Trump doubles down on the racism, nativism, and unhealthy nostalgia in Pittsburgh

Watch Trump on September 22, 2020 in the Pittsburgh area:

Trump is talking about Ilhan Omar, a Black Muslim congresswoman who represents Minnesota’s 5th congressional district. She won nearly 78% of the vote in her district in 2018.

Trump is playing both a racist and nativist card here. “She’s telling us how to run our country,” Trump says. Who is “us?” What does Trump mean by “our country?” He then makes a remark about “where she came from.” For the record, Omar is was born in Somalia and has lived in the United States twenty-five years. She has been a United States citizen for twenty years. Who is the divisive one here?

But Trump doesn’t stop there. After saying that Omar is destroying our country, he then illustrates perfectly the close connection between “Make America Great Again” and racism. Trump says: “From ten years ago it’s like a different world and we want to keep our world the way it was.” It is as if the racial unrest plaguing American cities this summer never happened. In the context of his previous comments on Omar, this is blatant racism.

And then there are the Trump followers cheering all of this.

The kind of nostalgia Trump is peddling here can be a powerful political tool. A politician who claims to have the power to take people back to a time when America as “great” stands a good chance of winning the votes of fearful men and women.

The practice of nostalgia is inherently selfish because it usually focuses on one own’s experience of the past and not the experience of others. For example, people nostalgic for the world of Leave it to Beaver may fail to recognize that other people, perhaps even some of the people living in the Cleaver’s suburban “paradise” of the 1950s, were not experiencing the world in a way that they would describe as “great.” This kind of nostalgia gives us tunnel vision. Its selective use of the past fails to recognize the complexity and breadth of the human experience–the good and bad of American history.

Who’s afraid of critical race theory?

Donald Trump has turned Critical Race Theory (CRT) into a campaign issue in the hopes of winning white evangelicals and other conservatives who fear that an academic theory that they know little about is somehow threatening American democracy. Between his attacks on CRT and the 1619 Project, he just might win back a few 2016 voters who were contemplating pulling the lever for Biden or another candidate in November.

On Friday night, September 4, 2020, Russell Vought, the director of the president’s Office of Management and Budget, released a memo demanding that the Executive Branch stop teaching CRT as part of required “training” sessions for federal employees.

Vought’s memo condemns seminars that expose employees to the idea that “virtually all White people contribute to racism” or “benefit from racism.” All programs that include discussions of “white privilege” or the notion that the United States is an “inherently racist or evil country,” the memo states, must immediately “cease and desist.”

Trump may have learned about CRT from a segment on Fox News. On September 2, 2020, Fox host Tucker Carlson interviewed Chris Rufo, a fellow at the Discovery Institute, a conservative Christian think tank best known for its advocacy of the “intelligent design” view of creation. After studying CRT for six months, Rufo concluded the theory has become the “default ideology of the federal bureaucracy” and is being “weaponized against the American people.” He described CRT as “a cult indoctrination” and demanded that Trump bring an end to it immediately. The president was apparently listening.

So what should we make of CRT? Like all academic theories, we ought to engage it thoughtfully. Critical race theory is one way of helping us come to grips with the fact that some groups in society oppress other groups based on the color of their skin.

In their helpful introduction to CRT, scholars Richard Delgado and Jean Sefancic identify five major themes of this theory.

First, CRT affirms that racism is an “ordinary” or “common” part of everyday life. In other words, racism is more than just individual acts of prejudice against people of color, it is a system of discrimination built into American institutions, especially the law.

Second, CRT affirms that since White people benefit from such systemic racism, they will not have the incentive to do anything about it. Shock events such as the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis or the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha might alert White people to racial injustice, but it is unlikely such tragedies will lead to a sustained anti-racism.

Third, CRT affirms that race is “socially constructed.” This means that the racial categories we use are not biologically determined but invented by human beings. There is nothing inherent about any race that should lead to its oppression. Racism is thus best explained by a close examination of American history to see how men and women in power “constructed” the idea of racial difference and promoted bigotry based on those differences.

Fourth, CRT affirms, to quote Delgado and Sefancic, that “no person has a single, easily stated, unitary identity.” For example, I am a male, white, a product of the American working class, and a Christian. These different identities are often mutually dependent on one another and when taken together make me a whole person. CRT uses the technical term “intersectionality” to define the way these different identities overlap and intersect.

Fifth, CRT affirms that Black people and other people of color “are able to communicate to their White counterparts matters that whites are unlikely to know.” At the heart of CRT is storytelling. This is the primary way that people of color can explain the racism that they encounter daily. It also implies that people of color are more equipped to talk about the plight of the racially oppressed than White people.

Critical race theorists are often suspicious of liberalism, both the Left and Right variety. As a product of the Western intellectual movement known as the Enlightenment, liberals champion universals—the things that we hold in common as human beings regardless of race. CRT celebrates what makes human beings unique and different. The appeal to the universal values of the Enlightenment, its adherents argue, always favors the White people who have defined and benefited from those values.

Much of CRT sounds a lot like some of the things I learned in college, seminary, and graduate school. Back then we studied these things under the rubric of “American history” and “Christianity.”

For example, I don’t remember reading anything about CRT while working toward my Ph.D in American history. But I did not need these high-falutin academic theorists to see how racism was embedded in the history of the republic. All I needed to do was study the documentary record with my eyes open. One cannot ignore the long history of White people oppressing Black people. White people have had advantages–privileges even–that Black people and other people of color have not. To acknowledge white privilege is to be a good historian.

It is also difficult to study American history and not see continuity between the past and present. The legacies of slavery, segregation, Jim Crow, lynching, and white supremacy are still with us just like the founding fathers’ ideas of liberty, freedom, and individual rights are still with us. Indeed, racism is “ordinary” and “common” in American life. It is not some kind of aberration practiced by a few “bad apples” who make occasional appearances in the narratives we teach about the past.

A few weeks ago I was teaching the students in my U.S. history survey course about seventeenth-century Virginia. This colonial society passed laws that defined Black men and women as slaves for the purpose of quelling disgruntled poor whites (former indentured servants) who had a propensity for social and political rebellion. The codification of race-based slavery in Virginia law resulted in the social, economic, and political advance of these marginalized White colonials.

Were there individual acts of racism in colonial Virginia? Of course. But what the Virginia government did was systemic–its leaders embedded racism in the culture of the settlement. While this is an early example of systemic racism, we can point to many other instances in American history where White people were able to achieve something called the “American Dream” on the backs of slavery and other oppressed and marginalized people.

Trump’s decision to root-out CRT will inevitably win him points with his Fox-News-watching Christian conservative base, but is CRT something Christians should fear?

As an undergraduate and seminary student at evangelical institutions, I learned that Christians should not be surprised by injustice and evil in this world. Rather, we should expect it. The world is a fallen and broken place. My professors drilled this into my head through a reading and re-reading (occasionally in the original Hebrew language) of Genesis 3. Sin manifests itself in both individual lives and cultural systems.

Since Christians believe in human sin, we should have no problem embracing CRT’s affirmation of systemic racism. At the same time, we should always be ready to offer hope–rooted in Christ’s atoning work on the cross and the promise of resurrection—as a means of healing a world that is broken. We may never overcome the damage of systemic racism on this side of eternity, but we cannot ignore our call to be agents of reconciliation.

Is it true that White people have no incentive to do anything about racial injustice because they benefit from it? American history certainly bears this out. The story of our nation is filled with White men and women who witnessed racism on a regular basis and did nothing to stop it. Some of them knew it was wrong but lacked the courage to do anything about it. Others simply did not care.

