Heather Heyer was killed while protesting bigotry and hatred.
One would think that denouncing racism and murder in the service of white supremacy and denouncing those who defend such things would be a super easy call for truly religious folks. But recent events illustrate the disconnect between what white evangelicals say and purport to believe and what they actually do.
Most egregious is the case of ISIS-style domestic terrorism in Charlottesville, Virginia, last weekend that resulted in the murder of a young woman, Heather Hyer, who was there to stand against racism. President Trump’s appalling and disgusting reaction was to stand with and defend the terrorists: the KKK, neo-Nazis, skinheads, and other white supremacists, whom he referred to as “fine people.” Those events and Trump’s reaction have been discussed thoroughly elsewhere. Here, I will explore a vexing (to me, at least) question, viz.: how is it that people who claim to be religious can support a president whose words and actions are totally antithetical to moral and religious values?
White evangelicals conspicuously absent…
White evangelicals have noticeably not spoken out against the Charlottsville Nazis.
President Trump’s giving cover to the white supremacists unleashed a chorus of condemnation. Chief among the critics are African Americans and Jewish Americans. The chants at the white-supremacist rally were “You (African Americans) will not replace us,” “Jews will not replace us,” and the Nazi-era rallying cry “Blood and Soil.” Many elected officials and other political figures also spoke out. Even the normally apolitical Joint Chiefs of Staff condemned the racism and hate manifested at the rally. CEOs of some of the country’s largest companies also joined the condemnation chorus.
The CEOs were organized as the Council on Manufacturing and the Council on Strategic and Policy Forum, advisory boards to Trump. In domino-effect fashion, Council on Manufacturing members denounced racism and its evil cousins and resigned in protest of Trump’s embracing of the American terrorists. The Council on Strategic and Policy Forum voted to dissolve itself in protest of Trump’s defense of the white supremacists.
Conspicuous by its deafening silence is Trump’s Evangelical Council, a who’s who of evangelical leaders formed to advise the president on religious and moral matters. Not only has the council not denounced Trump’s stance, some members, like Jerry Falwell, Jr., have praised Trump’s stand.
Conspicuously absent again…
Unlike Latino clergy, white evangelicals have also not spoken out on the deportation of Rev. Noe Carias.
The case of Los Angeles Latino Evangelical minister Rev. Noe Carias illustrates Trump’s rabid anti-immigrant thrust. Carias is being deported, after having been arrested and detained by ICE this month during a routine appointment with an immigration officer.
Latino pastors of varying denominations have spoken out in support of Carias, noting that Rev. Carias is a law-abiding and productive member of his local Los Angeles community, a model father of two children who are both U.S. citizens. Conspicuously absent from those supporting Carias are members of the white evangelical community, and particularly evangelical ministers. Some folks are mystified by the silence of the white evangelicals. After all, Carias is an evangelical minister, one of their own.
But the silence of the evangelicals with respect to the two issues discussed above comports with the fact that about 80% of the evangelicals in the U.S. supported Trump in the 2016 election and continue to support him, a position many deem is patently hypocritical, given what evangelicals purport to believe and practice.
Evangelical theology is simple…
Evangelicals take their name from the Greek term for “the good news” or the “gospel.” They focus on the “good news” of salvation, that is, love and peace enunciated by Jesus Christ. At its core, evangelical theology is simple. It is built on the twin pillars of love—love God and love all humans, who are created in God’s image.
Jesus was clear: “Love thy neighbor as thyself.”
The Gospels of Matthew (22:35-40), Mark (12:28-31), and Luke (10:25-28) describe Jesus’ answer when asked, “Which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus said simply: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind” and then invoked a second commandment: “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. There are no other commandments greater than these.” Most Christian denominations consider these two commandments the core of the Christian religion.
There are tons of references in the Bible—Old and New Testaments—that mandate that those who claim to love God should welcome “sojourners” and “strangers,” i.e., immigrants and people who may not look like you, and stand up for the poor.
For religious folks, a bedrock belief is that God resides in every person. Thus, in addressing others, in word or deed, you are addressing God. The religious Golden Rule, then, is a zero-sum matter: Either God is in all of his creation, or he is in none of it. (I use “he” and “his” as a convention.)
Thus, it is an absolute truism that one cannot be a genuine Christian and a racist at the same time.
Yet, evangelicals support Trump…
Mahama Ghandi said: “I like your Christ (but) your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
Thus, for evangelicals to support Trump is a betrayal of their faith, of their vow to love God and all of God’s creations. Trump’s defense of the Charlottesville gang of white supremacists is only the latest manifestation of Trump’s racism (e.g., the five-year “birther” campaign he led against President Obama). Mohandas Gandhi could have been talking about today’s evangelicals and their Republican friends when he said: “I like your Christ (but) your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
The evangelicals’ actions—or perhaps better said, lack of action—regarding Trump bring to mind the question posited in Bob Dylan’s 1962 song, “Blowing in the wind”: “How many times must a man turn his head and pretend that he just doesn’t see?”
In a similar vein, Heather Hyer’s mother, at her daughter’s memorial service, challenged the mourners to honor Heather by confronting evil straight on: “If you see evil, don’t look away … look it in the eye and ask yourself—what can I do to change this?”
About 80% of the evangelicals in the U.S. support Trump.
I acknowledge that many Christians condemn the events in Charlottesville and Trump’s stand, but the fact remains that about 80% of the evangelicals in the U.S. support Trump. It behooves Trump-supporting evangelicals and other so-called Christians who stand with a president who defends white supremacists who murder innocents in the service of a racist ideology to do a deep self-analysis. For, being genuinely religious is serious business and often is inconvenient, such as when your faith requires you to actually practice what you purport to believe in and claim to stand for. c/s.
Copyright 2017 by Salomon Baldenegro. To contact Sal write: firstname.lastname@example.org Photos of Heather Heyer and Noe Carias are used under the “fair use” proviso of the copyright law, all other photos are in the public domain.