, some significant number of the president’s supporters will eventually respond with indignation, feeling they have been wounded, disrespected, or unheard. The stronger the empirical case against what they believe, the more emotional energy they bring to their response. Underlying this is a deep sense of fear and the belief that they are facing an existential threat and, therefore, can’t concede any ground, lest they strengthen those they consider to be their enemies. This broader phenomenon I’m describing is not true of all Trump supporters, of course, and it is hardly confined to Trump supporters. But I would say that in our time, it is most pronounced among them.
I wish it were otherwise. When I started my Christian journey, at the end of high school, I never assumed that Christians would escape human foibles and human frailties. But I thought that faith would have more power, including more transformative power, than I have often witnessed, and that followers of Jesus would (imperfectly) allow a faith ethic to shape their understanding of things. That more than most, they would speak truth to power. Too often, they have denied truth in order to gain and keep power.
That isn’t to say I haven’t witnessed many lives that have been transformed by faith, including lives that have deeply touched and shaped my own. But neither can I deny what I have seen, which is that, especially in politics, the Christian faith is far too often subordinated to ideology, to tribalism, to dehumanizing those in the other tribe. Faith is an instrumentality, something to be weaponized. That’s bad for politics; it’s worse for the Christian witness.
In light of the above quote, this article dated February 11, by Ryan Foley, Christian Post Reporter 2021, is encouraging: Most black evangelicals say ‘people like them’ will gain influence under Biden, poll finds.
Please also see: The End of Empathy: Why White Protestants Stopped Loving Their Neighbors. Of it:
When polling data showed that an overwhelming 81% of white evangelicals had voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election, commentators across the political spectrum were left aghast. Even for a community that had been tracking further and further right for decades, this support seemed decidedly out of step. How, after all, could an amoral, twice-divorced businessman from New York garner such devoted admiration from the most vociferous of “values voters?” That this same group had, not a century earlier, rallied national support for such progressive causes as a federal minimum wage, child labor laws, and civil rights made the Trump shift even harder to square.
In The End of Empathy, John W. Compton presents a nuanced portrait of the changing values of evangelical voters over the course of the last century. To explain the rise of white Protestant social concern in the latter part of the nineteenth century and its sudden demise at the end of the twentieth, Compton argues that religious conviction, by itself, is rarely sufficient to motivate empathetic political behavior. When believers do act empathetically–championing reforms that transfer resources or political influence to less privileged groups within society, for example–it is typically because strong religious institutions have compelled them to do so.
Citizens throughout the previous century had sought membership in churches as a means of ensuring upward mobility, but a deterioration of mainline Protestant authority that started in the 1960s led large groups of white suburbanites to shift away from the mainline Protestant churches. There to pick up the slack were larger evangelical congregations with conservative leaders who discouraged attempts by the government to promote a more equitable distribution of wealth and political authority. That shift, Compton argues, explains the larger revolution in white Protestantism that brought us to this political moment.
There is also this, by Peter Wehner, October 24, 2021: The Evangelical Church Is Breaking Apart: Christians must reclaim Jesus from his church. In it:
Influential figures such as the theologian Russell Moore and the Bible teacher Beth Moore felt compelled to leave the Southern Baptist Convention; both were targeted by right-wing elements within the SBC. The Christian Post, an online evangelical newspaper, published an op-ed by one of its contributors criticizing religious conservatives like Platt, Russell Moore, Beth Moore, and Ed Stetzer, the executive director of the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center, as “progressive Christian figures” who “commonly champion leftist ideology.” In a matter of months, four pastors resigned from Bethlehem Baptist Church, a flagship church in Minneapolis. One of those pastors, Bryan Pickering, cited mistreatment by elders, domineering leadership, bullying, and “spiritual abuse and a toxic culture.” Political conflicts are hardly the whole reason for the turmoil, but according to news accounts, they played a significant role, particularly on matters having to do with race.
The result is that many Christian followers of Trump “have come to see a gospel of hatreds, resentments, vilifications, put-downs, and insults as expressions of their Christianity, for which they too should be willing to fight.”
Michael O. Emerson, a sociology professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, told me that he and his research team have spent the past three years studying race and Christianity. “The divisions and conflicts we found are intense, easily more intense than I have seen in my 25 years of studying the topic,” he told me. What this adds up to, he said, is “an emerging day of reckoning within churches.”