Christian critics of CRT celebrate abolitionists such as Harriet Beecher Stowe, William Wilberforce, or William Lloyd Garrison, but these courageous activists were the exceptions to the rule in 19th-century America. The “heroic man” or “heroic woman” view of the history of moral reform does not account for the long record of White Christian complacency on racial injustice. In the end, any Christian who takes a deep dive into the American past will find heroes to emulate, but they will also find that most White people were complicit in sustaining a system of white supremacy.

What about the social construction of race? When Thomas Jefferson said in his Notes on the State of Virginia (1781) that Africans were “inferior to whites in the endowments both of body and mind,” he was degrading the human dignity of Black people, men and women created by God in His image. Racism entered the world when sinful human beings forged communities that privileged some and excluded others.

Christians can also agree, to an extent, with the idea of intersectionality. We all possess different social identities and there are times when we face injustice that stems from those identities—injustices that our legal system fails to address.

Our urge to downplay the identities that define us as human beings is understandable and, in many cases, good. A flourishing society will always be built upon the things we hold common as human beings. A thriving Church will always be built upon the knowledge that one day White Christians and Christians of color will share together in the new heavens and new earth promised in the Book of Revelation. A central message of the Book of Acts and Pauline epistles is summed-up best in Galatians 3:38: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you all one in Christ.”

But God has also made us different. We are products of history. Our faith will always be understood and navigated through the circumstances that have shaped us and provided us with multiple identities in this world. While we all want to be one in Christ, and should always be about the work of reconciliation and unity as Jesus reminded us in John 17, we must also remember, as theologian Miroslav Volf writes, that God notes not only our “common humanity,” but also our “specific histories.”

Finally, CRT’s emphasis on storytelling is something Christians should value. The Christian tradition is full of men and women telling stories of suffering, sin, and redemption. When Black people tell their stories of encounters with racism it should provoke empathy in the hearts of White Christians. We understand the power of testimony.

Of course, stories can be manipulated for selfish or political ends. And personal experience does not always translate to expertise on a subject such as African American history or literature. But those who dwell on these matters miss an opportunity to cultivate a more just democracy through compassion and understanding. It is time to exercise some humility. This means we need to stop talking and start listening to the stories African Americans are telling us.

In the end, if critical race theorists can teach me something I don’t know about how I may have benefited from white oppression (even if I may not commit overt acts of racism) or how to have greater solidarity with my black brothers and sisters, why wouldn’t I want to consider it?

As a Christian, I want to see the world through the eyes of my faith. I want my “theory” to be the teachings of the scriptures and the Christian tradition. This may mean that I embrace parts of CRT and reject other parts. I know very few academics—Christian or secular—who adopt theories in toto.

There is much truth in CRT, and all truth is God’s truth. We have nothing to fear.

This is what racism looks like

And it comes from the Donald Trump campaign:

Yes, that is the voice of white evangelical vice president Mike Pence saying “you want be safe in Joe Biden’s America” as Biden kneels with parishioners at a black church.

Here is Jack Jenkins at Religion News Service:

President Donald Trump’s campaign released a digital advertisement late Wednesday (Sept. 9) extending its argument that Americans “won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America” with images of angry or violent protest. Set to dramatic music, the commercial bombards the viewer with footage of flaming police cars, protesters confronting law enforcement personnel and explosions.

But the ad, titled “Meet Joe Biden’s Supporters,” ends not with an image of violence, but with slow-motion footage of former Vice President Biden kneeling in a Black church in front of a row of Black leaders. A moment later, words appear on the screen reading “stop Joe Biden and his rioters” as Mike Pence declares “you won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America.” 

The church footage appears to be from shortly after George Floyd’s death at the hands of a policeman in Minneapolis, when Biden visited Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Wilmington, Delaware, to discuss racial injustice and police brutality before praying with those assembled.

Asked whether the ad meant to suggest there was something unsafe about Black churches or meeting with Black leaders in a church, Trump campaign deputy national press secretary Samantha Zager replied, “That’s absurd and it’s shameful to even make the allegation.”

When Religion News Service followed up to ask what, exactly, footage of the church visit was meant to imply, Zager did not respond.

Read the rest here. White identity politics is all Trump has left.

Jeh Johnson speaks at Liberty University

Jeh Johnson was Barack Obama’s Secretary of Homeland Security. Today he spoke to Liberty students about character and leadership. Though he didn’t mention Donald Trump, much of this speech was about Donald Trump (and perhaps Jerry Falwell Jr.) During the Q&A he tells campus pastor David Nasser that he believes racism is a systemic problem.

Watch:

Good leaders, Johnson argued:

  1. Tell people the truth
  2. Build consensus (and do not merely find consensus).
  3. Surround themselves with people willing to offer hard truths
  4. Never ask someone to do something they wouldn’t do themselves. (Like separating immigrant children from their parents).
  5. Live by the Golden Rule

Click here for Politico‘s story on Johnson’s visit.

Two days earlier, campus pastor David Nasser spoke about race in America and on the Liberty campus. He still seems skeptical about systemic racism and believes that a religious revival will solve everything, but before you say he doesn’t go far enough, please try to understand his speech in context. Nasser is trying to address important issues and understands his audience. These are worthwhile steps. Nasser says he is getting some blow-back on campus for his efforts.

People on the Christian Right are noticing what Nasser is doing at Liberty and they are not happy about it. The right-wing Christian website Capstone Report is upset about a recent event on Liberty’s campus:

Here is a taste of the Capstone Report’s post:

According to the source, a Liberty University dean promoted a Christian study of the book The Heart of Racial Justice. The book study is an attempt to radicalize young nursing students in the Social Justice rhetoric, we were told by worried conservatives at Liberty.

The book promotes what are now common tropes among the Critical Race Theory-Intersectionality and Social Justice Wokevangelical movement. Namely, that American Evangelical Christianity is defective, individualistic and promoted evil power structures.

On page 209, the authors assert that the Christian West has used its power to preach an “individualistic gospel” over true forms of Christianity. Instead some type of communitarian form of Christianity is promoted and preferred.

And on pp. 88-89, the authors preach an anti-corporate message claiming that White Americans “must face what people of their ethnicity have done to others” and that “Western government and corporations are the world champions of spin doctoring and spin control” and that the West pursues economic and military conquest of others around the globe.

If this book were written in 1979 instead of 2009, everyone would recognize the Marxist roots of that critique.

The core of the book teaches white people enjoy white privilege and have exploited other people groups historically. There is no nuance in this view showing the historical reality that every people group in history has done something like the authors allege—it is what the pages of history continue to show—whether the Islamic invasion of Europe reversed only by Charles Martel at the Battle of Tours or the vast invasion of the West by the Great Khans of the Steppes.

On the day (Thursday) between Nasser’s remarks and Johnson’s visit, the Falkirk Center, Liberty’s culture war wing and public voice, held a conference on campus. The folks at the Capstone Report sound just like what I heard yesterday at the Falkirk event. Liberty University is trying to address racism on campus, but their public image, as represented the Falkirk Center, remains the same. As might be expected, the university is in the midst of a post-Falwell identity crisis and we are seeing it all play out on YouTube and online.

Trump wants to save the suburbs

Everyone knows what this means. But if you want more information I encourage you read these posts. Here and here.

So how should we think about Trump’s call to save the suburbs in the light of American history?

