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We were all in the studio today recording Episode 25 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast. This is our first episode of Season 4.
In this episode we discuss race and Charlottesville with Kelly J. Baker, author of the highly acclaimed Gospel According to the Klan: The KKK’s Appeal to Protestant America, 1915-1930.
The episode drops here on Sunday. As always, it will be available at your favorite podcatcher.
And if you really like our work (and we hope you do), join our growing number of supporters by heading over to our Patreon site and making a pledge.
Here is a taste:
The message was clear. The fate of America — or at least of white America, which was the only America that counted — was at stake. On the autumn evening of Thursday, Oct. 7, 1948, South Carolina Governor Strom Thurmond, the segregationist Dixiecrat nominee for President, addressed a crowd of 1,000 inside the University of Virginia’s Cabell Hall in Charlottesville, Va. Attacking President Truman’s civil rights program, one that included anti-lynching legislation and protections against racial discrimination in hiring, Thurmond denounced these moves toward racial justice, saying such measures “would undermine the American way of life and outrage the Bill of Rights.” Interrupted by applause and standing ovations, Thurmond was in his element in the Old Confederacy. “I want to tell you, ladies and gentlemen,” Thurmond had told the breakaway States’ Rights Democratic Party at its July convention in Birmingham, Ala., “that there’s not enough troops in the Army to force the Southern people to break down segregation and admit the nigra race into our theaters, into our swimming pools, into our homes, into our churches.”
Seventy years on, in the heat of a Virginia August, heirs to the Dixiecrats’ platform of hate and exclusion — Klansmen, neo-Nazis and white supremacists of sundry affiliations — gathered in Charlottesville, not far from where Thurmond had taken his stand. The story is depressingly well known by now: a young counterprotester, Heather Heyer, was killed by a barreling car allegedly driven by a man who was seen marching with a neo-Nazi group. In the wake of Heyer’s death, the President of the United States — himself an heir to the white populist tradition of Thurmond and of Alabama’s George Wallace — flailed about, declining to directly denounce the white supremacists for nearly 48 hours. There was, he said, hate “on many sides,” as if there were more than one side to a conflict between neo-Nazis who idolize Adolf Hitler and Americans who stood against Klansmen and proto–Third Reich storm troopers. Within days Donald Trump had wondered aloud why people weren’t more upset by the “alt-left,” clearly identifying himself with neo-Confederate sentiment.
Perennially latent, extremist and racist nationalism tends to spike in periods of economic and social stress like ours. Americans today have little trust in government; household incomes woefully lag behind our usual middle-class expectations. As the world saw in Charlottesville — and in the alt-right universe of the Web — besieged whites, frightened of change, are seeking refuge in the one thing a shifting world cannot take away from them: the color of their skin.
Read the rest here.
Fox News conservative Charles Krauthammer:
The Religion & Culture Forum is running a series of posts on the history of the relationship between white supremacy and Christianity in modern America. A taste:
The June issue of the Forum features Kelly J. Baker’s essay, “The Artifacts of White Supremacy.” Discussions about racism—and white supremacy in particular—tend to treat it as a matter of belief, while there’s considerably less talk of how racialized hate becomes tangible and real. And yet, we know the Ku Klux Klan, the oldest hate group in the U.S., by their hoods and robes. Artifacts signal (and often embody) the racist ideology of the Klan, along with their particular brand of Protestantism and nationalism. Robes, fiery crosses, and even the American flag were all material objects employed by the 1920s Klan to convey their “gospel” of white supremacy. The Klan’s religious nationalism, its vision of a white Protestant America, became tangible in each of these artifacts, and each artifact reflected the order’s religious and racial intolerance. Nationalism (or “100% Americanism”), Protestant Christianity, and white supremacy became inextricably linked in these material objects. Examining the historical artifacts of white supremacy helps us to better understand how white supremacy manifests today and might also help us better identify and analyze the presence and effect of racism in American life and politics.
Over the next few weeks, scholars will offer responses to Baker’s essay. We invite you to join the conversation by sharing your thoughts and questions in the comments section below.
