Tuesday, January 1, 2019

End of Year Takes & Hot New Year Takes on Religion in American Politics & Culture: Evangelicals White & Black, Exvangelicals, & King Cyrus in the White House

Lisa Sharon Harper via Eliza Griswold, "Evangelicals of Color Fight Back Against the Religious Right""

They're more white than Christian.

Before they helped elect Donald Trump, white evangelicals were viewed by many fellow white Americans (though not the majority of people of color, the LGBTQ+ community and nonreligious folks) through the lens of the Simpson's character Ned Flanders — at worst, an irritating group of religious people who pushed their views on others and propagated an unrealistic sexual and moral ethic. White evangelicals are now more often depicted as a dangerous cultural force whose support for Trump's presidency reveals the racism and xenophobia that have long been at the heart of its politics. The rise of #Exvangelical promises to continue — and accelerate — this trend. 

We've used our increased visibility, often through hashtag campaigns, to expose evangelical authoritarianism to the broader American public, something that major media outlets have mostly failed to do.  
When we look back at 2018 a couple of decades from now, we may well recognize it as the year that a cohort of former evangelicals—largely children of the 1980s and 1990s who were mobilized for the culture wars we now repudiate—broke into the American public's consciousness. These ex-evangelicals—often referred to as "exvangelicals" or "exvies"—are part of a broader generational moment marked by a conservative Christian nationalist backlash against rapid secularization, civil rights, and social movements aimed at exposing abuse and patriarchal exploitation of women. 
The election of Donald Trump with massive white evangelical backing became a flashpoint and catalyst for the coalescing of individual disaffected former evangelicals into a growing community and movement with certain identifiable features and goals. Because the exvangelical community consists of those who repudiate evangelicalism for its pervasive authoritarianism, we also tend to affirm that which most white evangelicals—a literally uniquely conservative, uniquely pro-Trump, and nativist demographic—stand against. 
Exvangelicals, then, are by and large proponents of feminism, intersectionality, racial justice, and LGBTQ rights. We don't seek a common metaphysics or (a)theology, but rather seek to build bridges between those of us who have left evangelicalism for no religion and those of us who have departed for healthy religion. 

But what's most intriguing [in Gallup survey results released just before Christmas] is a sharp two-thirds drop in the past year and half, from 21 points (55-34) to seven. What is it about the Trump era that has led a smaller percentage of Americans than ever to think that religion can answer today’s problems and a larger percentage than ever to think that it is old-fashioned and out of date? 
My surmise is that this has something to do with the aforementioned rise of evangelical power in the White House. That power, from its hostility to LGBT people to its lack of concern for the poor and the sick and the migrant to its rejection of climate change, hardly seems like an answer to today's problems. Old-fashioned and out-of-date, it seems more like evidence of religion in decline.

The list of the Trump administration’s various forms of cruelty is seemingly endless. Yet as the foundation of the Trump coalition begins to crack, conservative white evangelical Christians, those who most adamantly claim to follow the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, remain Trump’s strongest and most devoted supporters, supporters who often approve of and sometimes participate in Trump’s cruelty. 
This particular form of evangelical Christianity is a far cry from the religion of Jesus, who proclaimed good news to the poor, release to the captives, and liberation of the oppressed.

Half of residents in 11 Southern states either agree or strongly agree that America was founded as an explicitly Christian nation, according to the results in the Winthrop Poll Southern Focus Survey. 
This viewpoint, a crux of "Christian Nationalism," is particularly prevalent among white evangelicals. Those who espouse Christian Nationalist beliefs want the United States to be governed as an explicitly Christian nation (for more explanation of Christian Nationalism, see: Whitehead, Andrew L., Samuel L. Perry, and Joseph O. Baker. 2018. "Make America Christian Again: Christian Nationalism and Voting for Donald Trump in the 2016 Presidential Election." Sociology of Religion 79(2):147-171). 
In this latest poll, three-fourths of white evangelical respondents agree or strongly agree with this belief on how the nation was founded. According to poll director, Dr. Scott Huffmon, "Research has shown that increases in Christian Nationalist beliefs lead to more exclusionary views on immigration and more negative views of multi-culturalism in America, those who hold these views care more about whether they have a strong leader who will protect their religious and cultural values than whether a leader is individually pious."