Today I came across a few newspaper articles:

Thu, Aug 15, 1957 – Page 9 · The Salem News (Salem, Ohio) · Newspapers.com

Wed, Apr 1, 1959 – 1 · The Messenger (Madisonville, Kentucky) · Newspapers.com

Wed, Sep 2, 1970 – Page 3 · Fitchburg Sentinel (Fitchburg, Massachusetts) · Newspapers.com

Out of the Zoo: Building Bridges

Annie Thorn is a junior history major from Kalamazoo, Michigan and our intern here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  As part of her internship she is writing a weekly column titled “Out of the Zoo.” It focuses on life as a history major at a small liberal arts college. In this dispatch, Annie writes about her church’s journey toward racial reconciliation—JF

On June 14, 2020, I logged into my laptop and connected it to my family’s living room television for our weekly Sunday morning church live stream. Nibbling on my strawberry toaster strudel and trying not to drip the icing on the journal I use for sermon notes, I watched the pre-service announcement slides cycle-through on the screen. My parents settled into their usual spots on the couch as we waited for the five-minute countdown to reach zero. I was still in my pajamas. It seemed like a regular Sunday.

The break from normalcy came after the first worship set came to close. Pastor Bryan Tema took the stage, but the typical table he usually uses during sermons was replaced by two armchairs. “Today is a very unique day in that we are going to have a conversation,” he explained. Pastor Michael Brown, the CEO and President of the Kalamazoo Gospel Mission, would be joining us to talk about what’s been going on in the news–but not about politics or the coronavirus pandemic. Pastor Brown, Tema explained, would be leading the congregation in a conversation about race.

Pastor Brown had given sermons at gracespring before, but this time he spoke words I never expected to hear at my church in the middle of Michigan suburbia. He talked about the Black Lives Matter movement, explaining that using the term “All Lives Matter” is like spraying a fire hose on a whole neighborhood when only one house is burning. Pastor Brown shared his own weariness, expressing that people of color in the United States are just plain tired of the way they’ve been treated. He pointed out that in order for meaningful change to take place, we’re going to have to shake things up. We’re going to have to leave our comfort zones.

At the end of the service, Pastor Tema offered a next step. Whoever was interested in learning more about racial reconciliation was invited to participate in a virtual book club led by my old youth pastor, Kenneth Price and his wife Monica. I signed up the very next day. Over the next several weeks, we progressed through Latasha Morrison’s book, Be the Bridge. Like during Pastor Brown’s sermon, in the book club I heard words–like “white privilege,” “microaggressions,” and “whitewashing”–that I never thought would be uttered at church. Three generations of congregants gathered over Zoom every Wednesday night to learn how to lament our nation’s racist past, confess our own stereotypes and complacency, repent and seek reconciliation. We learned how to build bridges of racial reconciliation and even talked about how our church, our “family” as Kenneth puts it, can continue to build more bridges in the weeks, months, and years to come. 

This is what the Church is supposed to look like. Brothers and sisters in Christ coming together with open hands and open hearts, ready to listen and learn. Believers seeking justice instead of passively accepting injustice. Christ-followers refusing to shy away from conversations because they’re uncomfortable or because the work of reconciliation is too hard. Family members celebrating diversity, seeking understanding, and spurring one another toward love and good works.

Ten weeks later, my Be the Bridge book club has finally come to an end. I actually finished the last two weeks of the study from the basement of Messiah University’s Harbor House. I’m not sure what my next major steps will be on this journey, but until I do I’ll keep studying history and reading The Hate U Give. I’m not sure what the future holds for gracespring either, but I pray this summer will prove a catalyst for a family-wide journey towards racial reconciliation.

How textbooks taught white supremacy

Historian Donald Yacovone of Harvard’s Hutchins Center for African & African American Research is writing a book titled “Teaching White Supremacy: The Textbook Battle Over Race in American History.” Here is a taste of Liz Mineo’s interview with Yacovone at The Harvard Gazette:

GAZETTE: How did you start examining history textbooks from the 19th and 20th centuries?

YACOVONE: I had begun a different book about the legacy of the antislavery movement and the rise of the Civil Rights era. I had spent several months at the Houghton Library before it closed down. When I was nearly finished with one particularly large collection, I wanted to take a break and find out how abolitionism had been taught in school textbooks. I thought this was going to be a quick enterprise: I’d go over to Gutman Library at the Graduate School of Education, take a look at a few textbooks, and keep going. Imagine my shock when I was confronted by a collection of about 3,000 textbooks. I started reviewing them, and I came across one 1832 book, “History of the United States” by Noah Webster, the gentleman who’s responsible for our dictionary. I was astonished by what I was reading so I just kept reading some more.

In Webster’s book there was next to nothing about the institution of slavery, despite the fact that it was a central American institution. There were no African Americans ever mentioned. When Webster wrote about Africans, it was extremely derogatory, which was shocking because those comments were in a textbook. What I realized from his book, and from the subsequent ones, was how they defined “American” as white and only as white. Anything that was less than an Anglo Saxon was not a true American. The further along I got in this process, the more intensely this sentiment came out, I realized that I was looking at, there’s no other word for it, white supremacy. I came across one textbook that declared on its first page, “This is the White Man’s History.” At that point, you had to be a dunce not to see what these books were teaching.

Read the rest of the interview here.

Trump and critical race theory: What is really going on?

In case you missed it, Donald Trump discovered critical race theory over the weekend. Here is Friday’s memo from Russell Vought, the director of the president’s Office of Management and Budget:

September 4, 2020

M-20-34

MEMORANDUM FOR THE HEADS OF EXECUTIVE DEPARTMENTS AND AGENCIES

FROM: Russell Vought
Director

SUBJECT: Training in the Federal Government

It has come to the President’s attention that Executive Branch agencies have spent millions of taxpayer dollars to date “training” government workers to believe divisive, antiAmerican propaganda.

For example, according to press reports, employees across the Executive Branch have been required to attend trainings where they are told that “virtually all White people contribute to racism” or where they are required to say that they “benefit from racism.” According to press reports, in some cases these training have further claimed that there is racism embedded in the belief that America is the land of opportunity or the belief that the most qualified person should receive a job.

These types of “trainings” not only run counter to the fundamental beliefs for which our Nation has stood since its inception, but they also engender division and resentment within the Federal workforce. We can be proud that as an employer, the Federal government has employees of all races, ethnicities, and religions. We can be proud that Americans from all over
the country seek to join our workforce and dedicate themselves to public service. We can be proud of our continued efforts to welcome all individuals who seek to serve their fellow Americans as Federal employees. However, we cannot accept our employees receiving training
that seeks to undercut our core values as Americans and drive division within our workforce.

The President has directed me to ensure that Federal agencies cease and desist from using taxpayer dollars to fund these divisive, un-American propaganda training sessions. Accordingly, to that end, the Office of Management and Budget will shortly issue more detailed guidance on implementing the President’s directive. In the meantime, all agencies are directed to begin to identify all contracts or other agency spending related to any training on “critical race theory,” “white privilege,” or any other training or propaganda effort that teaches or suggests either (1) that the United States is an inherently racist or evil country or (2) that any race or ethnicity is inherently racist or evil. In addition, all agencies should begin to identify all available avenues within the law to cancel any such contracts and/or to divert Federal dollars away from these unAmerican propaganda training sessions.

