Monday, April 30, 2018

From the Lynching Tree to Donald Trump: Taking James Cone Seriously As We Examine White Evangelical Support for Trump

James Cone explains to Chris Hedges what motivated him to write his magisterial work The Cross and the Lynching Tree

And then the other question was, how could white Christians, who say they believe that Jesus died on the cross to save them, how could they then turn around and put blacks on crosses and crucify them just like the Romans crucified Jesus? That was an amazing paradox to me. Here African-Americans used faith to survive and resist, and fight, while whites used faith in order to terrorize black people. Two communities. Both Christian. Living in the same faith. Whites did lynchings on church grounds. How could they do it? That's where [my] passion came from. That’s where the paradox came from. That’s where the wrestling came from.

Nancy Wadsworth, author of Ambivalent Miracles: Evangelicals and the Politics of Racial Healing, and co-editor, with Robin D. Jacobson, of Faith and Race in American Political Life, challenges the attempt of the media and some leading white evangelicals intent on explaining away the deeply rooted racism  of Trump's ardent white evangelical supporters:

In fact, racism and intolerance are more woven into the fabric of evangelicalism than these Christian critics care to accept.
I spent the first 15 years of my career as a scholar studying American evangelicals and race, and in my view the failure to consider motivations rooted in anxieties about race and gender as an explanation of evangelical Trump support represents a striking omission. The history of American evangelicalism is intensely racially charged. The persistent approval for Trump among white evangelicals ought to prompt far more critical self-reflection within the evangelical community than we’ve seen so far. 
Evangelicals' tenacious affection for Donald Trump is not a bug driven by expediency. Instead, it reflects defining features of American evangelicalism that become clearer when we examine the historical record. Doing so reveals that when white conservative evangelicals feel threatened by cultural change, the old demons of racism and misogyny, which lurk at the heart of the American evangelical tradition, return with a vengeance. Trump is just another chapter in that story.

Reza Aslan, author of Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, tells Chauncey DeVega,

First and foremost, let's not beat around the bush. Race had a huge role to play in the support of white evangelicals for Donald Trump. Let's not pretend otherwise. I mean that's the only way that you can make sense of how evangelicals flipped in the course of a single election cycle. In other words, from Barack Obama to Donald Trump, white evangelicals went from being the group in America that was most likely to say that a politician's public morality matters to being literally the group in America least likely to say that a politician’s public morality matters. 
These are people who like to call themselves "values voters." How did that happen? We cannot pretend that race wasn't a huge role in that dramatic transformation. That, as many, many people have written about, is a process that started long before Donald Trump, with the insidious racism at the heart of white evangelical Christianity.

Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama, as the national lynching museum was poised to open in that city:

"We love talking about 19th-century history and not talk about slavery," quips Bryan Stevenson to a room full of reporters gathered at his Equal Justice Initiative center on Monday. . . ."We have to be willing to tell the truth about our past," says Stevenson. 

The photo: the burned body of Jesse Washington, 18 years old, who was lynched in Waco, Texas, 15 May 1916, as enormous crowds of people watched him being burned alive. The photo is by Fred Gildersleeve and is in the Library of Congress. There are photos of the large crowds gathered for the lynching in the Library of Congress collection of photos about this event.

I know that looking at photos like this is stomach-churning. I find it very difficult to look. I remind myself that my uncle chaired the drama department at Baylor, a Southern Baptist university in that very city of Waco, in the 1960s. Today, as it happens, is the 30th anniversary of that uncle's death. This is history I cannot avert my eyes from, because it's history that touches my own past in too many deeply painful ways.

As it is history that touches the past of all Americans, so that we avert our eyes with great moral and historical stolidity, pretending that this history has written no script that influences us now, is writing no script that charts our course as a nation even now. When it clearly does continue to influence us in manifold ugly ways. Hence the choice of more than half of white Christians in the U.S. to put a moral monstrosity into the White House after he ran a campaign that engaged in the most blatant forms of race-baiting imaginable . . . . 

We cannot talk about the cross and have that talk make any sense at all if we do not also talk about the lynching tree — and the Trump era.

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