Thursday, December 14, 2017

Hot Takes on Moore Defeat: White Evangelicals Did It! It's All About Abortion! (And Why Masterpiece Cake Will Likely Prevail)

Some takes on the Alabama election I should have anticipated, but did not:

1. Though 80 percent of white evangelicals in Alabama cast their votes for Roy Moore, Doug Jones won because — are you ready for this spin? — white evangelicals abandoned Moore!

Here's Jonathan Merritt on this hot take and who's pushing it (and, implicitly, why it's being pushed):

Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, appeared on CNN around 1 a.m. to give conservative Christians credit for the controversial Republican’s defeat. 
"[Moore] lost because so many evangelicals didn’t show up. That's the big story … what didn’t happen," Mohler said
But Mohler's assertion flies in the face of the facts. Eight in 10 white evangelicals cast their vote yesterday for Moore, a man credibly accused of sexual misconduct with multiple underage women. That’s roughly the same number who one year ago voted for Donald Trump, a man credibly accused of sexual misconduct with several women who has also admitted to engaging in such behavior. (Additionally, the percentage of evangelicals who voted for a write-in candidate was roughly on par with the general electorate.) 
The picture remains bleak when you break out the stats by gender. As ABC News' Matthew Dowd noted, 76 percent percent of white evangelical women voted for Moore, while 74 percent of non-evangelical white women voted for Jones.

2. Though 68 percent of white voters in Alabama went for Moore and 96 percent of black voters for Jones, it's all about — get ready for this — abortion! Thus Michael Sean Winters at National Catholic Reporter in a dissection of the election results, asking what we learned from them. 

Not the racial breakdown, the glaringly obvious point about the election results that leaps out of the polling data. Abortion. Winters does not even mention the disparity between how white and black Alabamians voted, and the fact that it was the overwhelming black vote that brought Jones to victory.

The reality is that 80 percent of white born-again Christians voted for Moore — nearly identical to the 81 percent of evangelicals nationally who voted for Trump in 2016. (Only 18 percent of white born-again Christians voted for Jones and 2 percent cast write-in votes.) 
"This looks to me like pretty typical enthusiasm for a Republican candidate, even one as unconventional as Moore," said Robert P. Jones, CEO of Public Religion Research Institute. 
Indeed, added Jones, allegations of sexual misconduct did not seem to sway these voters. An overwhelming 94 percent of Republican voters said they did not believe allegations that Moore preyed on teenage girls 40 years ago, according to The Washington Post’s exit poll data
"We've now got two candidates who in no way really fit the mold of values voters, and (evangelicals) brushed aside serious allegations and moved right past them," said Jones, referring to Trump and Moore. 
If anything decisive can be said about the Alabama race, it’s that African-American Christians, who also very often consider themselves evangelical, turned out in force.

There will be all sorts of rationalizations proffered today and in the coming weeks; ways Bible Belt Christians will justify their vote, excuses evangelists and pastors will make, sermons about a perverse culture, conversations about whether people believed Roy Moore’s accusers—all in an effort to escape the obvious: White Evangelical Christianity in America is horribly broken and it may not be fixable. It is an exclusionary, divisive, deeply racist presence in a nation that wants and needs an expression of religion that doesn't further divide an already terribly fractured people. 
Those of us who are white and come from a Christian tradition, need to admit that White Evangelicalism is now the thing most antithetical to the message of Jesus.

That's John Pavlovitz, a Christian pastor living in the bible-belt state of North Carolina, pointing to the clear and obvious link between where white evangelicals have brought their version of Christianity, and white supremacist racism — a link that seems nowhere in sight for Catholic centrist political commentator Michael Sean Winters, who lives, well, outside the bible belt. 

(But polling data cross state lines, and we can all see with our own two eyes what the polling data are saying about the Moore-Jones race — no matter where we live. Honesty is not bounded by state lines, is it?)

What's going on here?, you might ask yourself, as I do. What's going on with the attempt to whitewash something so obvious — the clear fact that 80 percent of white evangelicals in Alabama were willing to vote for Roy Moore despite his sordid sexual history and his assaults on the U.S. Constitution and minority groups? 