The President, and his Administration, are fully committed to the fair and equal treatment of all individuals in the United States. The President has a proven track record of standing for those whose voice has long been ignored and who have failed to benefit from all our country has to offer, and he intends to continue to support all Americans, regardless of race, religion, or creed. The divisive, false, and demeaning propaganda of the critical race theory movement is contrary to all we stand for as Americans and should have no place in the Federal government.

Trump has been tweeting about this:

And here are a few of Trump’s retweets this weekend:

So what is happening here?

What is critical race theory? You can learn all about it here.

Critical race theorists believe that racism is a systemic problem in the United States. In other words, racism is more than just individual acts of prejudice executed by a “few bad apples,” but a system of injustice woven deeply into American culture.

I have read several stories on Trump’s attempt to ban critical race theory and it is still not clear to me exactly which federal training programs Trump is talking about here or how critical race theory is being taught in these programs. I think it is fair to say that Trump knows absolutely nothing about critical race theory apart from the fact that his political base is against it.

And what should we make of the fact that a memo from the Office of the President condemning a federal government training program cites “press reports” as its primary evidence? Trump’s seems to have learned about critical race theory from this segment of the Tucker Carlson Show on Fox News:

Chris Rufo, the guy who appears in this video, works for the Discovery Institute, a conservative Christian think tank. You can read his other writings here. You can learn more about others connected to the Discovery Institute here.

So what should we make of critical race theory? Like all academic theories, we should engage it thoughtfully. Critical race theory is one way of helping us come to grips with the fact that some groups in society oppress other groups. In the United States, there has been a long history of White people oppressing Black people. As a result, White people have had advantages–privileges even–that Black people and other people of color have not.

It is hard to study American history and not see this oppression. It is also difficult to study American history and not see continuity between the past and present. The legacies of slavery, segregation, Jim Crow, lynching, and white supremacy are still with us just like the founding fathers’ ideas of liberty and freedom and individual rights are still with us.

This past week I was teaching the students in my U.S. history survey course about seventeenth-century Virginia. This colonial society passed laws that made Black men and women slaves in an attempt to quell disgruntled poor whites who had shown a propensity for political rebellion. The codification of race-based slavery in Virginia law resulted in the social, economic, and political advance of the former white indentured servant population in Virginia.

Were there individual acts of racism in colonial Virginia? Of course. But what the Virginia government did was systemic–its leaders embedded racism in the culture of the settlement. While this is an early example of systemic racism, we can point to many other examples in American history where White people were able to achieve something called the “American Dream” on the backs of slavery and other oppressed and marginalized people.

I have a hunch that Rufo is a Christian. And I have no doubt that Trump’s decision to root out critical race theory will win him points with his evangelical base. So what should a Christian think about critical race theory?

Christians should expect injustice and oppression in this world. The world is fallen. We learn this from reading Genesis 3. Sin pervades this world and manifests itself in both individual transgression and cultural systems. We place our hope in Jesus Christ, a suffering savior whose death for our sins initiated a new kingdom–the Kingdom of God– that will one day reach its fulfillment in a new heavens and a new earth. God redeems our individual lives and will one day redeem His creation, which Romans 8 tells us is “groaning” with “labor pains” as it awaits redemption. Until Jesus returns, citizens of God’s Kingdom are called to live justice-filled lives. And those who care about justice will privilege standing with the poor and oppressed.

So if theologians like James Cone, critical race theorists, or American historians can help me better understand oppression, the ways I have benefited from such oppression (even if I don’t commit overt acts of racism), and teach me how to have greater solidarity with my black brothers and sisters, why wouldn’t I want to learn more about it?

As a Christian, I prefer to see the world through the eyes of my faith. In other words, I want my “theory” to be the teachings of the scriptures and the Christian tradition. This may mean that I embrace parts of critical race theory and reject other parts. This might also mean that I reject the way critical race theory is applied, especially when it leads to violence. But Christian’s shouldn’t be afraid of it.

If we want to use jargon that is common in today’s political climate, I think it is fair to say that Trump is “canceling” critical race theory. Trump and his followers want open discourse, debate, and the free exchange of ideas, but only with those ideas that they find agreeable. Critical race theory appears to have become a new kind of McCarthyism. How else should we interpret Trump’s call to “please report any sightings.”

Finally, let’s acknowledge what is really going on here.

First, Trump is trying to distract us from the fact that he called American soldiers “losers” and “suckers.”

Second, Trump is trying to scare Americans, especially his white evangelical base, into voting for him in November.

Third, by attacking a theory he knows nothing about, Trump continues to engage in the subtle (but premeditated) racism that has defined his entire presidency. We saw it in Charlottesville. We saw it in Kenosha. We saw it following the Floyd murder. And we see it whenever he talks about the suburbs.

Fourth, this whole incident shows us, once again, that we have an incompetent president who watches Fox News and then impulsively tweets policy proposals based on what he has seen.

Fear and Frederick Jackson Turner: Night 4 of the GOP convention

Trump GOP convention 2

Well, it’s over. Last night Donald Trump, a president who lost the popular vote by 3 million and has never had his approval rating rise over 50%, used the White House–the “people’s house–for a political rally. Most of the sycophants in the crowd were not wearing masks and there was no social distancing.

Trump’s speech was filled with lies and misleading statements. His low energy reading of the teleprompter did not play to our hopes, it played to our fears. But this is now par for the course in the Trump administration. The president claimed that if Joe Biden gets elected, suicide, depression, drug and alcohol addiction and heart attacks would plague the country. (The only thing missing from this list is lower SAT scores). He suggested that if Joe Biden gets elected Black mobs will invade the white suburbs. Joe Biden will take your guns and abolish the police force. Be afraid. Be very, very afraid.

And most white evangelicals are on board. In fact, many of the court evangelicals were present at the speech.

Author Neal Gabler once said that “true religion…begins in doubt and continues in spiritual exploration. Debased religion begins in fear and terminates in certainty.” The great poet of the Jersey shore put it this way: “Fear’s a dangerous thing. It can turn your heart black you can trust. It’ll take a God-filled soul and fill it with devils and dust.”

Last night’s theme was “America: Land of Greatness.” But I don’t think court evangelical Franklin Graham got the message. Here is his opening prayer:

Graham talked about a nation in “trouble,” a nation “divided,” and a nation experiencing “injustice.” It was a good prayer. He turned to God, not Trump, for hope.

All week we have been hearing a lot about Trump as a man of empathy and compassion. He loves Black people. He loves women. He loves immigrants. Last night Trump claimed (again) that he has done more for the Black community than any president in American history (which is not true). But he failed to say anything about the plight of African Americans in this country. He ignored the family of Jacob Blake. It’s as if the real problems in America–death from coronavirus, racial unrest, and a struggling economy–do not exist in Trumpland.

I really don’t have much to say about last night that I haven’t written about many times before. Trump is a serial liar. Read NPR’s fact check here.

But near the end of the speech, Trump started riffing on the American past.

Our country wasn’t built by cancel culture, speech codes, and soul-crushing conformity. We are NOT a nation of timid spirits. We are a nation of fierce, proud, and independent American Patriots.

We are a nation of pilgrims, pioneers, adventurers, explorers and trailblazers who refused to be tied down, held back, or reined in. Americans have steel in their spines, grit in their souls, and fire in their hearts. There is no one like us on earth.

I want every child in America to know that you are part of the most exciting and incredible adventure in human history. No matter where your family comes from, no matter your background, in America, ANYONE CAN RISE. With hard work, devotion, and drive, you can reach any goal and achieve every ambition.