The aggressive, disruptive, and unforgiving mindset that characterizes so much of our politics has found a home in many American churches. As a person of the Christian faith who has spent most of my adult life attending evangelical churches, I wanted to understand the splintering of churches, communities, and relationships. I reached out to dozens of pastors, theologians, academics, and historians, as well as a seminary president and people involved in campus ministry. All voiced concern.
…Scott Dudley, the senior pastor at Bellevue Presbyterian Church in Bellevue, Washington, refers to this as “our idolatry of politics.”The root of the discord lies in the fact that many Christians have embraced the worst aspects of our culture and our politics. When the Christian faith is politicized, churches become repositories not of grace but of grievances, places where tribal identities are reinforced, where fears are nurtured, and where aggression and nastiness are sacralized. The result is not only wounding the nation; it’s having a devastating impact on the Christian faith.
…Then came Donald Trump.
However, I also know that the early Christians transformed the Roman empire not by demanding but by loving, not by angrily shouting about their rights in the public square but by serving even the people who persecuted them, which is why Christianity grew so quickly and took over the empire.
“When Trump was able to add open hatred and resentments to the political-religious stance of ‘true believers,’ it crossed a line,” Marsden said. “Tribal instincts seem to have become overwhelming.” The dominance of political religion over professed religion is seen in how, for many, the loyalty to Trump became a blind allegiance. The result is that many Christian followers of Trump “have come to see a gospel of hatreds, resentments, vilifications, put-downs, and insults as expressions of their Christianity, for which they too should be willing to fight.”
That’s not a problem limited to the faithful on one side of the aisle. “This is true of both the Christian left and the Christian right,” Jacobs said. “People come to believe what they are most thoroughly and intensively catechized to believe, and that catechesis comes not from the churches but from the media they consume, or rather the media that consume them. The churches have barely better than a snowball’s chance in hell of shaping most people’s lives.”
But when people’s values are shaped by the media they consume, rather than by their religious leaders and communities, that has consequences. “What all those media want is engagement, and engagement is most reliably driven by anger and hatred,” Jacobs argued. “They make bank when we hate each other. And so that hatred migrates into the Church, which doesn’t have the resources to resist it. The real miracle here is that even so, in the mercy of God, many people do find their way to places of real love of God and neighbor.”
…“Much of what is distinctive about American evangelicalism is not essential to Christianity,” Mark Noll has written. And he is surely correct. I would add only that it isn’t simply the case that much of what is distinctive about American evangelicalism is not essential to Christianity; it is that now, in important respects, much of what is distinctive about American evangelicalism has become antithetical to authentic Christianity.Scott Dudley, the senior pastor at Bellevue Presbyterian Church in Bellevue, Washington, refers to this as “our idolatry of politics.” He’s heard of many congregants leaving their church because it didn’t match their politics, he told me, but has never once heard of someone changing their politics because it didn’t match their church’s teaching. He often tells his congregation that if the Bible doesn’t challenge your politics at least occasionally, you’re not really paying attention to the Hebrew scriptures or the New Testament. The reality, however, is that a lot of people, especially in this era, will leave a church if their political views are ever challenged, even around the edges.
Many Christians, though, are disinclined to heed calls for civility. They feel that everything they value is under assault, and that they need to fight to protect it. “I understand that,” Dudley said. “I feel under assault sometimes too. However, I also know that the early Christians transformed the Roman empire not by demanding but by loving, not by angrily shouting about their rights in the public square but by serving even the people who persecuted them, which is why Christianity grew so quickly and took over the empire. I also know that once Christians gained political power under Constantine, that beautiful loving, sacrificing, giving, transforming Church became the angry, persecuting, killing Church. We have forgotten the cross.”
Dudley, my high-school and college classmate, left me with this haunting question: How many people look at churches in America these days and see the face of Jesus?
Too often, I fear, when Americans look at the Church, they see not the face of Jesus, but the style of Donald Trump.
“More than most other Christians, however, conservative evangelicals insist that they are rejecting cultural influences,” [historian Kristin Kobes du Mez]3 said, “when in fact their faith is profoundly shaped by cultural and political values, by their racial identity and their Christian nationalism.”
