Saturday, January 27, 2018

It's Never About Racism: White Catholic Voters, Abortion, and How the Religious Right Culture Wars Began (Hint: It's About Racism)

It's never about the racism with white Catholics who have signed onto the culture wars of the U.S. Catholic bishops, and who vote — or so they say — primarily on the basis of the single issue of abortion (with same-sex marriage also often thrown into their calculus as they choose predictably to vote Republican). It's never about racism with the alliance those white Catholics made a long time ago with white evangelicals who got the religious right ball rolling because of overt racism.

It's never about colluding with racists to push the "pro-life" cause. It wasn't about racism when white Catholics made the trek into the Republican fold at the very same time Southern white evangelicals did so — as an expression of their outrage that the Democrats had passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. It wasn't about racism when 6 in 10 white Catholics lined up beside 8 in 10 white evangelicals to elect the moral monstrosity who now occupies the White House.

But it is patently about racism — and has been all along. And the refusal of white Catholic intellectual leaders (I name some names at the end of this posting) to face that and permit honest and open discussion of that — and to allow into the Catholic conversation voices that call for more honest and open and critical discussion of quite a few taboo issues — has radically undermined the moral and intellectual integrity of American Catholicism, and radically diminished its effectiveness in the U.S. public square.

Those white Catholic intellectual leaders paved the way for 6 in 10 white Catholics to vote for the moral monstrosity. They are part of the problem and not part of the solution. And they are bearing down on the gatekeeping and pretending even harder after the moral monstrosity was elected — when the precise opposite is what you'd expect from a religious community that wants to mend its ways and find new ways to address the culture effectively. When you'd expect more and not fewer voices, especially new and long-shut-out voices, to have a hearing in the U.S. Catholic conversation . . . . 

Here are some things I've read (and watched) recently about all of this, with some reminders from other pieces written in the past year or so about these issues:

In 1958, the Baptist preacher Jerry Falwell, who would go on to found the Moral Majority, gave a sermon titled "Segregation or Integration: Which?" He inveighed against the Supreme Court's anti-segregation decision in Brown v. Board of Education, arguing that facilities for blacks and whites should remain separate. 
"When God has drawn a line of distinction, we should not attempt to cross that line," he wrote, warning that integration "will destroy our race eventually." In 1967, Falwell founded the Lynchburg Christian Academy — later Liberty Christian Academy — as a private school for white students. 
The Lynchburg Christian Academy, in Virginia, was one of many so-called seg academies created throughout the South to circumvent desegregation. In the 1970s, these discriminatory schools lost their tax-exempt status. Feeling under siege as a result, conservative Christians started organizing politically. This was the origin of the modern religious right, and it helps explain why a movement publicly devoted to piety has stood so faithfully by Donald Trump. . . . 
"I've resisted throughout my career the notion that evangelicals are racist, I really have," Balmer told me. "But I think the 2016 election demonstrated that the religious right was circling back to the founding principles of the movement. What happened in 2016 is that the religious right dropped all pretense that theirs was a movement about family values." 
This is one reason I find it hard to take seriously religious conservatives who say they are being persecuted for their defense of traditional marriage. People who are sympathetic to Christian, conservative Trump supporters — even if they don't support Trump themselves — will say that they've been backed into a corner by the expansion of civil rights laws and policies protecting gay people. As they see it, liberals not only won the culture war on gay marriage but now are also demanding that private redoubts of resistance be brought into line. 
Referring to the Supreme Court's 2015 gay-marriage decision, Rod Dreher, a social-conservative Trump critic, wrote, "Post-Obergefell, Christians who hold to the biblical teaching about sex and marriage have the same status in culture, and increasingly in law, as racists." 
Dreher obviously thinks they deserve much better. He sees a fundamental difference between Christians who thought their religious freedom was trampled by desegregation and Christians who think their religious freedom is trampled when their business and charities have to serve gay people. 
But it seems absurd to ask secular people to respect the religious right's beliefs about sex and marriage — and thus tolerate a degree of anti-gay discrimination — while the movement's leaders treat their own sexual standards as flexible and conditional. Christian conservatives may believe strongly in their own righteousness. But from the outside, it looks as if their movement was never really about morality at all.

This is the electoral challenge of the extreme right in the west: to find a plausible balance between how racist it actually is, in its policies, and how racist it can appear to be in its pronouncements. Its raison d’etre is to promote and project a mythical sense of national and racial purity; its conundrum is how to simultaneously attract racists and xenophobes to that project while denouncing racism and xenophobia. In short, to deny any connection between its agenda and the intended effect. . . . 
"We are what we pretend to be," said the late novelist Kurt Vonnegut. "So we must be careful about what we pretend to be." For too long we have pretended we are tolerant societies in which racism is not a system of oppression but the marginal obsession of the uncouth. In reality we have simply become more sophisticated about our prejudices. We have plenty of racism, but apparently very few racists.