A politician who claims to have the power to take people back to a time when America was great stands a good chance of winning the votes of fearful men and women. In the end, the practice of nostalgia is inherently selfish because it focuses entirely on our own experience of the past and not on the experience of others. For example, people nostalgic for the world of Leave It to Beaver may fail to recognize that other people, perhaps even some of the people living in the Cleaver’s suburban "paradise" of the 1950s, were not experiencing the world in a way that they that they would describe as "great." Nostalgia can give us tunnel vision. Its selective use of the past fails to recognize the complexity and breadth of the human experience—the good and the bad of America, the eras that we want to (re) experience (if only for a moment) and those we do not. Conservative evangelicals who sing the praises of America's "Judeo-Christian heritage" today, and those who yearn for a Christian golden age, are really talking about the present rather than the past. 

Rev. Marshall Davis, "Slavery's Roots": 

My main concern about the SBTS report [i.e., the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary report admitting that its founders defended slavery] is what it doesn't say. It doesn’t address the underlying issue. It doesn't ask the question "Why?" Why did these devout Southern Baptists support and defend slavery? And why has it taken until 2018 to clarify Southern Seminary’s position on this issue. 
The answer is the Bible. Southerners’ support for slavery was rooted in the Bible as much as in Southern economy and culture. Southern Baptist support for slavery was not an aberrant 19th century interpretation of the Bible, but an accurate understanding of the stance of the Scriptures on the subject. The founders of the seminary were biblically literate Christians who correctly assessed the Bible's support for slavery. 
The harsh truth is that the Bible condones and supports slavery from beginning to end. One can't deny that reality without being dishonest with the biblical text and one’s own conscience. No amount of prooftexting and creative eisegesis can ever turn the Bible into an abolitionist manifesto.

If you have disregard for a 7-year old who expires from dehydration, I'm not sure "Let every heart, prepare him room," should burst forth from your lips. 
If you're unaffected by a tear-gassed family under an overpass, pouring water over their bloodshot eyes, I'm thinking that basking in candlelight, while singing words about reverently gathering "'round yon virgin mother and child, holy infant so tender and mild" is a bit hypocritical. 
What I'm saying, Christian friend, is that if you aren't capable of manufacturing the slightest bit of compassion for the hurting and the hungry and the terrified and the desperate right now—what on earth are you singing for?

Katherine Stewart, "Why Trump Reigns as King Cyrus": 

As the Trump presidency falls under siege on multiple fronts, it has become increasingly clear that the so-called values voters will be among the last to leave the citadel. A lot of attention has been paid to the supposed paradox of evangelicals backing such an imperfect man, but the real problem is that our idea of Christian nationalism hasn't caught up with the reality. We still buy the line that the hard core of the Christian right is just an interest group working to protect its values. But what we don't get is that Mr. Trump's supposedly anti-Christian attributes and anti-democratic attributes are a vital part of his attraction. 
Today's Christian nationalists talk a good game about respecting the Constitution and America's founders, but at bottom they sound as if they prefer autocrats to democrats. In fact, what they really want is a king.... 
The great thing about kings like Cyrus, as far as today's Christian nationalists are concerned, is that they don’t have to follow rules. They are the law. This makes them ideal leaders in paranoid times.... 
This isn't the religious right we thought we knew. The Christian nationalist movement today is authoritarian, paranoid and patriarchal at its core. They aren't fighting a culture war. They're making a direct attack on democracy itself. 
They want it all. And in Mr. Trump, they have found a man who does not merely serve their cause, but also satisfies their craving for a certain kind of political leadership.

The graphic is from the Know Your Meme site, which cites no source for it. 

No comments: