Dear Faulkner University –if moral guidance is the driving force of your faith, I suggest you revoke your invite to Donald Trump Jr. However, if your true God is that of Republican idolatry and the falsity of white evangelical Christianity as moral truth, go ahead and keep the door open. But I ask, who do you worship? President Mike Williams of Faulkner University was at Harding University when I vocally called the Harding out for what I saw as white supremacy in its hiring of professors and beliefs when I was a student. Share this with him, it will not surprise him that I am calling Faulkner out. Go Jesus!!! He likes rich white Christian men.
In a very early draft, I noted the church — both the Negro church and the white church cannot fully reconcile their racial differences because at the heart of their differences exist capitalism. It was capitalism that transformed the Negro church after 1970 from an agent seeking radical change to one procuring materialism. And because churches love capitalism, they continue to fall short of being revolutionary change agents. Capitalism promotes racism and divides the black and white working class from an achievable world. The white church fails at transforming the weak, poor, and oppressed in their space. While “some” provide food and shelter, they have yet to challenge the status of oppression that keeps the soup lines open. Others have conformed to blaming those who struggle, giving in to the solution of liberalism, as a measure in which capitalism favors them and their paternalism.
The 21st century church must disavow its complacency and promulgate equality through radical preachers who love people more than capitalism, and who will subscribe to what Psalm 82: 3-4 notes: “Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” Black academic and radical organizer Melvin Tolson once noted, “Jesus didn’t believe in economic, racial, and social distinctions…. You talk about Karl Marx, the Communist! Why, don’t you know Jesus was preaching about leveling society 1,800 years before the Jewish Red was born?”
Melvin Tolson above discussing Jesus as a radical.
An August 2007 article in The Economist titled Is America Turning Left? gave a historical draw on the role of the right, especially the Christian right, in shaping American politics. It started off by stating:
The most conservative president [George W. Bush] in recent history, a man who sought to turn his victories of 2000 and 2004 into a Republican hegemony, may well end up driving the Western world’s most impressive political machine off a cliff.
In 2004, the Republican Party aimed to distract voters from a slipping United States economy and two foreign wars by making faith a part of its platform. That year many states put issues such as gay marriage on the ballot, urging faith-based voters to cast a vote defining marriage between a man and a woman. Such 2004 right-wing fervor still exist in politics and churches, but the post-Barack Obama era appears to have weakened the base of Christian-Republicans. Traditional Republican candidates quickly dissipated in this past election season. And though Donald Trump promises to appoint conservative judges to the bench, many suspect this is a ploy to maintain Christian Republicans.
If one turned their television to a religious station or attended a church service, they might hear how America is moving down an immoral path to being the next Sodom and Gomorrah. Trump, however, has placed distanced from such language in electing to use nationalism over religion, as noted by his campaign slogan: “Make America Great Again”.
Trump’s jingoistic language differs from the Puritanical faith-based thinking of past, which has garnered historical attention for centuries, starting with Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield, movers of the First Great Awakening, which also cemented the South as the Bible Belt. Starting in the late 1970s, those who supported Barry Goldwater in 1964, unified to shape mass politics. Goldwater was the standard-bearer of the New Right Republican Party. Goldwater engineered a disgruntled white Conservative population fearing the United States was becoming too liberal. This emerging Republican population consisted of conservative ideologues, fundamentalist Christians, and populist voters who deplored the liberal social, political, and economic trends of the 1960s and hoped to change it. Many of them were against the civil rights legislation, arguing that they were unconstitutional as they undermined states’ rights.
Just like the First and Second Great Awakening of the 18th and 19th century, evangelical leaders were content to combat what they called the forces of Satan, by asking all believers to join in an attempt to save the souls of the lost. This action took place during religious crusades and revivals. By the Fourth Great Awakening, there was no need to rally the troops at revival camp meetings. A quick hit of a TV button had the religious right advocating for political candidates and against what they saw as the sins of liberalism. It was Richard Viguerie, a right-wing publicist, who marshaled the power of the computerized direct-mail advertising as a New Right unifier. This, as well as the message of Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority, served as an impetus to fighting leftism.
Yet in 2016 the religious right has given their soul to Trump – not God. As I recently noted, Evangelical Christians in America must decide if they really value religious freedom or just the religious freedom of Jesus. If they value the latter — there will be a generational rebellion against them, and thus their purpose of Jesus sharing will die, as far too many right-wing Christian evangelicals have not sided with the love and empathy of Christ, but identity politics.
