Voices from Russia

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Why White Evangelicalism Is So Cruel


Robert Jeffress, Pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas and an avid supporter of Donald Trump, earned headlines this week for his defence of the president’s adultery with a porn star. Regarding the affair and subsequent financial payments, Jeffress explained:

Even if it’s true, it doesn’t matter.

Such a casual attitude toward adultery and prostitution might seem odd from a guy who blamed 9/11 on America’s sinfulness. However, seen through the lens of white evangelicals’ real priorities, Jeffress’ disinterest in Trump’s sordid lifestyle makes sense. Religion is inseparable from culture and culture is inseparable from history. Modern white evangelicalism emerged from the interplay between race and religion in the slave states. What today we call “evangelical Christianity” is the product of centuries of conditioning, in which religious practices were adapted to nurture a slave economy. Over centuries, the economic and cultural priorities that forged their theology shaped the calloused insensitivity of modern white evangelicals.

Many Christian movements take the title “evangelical”, including many African-American denominations. However, today, evangelicalism has been co-opted as a preferred description for Christians looking to shed an older, largely discredited, title… Fundamentalist. A quick glance at a map showing concentrations of adherents and weekly church attendance reveals the evangelical movement’s centre of gravity in the Old South. Amongst those evangelical churches, one denomination remains by far the leader in membership, theological pull, and political influence.

Today, there’s still a Southern Baptist Church. More than a century and a half after the Civil War and decades after the Methodists and Presbyterians reunited with their Yankee neighbours, America’s most powerful evangelical denomination remains defined, right down to the name over the door, by an 1845 split over slavery. Southern denominations faced enormous social and political pressure from plantation owners. Public expressions of dissent on the subject of slavery in the South weren’t merely illegal; they were a death sentence. Baptist ministers who rejected slavery, like South Carolina’s William Henry Brisbane, had to flee to the North. Otherwise, they would end up like Methodist minister Anthony Bewley, lynched in Texas in 1860, his bones left exposed at a local store and played with by children. Whiteness offered protection from many of the South’s cruelties, but that protection stopped at the subject of race. No one who dared speak truth to power on the subject of slavery, or later Jim Crow, could expect protection.

Generation after generation, Southern pastors adapted their theology to thrive under a terrorist state. Principled critics were exiled or murdered, leaving voices of dissent few and scattered. Southern Christianity evolved in strange directions under ever-increasing isolation. Preachers learned to tailor their message to protect themselves. If all you knew about Christianity came from a close reading of the New Testament, you’d expect that Christians would be hostile to wealth, emphatic in the protection of justice, sympathetic to the point of personal pain toward the sick, persecuted and the migrant, and almost socialist in their economic practices. None of these consistent Christian themes served the interests of slave owners, so pastors could abandon them, obscure them, or flee.

What developed in the South was a theology carefully tailored to meet the needs of a slave state. It rendered the biblical emphasis on social justice miraculously invisible. It reinterpreted a book constructed around the central metaphor of slaves finding their freedom was. You couldn’t teach from the pulpit messages that might’ve questioned the inherent superiority of the white race, constrained the authority of property owners, or inspired some interest in the poor or less fortunate. It carefully and safely relegated any Christian suggestion of social justice to “the sweet by and by” where all would be made right at no cost to white worshippers. The forge of slavery and Jim Crow burned away the Christian message of courage, love, compassion, and service to others.

Stripped of its compassion and integrity, little remained of the Christian message. What survived was a perverse emphasis on sexual purity as the sole expression of righteousness, along with a creepy obsession with the unquestionable sexual authority of white men. In a culture where race defined one’s claim to basic humanity, women took on a special religious interest. It transformed Christianity’s historic emphasis on sexual purity as a form of ascetic self-denial into an obsession with women and sex. For Southerners, righteousness had little meaning beyond sex, and sexual mores were far less important for men than for women. Guarding women’s sexual purity meant guarding the purity of the white race. There was no higher moral demand.

Changes brought by the Civil War only heightened the need to protect white racial superiority. Churches were the lynchpin of Jim Crow. By the time the Civil Rights movement gained force in the South, Dallas’ First Baptist Church, where Jeffress is the pastor today, was a bulwark of segregation and white supremacy. As the wider culture nationally struggled to free itself from the burdens of racism, white evangelicals fought this development while the violence escalated. What happened to ministers who resisted slavery happened again to those who resisted segregation. White Episcopal Seminary student Jonathan Daniels went to Alabama in 1965 to support voting rights protests. After his release from jail, an off-duty sheriff’s deputy, who was acquitted by a jury, murdered him. Dozens of white activists joined the innumerable black Americans murdered fighting for civil rights in the 60’s, but very few of them were Southern.

