What Did Trump Mean by Capitalizing the Word “TRAIL” in a Tweet About Elizabeth Warren?: Some Historical Context

Donald Trump tweeted this today:

Thoughts:

  1.  Trump is definitely worried about Warren’s candidacy.
  2.  Why did Trump capitalize the word “trail?” As an American historian, one thing comes to mind when I see the word “trail” emphasized in a tweet about native Americans.  That is the “Trail of Tears.” Perhaps you are unfamiliar with this tragic event in our history.  Learn more here.
  3.  Andrew Jackson initiated the Trail of Tears.  He believed native Americans were racially inferior and an impediment to the advancement of white settlement across the continent.
  4.  Jackson called Indian removal a “just, humane, liberal policy towards the Indians.”  This reminds me of Trump’s statements about his “humane” border wall. He has said on numerous occasions that the wall will protect both American citizens and the immigrants.
  5.  Jackson understood the removal of these Indian groups in the context of democracy.  In the 1830s, of course, democracy was white.  The white men who voted Jackson into office wanted Indian land.  Jackson heard their voice and gave then what they wanted by forcibly moving native Americans to present-day Oklahoma.
  6. Andrew Jackson’s portrait hangs prominently in Trump’s Oval Office.
  7. Is Trump really smart enough to know that capitalizing the word “trail” would send such a message?  If he is, this is blatantly racist and yet another appeal to one of America’s darkest moments.  (I mention other such appeals in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump).  If he does not know what this tweet implies, then it is just another example of the anti-intellectual clown we have in the Oval Office right now–a man who is completely unaware of the national story to which he has entered as president.

The Author’s Corner with Randal Jelks

faith and struggle in the lives of four african americans

Randal Jelks is a Professor of American Studies and African and African American Studies at The University of Kansas. This interview is based on his new book Faith and Struggle in the Lives of Four African Americans (Bloomsbury Academic, 2019).

JF: What led you to write Faith and Struggle in the Lives of Four African Americans?

RJ: I wrote Faith and Struggle because I wanted to think through African American understandings of faiths, what their usages were, and how they reshaped the inner lives of these four historically interesting people.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Faith and Struggle in the Lives of Four African Americans?

RJ: The argument of the book is quite simple. I argue that the inner lives of the personalities in this book are as consequential as their outer actions as they faced gendered racism and personal individual struggle.

JF: Why do we need to read Faith and Struggle in the Lives of Four African Americans?

RJ: I want readers to read Faith and Struggle because I want them to think about their inner lives and how their inner sense of self speaks to the times we currently live in. There are valuable lessons to be learned from others. This is why my own personal narrative is a through line all throughout the book.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

RJ:  I was born in New Orleans. Above ground cemeteries forced me to always think about the interconnections between the past and the present. I decided on history as a methodology of inquiry as an undergraduate and have used it intellectually ever since. Professionally I became a historian when I decided to do a PhD in Comparative Black Histories at Michigan State University in 1989.

JF: What is your next project?

RJ: I am in the throes of finishing up a book titled ML: A Democratic Meditation. It is a collection of twelve essays about the current state of our polis as I think through the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. There are several more projects in the offing.  I am also an executive producer on a documentary on the writer Langston Hughes titled I, Too, Sing America: Langston Hughes Unfurled (dreamdocumentary.org).

JF: Thanks, Randal!

Jemar Tisby’s New Book and People Who Read The Gospel Coalition’s Twitter Feed

tisbyJemar Tisby‘s much-awaited book The Color of Compromise: The Truth About the American Church’s Complicity in Racism is now available.  Jemar is a graduate student in American history at the University of Mississippi and an African-American evangelical in the Reformed tradition who over the last several years has become an important voice in the evangelical community.

I am looking forward to reading Jemar’s book and perhaps reviewing it here, but in the meantime I recommend historian Daniel Williams‘s review at The Gospel Coalition.  Here is a taste:

Tisby claims that the black exodus from white churches in the last two years is principally a reaction to white evangelicals’ support for Donald Trump, so any attempt at racial reconciliation in the church must address white evangelicals’ political choices. Citing religious sociologist Michael Emerson’s view that Trump’s election was “the single most harmful event to the whole movement of reconciliation [in evangelical churches] in at least the past 30 years,” Tisby argues that white evangelicals bear responsibility for the racial polarization that ensued when they cast their ballots for Trump—regardless of their reasons for doing so. Furthermore, he says that white evangelical repentance from racial sins should include specific steps to remove the political symbols of white supremacy, starting with Confederate monuments.