I say yes. As I study and write some this AM, I keep going back to the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education court ruling that “ended” Jim Crow in schools, but gave further rise to white supremacy and the Christian right. This was the same Christian right that coalesced with the Republican Party under the guise of Christian morality. After speaking to a friend and colleague for a bit about the historiography of the Christian right yesterday, and after a great deal of reading this AM, I am more convinced that the Christian right, which today is housed within the Republican Party, emerged to justify white supremacy and to combat their growing fears of the interracial solidarity of black and white Communist, particularly after the Scottsboro Trial in 1931. In part, the USA government needed this court case to combat the Soviet Union’s argument that American democracy and capitalism were oppressive. The Christian right unified behind the election of Ronald Reagan in an attempt to elevate the racist conservative norm of states rights, and to dismantle a Soviet system that showcased the systematic realities of black and brown people. Thus, making Reagan the golden child of American racism and classism, as desired by the Christian right.
Black folk — during the days of Harriet Tubman, shared folk tales via singing to describe Christ’s coming to save them from Egyptian bondage; it was Tubman (black Moses) who emerged in the days of the Exodus to guide the enslaved across the Red Sea into the northern region; she was guided by the northern star – the one followed by the wise me of Christ’s days. Such religious tales illustrated a “sense” of religiosity” that still exists among black folk, yet no longer carries the same fervor.
Edward Blum’s work speaks to the religiosity of Du Bois as a spiritual intellectual. Cornel West’s writings often discuss the soulful needs of faith and the church as a process of survival for black folks in a world dominated by white supremacy. In an age of reason, one that places too much attention on academics for profit, such as the late Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, the norm of thought is that intellectuals lack a faith in God — particularly white academics. The thought of blacks being nonbelievers used to be uncommon, however, that has shifted in the post-civil rights age.
During the age of Jim Crow, black folks congregated in the black church, as many do today. For some it is a form of spiritual “togetherness” and a show of political and economic solidarity. The church once served as the center of political and social lifer for black Americans. Though still true for some, the rise of secular culture, academic life, science, and materialism has changed that dynamic.
What is different about black theology?
According to James Cone, “it is due exclusively to the failure of white religionists to relate the gospel of Jesus to the pain of being black in a white racist society.”
For nearly three hundred years, the enslaved house worker had been listening to their owners’ prayers and Bible readings….They were able to interpret their own inexplicable situation and give themselves reasons to stay alive. This notion has transformed itself from the plantation to the political arena as seen by such actors as Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and Reverend Jeremiah Wright.
While many African-Americans seem to belong to the general segment known as Baptists, the first African Baptist church began this trend in Richmond VA, in 1838 when the pastor and members of the First Baptist Church of that city debated its growing difficulty: What to do with the growing black population in the church. Perhaps one of the reasons so many African Americans today consider themselves Baptists is because of its orthodox and conservative nature as a branch of Christianity.
It is at this point one might see a division between those of religious academic type and those of a more spiritual devotion. The religious academic types see the church as a vehicle to bring about social justice in eradicating poverty, racism, and social ills that permeate society. This type of black folk tend to be far more progressive than those rooted in the deep southern tradition of the orthodox Baptist church.
I am excited to announce that I have been offered a position on the Civil Rights committee of the Christian Scholars’ Conference; it currently consists of Professors Jerry Taylor, Phyllis Hildreth and Tanya Brice who chairs this auspicious group of academics. I am excited to bring my “A” game and commitment to thinking about scholarship, faith, religion, race, and inclusivity.
This past Easter Sunday I heard our school minister speak on Jesus as a person who championed diversity. He embraced all people and focused his efforts on love. I am one who greatly appreciates our chaplain’s wisdom, compassion, love, and empathy for all people. I am one who believes in the good of religion, particularly Christianity. I have seen its beauty first hand. Sure, I am not a highly religious person. And, I have just as much doubt as my fellow atheist; however, I have elected to work with Christians who value others and appreciate the beauty of love, empathy, and compassion for others.
My wife and her family represents Christians who love Jesus and believe in such teaching. I am troubled, however, by Christians who see otherwise. Further, I am bothered because they feel empowered to be the ponds of politicians who are playing a game for votes; we have seen this before. The manipulation of people for political gain. Now, there are those who are Christian that have their own agenda. I am sure Christ would warn them against using hate to advance his mission.
On the other hand, I am bothered by non-Christians who group all Christians, Muslims, and Jews together. Many have little to no knowledge of religion. They use poor Christopher Hitchens like examples to dismiss the good of religious people. I have even concluded that they, like some Christians, have their own agenda. And, some but not all is based on silly claims. I am also bothered by their lack of religious understanding.
In the end, I would like both sides to place their own interest aside for the good of love, compassion, empathy, and righteousness in a plural quasi-democratic society. As an academic who is well-balanced in terms of emotions, I have an obligation to help both parties. We shall see.