Our American Ancestors sailed across the perilous ocean to build a new life on a new continent. They braved the freezing winters, crossed the raging rivers, scaled the rocky peaks, trekked the dangerous forests, and worked from dawn till dusk. These pioneers didn’t have money, they didn’t have fame– but they had each other. They loved their families, they loved their country, and they loved their God!

When opportunity beckoned, they picked up their Bibles, packed up their belongings, climbed into covered wagons, and set out West for the next adventure. Ranchers and miners, cowboys and sheriffs, farmers and settlers — they pressed on past the Mississippi to stake a claim in the Wild Frontier.

Legends were born — Wyatt Earp, Annie Oakley, Davy Crockett, and Buffalo Bill.

Americans built their beautiful homesteads on the Open Range. Soon they had churches and communities, then towns, and with time, great centers of industry and commerce. That is who they were. Americans build the future, we don’t tear down the past!

We are the nation that won a revolution, toppled tyranny and fascism, and delivered millions into freedom. We laid down the railroads, built the great ships, raised up the skyscrapers, revolutionized industry, and sparked a new age of scientific discovery. We set the trends in art and music, radio and film, sport and literature — and we did it all with style, confidence and flair. Because THAT is who we are.

Whenever our way of life was threatened, our heroes answered the call.

From Yorktown to Gettysburg, from Normandy to Iwo Jima, American Patriots raced into cannon blasts, bullets and bayonets to rescue American Liberty.

But America didn’t stop there. We looked into the sky and kept pressing onward. We built a 6 million pound rocket, and launched it thousands of miles into space. We did it so that two brave patriots could stand tall and salute our wondrous American flag planted on the face of the Moon.

For America, nothing is impossible.

I need to figure out some way to use this speech in an American history class. There was nothing in the speech about westward-moving southerners trying to find new land to spread their slave culture. There was nothing in the speech about the death of Indians or the forced surrender of  native land. There was nothing in the speech about the limits of American self-interest.

Trump said that the settlement of the West resulted in the creation of “churches and communities.” This was followed, in Trump’s view of history, by “industry and commerce.” Then came railroads, ships, skyscrapers, and victory in World War II. And finally the moon landing. I am surprised he did not use a quote or two from Rudyard Kipling.

What we heard last night was an eighteenth-century “stages of civilization” view of history, a progressive and Whig history focused on the inevitable triumph of liberty and freedom for all white Americans, and a Frederick Jackson Turner-esque story of rugged individualism. I am going to bet that the speech was written by Stephen Miller, Trump’s nativist alt-Right staff member who has spent his short career in politics celebrating the superiority and conquest of the white race.

November 3 is coming soon.

Court evangelicals on night 3 of the GOP convention

Court evangelicals prayer

Here is what the Bible-believing, born-again Christians who support Donald Trump are saying today:

Let’s start with the Liberty University Falkirk Center crowd:

Charlie Kirk believes that the Democrat concern over racial unrest and racial justice is politically motivated:

He is still denying the existence of systemic racism. How many more incidents have to happen before he sees a pattern?:

The NBA players boycotting for racial justice are morons:

And this:

Can Jenna Ellis point to one “God-given right” enshrined in the Constitution? The Constitution never mentions God:

As I wrote earlier today, Pence actually “stands firm” on the heretical fusion of Christianity and American nationalism:

Here is Sebastian Gorka of the Falkirk Center:

And this:

Court evangelical journalist David Brody has a partial list of court evangelicals who will be at Trump’s acceptance speech tonight:

The list includes Johnnie Moore, Jenetzen Franklin,Paula White-Cain, Tim Clinton, Greg Laurie, Samuel Rodriguez, Eric Metaxas, Gary Bauer, Jack Graham, Harry Jackson, Cissie Graham Lynch, and Ralph Reed.

Trump hasn’t even given his speech yet and Robert Jeffress is already calling it “historic”:

As expected, Jeffress was pretty excited about Mike Pence’s speech last night:

Johnnie Moore, the court evangelical who describes himself as a “modern-day Dietrich Bonhoeffer,” wrote a piece at Religion News Service in defense of Trump.

Mike Pence tried to quote the New Testament Book of Hebrews last night. He replaced “Jesus” with “Old Glory. Pastor Jack Graham loved the VP’s manipulation of the Bible for political gain:

Ironically, earlier in the day Graham tweeted this:

Yes, but is Franklin Graham proud of his niece Jerushah?

Night four of the RNC convention begins very soon.

Desperation in Trumpland

Trump at St. Johns

Trump seems desperate after the wildly successful DNC convention. Granted, Biden and his team did not have to do any magic tricks to define themselves over and against Trump. The bar was pretty low. The Biden campaign claims to have raised $70 million during the convention.

Trump’s convention begins this week. This morning on Twitter we got a pretty good sense of what we can expect:

If there is a problem here, why isn’t Trump working with New Jersey to fix it so as many people as possible are able to vote in November? Instead, he continues to claim that mail-in ballots will lead to a “disaster.” Next week you can expect more attacks on mail-in voting. Here, again, is Barack Obama:

Well, here’s the point: this president and those in power — those who benefit from keeping things the way they are — they are counting on your cynicism. They know they can’t win you over with their policies. So they’re hoping to make it as hard as possible for you to vote, and to convince you that your vote doesn’t matter. That’s how they win. That’s how they get to keep making decisions that affect your life, and the lives of the people you love. That’s how the economy will keep getting skewed to the wealthy and well-connected, how our health systems will let more people fall through the cracks. That’s how a democracy withers, until it’s no democracy at all.

On COVID-19:

Trump is responding to this tweet from June 15, 2020:

Today he is accusing the FDA of participation in a “deep state” plot to slow clinical trials for COVID-19 vaccines in order to hurt his re-election. Expect to hear more of this next week.

On the suburbs:

Two responses to this:

First, let’s remember what is really going on in this tweet. American history tells us that this is a racist dog-whistle. But it is also a bad political strategy since many white low income people, who Trump is trying to keep out of the suburbs, voted for him in 2016.

Second, Trump is working with a 1950s definition of “the suburbs.” Check out this interview with historian Thomas Sugrue.

Wisconsin is a major swing state in November. So we get this:

Trump won 28.6% of the vote in Milwaukee in 2016 (Hillary Clinton got 65.5%). Trump won Wisconsin in 2016 by 22,748 votes. Right now Biden is leading Trump in Wisconsin by about seven points.

And don’t forget God:

Here is what really happened. By the way, if you are an evangelical Christian who believes that removing “God” from the Pledge of Allegiance will leave to the collapse of Western Civilization, here are a few things to think about:

First, Christian socialist Francis Bellamy wrote the Pledge of Allegiance. He was an ordained Baptist minister who worked for the promotions department of a popular family magazine called The Youth’s Companion. Writers for the magazine included Harriet Beecher Stowe, Mark Twain, Emily Dickinson, Booker T. Washington, Jack London, Willa Cather, and Winston Churchill.  The magazine asked Bellamy to prepare a patriotic program for schools in the United States as part of the 400th anniversary (1892) of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in America. Here is Jeffrey Owen Jones at Smithsonian Magazine:

A key element of the commemorative program was to be a new salute to the flag for schoolchildren to recite in unison. But as the deadline for writing the salute approached, it remained undone. “You write it,” Bellamy recalled his boss saying. “You have a knack at words.” In Bellamy’s later accounts of the sultry August evening he composed the pledge, he said that he believed all along it should invoke allegiance. The idea was in part a response to the Civil War, a crisis of loyalty still fresh in the national memory. As Bellamy sat down at his desk, the opening words—”I pledge allegiance to my flag”—tumbled onto paper. Then, after two hours of “arduous mental labor,” as he described it, he produced a succinct and rhythmic tribute very close to the one we know today: I pledge allegiance to my flag and the Republic for which it stands—one Nation indivisible—with liberty and justice for all. (Bellamy later added the “to” before “the Republic” for better cadence.)