How should white evangelicals react to this indictment? If Tisby and other Christians point out ways in which the president’s actions or rhetoric have hurt racial minorities, white Christians shouldn’t hesitate to join their brothers and sisters in condemning these sins and advocating for justice—even if they voted for President Trump. To pretend that any politician or political party is above criticism is theologically dangerous.

Finally, Tisby claims that Christians who insist they can simply preach the gospel without talking about systemic racism are complicit in racial injustice. Is this correct? This may sound, on the surface, as though Tisby is doubting the gospel’s power to change lives, but it actually accords with historic Reformed theology. Reformed Christians who believe in the “third use of the law” have insisted for five centuries that Christians need to hear the law of God to grow in sanctification. A simple proclamation of a narrowly defined version of the gospel, without application of God’s moral law, is unlikely to correct spiritual blindness and sins. Biblical teaching on God’s call for justice in social relationships and on specific ways in which whites can love their neighbors of another race is required. And when white Christians see ways in which their own church traditions’ records on race are laced with sin, they should admit the wrong and seek justice and racial reconciliation.

Read the entire review here.

Not everyone, however, seems happy that The Gospel Coalition chose to feature a review of Tisby’s book.  Check out some of these tweets:

I know that The Gospel Coalition can’t control what happens on Twitter, but those of us who are not connected to TGC would like to know if these tweets are representative of this organization.  At the very least, these tweets reveal there are still many, many conservative evangelicals who have not come to grips with systemic racism.

ADDENDUM (10:15AM–January 24, 2018):  And the hits keep coming!

These tweets explain a great deal about conservative white evangelical support for Donald Trump.  I wish I had them when I was writing Believe Me.

The Author’s Corner with Richard Hughes

myths america lives by

Richard Hughes serves as the Scholar-in-Residence in the College of Bible and Ministry at Lipscomb University. This interview is based on the second edition of his book Myths America Lives By: White Supremacy and the Stories that Give Us Meaning (University of Illinois Press, 2018).

JF: What led you to write Myths America Lives By: White Supremacy and the Stories that Give Us Meaning?

RH: At the national meeting of the American Academy of Religion that convened in Chicago in 2012, I was one of five scholars who responded to James Cone’s new book, The Cross and the Lynching Tree. As part of my comments, I spoke of the five national myths that I identify in my earlier book, Myths America Lives By (Illinois, 2003), and how those myths shaped my understanding of both the nation and race when I was growing up in West Texas some sixty years ago. When I completed my remarks and took my seat at the panelists’ table, one of the panelists—the late Professor James Noel of San Francisco Theological Seminary—leaned over to me and whispered, “Professor, you left out the most important of all the American myths!” When I asked what I had omitted, he told me straight up, “The myth of white supremacy.” That simple comment launched me on quite a journey of reading, reflection, and introspection. In time I began to see Noel’s point, that even whites like me—whites who strongly resist racist ideology—can escape the power of the white supremacist myth only with extraordinary effort, if at all. That is because assumptions of white supremacy are like the very air we breathe: they surround us, envelope us, and shape us, but do so in ways we seldom discern.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Myths America Lives By: White Supremacy and the Stories that Give Us Meaning?

RH: The book draws three conclusions—first, that the myth of white supremacy is the primal American myth that informs all the others; second, that one of the chief functions of the other myths is to protect and obscure the myth of white supremacy, to hide it from our awareness, and to assure us that we remain innocent after all; and third, that there is hope, but only if whites are willing to come to terms with this reality. An important sub-theme in this book is the role white churches in America have played in perpetuating the doctrine of white supremacy since the birth of the nation—and especially now

JF: Why do we need to read Myths America Lives By: White Supremacy and the Stories that Give Us Meaning?

RH: As far as I know, no other book systematically explores the mythic structure of American identity and roots that mythic structure squarely in the myth of white supremacy.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

RH: I was raised in a very narrow, sectarian Christian tradition that claimed to be the one true church. My deeply held, existential questions about those claims first led me into the history of American religion. In time I saw unmistakable parallels between the sectarian dimensions of my church and the sectarian dimensions of my nation, and the mythic structures that sustained both

JF: What is your next project?

RH: Sidney E. Mead was widely recognized as the dean of historians of American religion and was my teacher at the University of Iowa. Mead always claimed that the Enlightenment stood at the heart of the American experience. Much later, a group of evangelical historians placed American evangelicalism at the heart of the American experience. I want to do a project that compares the work of Mead and the work of the evangelical historians on the way those two traditions helped shape the American experience.