White Evangelical Christians opposed desegregation tooth and nail. Where pressed, they made cheap cosmetic compromises, like Billy Graham’s concession to allow black worshipers at his crusades. Graham never made any difficult statements on race, never appeared on stage with his “black friend” Martin Luther King after 1957, and he never marched with King. When King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech, Graham responded with this passive-aggressive gem of Southern theology:

Only when Christ comes again will the little white children of Alabama walk hand in hand with little black children.

For white Southern evangelicals, justice and compassion belong only to the dead. Churches like First Baptist in Dallas didn’t become stalwart defenders of segregation by accident. Like the wider white evangelical movement, it was then and remains today an obstacle to Christian notions of social justice thanks to a long dismal heritage. There’s no changing the white evangelical movement without a wholesale reconsideration of their theology. No sign of such a reckoning is apparent. Those waiting to see the bottom of white evangelical cruelty have little source of optimism. Men like Pastor Jeffress can dismiss Trump’s racist abuses as easily as they dismiss his fondness for porn stars. When asked about Trump’s treatment of immigrants, Jeffress shared these comments:

Solving DACA without strengthening borders ignores the teachings of the Bible. In fact, Christians who support open borders, or blanket amnesty, are cherry-picking Scriptures to suit their own agendas.

For those unfamiliar with Christian scriptures, it might help to point out what Jesus reportedly said about this subject and about the wider question of our compassion for the poor and the suffering:

Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.

What did Jesus say about abortion, the favourite subject of Jeffress and the rest of the evangelical movement? Nothing. What does the Bible say about abortion, a practice as old as civilisation? Nothing… not one word. The Bible’s exhortations to compassion for immigrants and the poor stretch long enough to comprise a sizeable book of their own, but no matter. White evangelicals won’t let something as pliable as scripture constrain their political ambitions.

Why is the Religious Right obsessed with subjects like abortion while unmoved by the plight of immigrants, minorities, the poor, the uninsured, and those slaughtered in pointless gun violence? No white man has ever been denied an abortion. The deportation of migrants affected few if any white men. White men aren’t kept from attending college by laws persecuting Dreamers. White evangelical Christianity has a bottomless well of compassion for the interests of straight white men and not a drop for anyone else at their expense. The cruelty of white evangelical churches in politics and their treatment of their own gay or minority parishioners is no accident. It is an institution born in slavery, tuned to serve the needs of Jim Crow, and entirely unwilling to confront either of those realities.

Men like Russell Moore, head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s public policy group, are trying to reform the Southern Baptist church in increments, much like Billy Graham before him. His statements on subjects like the Confederate flag and sexual harassment are bold, but only relative to previous church proclamations. He’s still about three decades behind the rest of American culture in recognition of the basic human rights of the country’s non-white non-male citizens. The resistance he’s facing from evangelicals will continue so long as the theology informing white evangelical religion remains unconsidered and unchallenged. As long as white evangelical religion remains dedicated to its roots, it’ll perpetuate its heritage. What this religious heritage produced in the 2016 election when white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump by a record margin is the truest expression of its moral character.

You’ll know a tree by its fruit.

11 March 2018

Chris Ladd

Political Orphans



Tuesday, 6 March 2018

The Christian Right Was Right


I confess that I was dead wrong about this. I have to hand it to the Christian Right, they knew what they were talking about all this time. They knew this was going to happen and predicted it with astounding accuracy, repeatedly. For decades, they tried to tell us that the sky was falling, that devils were walking among us, and that the end was so very nigh. For years and years, they lamented the approaching devastation and tried to prepare us as good prophets do. They pounded their pulpits with ferocity and thumped their Bibles with abandon, forecasting this country’s certain doom… and we didn’t listen. We rolled our eyes and dismissed them as out-of-touch, hypocritical, religious zealots whose hold on reality was tenuous at best. Yet, they had it right all along. It turns out that each one of their raw-throated brimstone-breathing prophecies was true:

  • That the wolves would come in sheep’s clothing to devour the innocent
  • That there would be a twisting of the Scriptures to justify vile evil of every kind
  • That people would do what was right in their own eyes and make themselves into the very God they most worshipped
  • That money, power, and pride would be too seductive to avoid for far too many
  • That the Church was in danger of being polluted to the point of death
  • That “the least of these” would be discarded and brutalised
  • That good people would be preyed upon by opportunistic monsters

These sage prognosticators had everything about the approaching disaster correct… except its source. They neglected to predict the actual genesis of this great decimation. Because it wouldn’t be the Gays, or the Muslims, or the Atheists, or celebrities, or street people, or tattooed women, or sexually active teenagers as they’d so foretold. It wouldn’t be transgender men lurking in bathrooms, or brown-skinned suicide bombers from some distant cave, or any of the countless bogeymen they told us were hiding in the shadows to bring terror. No, the encroaching danger was a lot closer than all that. For years, the far Christian Right warned us about Godless hordes coming to destroy America and it turns out this was true… it’s just that the words were autobiographical.

