The Evangelical Church has a racism problem. And it is incumbent on us in this Christmas season to tell the truth about that. Recently A&E suspended Phil Robertson, the patriarch of its hit show, “Duck Dynasty,” for making incredibly homophobic statements in a GQ magazine interview. In typical fashion, he affirmed his evangelical belief that homosexuality is a sin, but went even further, comparing gay people’s sexual behavior to bestiality, and declaring emphatically that they would not inherit the Kingdom of Heaven.
Liberal-minded folk, some Christians included, have been outraged at his homophobia, while conservative Christians of all races jumped to defend his right to free speech. Many of these Christians feel particularly threatened by what they call “censorship” of Robertson, because the belief that homosexuality is a sin, and the right to declare that belief freely without recourse, has become for many of these people a defining marker of their identity as Christians.
A reluctant evangelical, I reject conservative theological teachings on homosexuality; the violence that the Church does to gay people in the name of God is indeed one of the primary reasons for my reluctance. But I am also ambivalent about the Church because of its continued subjugation of women and its failure to be forthright about its continuing racism problem.
I grew up in a black baptist church, in a small town in North Central Louisiana, about 30 miles west of where “Duck Dynasty” is filmed. I made my first “profession of faith” in Jesus Christ while at a white baptist church I had visited with my childhood best friend, Amanda, when I was about 7 years old. I was baptized at the age of 13.
At 33 years of age, my disillusionment with the church — which has come to full bloom in the last five years or so — is the thing that perhaps most solidly marks me as a member of the Millennial generation. Though I am often ambivalent about that label, too, I still get why Millennials, fed up with the vile homophobia of the church — as particularly evidenced by the “Duck Dynasty” episode — are leaving the institution in droves. But in the fervor and closing of ranks over Robertson’s homophobia, many Christians, white and Black, old and young alike, have missed the racist remarks he made in that same interview. Millennials, it turns out, haven’t proven themselves to be fundamentally better on race, despite post-racial proclamations to the contrary.
Apparently, according to Robertson, 1950s and 60s Louisiana — the Louisiana of his childhood — was a happy heavenly place where Black people hoed cotton and eschewed the blues:
“I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person. Not once. Where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked for the farmers. I hoed cotton with them. I’m with the blacks, because we’re white trash. We’re going across the field. … They’re singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’ — not a word! … Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.”
I have several aunts and uncles and a grandparent who would beg to differ with Robertson’s account of events. In 1956, several hundred African Americans were purged from the voter registration rolls in Monroe, and spent years struggling to be re-enfranchised.
I’m reminded of these words from James Baldwin’s essay “A Fly in Buttermilk”:
“Segregation has worked brilliantly in the South, and in fact, in the nation to this extent: It has allowed white people with scarcely any pangs of conscience whatever, to create, in every generation only the Negro they wished to see.”
But racism and colonization have also allowed white people, like Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly, to create the Jesus they wish to see, too: a blonde, blue-eyed white man with long hair. Now my Bible says that Jesus was a Jew with Egyptian (Read: African) ancestry (Matthew 1). But many white people are decidedly uncomfortable worshipping a God that doesn’t look like them.
As Evangelicalism goes, racism, homophobia, and sexism go hand in hand. Black evangelicals like to tell themselves that they can reject Christianity’s racist past, while embracing homophobic and sexist ideas about the position of gay people and women, in the world and the church. I have come to say: It just isn’t so.
God is not a racist. I know that despite a Bible that sanctions enslavement and implores slaves to obey and be kind to their masters.
God is not a sexist. I know that despite a Bible that tells me that women are to be quiet in church, that women are not to teach men, that women are to submit.
God is not a homophobe. I know that despite a Bible that declares sex between men to be an abomination.
God is love. That is a truth I learned first and foremost from the Bible. And it holds moral and political weight for me because of the life that Jesus Christ lived, from birth to death and back again.
I love the Church, despite myself. But I won’t love it uncritically. This is what hermeneutic consistency requires. And worshipping alongside white folks who are more moved to stand with a homophobe than to stand against racism gives me great pause.
The Church can no longer afford to be disingenuous about its racism problem. Easy unity is not what we need. Time has run out for an African American Church that continues to tack hard to the right — uncritically imbibing the agenda of the (white) Evangelical Right, without acknowledging that this position, predicated as it is on the belief that Christian = Republican, is fundamentally averse to, and in some ways responsible for, the declining social and political condition of African Americans, gay and straight alike.
Ironically enough, the progressive Christians who inspire me the most these days are white. Rachel Held Evans, Jay Bakker, Brian McLaren and theologian Peter Enns are fighting the good fight of faith. But I won’t let any of them off the hook for their failure to be more forthright in addressing racism. Evans, Bakker and McLaren are great on questions of homophobia, poverty and sexism; but racism, when it is addressed at all, is largely addressed as a problem of individual attitudes rather than systemic disfranchisement. What Robertson’s statements point to, however, is that individual prejudices, and the amelioration of them, are bound up with the structures that support them. After all, it wasn’t his racist statements that got him suspended.
This is the season of hope. And I am hopeful. Because even though Phil Robertson said gay people would not inherit the kingdom of God, Jesus did say that the Kingdom of God is within us. Phil Robertson and his ilk don’t possess the keys to the kingdom. We do.
By: Brittany Cooper, Contributing Writer, Salon, December 24, 2013
“Why The Religious Right Is Losing The War On Christmas”: The Season Is Not Owned By One Religion, But Rather Everyone
The annual “war on Christmas” took an unexpected twist this holiday season, when the UK-based website the Freethinker published the ironic headline “First known casualty in America’s 2013 ‘War on Xmas’ turns out to be a Salvation Army member“.
A woman attacked a bell ringer in Phoenix, Arizona because she was angry at being wished a “Happy Holidays” instead of honoring Jesus’ birth by saying “Merry Christmas”.
In another act of Christmas violence, unidentified arsonists tried to torch one of the Freedom from Religion Foundation’s billboards that proclaimed “Keep Saturn in Saturnalia” – a reference to an ancient celebration of the Roman god of agriculture.
The Gospel According to Fox News preaches a tale of Christian persecution running rampant through America. While others around the world face imprisonment or even execution for their religious beliefs, Christians in the states suffer the indignity of facing a holiday season sans baby Jesus Christ’s omnipresence in the public square.
Instead of sharing parables of the Beatitudes in practice, Fox’s Meghan Kelly’s chose to push forth the blatantly racist proposition that Jesus and Santa are white; the line between Fox News and the Daily Show’s parodies have now become almost indistinguishable.
Kelly added to her extensive mythmaking repertoire by claiming that the American Humanist Association (AHA) is denying toys to poor children. Roy Speckhardt, executive director of AHA, recounts his televised appearance with Kelly where he tried to discuss how Samaritan Purse’s Operation Christmas Child tries to use public schools as a workforce for their presents for conversions program. He noted:
It’s hard to take seriously a program that expects poor kids to convert just because they receive a Christmas present and a pamphlet about Jesus. If only it were so easy to convert, and de-convert, kids would be getting presents from all sorts of groups.
Fred Edwords, the national director of United Coalition of Reason offered this perspective on the history of the war between evangelical Christians and atheists:
The religious right started this whole “war on Christmas” myth when a few years back they launched their organized attack against calling the trees erected at the capitol and White House “Holiday Trees”. They also boycotted major businesses that said “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”. As a result, their pressure effected some change, and they gloated on their success. But then humanist and atheist groups decided to launch awareness campaigns during the winter holiday season, reaching out to those who may have felt excluded by all of this nonsense. And the religious right went ballistic. After awhile, however, these campaigns got predictable and became less effective. So fewer of them were launched. But the religious right was still there – never having needed atheists to prompt them in the first place. And this year is making that reality abundantly clear.
Crossing the front lines to the atheist base, one finds a spirit of fun and playfulness seems to have replaced the angry atheist persona of yesteryear. For example, instead of protesting the presence of a nativity scene in the Florida State capitol, an atheist chose to erect a Festivus Pole made from beer cans.
This pole was designed to commemorate the infamous holiday popularized by the television show Seinfeld joins other displays in the rotunda including a nativity scene, posters from atheists, and a crudely-made Flying Spaghetti Monster. (A petition to include a similar satanic display was denied.)
According to David Silverman, president, American Atheists, this shift from activism to pluralistic accommodation “sends the clear message that the season is not owned by one religion, but rather everyone, and reinforces the idea that Christianity is one religion of many. While this is correct, ethical, and American, it’s a clear defeat for those who prefer the old days of inequality.”
A recent survey by the Public Religion Research Group points to a shifting toward such pluralism, with close to half of Americans (49%) surveyed agreeing that stores and businesses should greet their customers with “happy holidays” or “season’s greetings” instead of “merry Christmas”, out of respect for people of different faiths. This number is up from 44% when they conducted this survey in 2010.
Michael Dorian, co-director of the documentary Refusing My Religion notes, “many now understand that most people – whether believers or nonbelievers – can appreciate the holidays and just want to celebrate the season by socializing with friends and family, and that can be easily achieved with or without the trappings of religion”.
As the number of Americans who understand what it means to live in an increasing pluralistic country continues to grow, those faithful to the Fox News brand of Christianity – and its need to be ever dominant and combative around the holidays – will continue to look ever more foolish and out of touch.
By: Becky Garrison, The Guardian, Published in Business Insider, December 24, 2013
The Supreme Court just can’t seem to quit the Affordable Care Act.
On Tuesday, it announced it would hear challenges to the law’s “contraception mandate,” which requires employers that provide health insurance to include contraceptives in their plans, including birth control pills and emergency contraception. At stake is whether for-profit companies can be exempted from the mandate because of their owner’s religious beliefs.
This controversy centers on a lawsuit by Hobby Lobby, an arts & crafts chain whose owners—David Green and his family—are devout Christians who believe life begins at conception and that using certain kinds of birth control violates their religious beliefs.
Obamacare contains an exemption for churches and other religious nonprofits, but the Greens want it extended to for-profit companies like their own, who are otherwise required to include FDA-approved contraceptives in their health insurance plans. They claim that the requirement would “substantially burden” their ability to practice their religion.
This gets to the core of the lawsuit. Hobby Lobby isn’t just fighting for an exemption from the contraception mandate, it’s arguing that, as a business, it shares in its owners religious beliefs and has its rights as a corporate person protected under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a 1993 law mandating that strict scrutiny be used when determining if the free exercise clause of the First Amendment has been violated. By requiring companies to cover women’s contraception, Hobby Lobby argues, the federal government is violating their religious rights. In short, the Greens are asking the court to classify for-profit corporations as having religious consciences.
It should be said that the Greens aren’t Catholics; they’re evangelical Christians who don’t share Catholicism’s doctrinal opposition to birth control. Condoms and diaphragms aren’t an issue. Instead, the Greens—who see fertilized eggs as persons—object to Plan B and other forms of emergency contraception, which they believe prevent embryo implantation in a woman’s womb, and are tantamount to abortion.
But medical science is clear: emergency contraception is not an abortifacient. As explained in an amicus brief by Physicians for Reproductive Health, pregnancy begins when a fertilized egg attaches itself to the uterine lining, a process that occurs within five to nine days of sexual intercourse, if the egg is fertilized. “Emergency contraception,” notes the organization, “refers to a drug or device that is used after intercourse, but before pregnancy, to prevent pregnancy from occurring.” Abortifacients, by contrast, are used to terminate an existing pregnancy.
According to the brief, the two FDA-approved forms of emergency contraception—Plan B and “ella”—work by preventing, disrupting, or prohibiting ovulation, which stops fertilization altogether. In the doses approved for contraceptive use, neither terminates a pregnancy.
This is important. For Catholic groups, who oppose all contraception regardless of circumstance, the science is irrelevant. The mechanism of birth control is less important than the theological commitment to all pregnancies. But evangelicals—like the Greens—are in a different boat. Their objection depends on the science of pregnancy. If what’s true—emergency contraception doesn’t cause abortion—contradicts their beliefs, then what basis do they have for the objection? It’s fine if the Greens oppose abortion out of their sincere religious convictions—they can believe whatever they want—but that doesn’t give them license to redefine abortion (or contraception) to fit those beliefs.
Indeed, allowing them the privilege opens the door to a whole host of actions that would burden the liberty—religious or otherwise—of employees or customers. In a world where corporations have First Amendment protections for their religious beliefs, can they win exemptions for any law they disagree with? If Congress passes the Employee Non-Discrimination Act, can Hobby Lobby decline to follow its dictates—and say, refuse to hire to gays and lesbians—out of its sincere religious beliefs? Could it refuse to hire blacks out of a belief that they are cursed by God?
This is all on top of the implications for employees. If you work at Hobby Lobby, could the company require you to attend Bible study? What if your employer is a Christian Scientist? Could they refuse to provide health insurance at all, citing their religious beliefs? These become real scenarios if the Court decides that belief trumps all other considerations, including actual fact.
Over the last few years, corporations have accumulated more and more power, under the guise of “freedom.” At the moment, employers can fire employees for their political views, require employees to attend political rallies, and even volunteer for candidates they disagree with. Hobby Lobby is asking the Supreme Court to extend this even further, to forcing employees to choose health insurance that matches the religious preferences of their employers.
All of this raises important questions. Is this about securing religious liberty, or expanding it for a particular group? And if it’s the latter, is Hobby Lobby fighting for “liberty,” or is it demanding the right to oppress?
By: Jamelle Bouie, The Daily Beast, November 27, 2013
“Expanding Conservative Religious Fanaticism”: The Contraception Mandate Cases Aren’t Really About Contraception
Earlier today, the Supreme Court announced that it would hear not one, but two challenges to the Obama administration’s contraception mandate; they’ll be heard together in an action-packed hour of oral arguments sometime in the spring. Both cases deal with conservatives’ ever-growing penchant for anthropomorphizing corporations—this time, the justices will decide whether companies can be exempted from the mandate to provide birth control at no cost to employees because of the owners’ religious beliefs.
Oddly enough, neither of the business owners involved are Catholic, even though the first objections to the contraception mandate were raised by Catholic leaders, who didn’t want religiously affiliated hospitals and schools to provide birth control, which the Catholic hierarchy considers taboo. One case—Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, documented extensively for the Prospect by Sarah Posner earlier this summer—deals with an arts-and-crafts chain owned by evangelical Christians. The other—Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Sebelius—hones in on a smaller, Mennonite-owned cabinet door manufacturer.
Neither of the plaintiffs’ arguments mention doctrinal objections to contraception. That’s because Protestants, unlike Catholics, don’t believe that birth control is immoral. In fact, the denominations’ divergent views on the two issues created a kind of intra-Christian culture war throughout much of the twentieth century. Haunted, in part, by neo-Malthusian fears about the world’s rapid descent into overpopulation, the Church of England officially moderated its stance on contraception in 1930. Over the course of the following decade, most American Protestant denominations followed suit. The Mennonite Church does not have an official stance on birth control.
In the 1970s, the “Masters and Johnson of Christianity,” Ed and Gaye Wheat, published Intended for Pleasure, a bestselling Christian sex manual with a chapter on “planning and achieving parenthood,” with extensive information about artificial contraceptive methods. Alfred Mohler, the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, observed in 2006 that although the “birth control revolution…let loose a firestorm of sexual promiscuity,” it also “offered thoughtful and careful couples an opportunity to enjoy the joys and fulfillments of the marital act without remaining at all times equally open to pregnancy.” A Guttmacher Institute report released in 2011 revealed that three-quarters of Protestant American women were using some form of artificial birth control.
When evangelical Christians decided to throw in their lot alongside the Catholic hospitals and schools seeking an exemption from the contraceptive mandate, their argument was, to put it mildly, a stretch. When Wheaton College, an evangelical liberal arts school in Illinois, asked the Obama administration for an emergency injunction against the contraception mandate last year, it emerged that the college was not eligible because it had “inadvertently” been including emergency contraception in its student health plan.
It should also be noted that neither of the cases that will appear before the Supreme Court are founded on sound science; both allege that emergency contraception—and, in the Hobby Lobby case, the IUD—is a form of abortion. This relies on the notion that pregnancy begins when the egg is fertilized—not, as the medical community contends, when a fertilized egg implants in the uterine wall. This means that regardless of what the Supreme Court decides, the facts of the case will be based on junk science, not theology. The Catholic Church, whether you agree with it or not, has consistently maintained that birth control is a fundamental evil. Protestant attempts to overturn the contraception mandate aren’t about theological objections to birth control—they’re an effort to dramatically expand religious freedom rights for conservative Christians.
By: Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux, The American Prospect, November 26, 2013
The Republican Party has reached its Ninotchka period. Ninotchka, you may recall, was the eponymous Soviet commissar played by Greta Garbo in Ernst Lubitsch’s 1939 MGM comedy, released one year after Stalin’s show trials resulted in the execution of all of the tyrant’s more moderate predecessors in the Soviet leadership. “The last mass trials were a great success,” Ninotchka notes. “There are going to be fewer but better Russians.”
Like the Stalinists and the Jacobins, today’s tea party zealots have purified their movement — not by executing but by driving away those Republicans who don’t share their enthusiasm for wrecking their country if they can’t compel the majority to embrace their notions. Today, there are fewer but “better” Republicans — if “better” means adhering to the tea party view that a United States not adhering to tea party values deserves to be brought to a clangorous halt. NBC News-Wall Street Journal polling last week turned up a bare 24 percent of Americans who have a favorable impression of the Republican Party — a share almost as low as the 21 percent who have a favorable impression of the tea party.
Also like the Stalinists and Jacobins, today’s Republicans devour their past leaders. To the hard-core right wing, the Bushes, Mitt Romney, Bob Dole and John McCain are irritating vestiges of the party’s pussyfooting past; none was sufficiently devoted to rolling back the federal government when he had the chance. Thankfully, the Bushes et al. haven’t met the fate of Bukharin and Danton — but they are as conspicuously absent from today’s Republican rallies and state conventions as Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin are conspicuously present.
If anything illustrates just how far today’s Republicans have drifted from their traditional moorings, it’s the dismay with which their longtime business allies have greeted their decisions to close the government and threaten default. Such pillars of the Republican coalition as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers and the National Retail Federation have called for an end to the shutdown and an increase in the debt limit. Bruce Josten, the chamber’s executive vice president for government affairs, told The Post last week that his organization is considering backing primary challenges to tea party incumbents.
Today’s tea party-ized Republicans speak less for Wall Street or Main Street than they do for the seething resentments of white Southern backwaters and their geographically widespread but ideologically uniform ilk. Their theory of government, to the extent that they have one, derives from John C. Calhoun’s doctrine of nullification — that states in general and white minorities in particular should have the right to overturn federal law and impede majority rule. Like their predecessors in the Jim Crow South, today’s Republicans favor restricting minority voting rights if that is necessary to ensure victory at the polls.
The remarkable resurgence of these ancient and despicable doctrines is rooted in the politics of demographic and cultural despair. A series of focus groups that Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg conducted of evangelical and tea party Republicans (who, combined, constitute a majority of party members) found that they entertain a widespread and fatalistic belief that the United States is well on its way to becoming a socialist state by virtue of the growing number of non-white Americans’ dependence on government. Encapsulating the groups’ perspectives, Greenberg writes: “Their party is losing to a Democratic Party of big government whose goal is to expand programs that mainly benefit minorities.”
It does not register with these Republicans that Obamacare, which facilitates more widespread access to privatized insurance, is nowhere as socialistic as Medicare and Social Security. It seems that some believe that Obamacare is socialistic because they fear it will chiefly benefit the welfare queens of Republican lore, while Social Security and Medicare beneficiaries include millions of deserving people just like them — the disproportionately elderly and white Republican Party’s members.
It should not have been surprising, then, that demonstrators waved Confederate flags at the tea party demonstration Sunday on the Mall while demanding that congressional Republicans not succumb to the pressure to compromise and that the Obama administration open the Mall’s monuments, the World War II memorial in particular. The tea party’s theory of government and the fear and loathing that many adherents harbor toward minorities find a truer expression in the Confederate flag than in the Stars and Stripes.
It’s not clear whether those waving the Confederate flag on Sunday favored opening the Lincoln Memorial. I suspect, however, that the Republican enshrined there wouldn’t have favored them.
By: Harol Meyerson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, October 15, 2013