JF:  Thanks, Richard!

Conservative Evangelicals Defend Steve King and Want Kevin McCarthy to Apologize

King and trump

Perhaps some of you missed it.  Iowa congressman Steve King, in an interview with the New York Times, said this: “White nationalists, white supremacist, Western Civilization–how did that language become offensive?”

King later tried to back away from the statement, but it was too little, too late.  House minority leader Kevin McCarthy removed King from the House Judiciary and Agriculture Committees earlier this week and he was almost censured.  King’s remarks were the latest in a long career defined by racist and nativist comments.

Not everyone is happy with what McCarthy, the House Republicans, and Congress have done to King.  Right Wing Watch has brought to my attention news of a group of Christian Right leaders who are supporting King.  The group is led by Janet Porter, a Christian Right activist who served as the spokesperson for Roy Moore’s 2017 Alabama  Senate race.  Porter is asking Christian Right leaders to sign a letter to Kevin McCarthy.  Here is the text of that letter:
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Dear Leader McCarthy,

We are appalled that Republican leadership would choose to believe a liberal news organization famous for their bias over an outstanding member of Congress who has served the people of Iowa and the United States honorably and faithfully for 16 years.

If Congressman Steve King believed and stood by the outrageous misquote of the New York Times, then the actions taken against him would have been warranted, but the opposite is true.

Unlike North Korea, we in the United States are “innocent until proven guilty” and hold to the principles of Western Civilization, as Rep. King so admirably does. The foundational principle begins with the self-evident truth that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” These are the principles to which Rep. King was referring and which he has championed for more than two decades of public service.

Don’t make the fatal mistake of turning the reins of the U.S. Congress over to the liberal media, allowing them to target, misquote, and falsely brand any member of Congress they wish to remove. 

We call on you to do the right thing as Minority Leader: issue a public apology and reinstate Rep. King to his committee assignments.  If we don’t stand with this good man against the media-manufactured assault today, none of us will be safe from it tomorrow.

The Christian Right leaders who signed this letter include:

  • The scandal-ridden former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay
  • Court evangelical and family values radio host James Dobson
  • Court evangelical and charismatic media mogul Steven Strang
  • Paul Blair, president of an organization called Reclaiming America for Christ
  • Rick Scarborough, a conservative Southern Baptist political activist
  • Lance Wallnau, a court evangelical who claims to have prophesied Donald Trump’s election.
  • Rena Lindevaldsen, a law professor at Liberty University
  • Jim Garlow, a pastor and prominent court evangelical who recently co-authored a book with David Barton.
  • Cythnia Dunbar, a member of the Republican National Committee who is probably best known for trying to bring Christian nationalist ideas into American history books in Texas.  (She also claimed that Barack Obama, if elected POTUS, would work with terrorists to attack the United States within his first 6 months in office).
  • William Federer, a Christian nationalist known for collecting quotes about the founding fathers

I discuss Dobson, Strang, and Wallnau in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

This letter may be more revealing for the people who DID NOT sign it, including Jerry Falwell Jr., Robert Jeffress, Ralph Reed, Gary Bauer, Franklin Graham, Paula White, Johnnie Moore,  Eric Metaxas, and other court evangelicals.

Who are the “Good Christian People” Who Re-Elected Steve King?

King and trump

Last night the people of the 4th Iowa Congressional District re-elected Steve King.  Here is King’s track record:

And we could go on.

Yet, he continues to win re-election.

One of his constituents, Dordt College professor and writer James Calvin Schapp, is not amused.  Here is a taste of his post “Tribal politics“:

Almost 75 percent of my neighbors, just about all of them church-goers, voted for a man who was scolded by his own Republican party’s election chairman for his unseemly bigoted comments, a man who on the day before the election offered up a slur to two Supreme Court justices for no other reason than what he said is what he thinks, what he believes. 

Just about 75 percent of Sioux County voted for Steve King, the man internationally derided for bigotry, even by his own. No other member of Congress so willingly and frequently says things so universally recognized and understood as putrid. 

Yesterday, the good Christian people returned Steve King to Congress. It’s impossible not to wonder about “good Christian people.”

Sometimes people who are not from here ask me how it is that northwest Iowa voted so overwhelmingly for a presidential candidate like Trump. The answer, sadly enough, has become more and more clear every day: because they voted their values. 

In my many years as a writer–fiction, plays, meditations, histories, occasional essays–I’ve honored my religious and ethnic heritage. I’m a board member of the Sioux County Museum because I really do appreciate the history of my people, my tribe. It’s a story I love to tell–and have in many ways.