As a lifelong Christian, I’ve had a sick sense of déjà vu watching politicians professing to be followers of Jesus dismantling every programme designed to care for the vulnerable and the hurting, seeing the way the powerful gather ever-greater power, watching empathy vanishing, and hatred skyrocketing. I’ve heard this story a million times before; proclaimed on Sunday mornings from pulpits, unleashed in religious social media rants, and shouted through bullhorns on street corners. I knew this was coming, or at least I should have. We all should have. These harbingers of doom were right to warn us… ironically, they were the very ones they were warning us about. In the sickest kind of self-fulfilling prophecy, they were the plague of these days that they said would come. It’d be the preachers and the evangelists abandoning the heart of Jesus, perverting the words of the Bible for their agenda, selling their souls for a high place overlooking the world. They’d be the very false prophets they told us that we should like hell run from. These supposed disciples of Jesus would be the ones to betray him with a kiss and send him to a bloody, undignified end.

Yes, the Christian Right was right, evil was going to run amok through the world, terrorise the lives of ordinary people, and make a mockery of God. That’s what it’s surely doing in these days. I owe them an apology. I should’ve believed them. I once was blind, and now I see.

16 March 2018

John Pavlovitz

Stuff That Needs to Be Said


Thursday, 25 January 2018

White Evangelicals, This is Why People Are Through With You


Dear White Evangelicals:

I need to tell you something… people have had it with you. They’re done. They want nothing to do with you any longer and here’s why. They see your hypocrisy, your inconsistency, your incredibly selective mercy, and your thinly veiled supremacy. For eight years, they watched you relentlessly demonise a black President; a man faithfully married for 26 years; a doting father and husband without a hint of moral scandal or the slightest whiff of infidelity. They watched you deny his personal faith convictions, argue his birthplace, and assail his character… all without cause or evidence. They saw you brandish Scriptures to malign him and use the laziest of racial stereotypes in criticising him.

And through it all, White Evangelicals… you never once suggested that God placed him where he was, you never publicly offered prayers for him and his family, you never welcomed him to your Christian Universities, you never gave him the benefit of the doubt in any instance, you never spoke of offering him forgiveness or mercy, your evangelists never publicly thanked God for his leadership, your pastors never took to the pulpit to offer solidarity with him, you never made any effort to affirm his humanity or show the love of Jesus to him in any quantifiable measure. You violently opposed him at every single turn… without offering a single ounce of the grace you claim as the heart of your faith tradition. You jettisoned Jesus as you dispensed damnation on him.

Yet, today, you openly give a “mulligan” to a white Republican man so riddled with depravity, so littered with extramarital affairs, so unapologetically vile, with such a vast resume of moral filth… that the mind boggles. The change in you is unmistakable. It’s been an astonishing conversion to behold… a being born again. With him, you suddenly find religion. With him, you’re now willing to offer full absolution. With him, all is forgiven without repentance or admission. With him, you’re suddenly able to see some invisible, deeply buried heart. With him, sin has become unimportant, compassion no longer a requirement. With him, you see only Providence.

White Evangelicals, all those people who’ve had it with you… they see it all clearly. They recognise the toxic source of your duality. They see that pigmentation and party are your sole deities. They see that you aren’t interested in perpetuating the love of God or emulating the heart of Jesus. They see that you aren’t burdened to love the least, to be agents of compassion, or to care for your Muslim, gay, African, female, or poor neighbours as yourself. They see that all you’re interested in doing is making a God in your own ivory image and demanding that the world bow down to it. They recognise this all about white Republican Jesus… not dark-skinned Jesus of Nazareth.

I know you don’t realise it, but you’re digging your own grave in these days; the grave of your very faith tradition. Your willingness to align yourself with cruelty is a costly marriage. Yes, you’ve gained a Supreme Court seat, a few months with the Presidency as a mouthpiece, and the cheap high of temporary power… but you’ve lost a lot more. You’ve lost an audience with millions of wise decent good-hearted faithful people with eyes to see this ugliness. You’ve lost any moral high ground or spiritual authority with a generation. You’ve lost any semblance of Christlikeness. You’ve lost the plot. Most of all, you’ve lost your soul.