What's going on with the attempt to claim that up is down — that Jones won the election because of white evangelical voters and not in spite of them? What's going on with the attempt to deny the obvious, that Jones won his election because over 90 percent of black voters in Alabama elected him?

Here's what's going on, and it's related in the most compelling way possible to the debate about the Masterpiece Cake case, and is a harbinger, it seems to me, of a Supreme Court decision that will validate denying goods and services to LGBTQ citizens on grounds of religious belief and conscience. Bear with me as I try to explain what I mean in saying this.

As Anis Shivani has recently pointed out to us in a two-part essay series at Salon (here and here), we've gotten to the point at which we find ourselves in American culture and political life at present not primarily or exclusively due to the actions of white evangelical voters, who represent a minority (and a dwindling one at that) in our nation. It's because white Christian voters in general have now made common cause with people pushing white supremacist, white nationalist ideology — and the combination of the two forces is potent, toxic, and may well control our culture and political life for the foreseeable future, if many of us do not push back against this combination. 

Shivani lays out a good case for why this combination is there with such strength in our culture now. As she notes, political agitators promoting a white nationalist ideology — think Steve Bannon and all the works and pomps that surround him — have long since realized that white U.S. Christians, notably white evangelicals, are the most fertile field in which they can plant the seeds of white supremacist ideology and reap a robust crop. They have long since recognized that white Christians, and notably white evangelicals, will vote for anyone of any character at all, as long as that candidate purports to stand for what these Christians define as "moral values," especially vis-a-vis the issue of abortion.

As a result, as Shivani writes, 

For Christian "dominionist" theology to take over our political system, it need not operate through explicitly religious-minded political leaders. Consider the case of Donald Trump. It can have interesting links with white supremacy -- at times coming close to it, at times maintaining a certain distance.

The reason our political life is in the parlous mess in which it now finds itself is not that white evangelicals have taken over the nation. It's because many more Americans than white evangelicals are predisposed to white supremacist, white nationalist ideology — and the two forces, in combination, are an overweeningly powerful factor in our culture at present.

Those promoting a white nationalist agenda need white Christians, especially white evangelicals, as their good foot soldiers. In order to motivate those foot soldiers, they need to help create enemies for these foot soldiers to fight: "moral decay," feminazis, baby-killers, diseased homosexuals, Jews, Muslims, immigrants, you name it. 

White Christians, and especially white evangelicals, are predisposed to fight alongside white nationalists for obvious reasons: underneath all those enemies, including the big bugbear issue of abortion, is white supremacist ideology. Their white supremacist ideology, which predates their opposition to abortion . . . though folks like Michael Sean Winters do not wish to see this or talk about it.

Because to see and talk about how the roots of the so-called "pro-life" movement run in the most direct way possible back to white supremacist resistance to the rights of people of color in the 1960s is to implicate lots of so-called "liberal" white folks and white Christians outside the purview of white evangelical culture in a racism they wish to deny. It's to implicate them of collaborating with a racist, white-supremacist agenda that, in their view, has nothing at all to do with the culture-war issues (abortion, same-sex marriage, contraception) that have, so they claim, pulled them into the orbit of the Republican party or onto the conservative side of the ledger as "cultural" or "moral" or "religious freedom" issues are under consideration.

By definition, people who just happen to find themselves joined at the hip with white evangelical voters in their crusade against abortion and same-sex marriage cannot possibly share the white-supremacist ideology that got this crusade going among white evangelicals.

Can they? They're Catholics, after all, many of these folks, for God's sake!

Here's Linda Gordon challenging this meme on historical grounds, in her new study of the second coming of the Ku Klux Klan: 

This, then, is the stark reminder provided by Gordon’s book: No matter how much we may wish to believe that they are foreign to our system, the politics of racism and white resentment have been a perennial feature in our politics. The draw of white-supremacist organizations can't be dismissed as irrational or irrelevant; their influence is ignored at our own peril. They are, as the Klan insisted a century ago, "100% American."

So what does this have to do with Masterpiece Cake and what I expect to be a very likely victory for cake bakers who want to claim that their cakes are sacred religious artifacts and high art and must not be touched by soiled LGBTQ hands? Everything, in my view: it has everything to do with Masterpiece Cake and what I think will be the outcome of this case. Or, put differently, What has Masterpiece Cake to do with Piggie Park?

Andrew Sullivan, a fellow traveller of Michael Sean Winters, has just published an essay in New York Magazine in which he takes the LGBTQ community to task for demanding rights equal to the rights of all other American citizens as we purchase cakes, check into hotels, ask for medical services, and so forth. The gist of Sullivan's case: Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cake is really, really sincere in his religious convictions (just as Hobby Lobby was really, really sincere in its religious convictions and its counterfactual belief that contraception is a form of abortion).

So LGBTQ folks should stop beating up on Phillips and give him a pass. Because — did I say it previously? — he's really, really sincere in what he believes. Thus Sullivan:

The baker's religious convictions are not trivial or obviously in bad faith, which means to say he is not just suddenly citing them solely when it comes to catering to gays. 

So was Piggie Park, by the way. So was Maurice Bessinger. Bessinger was really, really sincere in his religious belief that black folks must not be treated as the equal of white folks as the sacred symbol of high-art barbecue sandwiches is handed around. 

But the Supreme Court would have none of that argument, regardless of the sincerity of any Piggie Park owner in the land. Rights are rights, and not even sincere religious conviction should give any citizen who owns a business or is providing services the right to pick and choose whom he/she will serve on arbitrary grounds — bible or no bible.

Oh, and by the way, as Sullivan reminds us, 

Opposition to same-sex marriage has been an uncontested pillar of every major world religion for aeons.

But so was support for slavery. And so was polygmay. And isn't it curious that he mentions neither of those two matters and how only fringe groups in our culture now argue for making biblical warrants guideposts of civil law in those two areas?

But when it comes to LGBTQ rights and same-sex marriage, something is different: there, sincere religious belief has a sacrosanct value it lacks when we're talking about discrimination on grounds of race and the way religious belief has bolstered it, for years and years on end.

Oh, and this is another reason LGBTQ bullies should stop beating up on poor Jack Phillips (Sullivan again): 

A law that controls an individual’s conscience violates a core liberal idea. It smacks of authoritarianism and of a contempt for religious faith.

But no one is asking to control Jack Phillips' conscience. No one was asking to control Maurice Bessinger's conscience. Like any other citizen, they should be free to believe whatever they wish to believe, including that the moon is made of green cheese and God made the world in seven days some 4,000 years ago.

What they should not be free to do, the Supreme Court found in the case of Piggie Park, is to discriminate as they provide goods and services, if they are business owners or public servants — no matter how strong their religious convictions are and how sincere their conscience is. 

Why will Masterpiece Cake likely prevail? Because people like Michael Sean Winters and Andrew Sullivan — white Catholic people — want to give cover to the Jack Phillips of the world.

Because white Catholic people like these folks desperately need white evangelicals as allies, even as they want desperately to distance themselves from the glaringly obvious racism that motivates white evangelical voters. 

Because racism is the foundational issue for white folks outside the South citing culture-war reasons for their support of conservative political leaders, conservative agendas, conservative ideas. But they do not wish to admit or advert to this fact — and in the case of folks like Winters, it appears to make them actively angry when a Democratic candidate wins an election due to the votes of black voters.

And what's that anger all about, when all is said and done, I wonder? On the face of it, you'd think Winters would be delighted that Roy Moore lost his election and that Doug Jones won.

Instead, this victory made him angry and opened the door to yet another rant about the issue that, Winters keeps claiming, trumps every other issue possible: abortion. 

Why does the victory of a Democratic candidate in the solid-red state of Alabama, against one of the most deplorable Republican candidates imaginable, a victory due to black voters, elicit such obvious anger and a rant about abortion from an influential centrist Catholic political commentator?

Unriddle this riddle and you'll understand a great deal, it seems to me, about how much wider the white supremacist worldview is in America than the white evangelical community, and why it's likely that Masterpiece Cake is going to win its case — because of conservative-leaning white voters outside the bible belt who desperately need white evangelicals as allies in their culture-war battles.

Though they don't ever intend to look seriously or honestly at what got those battles underway in the 1960s.

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