This morning I feel disowned. 

Yesterday I said some would be angry and sad this morning, the morning-after. 

Well, I am. I’m downright sick at heart and soul. Almost 75 per cent of Sioux County, Iowa, approve of Steve King. 

They’re not my tribe. They’re his.

Read the entire post here.

Thanks to my friend Doug Anderson for bringing Schapp’s post to my attention.

Evangelicals Come to Stone Mountain

Stone Mountain

Wait–I thought evangelicals were racists and white supremacists?

Here is a taste of Josh Shepherd’s piece at Christianity Today:

Rising 825 feet over the skyline of Atlanta, Stone Mountain is the most-visited destination in the state of Georgia. On its north face, a carving in the granite wall depicts three figures central to the Confederacy: Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and Stonewall Jackson.

Against this backdrop, observers might have puzzled over the scene unfolding on a recent Saturday at the top of the monument. An ethnically diverse crowd of more than 3,000 people, the majority under age 30, sang as a full rock band led the crowd in Christian praise songs.

Nearly all lifted their hands, shouted, and even danced as pop-rock worship music blasted from speakers. Then a black man in a bright red shirt with white letters reading Reconcile took the mic.

“Heaven is among us,” said Jonathan Tremaine Thomas, a young pastor from Ferguson, Missouri. “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Thomas was followed by civil rights leader John Perkins, who was followed by apologies from Christian leaders to two Jewish leaders for the history of Christian anti-Semitism, who were followed by declarations of forgiveness for Dylann Roof by family members of Charleston church shooting victims. And this was all in the first 150 minutes.

Read the rest here.

A Conservative Writer Describes Attacks on His Multiracial Family

French

David French

And the attacks are coming from the Right and the Left.  Here is a taste of David French‘s powerful piece at The Atlantic: America Soured on My Multiracial Family“:

But hovering just outside the frame—and sometimes intruding directly into our lives—is a disturbing reality. There are people who hate that our family exists. Actual racists loathe the idea of white parents raising a black child, and ideological arguments about identity raise questions about whether a white family’s love can harm a child of a different race. And, sometimes, people even question whether adoptive parents truly love their children, claiming that parents adopt to “virtue signal” or simply to ostentatiously demonstrate their open-mindedness.

Read the entire piece here.

Yet Another Reason Why I Have Hope

Baptism

NBC News Photo

There are many Christians who are living-out the Gospel.  They are doing so in small congregations that get little attention from the media.  The people of All Saints Holiness Church in Jacksonville, Florida are some of them.

Read this story and watch the video embedded in it.

Laura Ingraham’s Controversial Remarks are Rooted in a Long History of Fear

In case you missed it, here is CNN’s Brian Stelter’s report on Ingraham’s recent comments about “massive demographic changes.”

Ingraham is correct about the demographic changes facing America today.  This is not the first time we have seen such changes.  It is also not the first time that Americans have responded to such changes with fear-mongering.  This time around the fear-mongers have a cable television channel.

A few more points:

  1. Ingraham says “the America that we know and love doesn’t exist anymore.”  She says this in the context of immigration and demographic change.   And then she says that her statement is not about race or ethnicity.  Seriously?  Then how does Ingraham define the America “that we know and love?”
  2. Tucker Carlson says “no society has ever changed this much, this fast.”  This sounds like something a white Southerner might say during the late 1860s and 1870s, the period of Reconstruction when freed slaves were trying to integrate into southern society.
  3. In her response, Ingraham condemns white supremacists.  But her comments about immigration and “demographic change” seems to be little more than a defense of a white America that she believes is being threatened by people of color.  How is this any different than David Duke and others?
  4. How does Tucker Carlson know that we are undergoing “more change than human beings are designed to digest?”
  5. Ingraham says that “the rule of law, meaning secure borders” is what “binds our country together.”  On one level, Ingraham is correct here.  Immigration restriction and securing the borders once bound America together as a white Protestant nation.  White Protestants did not want Chinese men and women coming into the country, so they “bound our [white Protestant] country together” by passing the Chinese Exclusion Act.  White Protestants did not want more Italians and other southern Europeans coming into the country, so they passed the Johnson-Reed Act (1924) to restrict them from coming.  So yes, Ingraham is correct when she says “the rule of law” and “secure borders” have bound our country together.  It was racist then.  It is racist now.  On another level, Ingraham probably needs a history lesson.  For most of the 19th-century, the United States did have something equivalent to open borders.  So there has been a significant chunk of American history when secure borders did not bind America together.
  6. I will let someone else tackle this, but “merit-based immigration” seems like a racist dog-whistle.  This reminds me of when Trump said that we need more Norwegian immigrants and less immigrants from “shithole” countries.

