Humor for the Day

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You Are Not Forgotten, by Jon McNaughton

Notice President Trump’s foot on the snake. The artist comments:

I want a president that will crush the enemies of liberty, justice, and American prosperity.

They may have the power to bruise his heel, but he will have the power to crush their head!

He is referencing Genesis 3:15:

I will put enmity between you and the woman,
    and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
    and you shall bruise his heel.

Christians have often interpreted this passage as an allusion to Jesus Christ’s ultimate victory over evil. So the analogy here is that Trump is Jesus and his enemies are the Devil. Cool!

Notice Sheriff Clarke’s prominent placement over Trump’s left shoulder. Because nothing better communicates good old fashioned patriotic Christian American values than wanton cruelty. I feel so inspired!

You Are Not Forgotten is a follow-up to another McNaughton classic, The Forgotten Man:

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White men, do not fear! Now that the Constitution-stomping black man is out of office, we are no longer forgotten!

The most interesting thing about this painting is the placement of the prior presidents behind Obama. Kennedy and Bush seem ambivalent. Clinton, FDR, and Teddy are positively giddy. Lincoln and Washington are outraged. I would have thought Lincoln might be one of the bad ones in this schema.

If Evangelicalism Were Anti-Racist, Maybe Racists Wouldn’t Want To Claim They’re Evangelicals

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A perennial favorite. This photo will be in our great-grandkids’ e-textbooks.

When Fox comes out with a new poll every month it’s always a special treat because Fox tends to ask some off the wall questions and include self-identified white evangelicals in the crosstabs. The results are sometimes hilarious and almost always depressing. This month’s poll is a doozy.

Here are some of the questions that stood out to me, along with the results among self-described white evangelicals:

Do you think Donald Trump respects racial minorities?

Yes  72%

No 25%

Do you think Confederate monuments and statues should be taken down or stay up?

Be taken down  10%

Stay up  82%

In general, how do you think things work in the United States today?

Whites are favored over minorities  21%

Minorities are favored over whites  40%

No group is favored  27%

Don’t know  11%

Do you approve or disapprove of how President Trump responded to the events in Charlottesville?

Approve  65%

Disapprove  25%

Who do you think poses a greater threat to the United States — white supremacists or the news media?

White supremacists  23%

News media 63%

The usual caveats apply. It may not mean much for a person to self-identify as a white evangelical. But even if these poll results don’t reveal the true state of white evangelical opinion, they do tell us something else: the evangelical label is not toxic to racists. Put aside the question of whether most of these poll respondents are truly practicing Christians. Millions of people are associating their racism and ignorance with the evangelical label. Why would they want to do that if evangelicalism was known for its anti-racist commitment? People have an intuitive sense of where they belong, of who the in-group is, of where their affinities rest. So it’s telling that racists feel so at home under the evangelical banner.

Was Billy Graham the First “Court Evangelical”?

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Record-cover for the Billy Graham-inspired Honor America Day, July 4, 1970

In the Spring of 1970, President Nixon felt embattled as the growing anti-war movement shut down college campuses and rallied thousands of people just outside the White House. The secret war in Cambodia had come to light, galvanizing protests. The National Guard shootings at Kent State and Jackson State in May added to the sense of crisis.

As Nixon searched for ways to mobilize his “silent majority” of patriotic Americans who believed in the war effort and old-fashioned American values, Billy Graham came to the rescue.

Graham was a lot of things to Nixon: friend, confidant, spiritual and political advisor. But most of all, Graham was someone Nixon could use to sacralize his politics. Just weeks after the shootings at Kent and Jackson, Graham invited Nixon to speak at his Knoxville Crusade. In such a heated atmosphere, Nixon’s appearance was inherently political, and Graham’s words at the rally made it more so. While Nixon sat on stage, Graham reminded his audience that the Bible commanded obedience to authority. When some protestors heckled Graham, he said, “All Americans may not agree with the decisions a president makes, but he is our president.” ¹

And Graham had bigger plans to support his president. Nixon aide Bob Haldeman wrote that Nixon wanted to “try to implement Billy Graham’s idea about a big pro-America rally, maybe on 4th of July.” In June, Graham and conservative comedian Bob Hope duly announced an “Honor America Day” celebration to be held on the national mall on the fourth of July. The event was a great success, but its meaning was in the eye of the beholder. To supporters of Graham and Nixon, the festivities were a wholesome celebration of God and country. To critics, the event was transparently political and cheapened true religion.²

Here’s a clip from Graham’s Honor America Day sermon at the Lincoln Memorial:

Graham isn’t offering evangelical Christianity here. Instead, he promotes a vaguely religious nationalism in which the American Dream is assumed to be sacred. The sermon culminates not in a call to repentance or invitation to follow Jesus, but in a stirring appeal to “pursue the vision, reach toward the goal, fulfill the American Dream.”

Graham would deeply regret his close association with Nixon. He had stuck with him even as the Watergate scandal consumed the administration. Perhaps Graham was naive, or blinded by power and celebrity. Perhaps there is a more generous explanation. In any case, he catastrophically misjudged Nixon’s character, and when Nixon’s true nature could no longer be denied, Graham felt betrayed.³

Later, when the Nixon tapes revealed anti-semitic conversations between Graham and Nixon, the damage to Graham’s reputation was severe. Graham came to believe that his close identification with partisan politics was one of the great mistakes of his career. From then on he tried, with varying success, to distance himself from partisan politics.

Graham had his time at the King’s court. And he realized that the cost—his credibility as a minister of the Gospel—could not be justified. Graham’s mistakes caused many Americans to write him off. But his trajectory in subsequent decades—toward greater inclusion and openness, toward more good news and less partisanship—make him a beloved figure to millions of people in the U.S. and around the world. Say what you will about Billy Graham, but he grew and changed over time, for the better.

Billy Graham’s history makes the present-day activities of his son Franklin and the other Court Evangelicals that much more remarkable. It seems the children have not learned from the sins of the father. Witness Franklin Graham’s prayer at Trump’s Phoenix rally this week:

Graham prays against a variety of evils without seeming to realize that President Trump embodies those very things. He appears, in short, either incredibly foolish or willfully dishonest.

Franklin Graham’s behavior puzzles me. Surely he knows of his father’s regrets. Does he believe Billy took the wrong lesson from being burned by Nixon? His trajectory is the opposite of his father’s, but he seems to want to trade on his father’s name. Does anyone know if Franklin has publicly commented on this?

Franklin ought to already know, but he is likely to learn soon enough: when Christians support a wicked ruler, the end can only be a bitter harvest.


¹ This account relies on Kevin Kruse, One Nation Under God (New York: Basic Books, 2015). It’s a fascinating book. You should read it! For the Knoxville Crusade and Graham’s words, see Kruse, 260-263.

²Kruse, 260-274.

³See Grant Wacker’s sympathetic treatment of this and other aspects of Graham’s career in America’s Pastor (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2014).

*As always, credit to John Fea for the “court evangelical” term.

A Glimpse of the Evangelical Id

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Paula White

Perhaps I should put “evangelical” in quotes, because I don’t believe the prosperity-gospel preachers have any good news that you couldn’t get more simply from Oprah or a lottery ticket. If you’re looking for the good life, Christianity is the last place you’ll find it. But a lot of evangelicals apparently don’t see it that way.

A year ago, I would not have bothered to bring attention to the video I’m going to show you below. I thought of these folks as fringe figures who had little or nothing to do with evangelicalism. I’ve spent my whole life in evangelical worlds and I can’t recall anyone expressing any respect or support for these people. In fact, we’ve probably mostly thought of them as “so-called” evangelicals. Well, now I wonder if they were the mainstream and I was the fringe.

Brace yourself:

Several things stand out to me about this video.

–“We were sent here to takeover.” This is funny, but you should also take this seriously.

–The unabashed celebration of access. The mood here is, “Praise the Lord, we’re important again!” This is like the pastor with the new Cadillac when the congregation is proud of him instead of wondering why he’s taking all their money. Paula White can go into the White House “anytime she wants to!” And look, the President blurbed her book! If Paula is important, you’re important.

–The importance of a rhetorical posture against abortion without any need to actually pursue abortion-reducing policies.

–The overwhelming triumph of symbolism. What happens in the real world counts for nothing. Instead, let me just touch the pen with which President Trump signed a symbolic statement that didn’t actually role back the Johnson Amendment.

–Throughout this clip, I have no idea when they’re talking about the church, when they’re talking about the nation, or both. The conflation is deliberate. Don’t you know God made a covenant with America?

It seems obvious to me that these folks are promoting fake Christianity and making fools of themselves. But I’ve long since given up believing I have the pulse of mainstream white evangelicalism.

How Evangelical Nationalism Enables Racism

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Jerry Falwell, Sr. leads a “I Love America” rally at the New Jersey State Capitol, 1980. William Sauro, NYT.

A lot of people are noting the juxtaposition of Trump’s imploding business advisory councils and his quiet-as-church-mice religious advisory council members. These court evangelicals (John Fea’s term) will claim they are staying on to try to provide Christian instruction to Trump, as if there has ever been any evidence that he would abide such a thing. The real reason they’re staying on is access. Trump provides them influence (or the illusion of it) at the commanding heights of the nation they believe they ought to lead. The President’s racism is a minor inconvenience in comparison to the gains they envision.

For these court evangelicals and their followers, the on-ramp to supporting racism is not necessarily direct. It is shaped by the distinct character of evangelical nationalism. Let me try to explain what I mean. This is kind of a think piece. Tell me where I’m getting it wrong.

White evangelicals are often described as anti-statist. Hostility to governing institutions runs deep in some evangelical circles. And it’s certainly true that many white evangelical leaders have turned rhetorical posturing against the federal government into an art form. But as Axel Shaffer has argued, white evangelicals have combined that rhetoric with efforts to make the state work for them. The goal is to capture the state, not tear it down.

Though the number of white evangelicals with such frightening ambitions is relatively small, they punch above their weight. The widespread populist evangelical nationalism among ordinary white evangelicals sustains the more radical state-capturing project of Christian Right leaders.

Many white evangelicals feel both hostility toward the state and an intense identification with the nation. They are at once alienated outsiders and the nation’s truest inheritors. The evangelical historian George Marsden identified this ambivalence decades ago in his classic study of fundamentalism and American culture. The nation is, rightfully, theirs. It was founded on their principles, blessed by their devotion. Yet the forces of liberalism and secularism, acting through the federal government, have taken the nation from them.

In this wing of evangelicalism, memory and national identity center on the concerns and interests of privileged white Christians. Slavery and genocide are glossed over or presented as exceptions that somehow do not alter the essentially Christian character of the new nation. The 1960s are remembered not primarily for the destruction of Jim Crow, but as the moment when the nation turned its back on God by taking prayer and Bible reading out of schools and embracing the sexual revolution.

Think I’m exaggerating? Consider the work of history that has had more influence among white evangelicals than any other in recent decades: Peter Marshall and David Manuel’s The Light and the Glory. Published in 1977 and still in print, it has sold almost 1 million copies. In his book, Why Study History?, the evangelical historian John Fea described Marshall and Manuel’s argument:

The United States, from the time of its first settlement, was founded to show the rest of the world how to love God and neighbor. God had made a special covenant with this country, not unlike the covenant he made with the children of Jacob. Throughout its short history, America has occasionally lived up to this covenant, but at other times it has not. The study of the past presents a constant reminder of this unique and ongoing relationship between God and the United States and the role that all Americans, but especially Christians, play in making sure that divine favor rests on this land.

Ironically, as Russell Moore has pointed out, this is a form of theological liberalism that denies the sufficiency of the new covenant in Jesus Christ. It recalls the efforts of liberal Protestants’ in pre-war Germany to meld Christianity and nationalism. There, the consequences for German minorities were disastrous. So too could it be here.

As white evangelicals seek to vindicate the supposedly Christian origins and, it is hoped, future of the nation, they write marginalized groups out of the story. Imagining a past without oppressed people opens up space to imagine a future without them. This is potentially deadly. Many white evangelicals’ self-identification with this Christian nation is so strong that listening and learning from people the nation has harmed is extremely difficult. Often, the reason white evangelicals can’t be honest about racism is because they’ve never been honest about the nation they love.

The roots of this are broad and deep. We’re not talking about a fringe movement. Consider two of the most outspoken white evangelical Trump supporters among his religious advisory council: Jerry Falwell, Jr., and Robert Jeffress. Both men supported Trump early and loudly. Both men are influential leaders. And both men trace their roots to a father (Falwell, Sr.) or father figure (W.A. Criswell) who once embraced racist nationalism. Let’s examine them in turn.

As buffoonish as Falwell Jr. often appears, it is wishful thinking to believe the President of the largest evangelical university in the world doesn’t have real influence. He does. And he is using that influence to walk in the footsteps of his father. The outlines of Falwell Sr.’s career are well-known: from small-town segregationist preacher who shunned politics, to founder of the Moral Majority to take back the nation for God.

In this apparent change from political outsider to insider there is an underlying consistency: Falwell’s intense identification with the culture around him as something that must be protected from liberal forces. The shift from a southern-inflected nationalism in the 1950s to American nationalism in the 1980s is hardly the point. Falwell moved on from defending segregation to defending “morality” without ever really grappling with why he had been wrong in the first place.

Now his son supports racism because doing so gives him access to the state and the chance to protect the nation from liberal forces. The apple didn’t fall far.

The case of Robert Jeffress is a bit different. As with Falwell, some of us may like to pretend he’s a fringe figure, but he’s not. He’s pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas. This isn’t just any church. This is where W.A. Criswell preached for over half a century. Rick Warren, in his best-selling book, The Purpose Driven Church, called Criswell “the greatest American pastor of the twentieth century.” When the most influential American pastor of this century says that, you ought to pay attention.

In an interview this week, Jeffress described Criswell as a spiritual father figure:

Jeffress grew up in the historic Dallas congregation, which formed in 1868 and will celebrate its 150th anniversary next year. As a boy, he gained spiritual insight from the late Rev. W.A. Criswell, First Baptist’s preacher for half a century.

“When I was 5, I started to become interested in becoming a Christian,” said Jeffress, who has served as senior pastor for 10 years. “My dad brought me down to Dr. Criswell’s office, and he presented the gospel, and I accepted Christ as my savior here.”

It should come as no surprise that Criswell spoke forcefully in defense of segregation during the 1950s. Indeed, this understates what he did. Over a period of years, Criswell—“the greatest American pastor of the twentieth century”—preached overt heresy from the pulpit. Criswell later publicly recanted these views and said he had been wrong. There is evidence of sincere wrestling with his sin. There are also questions to be asked about how total his repentance was, not least because of Criswell’s own words: “My soul and attitude may not have changed, but my public statements did.” Curtis Freeman has a balanced account of all this in the Journal of Southern Religion.

What is most striking about Criswell’s segregationist statements is not so much that they were demagogic and hateful—though they were—but that they expressed a comprehensive view of the world, a total attachment to nation and culture rather than Christianity. In 1956 he criticized integrationists for “trying to upset all the things that we love as good old Southern people and as good old Southern Baptists.” In an often-quoted conclusion to that sermon Criswell said:

Don’t force me by law, by statute, by Supreme Court decision…to cross over in those intimate things where I don’t want to go. Let me build my life. Let me have my church. Let me have my school. Let me have my friends. Let me have my home. Let me have my family. And what you give to me, give to every man in America and keep it like our glorious forefathers made it—a land of the free and the home of the brave.

Again, read Freeman’s account. There is American myth and individual selfishness here aplenty. I defy you to find a hint of Jesus in it.

Now, Robert Jeffress pastors Criswell’s old church, and he too is sacralizing American nationalism. The forms of racism they enable are different—for Criswell it was segregation and southern extremists, for Jeffress it’s colorblindness and a racist President. But in both cases, their conflation of faith and nation fatally compromises the supremacy of Jesus and the worth of human beings.

The court evangelicals seek to bring America back to God. Christians of conscience must firmly stand against that project. Under the banner of restoring the Christian nation, these men and women would oppress human beings. God has set his love on people. No nation can compare to the inestimable worth of a person made in the image of God.

 


Update: While some news outlets have been reporting on the evangelical advisory council as a currently functioning board, Fea says he learned today it was disbanded after the election. Whether Trump’s circle of evangelical advisors is an official board or not is hardly the point, but I would like to know more about why it disbanded.

What White Evangelicals See When They Look at the Trump Administration

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“Court evangelicals” outside the White House, July 27, 2017

Apparently, there is a “spiritual awakening” in the White House. The Christian Broadcasting Network reports:

A spiritual awakening is underway at the White House.

Some of the most powerful people in America have been gathering weekly to learn more about God’s Word, and this Trump Cabinet Bible study is making history.

They’ve been called the most evangelical Cabinet in history – men and women who don’t mince words when it comes to where they stand on God and the Bible…

Health Secretary Tom Price, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Agriculture Secretary Sunny Perdue, and CIA Director Mike Pompeo are just a few of the regulars.

“It’s the best Bible study that I’ve ever taught in my life. They are so teachable; they’re so noble; they’re so learned,” [Capitol Ministries Founder Ralph] Drollinger said.

It’s groundbreaking since he doesn’t think a formal Bible study among executive Cabinet members has been done in at least 100 years.

America’s top cop, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, also attends the study.

“He’ll (Jeff Sessions) go out the same day I teach him something and I’ll see him do it on camera and I just think, ‘Wow, these guys are faithful, available and teachable and they’re at Bible study every week they’re in town,'” Drollinger said…

Like others, Drollinger often compares President Trump to biblical strongman Samson.

“I just praise God for them,” he said. “And I praise God for Mike Pence, who I think with Donald Trump chose great people to lead our nation.”

A former professor of mine at a white evangelical college shared this article yesterday and wrote, “This is one of the many reasons I’m glad I voted for President Trump.”

It’s hard for those of us outside the bubble of right-wing nationalist Christianity to understand or even imagine what this administration looks like from the perspective of many white evangelicals. This article gives us a hint. They really believe that this administration is full of godly people trying to restore Christian values to America.

What does that return to Christian values look like? It looks like Bible studies, and accolades and access for the right people, most of all white evangelicals themselves. It means relentless symbolism to demarcate the righteous and unrighteous teams. And it means discrimination against the bad people: transgender, homosexual, immigrant, black, and so on.

The mythic Trump administration most white evangelicals see goes part way toward explaining the puzzling phenomenon of white evangelicals apparently being unconcerned about their “witness.” If you’re familiar with the evangelical world, you know that among our highest values is representing Jesus to the world. We want Christianity to appear winsome and attractive. Jesus said his disciples were “witnesses” of his life, death, and resurrection. Now, 2000 years later, when evangelicals share with others our own encounter with Jesus, we might say that we are “witnessing.” In evangelicalism, few things are worse than damaging your “witness” before a watching world.

So it’s amazing that more white evangelicals aren’t responding to the widespread perception that they are hateful hypocrites. I wouldn’t expect white evangelicals to agree with the critique, but I would have expected them to be concerned about it. Instead, their right-wing nationalist bubble is so thick that they don’t seem able to comprehend or imagine how their behavior looks from the outside. When what you’re hearing about the Trump Administration is Bible studies and prayer sessions and enthusiastic praise from Christian leaders you trust, it’s all too easy to believe the critics are just “liberals” and “secularists” and people hostile to Christianity anyway. This bunkered, tribal mindset has a long tradition stretching back at least to the modernist-fundamentalist battles of a century ago. It shows no signs of abating.

The Fragmentation of Evangelicalism

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Sunday service at First Baptist Church, Dallas Texas. June 25, 2017.

Evangelicalism is splintering. And Trump’s presidency is hastening the process. John Fea, professor of history at Messiah College (and an evangelical himself) has a perceptive column in the Washington Post this week about the people he calls “court evangelicals” and how they’re changing evangelicalism:

If you want to understand white evangelicalism in the age of Trump, you need to know Robert Jeffress, the pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas.

Jeffress is not a household name in the United States, known mainly in Southern Baptist circles. But he has recently gained national attention as a “court evangelical” — my term for a Christian who, like the attendants and advisers who frequented the courts of monarchs, seeks influence through regular visits to the White House.

The court evangelicals are changing the religious landscape in the United States. The Trump presidency is only six months old, but it is already beginning to alter long-standing spiritual alignments. It seems as though Christians are not changing Trump, but rather that Trump could be changing Christianity.

Historians will write about this moment in terms of both continuity and change. On one hand, court evangelicals are part of a familiar story. For nearly half a century, evangelicals have sought to influence the direction of the country and its laws through politics. But Trump has forced them to embrace a pragmatism that could damage the gospel around the world, and force many Christians to rethink their religious identities and affiliations….

[Trump’s] campaign and presidency has shed light on a troubling wing of American evangelicalism willing to embrace nationalism, populism, fear of outsiders and anger. The leaders of this wing trade their evangelical witness for a mess of political pottage and a Supreme Court nomination.

Not all evangelicals are on board, of course. Most black evangelicals are horrified by Trump’s failure to understand their history and his willingness to serve as a hero of the alt-right movement.

The 20 percent of white evangelicals who did not vote for Trump — many of whom are conservative politically and theologically — now seem to have a lot more in common with mainline Protestants. Some in my own circles have expressed a desire to leave their evangelical churches in search of a more authentic form of Christianity.

Other evangelicals are experiencing a crisis of faith as they look around in their white congregations on Sunday morning and realize that so many fellow Christians were willing to turn a blind eye to all that Trump represents.

Read the whole thing. Fea provides additional historical context for thinking about how we got here.

When I say that evangelicalism is splintering it’s not to say that evangelicalism ever was unified. But the Trump presidency is intensifying longstanding fault lines.  A huge swath of evangelicalism is increasingly acting as if it’s a state-established church here to give divine sanction to state policy (that is, when Republicans lead the state). The false gods of nation, prosperity, and safety are held up as proper objects of worship alongside Jesus Christ. Evangelicals who seek to turn their backs on these false gods are often accused of being less mature believers, or perhaps not even true Christians at all.

There is a divide between evangelicals who see “God and country” as comfortable bedfellows and those who see the same phrase as shorthand for heresy. In the age of Trump, as we see just how far God and country evangelicals are willing to go, the divide has become a chasm.

The deadly embrace of nationalist evangelicals and their president is likely to intensify a curious phenomenon:  there are growing numbers of people of color in historically evangelical denominations, but they do not claim the label and feel no affinity for its heritage. Then there are white evangelicals who do not embrace the cultural trappings of the movement and are tired of being treated as less-than because of it. They may seek a home elsewhere.

What all this means for the future of evangelicalism is not yet clear. These are fascinating and troubled times.

Southern Baptists Beclown Themselves

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Russell Moore

Russell Moore is a Christian before he is a political lobbyist, and that has many white Southern Baptists concerned. The backstory is that Moore kept his integrity during the election while criticizing religious right leaders for prostituting themselves. This made a lot of Southern Baptists angry. There was a lot of speculation that Moore was about to be fired a couple months ago. That didn’t happen. Moore apologized and the rift seemed to close somewhat. But this was definitely a “to be continued” story.

The Wall Street Journal (paywalled) reported yesterday that there are still lingering animosities even months after Moore’s apology. Some churches are still withholding their monies from the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. And some Southern Baptists are upset that Moore seems to have no influence with the new administration. What’s the point of a public policy arm if it doesn’t really speak for the majority of the denomination and doesn’t have the ear of Republican leaders? The Journal writes:

After years of feeling shut out during the Obama administration, evangelicals are now enjoying far greater access at the White House. Mr. Moore, however, has been shut out, according to evangelicals who work in Washington. A White House spokeswoman said Mr. Moore didn’t appear to have visited since Mr. Trump took office.

While other evangelical leaders were in the White House Rose Garden last month, he was at a conference about orphans in Nashville, according to his Twitter feed.

What a sucker. Paying attention to orphans while there is political power to be courted in the nation’s capital. How could Russell Moore be so stupid?

Here’s a special Southern Baptist quiz for you. Who’s more offensive:

a) A racist, proud, dishonest, greedy, cruel, selfish, Christ-hating sexual predator?

b) Russell Moore?

That’s easy. Russell Moore is way more offensive.

Saying Someone Is A Racist Is Not Name-Calling

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Dr. Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor

Last month, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, an assistant professor of African-American studies at Princeton University, gave the commencement address at Hampshire College. In her speech, she called President Trump a “racist, sexist megalomaniac.”

Fox News and other conservative outlets ran stories on it as part of their “radical black academic says something outrageous” series. The Blaze called it “unhinged” and Fox called it a “tirade.” Cue the outrage. Now Dr. Taylor is receiving death threats because of their irresponsible reporting.

These news outlets didn’t bother asking whether or not Dr. Taylor’s words were true. Call me old-fashioned, but that seems like an important variable! A lot of mainstream conservatives seem to think that calling someone a racist is inherently libelous. In many circles, the -ist words are considered equivalent to name-calling.

You can watch the speech for yourself and see what you think of it. As I see it, Dr. Taylor isn’t name-calling. She’s making a good-faith effort to accurately and succinctly describe the President’s public behavior. This is fair and reasonable. It’s not at all rude or disrespectful to President Trump. (To some of you this is blindingly obvious but bear with me, because it’s not obvious to about half the country!)

In modern American history, we had never had a major party nominee that made insults against communities of color a routine part of his stump speech. His background of racial discrimination in his realty business was also unusual for a modern presidential candidate. Add to that the fact that he entered politics by pushing a wild conspiracy theory about the birthplace of the nation’s first black president. Reasonable people might disagree about how best to summarize this record. But calling it “racist” is a precise and careful summation. It’s not rude or disrespectful in any way. (Of course Trump also called an entire nation’s immigrants “rapists” and demanded an immigration ban on an entire religion. In keeping with the theme of precision, some would call these actions xenophobic and religiously bigoted rather than racist as such).

We had also never had a major party presidential nominee who boasted about sexually assaulting women. Again, calling this “sexist” is rather restrained. It’s not unfair or uncivil. And his behavior since taking office has certainly confirmed the appropriateness of the term “megalomaniac.” The sheer volume and audacity of the President’s lies give one indication among many of his unusual mental state.

In my fumbling attempts to resist racism, white people have often asked me to speak more carefully and precisely so as to avoid giving unnecessary offense and allow listeners to really hear what I’m saying. That’s good advice! But it cuts the other way too: what if we use words like racism and sexism precisely and purposely to describe a pattern of behavior, and people are unwilling to hear it as anything other than a rant? Conservatives often accuse liberals of hurling mindless charges of racism (and this does happen) but often we see the opposite dynamic: even a well-founded charge of racism shuts down a white person’s brain.

Don’t be that person! I’ve been writing about race for almost a decade. And I’ve done and said lots of racist things. But I’ve also grown a bit, and people have helped me and been generous. (I’ve grown less in other areas and am definitely sexist in many ways). Despite what it might seem like on social media, in the real world people are not waiting in the bushes to jump out and call you a racist the first moment you say something wrongheaded. We’d be at a much better place as a country if more people could say, “Here’s why I voted for the racist/sexist candidate.” Once you say that, you open up some space to take responsibility for your actions and the people hurt by them. But I suppose that’s asking for more self-awareness than most of us, including me, probably have.

In the real world, people want to know if we’re acting in good faith. Are we trying to learn and grow? There’s room to make mistakes if that’s our posture. But if Dr. Taylor offends you and Donald Trump doesn’t, well, don’t be surprised if some names you don’t like are hurled your way.