- Jason C. Bivins (North Carolina State University), “What am I afraid of?“
- Randall J. Stephens (Northumbria University), “The Klan, White Christianity, and the Past and Present“
Fred Clark, aka Slacktivist, has written a nice post on the forum. Read it here. I was particular struck by his use of a quote from Randall Stephens’s response to Baker. Here it is:
In the 1920s, America’s most famous crusading fundamentalist, Billy Sunday, made some efforts to keep his distance from the Klan. But Klansmen tended to see the revivalist as a kindred spirit. Without cozying up too much to the organization, Sunday found ways to praise the robed terrorists. Other traveling preachers like Bob Jones, Alma White, B. B. Crimm, Charlie Taylor, and Raymond T. Richey lauded the white supremacist groups in their sermons and publications. Billy Sunday’s ardent prohibitionism, biblical literalism, and nativism made him particularly attractive in the eyes of Klan members. In 1922 a South Bend, Indiana, newspaper cracked a bleak joke about their mutual affection. “Down in West Virginia the other day,” an editor noted, the Klan “slipped Billy Sunday the sum of $200. With Sunday’s O.K., that ought to put the K.K.K. in good standing with old St. Peter.” Sunday returned the favor with kind words about Klansmen who lent a hand in police vice raids. The revivalist would accept other larger-than-average donations from the Klan at revivals in Indiana, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Louisiana between 1922 and 1925. In Richmond, Indiana, Klansmen showed up to give him their donation decked out in all their full regalia. Fittingly, in 1923 a Klan-supporting editor in Texas rhapsodized: “I find the preachers of the Protestant faith almost solid for the Klan and its ideals, with here and there an isolated minister … who will line up with the Catholics in their fight on Protestantism, but that kind of preacher is persona non grata in most every congregation in Texas.”
Again, check out the entire Religion & Culture Forum series here.
London knife attacker shouted “This is for Allah.” Why don’t we ever hear terrorists shout “This is for Jesus Christ?” Pray.
— Dr. Robert Jeffress (@robertjeffress) June 4, 2017
I am not excusing what happened in London this weekend. It was a tragedy. I pray for the families of the victims, law enforcement, and our global leaders as they seek wisdom for how to deal with the threat of ISIS and other forms of Islamic terrorism.
But please Robert Jeffress, learn some history before you start spouting off on Twitter.
Just a quick scan of the “Christian terrorism” Wikipedia page reveals:
- 1605: In the Gunpowder Plot Guy Fawkes and English Catholics try to assassinate James I and blog up Parliament.
- 1860s and 1870s: Ku Klux Klan claimed to perform their acts of terrorism against African Americans in the name of white Protestant Christianity.
- 1920s: KKK again
- 1971: A Catholic extremist group called Ilaga killed 70-100 Muslims worshiping in a Mosque
- Since 1993, 11 people have been killed in attacks on abortion clinics in the United States.
And this is just a very small sampling.
None of these acts represent the true spirit of Christianity, which is a religion of peace and love for one’s enemies. But let’s not claim that terrorists have never acted in the name of Jesus.
I will agree with one thing in Jeffress’s tweet. We need to pray.
Did that title get your attention?
Jake Meador has written a great piece of satire. But like most satire, it is very telling about some of the recent arguments evangelicals in support of the Donald Trump candidacy for President of the United States.
Here is a taste of Meador’s piece at Mere Orthodoxy:
Some of my good Christian friends in the state of Louisiana have told me they cannot vote in good conscience for David Duke in this fall’s senate election. As they consider the Senate field in Louisiana, they look around and dislike all their options so much that they tell me they simply cannot bring themselves to support the lesser evil in this contest and so they will be forced to write in a different third-party candidate or abstain entirely.
At first glance, I can understand their reservations. Duke is, after all, a former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. He’s led an organization with a history of lynching, arson, racial intimidation, and no shortage of other violent crimes. In addition to his long-standing links with the Klan, Duke has also publicly aligned himself with a Holocaust denier and his ex-wife played a major role in the founding of Stormfront, a major white nationalist and neo-Nazi website that at one time had more than 50,000 members.
There is reason to think he may have distributed neo-Nazi literature during the early 1990s, perhaps even including Adolph Hitler’s book Mein Kampf. He has also been charged with inciting riots and tax fraud and in one of the early speeches after announcing his candidacy, he cited concerns about “ethnic cleansing” as being a major motivating factor in his campaign. And, yes, he once compared the holocaust to Affirmative Action. I know. I know.
As I said, I can understand why my evangelical friends would choose not to support Duke. But based on my extensive years studying Christian ethics I disagree. Since Duke has announced his candidacy for the senate race in Louisiana, I think it is a morally good choice to support David Duke.