Often-times fear is propagated by Christians who claim to embrace a religious faith that teaches them that “perfect love casts out fear.”  This faith calls us to respond to demographic change with love, not fear.

By the way, I wrote a book about how fear of such “demographic change” led evangelicals into the arms of Donald Trump.

Believe Me 3d

Evangelicals and Trump: The Latest Poll

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump blows a kiss to supporters following a campaign rally in Akron

A poll conducted by Public Religion Research Institute and The Atlantic has much to say about white evangelicals in the United States.

  • 61% of evangelicals believe that the United States is moving in the right direction.  This compares to 64% of all Americans who believe that the United States is moving in the wrong direction.
  • 79% percent of white evangelicals believe “media bias” is hurting the country.  50% of religious unaffiliated people believe this.
  • 77% of white evangelicals view Trump favorably.   17% of non-white Protestants view Trump favorably.
  • 52% of white evangelicals feel negatively about the very real possibility that whites will be a minority in the United States by 2043.

On the last point: When Trump said last week that immigration was changing the “culture” of Europe, he was appealing to a significant portion of his evangelical base.

Here is a taste of Yonat Shimron’s article at Religion News Service:

“I argued that white evangelical voters have really shifted from being values voters to being what I call ‘nostalgia voters,’” said Jones. “They’re voting to protect a past view of America that they feel is slipping away. That’s driving evangelical politics much more than the old culture-war dynamics.”

Brantley Gasaway, a professor of American religious studies at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pa., said white evangelicals’ fears about the nation’s growing racial diversity might be linked to their perception of religious diversity.

“They perceive that America becoming less white means America will become less Christian,” he said. “I don’t think that’s true. Many Latino immigrants are coming from predominantly Christian nations. But they perceive changes in racial demographics as being a threat to the predominance of Christians in the United States.”

As a group, white evangelicals are declining. A decade ago they made up 23 percent of the U.S. population; today it’s more like 15 percent, Jones said. But they have an outsize influence at the ballot box because they tend to vote in high numbers.

The one area where religious groups appeared united is in their support for legislation that would make it easier to vote — measures such as same-day voter registration and restoring voting rights for people convicted of felonies.

Read the entire piece here.  Why do white evangelicals believe all these things?  I took a shot at explaining it here.

What Does Trump Mean When He Says Immigration is “Changing the Culture” of Europe?

Trump May

Here is a taste of CNN’s coverage of today’s Donald Trump–Theresa May press conference:

President Donald Trump said Friday that European leaders “better watch themselves” because immigration is “changing the culture” of their societies.

“I think it has been very bad, for Europe. … I think what has happened is very tough. It’s a very tough situation — you see the same terror attacks that I do,” Trump said at a news conference with British Prime Minister Theresa May outside of London.

“I just think it is changing the culture, I think it is a very negative thing for Europe,” Trump said.

“I know it is politically not necessarily correct to say that, but I will say it and I will say it loud,” Trump added.

Let’s face it.  Trump’s remarks have very little to do with England or Europe.  I think he could care less about what happens to these countries.

These comments are about the United States.   They represent his ongoing nativism and racism.  Comments like this appeal to his white Christian base and trigger the kind of fear I write about in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  Trump is telling white Christian Americans afraid of ethnic, racial, and religious diversity that he will be a strongman who will protect them from such diversity.

Evangelicals Respond to the President’s Racist Remarks

Metaxas

I was going to do some posts on this today, but Warren Throckmorton has things covered pretty well.  Read his post here.

I will make a few comments based on Throckmorton’s post:

Eric Metaxas appears to have lost his way.  Even his fellow New York City evangelical and The King’s College chancellor Greg Thornbury has called him out.  I think it is so ironic that Metaxas is saying evangelicals who oppose Trump’s remarks vile are “People… in love w/feeling morally superior.”  Let’s remember: this is the guy who once told his fellow evangelical Christians that “God will not hold us guiltless” if we did not vote for Trump.

Sarah Pulliam Bailey’s piece at The Washington Post is the gold standard on this controversy.  She quotes A.R. Bernard, the New York City megachurch pastor who resigned from Trump’s evangelical council after Trump blamed “both sides” for the racial conflict in Charlottesville last August.  Here is a taste:

A.R. Bernard, a black pastor of a 40,000-member church in New York City, resigned from the evangelical council in August after Trump blamed “both sides” for deadly violence in Charlottesville.

