Photo by Jr. Korpa
Much has been written about Donald Trump and how white American evangelical Christians have widely embraced him. More will be written. Probably for decades.
I read this work with interest because of my own status as a “recovering evangelical” and ongoing conversations – and, let me be real: silences – with much of my family who have yet to begin their own process of recovery. I’m less interested in pieces only focusing on hypocrisy. I’m more interested in pieces diagnosing the internal sense-making of this group.
Below are some excerpts from this growing body of work that I’ve sat with over the past few months.
Starting off with Emma Green in “The Unofficial Race Consultants to the Evangelical World”:
Many white evangelicals may be on board with the idea of banishing racism from their heart, but may not be ready to confront the policy issues, such as racist policing, that enable the kind of violence that killed George Floyd.
Michael Luo not only speaks to this point but helps explain it in “American Christianity’s White Supremacy Problem”. This explanation turns on how the notion of individual salvation disables adherents from any meaningful institutional or structural understanding. This would be what race and education scholar Joyce King named “dysconscious racism” – or the absence of critical racial thought – in 1991. Luo:
Evangelical theology is individualistic and interpersonal—it stresses both a believer’s relationship with Jesus Christ and the way that forgiveness from God impels forgiveness of others. As a result, white evangelicals’ understanding of the race problem tends to be rooted in beliefs about individual decisions and shortcomings rather than the ways that broader social forces, institutions, and culture can constrain and shape them.
According to this interpersonal framework, racism is solved by everybody being nice to one another. If there are no racists, there is no racism.
Luo also brings attention to this interesting point about differences between how white evangelical Christians feel about Black folks and, much differently, how they feel about symbols of white supremacy. Again, Luo:
In surveys that measure how warmly people say they feel about Black people, the sentiments of white evangelical Protestants exceed those of the general population. (Other white Christians’ responses fall close to the mean.) Yet the vast majority of white Christians remain indifferent to the symbols of white supremacy and skeptical of the realities of racial inequality.
“Christianity Will Have Power” by Elizabeth Dias narrates Trump’s promise to (white) evangelical America while pre-election campaigning in Iowa. Trump lamented that the power wielded by Christians in America was not proportional to their majority status. “If I’m there, you’re going to have plenty of power,” he told the audience. “Remember that.” Instead of trying to unpack how white evangelicals were able to look past Trump’s decidedly anti-Christlike life to vote for him – as so many other writers have done – she makes the unexpected argument that, at least with respect to power, this is exactly why they voted for him.
Evangelicals did not support Mr. Trump in spite of who he is. They supported him because of who he is, and because of who they are. He is their protector, the bully who is on their side, the one who offered safety amid their fears that their country as they know it, and their place in it, is changing, and changing quickly. White straight married couples with children who go to church regularly are no longer the American mainstream. An entire way of life, one in which their values were dominant, could be headed for extinction. And Mr. Trump offered to restore them to power, as though they have not been in power all along.
This point about having power is picked up as well by Cameron Hilditch writing in the rather conservative National Review. Buried in the middle of an article focused on the exploits of Jerry Falwell, Jr. is this dagger:
The only real allure that a Faustian bargain with a morally bankrupt politician can hold for Christians is the allure of religious power. If you really care about the outward forms of religious devotion; if you miss a time when politicians felt the need to pay lip service to Christian piety even when they didn’t believe a word of it; if you wish that your church had the same kind of pull in the corridors of power that it had 40 years ago; if you really care whether the signs at the White House say “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays” — then of course the Republican Party will seem inseparable from Christianity. But if you care that much about popularity and power, you probably shouldn’t have picked a poor, despised, crucified man to be the object of your religious devotion.
Most close to home for me is the final scene that Alex Morris paints in her 2019 Rolling Stone piece “False Idol – Why the Religious Right Worships Donald Trump.” She alludes to her evangelical upbringing in different parts of the piece but avoids making the article about her. At the end, though, it’s her straightforward sharing of an exchange between she, her mother, and her aunt – a three hour hash-it-out conversation eased by sharing a bottle of wine.
“Do you think because Jesus is coming soon that the environment doesn’t matter?” I eventually ask.
“Alex, the Earth is going to be all burned up anyway,” my aunt says quietly. “It’s in the Bible.”
“But according to billions of people, the Bible is not necessarily true.”
“All we can do is love them.”
“No, we can cut back on carbon emissions. There are a lot of things we can do.”
“It doesn’t matter. We’re not going to be here.”
I know this conversation all too well.
Something a bit lighter:
One of these days I’ll need to do an entire issue of this newsletter about the sites across the web dedicated to sound. For now, I’ll add Sounds of the Forrest to the mix. As the name suggests, it’s is a site where you can listen to “aural tones and textures from the world’s woodlands.” The soundmap site is associated with Timberfestival, a celebration of trees, woodlands, and the natural world. Go ahead and check out a rainstorm in Ankasa Forest in southwest Ghana.
Reading: I made my way through Whiteness, Pedagogy, and Youth in America: Critical Whiteness Studies in the Classroom by Sam Tanner. I didn’t understand any work in the “second wave” of critical whiteness studies when I first found it around 2010. It looked like scholars letting white folks off the hook for their bad behavior. Now, I understand the approach – trying to get smarter about what it means to be white – and find it essential. Sam’s book is a solid addition to this area, especially for the ways it gives white youth “permission to be confused” about what it means to be white.
Writing: There’s a third genre of academic writing that gets no love. It’s the external tenure review letter. Most of my writing time this week was devoted to writing one of these for an excellent scholar who most definitely has earned his tenure.
Listening: Something stripped down: Detroit keyboard player and electronic music producer Ian Fink just playing his piano in his living room. Beautiful stuff.