The Youth’s Companion published Bellamy’s pledge on September 8, 1892.

Second, the words “under God” were added to the Pledge of Allegiance on June 14, 1954. The bill was part of a lobbying campaign by the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal organization. Historian Kevin Kruse explains all of this in his book One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America.

Third, the Pledge of Allegiance was recited, with the phrase “under God,” on all four nights of the 2020 DNC convention. Here is Cedric Richmond Jr. before the tens of millions of viewers watching the prime time convention on Thursday night (Day 4):

Fourth, let’s remember that the fate of Christianity does not rest on whether or not we have the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance. Christians, don’t let Trump play you like this.

Michelle Obama’s DNC convention speech was deeply Christian

After the first night of the Democratic National Convention I tuned into Fox News. Laura Ingraham was on the air and, as might be expected, she was trashing the convention. I stopped watching after about forty minutes of analysis from Eric Trump, Ted Cruz, and other conservative pundits.

Cruz actually said that the reason the Democrats are pushing for mail-in-ballots and the funding of the United States Postal Service is because they know it leads to voter fraud.  Cruz has no evidence for this claim. Nor is there any evidence to suggest mail-in-voting leads to voter fraud. But I digress.

Former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell was also on Ingraham’s show. He is a very patient man.

I was struck by the fact that none of the conservative, pro-Trump pundits mentioned Michelle Obama’s speech. They just couldn’t touch it.

Watch it:

Though Obama only mentioned “faith” and “God” a couple of times, this was a deeply Christian speech.

  • She talked about the inherent dignity of human beings.
  • She talked about truth.
  • She talked about the character of a leader.
  • She talked about health care.
  • She talked about care for the environment
  • She talked about racial justice
  • She talked about the evil of racism and white supremacy
  • She talked about empathy
  • She talked about caring for others
  • She talked about raising children with a strong moral foundation
  • She talked about the coarseness of our culture under Trump
  • She talked about selfishness
  • She talked about greed
  • She talked military violence
  • She talked about using the Bible for a photo-op
  • She talked about being a mother.
  • She talked about being a neighbor
  • She talked about meekness
  • She talked about confronting “viciousness” and “cruelty”
  • She talked about finding common ground based on the value of all human beings
  • She talked about the need to speak truth to power
  • She talked about family
  • She talked about compassion
  • She talked about grief

After covering Trump’s court evangelicals for the last four years, it was nice to hear such a Christian speech in this kind of public venue. I left the speech encouraged in my faith and hopeful for America’s future. Thank you Michelle Obama.

David Barton says 19th-century Christians who used the Bible to defend slavery were “the exception, not the rule”

Watch:

There are a lot of historical problems with this video, but the one of the most overt problems is Barton’s claim that most 19th-century Americans were abolitionists. Apparently Barton believes that those who used the Bible to defend slavery were the “exception to the rule.” The only way such a statement is true is if you believe that the South was not part of the United States during the era of slavery. I am sure Barton knows that the Southern Baptist Church, the largest Protestant denomination in America today, was born out of a reading of the Bible that justified slavery. Exception to the rule?

Barton also confuses slavery and racism. (The conversation takes place in the context of a condemnation of the Black Lives Matter movement). He claims that 75% of New England clergy signed a petition condemning slavery. I don’t know if this is true, but I don’t think it would surprise any historian that 75% of New England clergy would sign such a petition. This region was the center of anti-slavery activism in the 1850s.

But even in New England, segregation and racism was present, if not dominant. Systemic racism was deeply embedded in the region’s culture. I would encourage Barton to read Joanne Pope Melish’s Disowning Slavery: Gradual Emancipation and “Race” in New England ,1780-1860. Here is a description of the book:

Melish explores the origins of racial thinking and practices to show how ill-prepared the region was to accept a population of free people of color in its midst. Because emancipation was gradual, whites transferred prejudices shaped by slavery to their relations with free people of color, and their attitudes were buttressed by abolitionist rhetoric which seemed to promise riddance of slaves as much as slavery. She tells how whites came to blame the impoverished condition of people of color on their innate inferiority, how racialization became an important component of New England ante-bellum nationalism, and how former slaves actively participated in this discourse by emphasizing their African identity.

As some of you know, I have been reading David Blight’s biography of Frederick Douglass. Blight notes how Douglass faced overt racism in New England following his escape from slavery. Here is just one small passage from Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom:

The distances between the young abolitionist’s private and public lives were thrown into stark contrast, which would only grow with time. Twice in September [of 1841] Douglass was insulted, accosted, or thrown off the Eastern Railroad, the second instance occurring at the Lynn depot. On September 8, Collins and Douglass had purchased train tickets in Newburyport to travel north to Dover, New Hampshire, to speak at the Strafford County Anti-Slavery Society. The two were sitting in one double seat as the gruff conductor ordered Douglass to immediately move forward to the Jim Crow car. For Douglass such constant practices of segregation were always about dignity, as much as the “mean, dirty, and uncomfortable” space of Jim Crow cars. Collins vehemently objected on behalf of his black companion….With the conductor’s “little fist flourished about my head,” Collins reported, he too was ordered to leave the car. “If you haul him out, it will be over my person, as I do not intend to leave this seat,” proclaimed Collins. The conductor brought in several of the railroad’s hired thugs to do the deed. With Collins loudly protesting this was “no less than lynch law,” five men dragged the strong Douglass over Collins’s unmoved body, “like so many bloodhounds,” and “thrust him into the ‘negro car.'” In the fracas, Douglass’s clothes were torn and Collins described himself as “considerably injured in the affray.” Not missing an opportunity to make a Garrisonian doctrinal point, Collins told of a second conductor who went into the Negro car to console Douglass with the intelligence the railroad’s policy was not so bad after all, since so many churches “have their ‘negro pews.'”

Please don’t get your American history from David Barton.

Wendell Berry’s *The Hidden Wound* turns 50. It is an “exercise in white *anti*-fragility.”

4bccd-berry

Over at Commonweal, Joshua Hochschild reflects on the 50th anniversary of Wendell Berry‘s book on race

Here is a taste of his piece “Race & Anti-fragility“:

Chapters four through eight of The Hidden Wound (the only ones included in the 2019 Library of America edition of Berry’s selected essays) recount his memories of neighbors who worked on his father’s farm: Nick Watkins, diligent, loyal, and “possessed of a considerable dignity,” and Aunt Georgie, eccentric and forcefully intelligent, simultaneously superstitious and sane. Aware of the awkwardness of drawing lessons about race relations from his youthful experience of two beloved neighbors, Berry acknowledges the potential for what some today call microaggressions: “[I]n the face of the extreme racial sensitivity of the present time, I can hardly ignore the possibility that my black contemporaries may find some of my assumptions highly objectionable.” What is Berry’s goal in taking this risk, of offending others by recounting his personal attachments?