While back then Bernard said he didn’t think Trump was a racist, that changed Thursday.

“His own comments expose him,” Bernard said. “They were elitist and blatantly racist.”

Bernard said Trump’s comments Friday honoring civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. “added insult to injury.”

The silence of the mostly white men who remain on the informal council, he said, “is getting louder.” While members say they’re there because they’re influencing the White House on topics from Israel to religious freedom, Bernard said he doesn’t believe the council has any real influence.

“I think they’re politically convenient to the president,” he said.

Bernard is a former court evangelical. He has left the court and now has a story to tell.  I also find it a bit strange (to put it mildly) that Metaxas is saying via Twitter that Bernard fails to understand the true meaning of racism.

Again, read Throckmorton’s round-up.

The President of Fuller Seminary on Evangelicalism and Race

Fuller

Mark Labberton is president of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California.  If you have never heard of Fuller, I encourage you to read George Marsden’s history of the school: Reforming Fundamentalism: Fuller Seminary and the New Evangelicalism.

In a letter to the Los Angeles Times, Labberton responds to Randall Balmer’s recent Times piece on evangelicals and race.   Here is a taste of Labberton’s letter:

There are white people in America who call themselves evangelical yet demonstrate complicity with a white supremacy that scandalizes the gospel — and there are other white evangelicals in America who categorically and publicly disagree.

Balmer points out what many evangelical leaders have been decrying for years and what this election made apparent: that culture sometimes overshadows the gospel in determining the evangelical political vision. Evangelicalism is a movement dedicated to the primacy of faith in the way of Jesus, so this confusion of priorities is a crisis.

The word “evangelical” has morphed from being commonly used to describe a set of theological and spiritual commitments into a passionately defended, theo-political brand. Worse, that brand has become synonymous with social arrogance, ignorance and prejudice — all antithetical to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Balmer’s claims, while not new, are deservedly painful for millions of white evangelicals who are deeply offended by racism, repelled by Trump, and who vocally deny the false theo-political brand that co-opts the faith we hold dear.

Read the entire letter here.

An Open Letter from Christian Scholars on Racism in America

I have attached my signature to this statement:

​Like many Americans, we are grieved by recent events in Charlottesville. The white supremacist rally there showed that overt racism is alive and well in America, and that it can turn violent and murderous. As Christian scholars of American history, politics, and law, we condemn white supremacy and encourage frank dialogue about racism today.

​As Americans, we love our country. As Christians, we know that no individual, people, or nation is perfect. Among the most grievous sins committed by early Americans was the enslavement of and trafficking in Africans and African Americans. Slavery was formally abolished in 1865, but racism was not. Indeed, it was often institutionalized and in some ways heightened over time through Jim Crow legislation, de facto segregation, structural inequalities, and pervasively racist attitudes. And other persons of color, including Native Americans, Asian-Americans, and Hispanic-Americans, have often been subjected to official and unofficial discrimination. What we have seen in Charlottesville makes it clear once again that racism is not a thing of the past, something that brothers and sisters of color have been trying to tell the white church for years.

​Racism should be denounced by religious and civic leaders in no uncertain terms. Equivocal talk about racist groups gives those groups sanction, something no politician or pastor should ever do. As Christian scholars, we affirm the reality that all humans are created in the image of God and should be treated with respect and dignity.  There is no good moral, biblical, or theological reason to denigrate others on the basis of race or ethnicity, to exalt one race over others, or to countenance those who do.

​Even as we condemn racism, we recognize that the First Amendment legally protects even very offensive speech. Rather than trying to silence those with whom we disagree, or to meet violence with more violence, we encourage our fellow citizens to respond to groups like the neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and the Ku Klux Klan with peaceful counter-protests. (Indeed, this has been the approach of the vast majority of counter-protesters in recent weeks.) No one is beyond redemption, so we encourage our fellow believers to pray that members of these groups will find the truth, and that the truth will set them free.

We also recognize that white-majority churches and denominations have too often lagged in discussions of racial injustice and inequality, or have even been sources of the perpetuation of white cultural dominance and racial injustice. Because of that history, we pray that America’s churches and Christians will renew their commitment to practical, proactive steps of racial reconciliation and friendship in our cities and towns.

Respectfully,

Mark David Hall, George Fox University

Thomas S. Kidd, Baylor University

We, the undersigned, are Christian scholars who endorse this letter.  Institutional affiliations are listed for identification purposes only.  [If you would like to add your name to this letter, please send an email to Mark David Hall at mhall@georgefox.edu.]