I know it’s likely you’ll dismiss these words. The fact that you’ve even made your bed with such malevolence shows how far gone you are and how insulated you are from the reality in front of you. However, I had to at least try to reach you. It’s what Jesus would do. Maybe, you need to read what he said again… if he still matters to you:

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.

Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men. Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it gives light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.

Gospel according to St Matthew 5.3-16

24 January 2018

John Pavlovitz

Stuff That Needs To Be Said


The Death of Christianity in the USA



This is a real read n’ heed… reflect on the fact that the semi-converted like Stephen Damick and Rod Dreher want to bring this garbage amongst us and they want to ally us with anti-Christian Evangelical sectarian slimers. Evangelicalism isn’t Christian… it denies the Eucharist and the Church… that ends the discussion for me. Be kind to your Evangelical neighbours, but don’t even consider their ideology… it isn’t Christian, it never was, and it’s incapable of being such ever. Have a care; the times aren’t good…


Christianity has died in the hands of Evangelicals. Evangelicalism ceased being a religious faith tradition following Jesus’ teachings concerning justice for the betterment of humanity when it made a Faustian bargain for the sake of political influence. The ambitions of Trumpish flimflammers (who sold their souls for expediency) murdered the beauty of the gospel message of love, of peace, and of fraternity. We need no greater proof of the death of Christianity than the rush to defend a child molester in order to maintain a majority in the US Senate.

Evangelicals constructed an exclusive interpretation that fuses and confuses white supremacy with salvation. Only those from the dominant culture, along with their supposed inferiors who with colonised minds embrace assimilation, can achieve salvation. However, their salvation damns Jesus. To save Jesus from those claiming to be his heirs, we must wrench him from the hands of those who use him as a façade from which to hide their phobias… their fear of blacks, their fear of the undocumented, their fear of Muslims, their fear of everything queer.

Evangelicalism has ceased to be a faith perspective rooted in Jesus the Christ and has become a political movement whose beliefs repudiate all that Jesus advocated. A message of hate permeates their pronouncements, evident in sulphurous proclamations like the Nashville Statement, which elevates centuries of sexual dysfunctionalism since the days of Augustine by imposing them upon Holy Writ. They condemn as sin those who express love outside the Evangelical anti-body straight jacket.

Evangelicalism’s unholy marriage to the Prosperity Gospel justifies multi-millionaire bilkers wearing holy vestments made of sheep’s clothing who discovered being profiteers rather than prophets delivers an earthly security never promised by the One in whose Name they slaughter the hungry, thirsty, naked, and alien amongst them. Christianity at a profit is an abomination before all that is Holy. From their gilded pedestals erected in white centres of wealth and power, they gaslight all to believe they’re being persecuted because of their faith.

Evangelicalism’s embrace of a new age of ignorance blames homosexuality for Harvey’s rage rather than considering the scientific consequences climate change has on the number of increasing storms of greater and greater ferocity. To ignore the damage caused to God’s creation so the few can profit in raping Mother Earth causes celebrations in the fiery pits of Gehenna. Evangelicalism forsakes holding a sexual predator, an adulterer, a liar, and a racist accountable, instead of serving as a shield against those who question POTUS’ immorality because of some warped reincarnation of Cyrus. Laying holy hands upon the incarnation of the very vices Jesus condemned to advance a political agenda… instead of rebuking and chastising in loving prayer… prostitutes the gospel in exchange for the victory of a Supreme Court pick.

Evangelicalism either remained silent or actually supported Charlottesville goose-steppers because they protect their white privilege with the doublespeak of preserving heritage, leading them to equate opponents of fascist movements with the purveyors of hatred. Jesus has yet to recover from the vomiting induced by the Christian defenders of torch-wielding white nationalists calling for “blood-and-soil”. The Evangelicals’ Jesus is satanic, and those who hustle this demon are “false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works”. (Second Epistle of Apostle St Paul to the Corinthians 11.13-15).

You might wonder if my condemnation is too harsh. It isn’t, for the Spirit of the Lord has convicted me to shout from the mountaintop how the hatred and bigotry of those who position themselves as the voice of God in America devour God’s precious children. As a young man, I walked down the sawdust aisle at a Southern Baptist church and gave my heart to Jesus. Besides offering my broken heart, I also gave my mind to understanding God and my arm to procuring God’s call for justice. I always considered myself an Evangelical, but I can no longer allow that political party masquerading as Christianity to tarnish my name. Like many women and men of good will who still struggle to believe, but not in the Evangelical political agenda, I too no longer want or wish to be associated with an ideology responsible for tearing humanity apart. However, if you, dear reader, still cling to a hate-mongering ideology, may I humbly suggest you get saved.

13 November 2017

Miguel de la Torre

Baptist News


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