Gender plays a role here as well, according to Du Mez. Over the past half century, evangelicals have tended to depict men and women as opposites. “They believe God ordained men to be protectors and filled them with testosterone for this purpose,” she said. Women, on the other hand, are seen as nurturers. The fruits of the spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, and self-control—are deemed appropriate feminine virtues. “Men, however, are to exhibit boldness, courage, even ruthlessness in order to fulfill their God-appointed role,” Du Mez explained. “In this way, the warrior spirit and a kinder, gentler Christianity go hand in hand.”
…Du Mez pointed out that even men who embrace a kinder, gentler version of masculinity— servant leadership, for example—may tip into a more rugged, ruthless version when they deem the situation sufficiently dire. And for more than half a century, she said, evangelical leaders have found reason to deem the situation sufficiently dire. They rallied their congregations against the threats of communism, secular humanism, feminism, gay rights, radical Islam, Democrats in the White House, demographic decline, and critical race theory, and in defense of religious liberty.
What we’re dealing with—not in all cases, of course, but in far too many— is political identity and cultural anxieties, anti-intellectualism and ethnic nationalism, resentments and grievances, all dressed up as Christianity.
…“What we’re watching right now in much of our nation’s Christian politics,” he wrote, “is an explosion not of godly Christian passion, but rather of ancient southern shame/honor rage.”—David FrenchFear has played a central role in the explosion of conflict within American evangelical churches. “Dwelling on fear and outrage is spiritually deforming,” Cherie Harder, president of the Trinity Forum, told me. “Both biblical wisdom and a large body of research holds that fear and grace, or fear and gratitude, are incompatible.” She quoted from one of the New Testament epistles: “Perfect love drives out fear.[I John 4:18]”
And then there is a regional component to the crisis of evangelical Christianity. Claude Alexander, the senior pastor of the Park Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, told me we must come to terms with the “southernization of the Church.” Some of the distinctive cultural forms present in the American South—masculinity and male dominance, tribal loyalties, obedience and intolerance, and even the ideology of white supremacism—have spread to other parts of the country, he said. These cultural attitudes are hardly shared by every southerner or dominant throughout the South, but they do exist and they need to be named. “Southern culture has had a profound impact upon religion,” Alexander told me, “particularly evangelical religion.”The conservative writer David French, who lives in Tennessee, has written about the South’s shame/honor culture and its focus on group reputation and identity. “What we’re watching right now in much of our nation’s Christian politics,” he wrote, “is an explosion not of godly Christian passion, but rather of ancient southern shame/honor rage.”
Violence has always been at the center of White Christian nationalism: the vow to impose order on those perceived as un-American, if need be with force, either by the police or by wielding a gun themselves.
“Much of what is distinctive about American evangelicalism is not essential to Christianity,” [historian Mark] Noll has written. And he is surely correct. I would add only that it isn’t simply the case that much of what is distinctive about American evangelicalism is not essential to Christianity; it is that now, in important respects, much of what is distinctive about American evangelicalism has become antithetical to authentic Christianity. What we’re dealing with—not in all cases, of course, but in far too many— is political identity and cultural anxieties, anti-intellectualism and ethnic nationalism, resentments and grievances, all dressed up as Christianity.
Jesus now has to be reclaimed from his Church, from those who pretend to speak most authoritatively in his name.
Please also take note of my commentary on an article (and the piece itself!) by Christine Mungai, Truthout entitled: “Jesus Was a Victim of Empire. Acknowledging This Should Transform Christianity.”
Again, please take note of my commentary in this post: The Christian Right Is in Decline, and It’s Taking America With It.