I am trying to establish the outlines of an understanding of myself in regard to what was fated to be the continuing crisis of my life, the crisis of racial awareness—the sense of being doomed by my history to be, if not always a racist, then a man always limited by the inheritance of racism, condemned to be always conscious of the necessity not to be a racist, to be always dealing deliberately with the reflexes of racisms that are embedded in my mind as deeply at least as the language I speak.

The conditions Berry describes here are now commonly referred to as systemic racism, white privilege, and the curse of implicit bias (not to mention white fragility). It is clear that Berry finds the stain of racism so stubborn that it would be foolish to think anyone can be exempt, individually or collectively, and we should be suspicious of even our attempts to seek healing as themselves deceptive and defensive “reflexes” of racism. In a move that was not yet common, Berry even criticizes “Western individualism,” and the notion of transcending race through art. Racism, he argues, is no less real for being socially constructed, and evasions of racism are themselves a “cultural disease.”

But Berry cannot be suspicious of his own deeply personal experience: he was formed by Nick and Aunt Georgie, and is still formed by his memories of them. In writing this book, he is formed by his ongoing reflection on and renewal of these memories. Berry relates how he invited Nick to his birthday party, and then, realizing that Nick would not be welcome inside with the white guests, stayed outside with him at the cellar wall. The experience awakened in Berry a consciousness of race, in and through a consciousness of others’ consciousness of race. Young Berry had invited Nick and chose solidarity with him, but he sees now that he had also become more conscious of race because he had “scratched the wound of racism.”

Read the entire piece here.

Yesterday Trump gave a speech about the suburbs. It sounded very familiar.

Redlining

Our history students at Messiah University are doing some great work as part of the Digital Harrisburg Initiative.

An exhibit on the Home Owner’s Loan Corporation‘s redlining of Harrisburg in 1935-1936, with primary reports of the commission, a list of resources, and an interactive story map was recently published at the Digital Harrisburg website.

The documents were originally found by my colleague Bernardo Michael. Students (now graduates) Rachel Williams and Sarah Wilson digitized the maps two years ago. And our friends at Harrisburg University helped us launch the Story Map.

The interactive map shows the original language used by surveyors to zone Harrisburg and its surrounding boroughs and townships and includes links to original photographs. The exhibit also provides a good foundation for understanding the history of racial segregation in the city.

I thought about this redlining project today when I heard Donald Trump speaking at the White House:

This part of Trump’s speech wreaks of segregation, red-lining, and racist dog-whistling:

  • The suburbs, where mostly white people live, are “beautiful” and they will be destroyed if Biden gets into office.
  • If Biden is elected your property values will decline because of rezoning. More people of color or poor people will arrive.
  • The only city Trump mentions is Minneapolis. When most of his followers hear “Minneapolis” these days they think about race riots. This is a dog-whistle.
  • “Crime rates will rapidly rise.” Who are these criminals? Who does Trump have in mind?
  • What does Trump mean when he says the suburbs will be “obliterated by Washington Democrats, by people on the far left that want to see the suburbs destroyed?” People have “worked all their lives to get into a community,” Trump says, “and now they are going to watch it go to hell.”

He’s not even hiding it any more.

Here is some more history:

If a spiritual revival leads to more Christian Trumpism, is it really a spiritual revival? Or is it something else?

frederickdouglass01

There are many white evangelicals who believe that a spiritual revival will solve the problem of racism in the United States. When God transforms a human heart, the argument goes, the inclination to perform racist acts will subside. So we should pray for revival to “heal our land.”

As an evangelical Christian, I believe that God moves in the lives of his human creation and can change their hearts. But racism runs deep in American culture. It is systemic and structural.

The failure of white Americans to consistently and immediately apply Western ideals of liberty and freedom to African Americans is why we have systemic racism in this country. By the time the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments came around it was too late. White supremacy was baked in the American cake. (It was actually baked in the cake of Western Civilization well before 1776 because westerners failed to apply the universal values of the Enlightenment to the cause of racial difference). Neither did the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s end racism in America.

These reform efforts were important steps toward a new birth of freedom, but none of them were able to pull racism out by the roots. The roots were too deep.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote this about court evangelical Robert Jeffress:

Jeffress thinks that racism will “evaporate overnight” if people just turned to God. Again, he fails to see that the sin of racism is structural–it is deeply embedded in our all of our institutions.  I recall the argument of  James Davison’s Hunter‘s book To Change the World”: The Irony, Tragedy, & Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World. In that book, Hunter argues that individual transformation is not the best way to change the world. True change does not happen through some kind of Protestant populism, but rather by the “work of elites: gatekeepers who provide creative direction and management within spheres of social life.” Such change takes generations and it can only “be described in retrospect.” Individual spiritual transformation can bring about good ends, but it does not change the “moral fabric” or “DNA of a civilization.” I think Hunter’s words are an important reminder that the eradication of systemic racism is going to take a long time and a lot of work.

Other evangelicals are also calling for religious revival as a means of healing the nation of its racial divisions (and other divisions).

Here, for example, are court evangelicals Greg Laurie and Jack Graham:

If there is a spiritual revival, and it actually does do something to curb systemic racism in America, this would be a relatively new development in our history. I was reminded of this as I read David Blight’s biography of Frederick Douglass. Douglass was a slave at a time when a great religious revival moved through America. Some historians call this revival the “Second Great Awakening.” This spiritual awakening made considerable headway among the Methodists of the Delmarva peninsula. (See William Williams’s The Garden of American Methodism and John Wigger’s Taking Heaven by Storm).

Here is Blight on Douglass’s view of his owner Thomas Auld:

In August 1833, Frederick attained a special insight into Auld’s character when his master Blightallowed him to attend a religious revival at Bay Side, some eight miles from St. Michaels. This classic country Methodist camp meeting left indelible images in Douglass’s fertile memory. People came from all over Talbot County; two steamboat loads of pilgrims also arrived from Baltimore. The gathering lasted a week, and slaves relieved of work for a few days could hardly resist the excitement of hundreds of campfires roasting meat, a veritable tent city with a preacher’s stand in the middle and a “pen” marked off for “mourners” to enter and make their confessions, embrace the Lord, and be saved. A recent convert himself to Christian faith, although now struggling to understand whether God intended any justice on earth, Frederick witnessed the spectacle of master Thomas’s wrenching emotional breakdown and confession in that pen. Blacks were not allowed in the pen, nor in front of the preacher’s performances, but Douglass tells us that he imposed his way close enough to hear Auld “groan,” and to see his reddened face, his disheveled hair, and a “stray tear halting on his cheek.” Here festered the dark heart of the moral bankruptcy of slaveholders that the future abolitionist would make his central subject.

Douglass converted this memory into angry condemnations of the religious hypocrisy of the entire Christian slaveholding universe, especially the little microcosm of Auld’s household, where the young slave now had to listen daily to loud praying and testifying by the white family, and to participate in hospitality extended to local preachers who were sometimes housed at Auld’s home, all the while enduring the good Methodist’s verbal and physical cruelty. For Douglass, the proof of any sincerity in Auld’s “tear-drop” manifested in his actions. In his deeds and his glances, wrote Douglass, it was as if the pathetic master had concluded, “I will teach you, young man, that, though I have parted with my sins  , I have not parted with my sense. I shall hold slaves, and go to heaven too.” Such a vow, imagined by Douglass from the memory of his owner’s cowardly eyes, might serve as an unspoken motto of the Christian capitalists who ruled the antebellum South.

