No. 118 (essentialsaltes) wrote,
No. 118

Chronic City - White Evangelical Racism

Jonathan Lethem started his career with a kangaroo detective, and I was on board. But after he moved back to New York, he has become a lot more New York, so Chronic City was a bit of a tough go for me, even if it's sort of a shadow Manhattan with hypnotic Macguffins and an escaped tiger (or is it?). It was also strange to read this at the same time as rereading Blaylock's The Last Coin. Both Blaylock and Lethem have some Phil Dickian influences, but I'm much more in tune with the wild parrots of Seal Beach than the Black Mirror version of Seinfeld. But as always, flashes of genius in the writing.


White Evangelical Racism: The Politics of Morality in America, by Anthea D. Butler

Occasionally unfair and overly polemic, this still provides some great historical information on American evangelicalism, providing some great 'receipts' in the form of quotes from the mouths of prominent evangelicals. A real eye opener is a speech given by black evangelist Tom Skinner in 1970 at the Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship’s conference. “To a great extent, the evangelical church in America supported the status quo. It supported slavery; it supported segregation; it preached against any attempt of the black man to stand on his own two feet.” This was around the time that Falwell and Bob Jones ran segregated schools. Butler would have us believe evangelicalism ignored Skinner's call and hasn't changed one iota since then, and she disregards as tokenism the few nods and appearances of blacks at more recent events. While I agree what a lot of what I've seen of modern evangelicalism from Obama to today has been really ugly, I think there has been at least three iotas of positive change in the past 50 years. Far too little and far too slow, obviously. Some notes I took through the book:

Here are Skinner’s words: Understand that for those of us in the Black community, it was not the evangelical who came and taught us our worth and dignity as Black men. It was not the Bible-believing fundamentalist who stood up and told us that Black was beautiful. It was not the evangelical who preached to us that we should stand on our own two feet and be men, be proud that Black was beautiful, and that God could work his life out through our redeemed Blackness. Rather, it took Stokely Carmichael, Rap Brown, and the Brothers to declare to us our dignity.

[Billy Graham] was especially disdainful after the March on Washington in August 1963, when he made the aforementioned remarks about King’s “Dream” speech—that it would take the second coming of Christ before we would see white children walk hand in hand with Black children. This disdain for King and the civil rights movement connected Graham to other prominent evangelicals of the 1950s and 1960s. Billy James Hargis, a fundamentalist who embraced segregation and anticommunism, was especially hard on King and communism, invariably linking the two together. In his book series One Minute before Midnight! (A Christian Americanism Book in Three Parts), Hargis predicted the imminent fall of America to communism if souls were not saved and communism not defeated. ... communism held another threat to conservative Christians of the 1950s: it would upset the “social order,” a reference to racial desegregation. Describing Martin Luther King Jr. as a “Stinking Racial Adjuratory and a communist,” Hargis believed, like Carl McIntire and others who promoted Americanism, that desegregation violated biblical principles. 

An unyielding segregationist, Criswell declared in a message delivered to the South Carolina Baptist Evangelism conference in February 1956, that “true Ministers must passionately resist government mandated desegregation because it is a denial of ALL that we believe in.”

Jerry Falwell gave his “Ministers and Marches” speech, in which he condemned Martin Luther King Jr. and other ministers engaged in protesting and marching for civil rights, on March 21, 1965, the same day on which King and other Black and white ministers were walking across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. Falwell criticized the civil rights movement, declaring that “preachers are not called to be politicians but soul winners.”

Pannell, a product of what he called “mulatto” parents, also pointedly addressed intermarriage, a core issue for evangelicals. In a chapter called “Now about Your Daughter,” Pannell wrote poignantly of evangelicals’ fear of sex and “negro” men: “The ghost of negro sex prowess and white female purity still mocks us in the closets of our minds. Neither Protestant theology nor education has dispelled it. Bible Belt Fundamentalism, which served as midwife when it was born, serves even now to nurse it in its old age.”

Dr. Bob Jones III spoke of this admission in a conversation with a reporter from the Greenville News in 1971, remarking, “Orientals have been accepted to Bob Jones for quite some time, and … they [have] accepted the university stipulation that they could not date across racial lines. The reason that blacks had not been admitted before … was that the board believed unmarried blacks would refuse to accept the rule (against interracial dating), or agitate to change it if they were admitted.”

[Butler being spot on] Evangelical grievances, anger, and disappointment in the wake of 9/11, as well as the election of America’s first Black president, pushed believers into an open, belligerent racism that culminated in their wholesale embrace of the man they would call “King Cyrus”: Donald Trump. The journey to Trump is a story of how whiteness and racism combined to make evangelicals a potent voting bloc awash in racism

[Butler going too far] I know the answer to the question obsessively pondered by the popular press, pundits, and even experts in the study of American religion: Why do people who identify as evangelicals vote over and over again for political figures who in speech and deed do not evince the Christian qualities that evangelicalism espouses? My answer is that evangelicalism is not a simply religious group at all. Rather, it is a nationalistic political movement whose purpose is to support the hegemony of white Christian men over and against the flourishing of others.



Tags: book, history, politics, religion, whitebutnotnarrow

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