Please also see, by Annika Brockschmi, March 14, 2023: AR-15 Lapel Pins are More Than Political Provocation — They’re Symbols of the Violence at the Heart of White Christian Nationalism. In it:
Violence has always been at the center of White Christian nationalism: the vow to impose order on those perceived as un-American, if need be with force, either by the police or by wielding a gun themselves. And while the absolute right to gun ownership has been a core belief on the American Right since at least the Reagan years, the allegiance of today’s GOP to guns has never been so brazen or flamboyant. The AR-15—the gun with which a disproportionate number of mass shootings in the US are committed—has become a central part of White Christian nationalist iconography, as well as a stark expression of the violent ideology behind it. On January 6, 2021 a banner with the slogan “God Guns and Guts Made in America, Let’s Keep all Three,” was carried by insurrectionists storming the Capitol.The fascist revels in the fear he instills in his opponents; in those he has singled out for destruction. The jackboot longs for the cathartic act of violence, bathes in the glow of his uniform—be it brown shirts, white robes or khaki shorts—and the fear it instills in those he passes by.Yet despite all this, Republicans aren’t shy about their reverence for the AR-15. In fact, members of Congress, like Representatives Ana Paulina Luna (R-FL) and George Santos (R-NY), have recently taken to wearing AR-15 lapel pins on the House floor. It was Representative Andrew Clyde (R-GA), however, who made the cruelty behind this trend crystal clear for anyone who might have been foolish enough to think he wasn’t aware of the symbolism:
“I’m Congressman Andrew Clyde for Georgia’s 9th District. I hear that this little pin I’ve been giving out on the House floor has been triggering some of my Democrat colleagues. I give it out to remind people of the Second Amendment of the Constitution and how important it is in preserving our liberties. If I missed you on the House floor, please stop by my office in Cannon, I have plenty more to give out.”
These words are a slap in the face to every single American whose loved ones have died by one of these handheld killing machines, as Bradley Onishi accurately called them here on RD. Some Republicans have been posing with AR-15s in their Christmas cards, with their underage kids holding the lethal weapons, smiling. The fascist revels in the fear he instills in his opponents; in those he has singled out for destruction. The jackboot longs for the cathartic act of violence, bathes in the glow of his uniform—be it brown shirts, white robes or khaki shorts—and the fear it instills in those he passes by.
Fascism is a spectacle of aesthetics. The display of military strength, of hetero-normative violence and brutality against those perceived as “weak” (and therefore not part of the body politic) lies at its very core. It’s only fitting that some elected Republicans have escalated their reverence for this symbol of mass killings with a drafted bill which would make the AR-15 into the country’s “national gun.” The full text of the bill hasn’t been provided yet, apart from a paragraph which states that the law would:
“declare an AR-15 style rifle chambered in a .223 Remington round or a 5.56x45mm NATO round to be the National Gun of the United States.”
The bill was introduced by Moore, and has the support of Santos and Lauren Boebert (who famously owned “Shooters,” a restaurant where servers openly carried guns). Santos, who’s been exposed as a fraud and a con-man, recently proclaimed his love of the AR-15:
“This is a gun manufactured in the United States, creates jobs in the United States, it’s a made-in-America gun. We have national everything, why not have a national gun? It saves lives on a daily basis, and it’s not reported. And I think it’s good to have that contrast.”
This, of course, is a blatant lie—AR-15s do not “save lives,” they are used to kill. After the massacre at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, CBS’s 60 Minutesnamed the AR-15 “the weapon of choice of the worst mass murderers.” And, of course, Uvalde isn’t the only place where an AR-15 style weapon has been used to kill innocents. AR-15s and AR-15-style weapons have been used in many of the deadliest mass shootings, from the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012 to the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida in 2018, to name two of the most high profile.
Please then see, bShould We Expect to See a Rise in Christian Nationalist Violence in the US?. We read:
Troubling new details regarding the violent propensity of Christian nationalism have been revealed by a new survey on American Christian nationalism released last month. According to the PRRI/Brookings Institution data, adherents of Christian nationalism are almost seven times as likely as those who reject it to support political violence. A stunning 40 percent of Christian nationalism supporters believe that “true American patriots may have to resort to violence in order to save our country.”
The revelations of the survey do not bode well for the future of Christian nationalist violence in America. Over the past decade, I’ve analyzed hundreds of religious militant groups around the world. My studies have consistently found that the tipping point toward violence occurs primarily when religious identity and national identity become intertwined. As these identities fuse, historically and culturally dominant faith communities come to see themselves as the victims of encroachment by minority faith traditions. This perceived victimization results in a “persecution complex,” with little regard for the degree of historical or cultural dominance the community enjoys. What matters is that majoritarian religious communities feel like they’re victims.
Perceived victimization often stems from changing religious landscapes, like the unprecedented rise of “the nones” in the US. This new pluralism is seen as threatening to the privileged station of the majority religious tradition, often prompting the self-segregation of majority communities from the rest of society. The resulting echo chamber further reinforces the paranoia surrounding the victim narrative.
