Thursday, January 31, 2019

Janelle Wong on How We Are All Evangelicals Now: "Evangelicals Embody U.S. Racial Attitudes on Steroids"

As I reminded us yesterday, it's not just white evangelicals: white U.S. Christians — of all confessional stripes, right and left, across the board — are chiefly responsible for preventing a much-needed national conversation about race that is necessary if American culture is successfully to negotiate its Trump-era political-religious crisis. 

What we saw happening in the twinkling of an eye with the Covington Catholic pro-life MAGA boys — how they became instant martyrs, with wide complicity of the mainstream media and "liberal" religious leaders, as people of color predictably became the villains of a narrative in which many of us saw with our own eyes the respect of privileged young white males as they interacted with a Native American elder — is yet another salient reminder of how far we still have to come as a nation, to address our race-based problems.

Yet we do not intend to have the conversation we need to have to address those problems, and chief among those who are refusing to permit this conversation are white U.S. Christians — who, as it happens, and this is hardly beside the point, are singularly responsible for placing the MAGA man in the White House. White Christians: not merely white evangelicals, but white Catholics, Mormons, mainline Protestants; white Christians in general….

Here's Janelle Wong making important points along these lines in a recent essay entitled "We Are All Evangelicals Now":   

[A]fter spending the last decade studying evangelicals for my book, Immigrants, Evangelicals, and Politics in an Era of Demographic Change, I am convinced that evangelicals do not represent a separate or wholly unique force in the United States. Rather, they exemplify current trends in American political life around race and difference, only in a more intense way. Evangelicals embody U.S. racial attitudes on steroids. ... 
The bottom line is that the racial divides and racial anxieties we see in evangelical America are not so different from the views of white Americans more generally. I speculate that these attitudes are more extreme than those of other white Americans because their fears of demographic change are even more exaggerated than other whites. A narrative of religious persecution runs deep in white evangelical theological circles. Believers expect to be attacked for their religious commitments. Hence, their defenses may be easily raised by "the War on Christmas." Narratives of persecution have primed them to expect a broad cultural assault, despite the fact that white Christians face the least religious persecution of any religious group in the United States. These fears of religious persecution, unfounded or not, interact in an especially potent way with fears of racial embattlement to produce the political conservatism detailed above. That being said, the racial patterns we observe among evangelicals are more intense, but consistent with the racial patterns that define the country as a whole. In this respect, we all share something very deep with evangelicals.

The photo of Janelle Wong is from her faculty page in the Department of American Studies at the University of Maryland.

Thanks to Fred Clark at Slactivist for featuring Janelle Wong's valuable essay in a recent posting

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