Monday, May 29, 2017

Morgan Guyton on Ugliness of Toxic Christianity Laid Bare in Trump Era, Robert P. Jones on White Shift to GOP: Implications for "Pro-Life" Catholic Trumpists

What Morgan Guyton knows as a Southerner about how things used to be in the South in the pre-Civil Rights era aptly describes the South I knew growing up in a period before Morgan was born:

White rage is being restored to pre-civil-rights-era norms. We forget that this kind of physical violence was completely normal in our nation’s past as long as it was administered according to the terms of the social and racial hierarchy. For the most part, a gentleman did not hit a gentleman. That would be scandalous. But a rich white guy could hit a poor white guy. And white people could hit black people. That’s what we’re returning to.

Speaking of the newly elected member of Congress from Montana, Greg Gianforte, Guyton goes on to say, 

Greg Gianforte is not just an average right-wing thug. He's a fundamentalist Christian activist who funded the creationist Dinosaur and Fossil Museum in Glendive, Montana, which "proudly presents its exhibits in the context of biblical history," showing human interactions with dinosaurs and things of that nature. Gianforte is also on the board of the Association of Classical and Christian Schools. In a 2015 address to the Montana Bible College, Gianforte said that the concept of retirement isn't biblical because Noah worked on his ark when he was 600 years old. 
Greg Gianforte is what toxic Christianity looks like. It's white nationalism wrapped in a tokenistic use of the Bible and sexual puritanism that justifies the patriarchal defense of white women's purity. This is what it's always been about, even for the past four decades that it pretended to be about family values. Family values is about returning to the social order in the good old days when everyone knew their place before the social chaos that came from the civil rights movement. Toxic Christian churches are very upfront about the primary solution they offer to our country’s social problems: put white men back in charge. And if it takes a little body slamming to get there, so be it. 
But the ugliness of toxic Christianity is being laid bare for the whole world to see. 

In a recent interview with Robert P. Jones, also a Southerner and author of The End of White Christian America, Steven Rosenfeld asks Jones if Americans are now locked into a skin-color tribalism. Jones replies,

I've been using this word tribal a lot actually to think about this. The problem is that our two political parties have gradually [split along racial lines], and essentially it's been since the civil rights movement that the alignments that we have today are largely how the parties reacted to the Democratic party becoming the party of civil rights in the 1960s. 
That's when you had the big shift among southern whites who were long term Democrats and they began to gradually shift and mostly by Reagan's presidency they fully shifted into the Republican camp for national politics anyway. It was largely over a white backlash to the civil rights. That's really the beginning of the movement.
The other layer here is religion, that when you have the Christian Right in the ‘80s basically joining their wagons to this, what a lot of political scientists call the Great White Shift in the south, so that the Christian Right and the Evangelical Movement then gets wrapped up with this white flight from the Democratic party in the South. 
We end up with these very powerful forces of partisanship, race, and religion all wrapped up together and all pulling the same direction. That's a pretty powerful cocktail in terms of powerful human social sources, base religion and then partisanship, and particularly partisanship with the kind of money that gets put behind that partisan machine to reinforce those boundaries. Then it uses religion and uses race as wedges to win elections.

It's interesting to me that both pieces of commentary are by men with roots in the American South, where racism has long been out in the open, easy to spot, a clear motivating factor for political decision-making. As someone with Southern roots who also spent a good bit of his professional life carrying on conversations with theologians in the American Catholic academy, I long since became aware that racism is an equally potent factor in the thinking of many white Catholics in the U.S., but it's disguised, sub rosa, unacknowledged.

And so the U.S. Catholic bishops can make common cause with the kind of people Jones is describing very well, and pretend that their alliance with those people has absolutely no racial implications at all. And so the U.S. Catholic bishops can lead their flocks to imagine that voting Republican is a holy obligation — it's voting "pro-life," voting to put "pro-life" people on the Supreme Court — that has no racial implications at all.

This dishonest and immoral behavior on the part of the U.S. Catholic bishops and a majority of the white members of their flock has now given the world Donald Trump. It has laid bare for the whole world to see the ugliness of a toxic Christianity that mouths "pro-life" slogans and votes in racist ways while pretending not to have a racist bone in its body.

In the face of Donald Trump, in his crass actions as he shoves around one European leader and manhandles another as he shakes that leader's hand, in the crude, criminal behavior of Greg Gianforte, as he assaults a reporter who asks him a question he doesn't like, we see the ugliness of an ostensibly "pro-life" Christianity that is anything but pro-life, but is, in fact, causing many members of the global community to wonder if the planet itself will have any future left after the leaders "pro-life" Christians have now empowered finish with their work.

I personally have absolutely no patience left with people who tell me that voting for Donald Trump was a noble "pro-life" thing to do. Because Supreme Court seat. And that because they are Catholic, they could not possibly have a racist bone in their bodies as they vote "pro-life." Because Supreme Court.

This is absolute vomitous nonsense that takes a great deal of duplicity and self-deceptive chutzpah to sustain. I refuse to put up with it. If what folks like this are offering me is pro-life Christianity, I'll take the opposite of that malignant brand, please. If Donald Trump and Greg Gianforte are the face of Jesus in the world today, I'll take any other face — Buddha's, Mohammed's, Brigid's, Hanuman of Ramayana's. 

Any face but Jesus' — if Donald Trump and Greg Gianforte are that face.

Pro-life my eye.

(A note of thanks to Jim McCrea for emailing me and others in his email circle the Morgan Guyton article.)

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