Scott Althaus, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Bryan Bademan, Anselm House
Richard A. Bailey, Canisius College
Scott Barton, East Central University
David Beer, Malone University
Daniel Bennett, John Brown University
Thomas C. Berg, University of St. Thomas School of Law (Minnesota)
Amy E. Black, Wheaton College
Edward J. Blum, San Diego State University
Bradley J. Birzer, Hillsdale College
William S. Brewbaker III, University of Alabama
Margaret Brinig, University of Notre Dame Law School
Matthew S. Brogdon, University of Texas at San Antonio
Thomas E. Buckley, Santa Clara University
Sean R. Busick, Athens State University
James P. Byrd, Vanderbilt University
Jay R. Case, Malone University
Justin Clardie, Northwest Nazarene University.
Robert F. Cochran, Jr., Pepperdine University School of Law
Elesha Coffman, Baylor University
Kimberly H. Conger, University of Cincinnati
K. Scott Culpepper, Dordt College
Michelle D. Deardorff, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga
Michael J. DeBoer, Faulkner University Thomas Goode Jones School of Law
Jonathan Den Hartog, University of Northwestern-St. Paul, MN
Daniel Dreisbach, American University
W. Cole Durham, Jr., J. Reuben Clark Law School
Mark Edwards, Spring Arbor College
John Fea, Messiah College
Joel S. Fetzer, Pepperdine University
Nathan A. Finn, Union University
Kahlib J. Fischer, Liberty University
Matthew J. Franck, Witherspoon Institute
Beverly A. Gaddy, University of Pittsburgh
Edward McGlynn Gaffney, Valparaiso University School of Law
Loramy Gerstbauer, Gustavus Adolphus College
Naomi Harlin Goodno, Pepperdine University School of Law
Christopher R. Green, University of Mississippi School of Law
Jay Green, Covenant College
John G. Grove, Lincoln Memorial University
Darren Guerra, Biola University
Barry Hankins, Baylor University
Rusty Hawkins, Indiana Wesleyan University
Gail L. Helt, King University
Nicholas Higgins, Regent University
Lia C. Howard, Saint Joseph’s University
Andrew Kaufmann, Northwest University
Lyman Kellstedt, Wheaton College
Douglas L. Koopman, Calvin College
Wilfred M. McClay, University of Oklahoma
Gerald R McDermott, Beeson Divinity School
Tracy McKenzie, Wheaton College
Ron Miller, Liberty University
Christopher D. Moore, Bethel University
Lincoln A. Mullen, George Mason University
Miles S. Mullin II, Hannibal-LaGrange University
Paul Otto, George Fox University
Mikael L. Pelz, Calvin College.
Jonathan R. Peterson, North Park University
Daniel Philpott, University of Notre Dame
Otis W. Pickett, Mississippi College
Richard Pointer, Westmont College.
Charles J. Reid, Jr., University of St. Thomas School of Law (Minnesota)
Sosamma Samuel-Burnett, G.L.O.B.A.L Justice
Shelley Ross Saxer, Pepperdine University School of Law
Gregory Sisk, University of St. Thomas School of Law (Minnesota)
Corwin E. Smidt, Calvin College
Brian A. Smith, Montclair State University
Gary Scott Smith, Grove City College
Sarah A. Morgan Smith, The Ashbrook Center at Ashland University
Chris Soper, Pepperdine University
Andrew Spiropoulos, Oklahoma City University School of Law
Susan J. Stabile, University of St. Thomas School of Law (Minnesota)
Justin Taylor, Crossway Books
Boz Tchividjian, Liberty University School Law
H. Paul Thompson, Jr., North Greenville University
Benjamin Toll, Lake Superior State University
Noah J. Toly, Wheaton College
John Turner, George Mason University
Andrea L. Turpin, Baylor University
Patrick Van Inwegen, Whitworth University
Robert K. Vischer, University of St. Thomas School of Law (Minnesota)
Jennifer E. Walsh, Azusa Pacific University
Micah Watson, Calvin College
Virgil Wiebe, University of St. Thomas School of Law (Minnesota)
John Wigger, University of Missouri
Daniel K. Williams, University of West Georgia
James E. Wren, Baylor Law School
Paul D. Yandle, North Greenville University
John C. Yoder, Whitworth University

A History of Hate in America

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KKK member in South Eastern Ohio, 1987 (Creative Commons)

Jon Meacham lays it out for us in this piece at Time.