Increasingly, members of religious majorities see violence as an acceptable way to beat back the threat posed by religious heterogeneity. Whereas religious violence is commonly believed to be a “weapon of the weak,” it’s actually more often a “weapon of the strong” wielded against marginalized and oppressed minority communities. We see evidence supportive of this thesis in countries as diverse as Brazil, Central African Republic, Pakistan, India, and Myanmar, where vigilantes from dominant religious communities routinely attack the homes, businesses, and houses of worship of religious minorities with impunity.
As I show in my recent book The Global Politics of Jesus: A Christian Case for Church-State Separation, similar dynamics appear to be unfolding in the United States today, where a combination of forces—new cultural mores surrounding gender and sexuality, increasing religious diversity, and declining numbers of Christians—are disrupting the religious landscape and leading to a sense of angst among American Christians that their country is turning its back on what they believe to be its Christian heritage. Accordingly, Christian nationalist rhetoric is deeply cloaked in threat narratives, prompting efforts to retain Christianity’s hegemonic status, sometimes through violence.
These voting patterns of white Christians stood in stark contrast to two other groups of voters: white voters who claim no religious affiliation and African-American voters. White voters who are religiously unaffiliated, for example, are half as likely as white Christians to vote for Trump (28 percent). And there is no group further away from white evangelical voting patterns than African Americans. While the exit polls don’t break out African Americans by religion, nine in 10 African Americans supported Biden; and eight in 10 African Americans identify as Christian. In a pre-election survey by Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), of which I am the CEO, nine in 10 Black Protestants held an unfavourable view of Trump.
But I thought that faith would have more power, including more transformative power, than I have often witnessed, and that followers of Jesus would (imperfectly) allow a faith ethic to shape their understanding of things. That more than most, they would speak truth to power. Too often, they have denied truth in order to gain and keep power.—Peter Wehner
As I documented in my recent book White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity, white Christianity plays a significant role in diminishing white Americans’ ability to acknowledge systemic racism. For example, in PRRI’s 2020 American Values Survey, 70 percent of white evangelicals, 58 percent of white Catholics, and 57 percent of white mainline Protestants believed that the killing of unarmed African Americans by police were isolated incidents rather than part of a pattern of how police treat African Americans. (Does this pattern seem familiar?) And those who hold those beliefs were overwhelmingly more likely to hold favourable views of Trump: 68 percent viewed him favourably, in contrast to just 12 percent among those who say there is a broader pattern of police violence against Black Americans. The denial of systemic racism — a cornerstone of white supremacy — and support for Trump walked hand in hand, and together they lead white Christians further away from their African-American brothers and sisters.
I would be remiss if I failed to point out, amid all the unsettling evidence of how white racial attitudes drove support for Trump, some complexities. My home state of Mississippi voted (71 percent to 29 percent) to adopt a new flag that, for the first time since 1894, did not include the Confederate battle flag. Notably, earlier this summer, none other than the Mississippi Baptist Convention (the state arm of the Southern Baptist Convention) called on the governor and legislature to take this action. On the same ballot, 59 percent of Mississippians, including 89 percent of Mississippi’s white evangelicals, declared their support for Trump.
Robert P. Jones is the CEO and Founder of Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) and author of White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity (Simon & Schuster, 2020)
Please click on: White Too LongFootnotes
- As well, sexual assault is a widespread scourge. But one representative instance is this story of deceased apologist Ravi Zacharias: Ravi Zacharias committed ‘spiritual abuse,’ accused of ‘rape’: independent investigation.[↩]
- He continued:
“I am grateful—grateful to God that for the last four years He gave us a president who protected our religious liberties; grateful for a president who defended the lives of the unborn, standing publicly against abortion and the bloody smear it has made on our nation,” stated Graham.
“… grateful for a president who nominated conservative judges to the Supreme Court and to our federal courts; grateful for a president who built the strongest economy in 70 years with the lowest unemployment rate in 50 years before the pandemic; grateful for a president who strengthened and supported our military; grateful for a president who stood against “the swamp” and the corruption in Washington; grateful for a president who supported law and order and defended our police.”
Graham went on to say that he believed
“President Trump will go down in history as one of the great presidents of our nation, bringing peace and prosperity to millions here in the U.S. and around the world.”
Such is the deranged universe “next door” in some far-off religious galaxy.[↩]
- Please see my lengthy post about her classic book, Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation.[↩]