Rev. William J. Barber II:

We must know that down through history, those who have promoted sexism and violence against women have more often than not also stood on the side of racism and homophobia and religious tyranny and fascism and greed and systemic poverty. Truth is, to be anti-woman is to be against democracy. It is to be anti-justice. It is to be against our deepest moral and religious values.


Donald Trump is a man without any discernible redeeming qualities, but nonetheless I'm grateful for one thing he's done, without really trying: He has exposed the true nature of the Christian right. For more than a decade now, I've been diligently writing and researching, trying to build the case that the religious right is not motivated by moral values, but by hatred of women and LGBT people — and that many of them are white supremacists, to boot. And then here comes Trump, bragging about how he likes to "grab them by the pussy" and spreading racist propaganda, and sweeps up 80 percent of the white evangelical vote, more than true-believer George W. Bush got in 2004. 
Prior to Trump, I was routinely mansplained at by naive liberals who insisted that religious conservatives were acting out of genuine faith, not malice. That doesn't happen any longer, and in these rough times, I try to be grateful for small favors.

Trump's supporters backed a time-honored American political tradition, disavowing racism while promising to enact a broad agenda of discrimination.

Please use the following updated edition of the Beatitudes and other scriptural highlights:

Turn the other cheek. You only have two cheeks. 
Suffer little children to come unto me unless of course they are immigrants who all are probably affiliated with ISIS in some way and we are quite right to want nothing to do with them. 
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heavenI will be the greatest president God ever created.  
Blessed are those who mournfor they will pay no inheritance tax
Blessed are the meekI think they are finally glad that there is somebody on the playground that is willing to punch the bully. 
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousnessThe president can’t have a conflict of interest. 
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercyBuild the wall! Lock her up!

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of GodI can’t stand John McCain. 
Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before youChristianity is not just about being a welcoming mat that people can stomp their feet on. 
Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much his sins, which are FEW, are forgiven, for he has put Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court. 
Look, it's one thing to argue, as Perkins did, that we live in a world where you can never find anyone who will live up to your standards, and therefore justice must be coupled with mercy. Absolutely. But it’s another thing to abandon the principle itself. Which is happening here? I always used to think that the Bible was more than a book of increasingly mean excuses for refusing to bake someone a wedding cake, but maybe I have an older edition. Still not sure what’s going on in Revelation, though.

Racism motivated Trump voters more than authoritarianism.

Economic anxiety didn't make people vote Trump, racism did. . . . Our analysis shows Trump accelerated a realignment in the electorate around racism, across several different measures of racial animus—and that it helped him win. By contrast, we found little evidence to suggest individual economic distress benefited Trump. The American political system is sorting so that racial progressivism and economic progressivism are aligned in the Democratic Party and racial conservatism and economic conservatism are aligned in the Republican Party.

The past year of research has made it very clear: Trump won because of racial resentment. . . .To anyone who's been following the research on this, the findings should come as little surprise. There have now been numerous studies that found support for Trump is closely linked to racial resentment, defined by Fowler, Medenica, and Cohen as "a moral feeling that blacks violate such traditional American values as individualism and self-reliance." 
This is crucial to understanding both Trump’s rise and how to overcome Trump. 

Peter Steinfels writing for the Catholic journal Commonweal

I have not said anything about "whitelash." I never believed for an instant, as I am sure Barack Obama never believed, that we had entered a “post-racial” era. I also don’t believe that we are returning to Jim Crow or that black bodies exist in constant danger of being mowed down by white authorities on the streets. But I have neither space nor ability to address with due gravity and precision what 2016 reveals about where the nation stands in regard to this, its deepest and most threatening wound. My only observation, practical but superficial, is that you don't win over people by calling them racists.  

Michael Sean Winters writing for the Catholic journal National Catholic Reporter:

It is repulsive that the president is unwilling to challenge the white supremacists who support him. It is equally repulsive to charge all of his evangelical supporters with the sin of racism.

Conor Friedersdorf, protégé of leading U.S. Catholic intellectual Andrew Sullivan: 

Not all or even most Trump supporters are racists or authoritarians, but the 2018 midterms will go better for the GOP if turnout among racists and authoritarians is strong, and it will go poorly for the party if anti-authoritarians turn out in record numbers. 

Ursula K. Le Guin:

It's the unheard voices that, if we're going to get anywhere, we really have to start listening to each other, and to the voices that we have not listened to, because, I have to say, the dominant European white imperial voice has gotten us where we are, and it's not a very good place to be right now.

The quotation about how it's time to listen to other voices and other perspectives than the ones that we've predictably heard in Catholic conversation spaces, featured in Maureen Clarke's tweet, is by Mary Hunt, Marianne Duddy-Burke, and Jamie Manson, and was in an essay they co-wrote that I featured in the blog posting to which Maureen's tweet links.

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