Monday, July 23, 2018

More Reports on Shared Goal of Putin and U.S. White Evangelicals: Deconstructing Democracy

The story reported by Peter Montgomery, which I shared with you on Friday — that the neo-Confederate League of the South, classified as a hate group by Southern Poverty Law Center, is inaugurating a Russian-language section on its website — has now been reported by other venues including Newsweek and The Hill. As Peter Montgomery reports (and this is echoed in the other two articles I've linked; I'm also repeating what I posted Friday),
Amid the controversy over President Trump's recent summit with Russian strongman Vladimir Putin, the neo-Confederate League of the South announced this week that it will soon be introducing a Russian language section to its website. "To our Russian friends," a missive on the League's website, is signed by Michael Hill, the group's president. An excerpt:  
"We understand that the Russian people and Southerners are natural allies in blood, culture, and religion. As fellow Whites of northern European extraction, we come from the same general gene pool. As inheritors of the European cultural tradition, we share similar values, customs, and ways of life. And as Christians, we worship the same Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and our common faith binds us as brothers and sisters.  
We Southerners believe in societies based on real, organic factors such as shared blood, culture, and religion, and all that stems naturally from these salient factors in the human experience. As fellow White Christians who are grounded in the sublime traditions of our common European cultural heritage, we believe that the Russian people and the Southern people are natural allies against the destructive and impersonal impulses of globalism." 

What I'd like to propose to you now: read these accounts of what the League of the South is doing side by side with Stephanie McCrummen's article in the Washington Post this weekend entitled "Judgment days: In a small Alabama town, an evangelical congregation reckons with God, President Trump and the meaning of morality." McCrummen interviewed ardent Trump supporters who attend First Baptist church in Luverne, Alabama. They provide her with all sorts of pseudo-theological rationales for supporting — for ardently supporting — a man whose personal life and views are so overtly at odds with everything they claimed to believe in during the presidencies of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, but suddenly no longer believe in now that Donald Trump is president.  

Here's a lengthy excerpt:

And there was Sheila Butler, who sat on the sixth pew on the right side, who said "we're moving toward the annihilation of Christians."
She was 67, a Sunday school teacher who said this was the only way to understand how Christians like her supported Trump. 
"Obama was acting at the behest of the Islamic nation," she began one afternoon when she was getting her nails done with her friend Linda. She was referring to allegations that President Barack Obama is a Muslim, not a Christian — allegations that are false. "He carried a Koran and it was not for literary purposes. If you look at it, the number of Christians is decreasing, the number of Muslims has grown. We allowed them to come in." 
"Obama woke a sleeping nation," said Linda. 
"He woke a sleeping Christian nation," Sheila corrected. 
Linda nodded. It wasn't just Muslims that posed a threat, she said, but all kinds of immigrants coming into the country. 
"Unpapered people," Sheila said, adding that she had seen them in the county emergency room and they got treated before her. "And then the Americans are not served." 
Love thy neighbor, she said, meant "love thy American neighbor." 
Welcome the stranger, she said, meant the "legal immigrant stranger." 
"The Bible says, 'If you do this to the least of these, you do it to me,' " Sheila said, quoting Jesus. "But the least of these are Americans, not the ones crossing the border." 
To her, this was a moral threat far greater than any character flaw Trump might have, as was what she called “the racial divide,” which she believed was getting worse. The evidence was all the black people protesting about the police, and all the talk about the legacy of slavery, which Sheila never believed was as bad as people said it was. "Slaves were valued," she said. "They got housing. They got fed. They got medical care." 
She was suspicious of what she saw as the constant agitation of blacks against whites, the taking down of Confederate memorials and the raising of others, such as the new memorial to the victims of lynching, just up the highway in Montgomery. 
"I think they are promoting violence," Sheila said, thinking about the 800 weathered, steel monoliths hanging from a roof to evoke the lynchings, one for each American county where the violence was carried out, including Crenshaw County, where a man named Jesse Thornton was lynched in 1940 in downtown Luverne. 
"How do you think a young black man would feel looking at that?" 
Linda asked. "Wouldn't you feel a sickness in your stomach?" 
"I think it would only make you have more violent feelings — feelings of revenge," said Sheila. 
It reminded her of a time when she was a girl in Montgomery, when the now-famous civil rights march from Selma was heading to town and her parents, fearing violence, had sent her to the country to stay with relatives. 
"It's almost like we’re going to live that Rosa Parks time again," she said, referring to the civil rights activist. "It was just a scary time, having lived through it." 
She thought an all-out race war was now in the realm of possibility. And that was where she had feared things were heading, right up until election night, when she and Linda and everyone they knew were praying for God to save them. And God sent them Donald Trump. 
"I believe God put him there," Sheila said. "He put a sinner in there." 
God was using Trump just like he had used the Apostle Paul, she said. 
"Paul had murdered Christians and he went on to minister to many, many people," Sheila said. "I think he's being molded by God for the role. I think he's the right man for the right time. It's about the survival of the Christian nation.” 
"We are in mortal danger," Linda said. 
"We are in a religious war," Sheila said. 
Linda nodded. 
"We may have to fight and die for our faith," Sheila said. "I hope it doesn't come to that, but if it does, we will." 
She rubbed her sore knee, which was caked with an analgesic. 
"In heaven, I won't have any pain," Sheila said. 
"No tears," said Linda. 
"I think it'll be beautiful — I love plants, and I think it'll be like walking in a beautiful garden," said Sheila. 
"Have you ever been out at night and looked at the stars?" said Linda. "That's the floor of heaven, and heaven is going to be so much more beautiful than the floor." 
"I'm going to be in my kitchen," Sheila said, imagining heaven would have one. "I think it’s going to be beautiful to see all the appliances."

Nathan Walker's tweet is pointing to a PRRI study released last week, which finds the following:

Among religious groups, white evangelical Protestants are unique in the extent to which they feel demographic change will represent a negative development for the U.S. More than half (52%) of white evangelical Protestants say a majority of the U.S. population being nonwhite will be a negative development, while fewer than four in ten white mainline Protestants (39%), Catholics (32%), and religiously unaffiliated Americans (23%) say the same.

Read the preceding report from a First Baptist church in a small town in Alabama, where it seems almost everyone voted for Donald Trump, side by side with the reports I've cited about the League of the South and what it stands for, what it's doing. These stories belong together. You cannot understand what the folks in First Baptist church in Luverne, Alabama, believe unless you pay attention to what the League of the South believes. 

The racism underneath the heavy gloss of sick, sweet "religiosity": it's absolutely patent in both cases. The belief that "we," we white Christian people, are under attack, that the nation's first African-American president was all about attacking white Christian people and white Christian culture: it's rooted in racism so deep, so patent that it leaps off the page as you read both the WaPo report and the ones about the League of the South.

When Trump's white evangelical base say that Christians are under attack in the U.S. what they mean is, white folks are declining in numbers as brown and black folks increase.

Overt racism is the soil out of which white "Christian" nationalism and support for Donald Trump grows.

It is a very terrible and damining indictment of white Christianity in the U.S., especially its white evangelical incarnation, that it lends itself to this overt racism while claiming to represent Christianity in its purest form, and that it willingly and gladly seeks to deconstruct democracy in the U.S. with willing and glad complicity with a hostile foreign power whose goal is the same.

The March 2014 cover of Rev. Franklin Graham's Decision magazine featuring Vladimir Putin is from Rev. Stephen Roach Knight on Instagram.

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