In his 1855 memoir, My Bondage and My Freedom, Douglass says this about Thomas Auld:

It was not merely the agency of Master Thomas, in breaking up and destroying my Sabbath school, that shook my confidence in the power of southern religion to make men wiser or better; but I saw him all the cruelty and meanness, after his conversion, which he had exhibited before he made a profession or religion. His cruelty and meanness were especially displayed in his treatment of my unfortunate cousin, Henny, whose lameness made her a burden to him. I have no extraordinary person hard usage toward myself to complain of, against him, but I have seen him tie up the lame and maimed woman, and whip her in a manner most brutal, and shocking; and then, with blood-chilling blasphemy, he would quote the passage of scripture, “That servant which knew his lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes.”

Douglass thought the Methodist revival taking place on Maryland’s Eastern Shore during the 1830s was morally bankrupt because it gave white people a spiritual justification to continue their cruelty.

If a spiritual revival leads to more Christian Trumpism is it really a spiritual revival? Or is it something else?

David Barton’s appears with an African-American conservative who once “thanked God” for slavery

JesseLeePeterson

Jesse Lee Peterson is an African-American evangelical who hosts a radio program.

Peterson:

As part of his self-proclaimed “White History Month,” Peterson recently had David Barton on his radio show. Barton is the pro-Trump GOP activist who uses the past to make political points in the present.

Barton thinks “white history month” is “fun.” At the same time, he seems very uncomfortable with the whole thing.

Watch:

It’s the usual stuff:

  • Columbus was a Christian hero.
  • Juneteenth is bad and it should not be a federal holiday.
  • Public schools should not open in the Fall because they indoctrinate students to hate history. This is a great moment to strengthen the home-school lobby.
  • Barton says public schools don’t teach students how to “think.” I am sure there are thousands and thousands of teachers who might disagree with him here. And many of these public school teachers are Christians. For Peterson and Barton, any students who learn to “think” they become members of the Christian Right.
  • Barton defends Confederate monuments, including a monument to Nathan Bedford Forrest. He confuses statues with history education. For Barton, history is just a big morality play.
  • Barton wants to talk about free blacks who owned slaves and Native Americans who owned black slaves. He says that Native Americans were the “highest black-owning group in America.” Read this please.
  • Barton has obviously never set foot in a public school history classroom. He seems to think that history teachers are just cherry-picking facts to serve a political agenda. There are probably some Howard Zinn disciples who do this, but most teachers know that effective history teachers are in the business of teaching their kids how to detect bias through close readings of primary sources. This whole discussion is ironic coming from a guy who has been debunked by virtually every professional American historian for his manipulation of the past to serve his own present-day political agenda. There is a reason why Barton edged out Zinn for the “least credible history book in print.”
  • I know I’ve pointed this out a  few times, but I wonder what Barton would think about the tearing-down of this statue?
  • Barton condemns white evangelical pastors for supporting racial reconciliation.
  • In a convoluted argument, Barton seems to suggest that white people are “licking the boots” (Peterson’s phrase) of Black people because white people don’t know how to rise-up and defend their race like African Americans and Hispanics. It sounds like Barton is saying that white people are “taking a knee” to Black people because they never learned how to defend their whiteness. I wonder if Barton knows that he just made an argument in favor of white identity politics. This is Trump, Steven Miller, Breitbart News, and alt-Right stuff.

I’ll end with this:

Folks need to stop tearing down monuments. It just gives fodder to people like Barton and Peterson. It allows them to spread fear to their evangelical followers and claim that America is under spiritual attack. This is one of the two or three things left that still might get Trump re-elected in 2020. Let’s have a conversation about monuments and race in America, but tearing-down U.S. Grant or George Washington doesn’t help.

Are white evangelicals equipped for a conversation on race?

Black Lives

Robert Vischer is dean of the University of St. Thomas Law School in Minneapolis. His piece at Religion News Service is titled “Will the death of George Floyd sway white evangelicals on race?” I like this piece because Vischer points to the intellectual deficiencies within white evangelicalism that lead many evangelicals to reject systemic racism.

Here is a taste:

In his 1994 book, “The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind,” evangelical historian Mark Noll explained that evangelical culture encourages “intense, detailed, and precise efforts … to understand the Bible.” White evangelicals have not made a parallel effort “to understand the world or, even more important, the processes by which wisdom from Scripture should be brought into relation with knowledge about the world.”

When the Gulf War broke out in 1991, Noll recounted, evangelical publishers quickly produced, and evangelicals bought in bestselling numbers, books reading the crisis as a direct fulfillment of biblical prophecy signaling the end of the world.

These books, said Noll, “shared the disconcerting conviction that the best way of providing moral judgment about what was happening in the Middle East was not to study carefully what was going on in the Middle East,” but instead to draw “attention away from careful analysis of the complexities of Middle Eastern culture or the tangled 20th-century history of the region toward speculation about some of the most esoteric and widely debated passages of the Bible.”

Has white evangelical culture changed enough since Noll wrote these words to encourage a meaningful exploration of how American laws and policies have shaped the lives of our Black brothers and sisters since our nation’s founding? Will evangelical churches have the courage to host uncomfortable conversations that don’t pretend our nation’s history of racism stopped with Brown v. Board of Education in 1954?

If they look to their Bibles, they might. Recognizing the reality of structural racism is squarely in line with evangelical theology, which recognizes that human beings often sin corporately; the nation of Israel does so repeatedly in the Old Testament. “Sin corrupts every institution and every system because, one way or another, sinful human beings are involved,” Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Albert Mohler Jr. has said. This means that “laws, policies, habits, and customs are also corrupted by sin.”

Evangelicals have recognized legalized abortion as a structural injustice afflicting American society since Roe v. Wade was issued in 1973. Are they ready to recognize the extent to which the structural injustice of racism continues to afflict our country?

Read the entire piece here.

When the Confederacy came (back) to Gettysburg

Some of  you may recall my post last week about a friend of friends who visited the Gettysburg National Military Park on July 4, 2020 and encountered overt racism. You can read it here.

We now have a video of what happened.

Watch:

The man debating these white supremacists at the Robert E. Lee monument is Scott Hancock, professor of history at Gettysburg College. Scott, as you can tell from the video, is a man with an incredible amount of patience and self-control. He is a Christian who attends my evangelical church.

Listen to our interview with Scott on Episode 70 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.

Stone Mountain: Monument to white supremacy

Stone Mountain

Rebecca Onion writes at Slate: “The Confederate memorial carving at Georgia’s Stone Mountain is etched with more than a century of racist history. But tearing it down won’t be easy.”

Here is a taste of her piece, “Hatred Set in Stone“:

The mother of all Confederate monuments looms in Georgia. It’s etched on the side of a 280-some-million-year-old monadnock: Stone Mountain, seven miles around at the base and covering 1,000 acres. The Confederate memorial carving—Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and Jefferson Davis on horseback—is on the north face, comprising 3 acres in area. It’s 400 feet above the ground; it’s the largest bas-relief carving in the world—blah, blah, blah, this thing is big.

The armed, mostly Black protesters who peacefully marched in Stone Mountain Park demanding the removal of the carving on the Fourth of July hit social media hard, but the idea that the carving, big (and legally protected) as it may be, needs to go has been gaining traction in recent years. In 2017, Stacey Abrams, then running for governor of Georgia, called for the carving to be removed. Richard Rose, president of the Atlanta chapter of the NAACP, interviewed by the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Debra McKinney in 2018, called the carving “the largest shrine to white supremacy in the history of the world,” and said it should be brought down.

Read the rest here.