Now, I know some of you will be wondering how an evangelical like myself could support a self-described white supremacist and neo-Nazi like Duke. How could someone who has previously expressed such concern about the moral qualifications of office holders suddenly turn a blind eye to Duke’s considerable failings? Am I simply sacrificing all of my credibility as a public Christian in order to seize a final dying chance at political power such that I’m willing to even support a charlatan who has so far furnished us with no credible reasons to think he will fulfill his promises to my constituency?
No, the truth is that I have credible reason to believe that Duke is a baby Christian. In fact, a friend of mine who pastors a large church in Houston, which is located quite close to Duke’s home state of Louisiana, has given me his personal assurance that Duke prayed the sinner’s prayer with him recently…
Beyond these basic considerations, a further point must be made: Hillary Clinton is bad. Hillary Clinton is pro-choice. She is opposed to religious liberty. Hillary’s America will be an America that is closed to religious schools and that sees all attempts to legally limit the number of abortions shot down by an activist Supreme Court. Not only that, Hillary will have the opportunity to appoint as many as four different Supreme Court justices.
David Duke will be an invaluable ally on all these issues. We particularly need him in the Senate as the Senate plays a pivotal role in approving Supreme Court nominees made by the president. The latest polls suggest that the Democrats may well take not only the White House this fall, but also the Senate. If that happens, Hillary could easily appoint four Ruth Bader Ginsburg-style liberals to the Supreme Court. She could create a 6-3 or even 7-2 liberal majority on the court that will last for at least one generation and quite probably longer than that. The damage the courts could do during that time cannot even be imagined. By supporting Duke’s run for the Senate, we can increase the number of solid conservatives in the Senate opposing Hillary’s activist judicial appointments.
Louisianans: Vote for Duke. It is a moral imperative. If that is not enough, he holds a “Ph.D” in history from the Interregional Academy of Personnel Management in the Ukraine. He wrote a dissertation titled “Zionism as a Form of Ethnic Supremacism.”
Cara Giaimo explains at Slate:
In 1930, E.D. Rivers—state senator, gubernatorial candidate, and Great Titan of the Ku Klux Klan—stood up in front of his constituents in Clarke County, Georgia, and made an impassioned speech. “For the first time in the history of our country,” he said, the nation faced a particular mortal threat. There was an “invasion” of an “alien” that would “take away the freedom of government from the masses.”
Unlike the Klan’s best-known targets, though, this threat was not a group of people. It wasn’t a religious affiliation, a behavior, or a particular political measure. It was chain stores: J.C. Penney, A&P Grocery, Woolworth’s, and other large-scale retail outlets that were changing the face of national commerce.
The 1920s were a boom time for the Klan. William Joseph Simmons had recently restarted the group, named himself Imperial Wizard, and broadened the enemy list to include Catholics, Jews, foreigners, intellectual elites, bootleggers, private schools, and movies. People joined up by the millions, and the Klan became a force in local politics nationwide. Meanwhile, in the aftermath of World War I, chain groceries, apothecaries, and department stores were also experiencing unprecedented growth, adding new branches and spreading quickly across the country.
As Nancy MacLean reports in Behind the Mask of Chivalry: The Making of the Second Ku Klux Klan, many high-up Klansmen spoke chillingly of these well-stocked newcomers. One expressed concern that “young men of the country … will become ‘automatons,’ with no choice but to work for such monopolies.” Another, during a public lecture, warned that chain stores were “RUINING and CRUSHING DOWN ON THE ENTIRE POPULATION of the world.” They were commonly lumped in with other sources of Klanxiety: Great Titan Rivers spoke of the ills of “atheism, communism, chain stores and companionate marriage” all in the same breath. Meeting minutes from one Oregon chapter describe the banishment of members associated with “the local [J.C.] Penney store.”
Read the rest here.
Check out this digital map produced by the Mapping the Ku Klux Klan (1915-1940) project at Virginia Commonwealth University. I think it is fair to say that the Klan spread very quickly in these years.
Here is an article from the Virginia Commonwealth website:
A joint project between a Virginia Commonwealth University history professor and VCU Libraries shows for the first time how the Ku Klux Klan spread across the United States between 1915 and 1940, establishing chapters in all 50 states with an estimated membership of between 2 million and 8 million.
I still need to read this book, but I have heard great things about it. Art Remillard, the book review editor of The Journal of Southern Religion, interviews Kelly Baker on her book Gospel According to the Klan: The Ku Klux Klan’s Appeal to Protestant America, 1915-1930.