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.

No, Your Questions About Monuments Do Not Make You a Racist! (Updated)

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A monument to George Washington in Budapest

Over the last several days I have received messages from readers of The Way of Improvement Leads Home who are trying to make sense of Donald Trump’s recent words about monuments.  On Tuesday, he equated monuments commemorating Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson with monuments commemorating George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Yesterday POTUS offered these tweets:

What should we make of all this?  Here is one of the reader messages I received:

I wouldn’t ever dare post this publicly because honestly I don’t want to get lumped in with Trump and or be labeled a racist for simply asking a question. But I’m having a hard time understanding why Trump is so wrong on the Lee/Washington comparison. If Lee is guilty of perpetuating slavery, than why isn’t Washington just as guilty? Yes he freed his slaves after he died, but he didn’t end it when he had the chance to voice support for it at the convention, so why is he granted a pardon and still one of the good guys, but Lee is not off the hook? I get that he was a General for the Confederacy and I’m not arguing that he was good or right. I’m just wondering why Washington or Jefferson aren’t being attacked?

And I hate the fact that I can’t feel safe to ask this question in public without feeling like I’ll be labeled as a racist/terrorist or trump supporter. But I’m genuinely curious if you can shed some light or even point me to a good article that isn’t going to shame me into thinking the way the author wants me to already think.

First, I am saddened that this reader thinks she/he will be labeled a racist for trying to make historical and moral sense of what Trump said about monuments to Lee and Washington.  I don’t know this person well, but I know she/he is not a racist.  I should also add that I do not know where this person falls on the political perspective.  Over the years I have known this person to have a curious mind and a passion for truth.  If a person like this feels she/he cannot ask honest questions about this issue then something is wrong.

Second, at one level this person is correct (and so is Trump).  There are similarities between Washington and Lee.  I wrote about them yesterday. Let’s not forget the fact that both men owned slaves and were active participants in America’s slave culture. Maybe neither of them deserve a monument.  But on the other hand, there were also a lot of differences between Washington and Lee.  They are worth noting too.

In the end, I think there is a difference between moralizing about men and women in the past and erecting monuments to them.  As I have now said multiple times at this blog, monuments tell us more about the time when they were erected than the moment in the past they are meant to commemorate.   Lee monuments were erected by Lost Causers who wanted to celebrate a society built on slavery and white supremacy.  Most of them were built during the Jim Crow era for this very purpose. Think about it.  Would Lee merit a monument if not for his role as commander of the Army of Virginia?  Maybe, but I doubt you would find one outside of Virginia.  I don’t know off-hand the history of George Washington monuments, but I wonder how many of them were erected for the purpose of celebrating his slave ownership.

This post has some good links for further reading on this issue.

Did the Civil Rights Act Spur Racist Progress?

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Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act on July 2, 1964.  According to National Book Award winner and historian Ibram X. Kendi, the Act “spurred all sorts of racial progress–from desegregating Southern establishments to driving anti-discrimination lawsuits, to opening the doors of opportunity for the new black middle class.”

But Kendi’s recent piece in The Washington Post also calls our attention to what he believes to be an overlooked aspect of the Civil Rights Act.  He argues that the Act “also spurred racist progress.”  He adds, ”

Here is a taste:

After the passage of the act, Americans quickly confused the death of Jim Crow for the death of racism. The result: They blamed persisting and progressing racial disparities on black inferiority. Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.) had been complaining throughout the 1960s about those “dependent animal” creatures on welfare. Criminologists like Marvin Wolfgang were writing about urban blacks’ “subculture of violence.” Sociologist Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Johnson’s assistant secretary of labor, pointed to the black family as a “tangle of pathology” in a 1965 report.kendi

As new racist ideas and anti-racist demonstrations spread in the late 1960s, first President Johnson and then Richard Nixon turned away from civil rights toward “law and order” — a phrase that came to symbolize and pardon the progress of racist ideas and policies. The Nixon White House branded black people as the real source of the racial problems, rather than the Americans who quietly responded to the 1964 act by backing “race neutral” policies that were aimed at excluding black bodies.

For many Americans, it was this violent subculture, emanating from the weak and dependent black family, that caused the hundreds of urban rebellions that followed in the days, months and years after the Civil Rights Act. As the Wall Street Journal headline on Aug.16, 1965, explained: “Behind the Riots: Family Life Breakdown in Negro Slums Sow Seeds of Race Violence: Husbandless Homes Spawn Young Hoodlums, Impede Reforms.”

Read the entire piece here.