‘F— You, Fascist,’ Said Progressive Christian
I received a longish e-mail last night from a reader, aged 62, who described himself as a progressive Episcopalian. He wrote to tell me why he has quit reading this blog. Most of the letter is regret, then anger, that I have not adopted the mainstream liberal line on all things racial. But then, at the end, he reveals his hand:
You’ve shown yourself to be a cruel, warped little man, and I can only hope and pray that one day you finally come to your senses. In the meantime, I’m joining several other people in calling for your jurisdiction in the ROCOR to suspend you from the sacraments until you publicly repent, and I hope the day soon comes with all of the mainstream denominations drive you and your ilk out for good.
So with all that said, let me offer my parting words: f*ck you, fascist scum. And if progressives ever do actually get political power in the United States – which I almost certainly won’t live to see at my advanced age, but one can always hope – you can better believe we’re coming after white supremacist churches like yours, and we’re not going to stop until you all lose your tax exempt status.
Well, golly. Rebukes like that make me laugh. I wrote back to the poor soul to offer gentle mockery, which was probably unkind, but was kinder than he deserved after that outburst. Perhaps I’m a bit too in touch with my inner Uncle Chuckie, but it comes with over three decades of being an opinion journalist. What other reasonable response is there to a grown man — indeed, a man of mature years — upchucking such drivel onto a stranger? What gets in to people?
(Plus, I’m not in a ROCOR — Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia — parish, but if I were, the idea that the most conservative jurisdiction of Orthodoxy in America would take orders from a progressive Episcopalian on how to govern its people is genuinely comical. But you’d have to be Orthodox to appreciate the vanity of a progressive Episcopalian saying so.)
I’m sharing this here, though, because that final paragraph really is a warning to the rest of us. I believe that there is a significant element in progressive Christianity in America that in years to come will be leading the charge to punish traditional churches and individual believers, to prove their loyalty to the regime and its ideology. It won’t be out of fear of their own persecution. It will be because they really do believe it.
From Live Not By Lies:
It’s possible to miss the onslaught of totalitarianism, precisely because we have a misunderstanding of how its power works. In 1951, poet and literary critic Czesław Miłosz, exiled to the West from his native Poland as an anti-communist dissident, wrote that Western people misunderstand the nature of communism because they think of it only in terms of “might and coercion.”
“That is wrong,” he wrote. “There is an internal longing for harmony and happiness that lies deeper than ordinary fear or the desire to escape misery or physical destruction.”
In The Captive Mind, Miłosz said that communist ideology filled a void that had opened in the lives of early twentieth-century intellectuals, most of whom had ceased to believe in religion.
Today’s left-wing totalitarianism once again appeals to an internal hunger, specifically the hunger for a just society, one that vindicates and liberates the historical victims of oppression. It masquerades as kindness, demonizing dissenters and disfavored demographic groups to protect the feelings of “victims” to bring about “social justice.”
The contemporary cult of social justice identifies members of certain social groups as victimizers, as scapegoats, and calls for their suppression as a matter of righteousness. In this way, the so-called social justice warriors, (aka SJWs), who started out as liberals animated by an urgent compassion, end by abandoning authentic liberalism and embracing an aggressive and punitive politics that resembles Bolshevism, as the Soviet style of communism was first called.
At the turn of the twenty-first century, the cultural critic René Girard prophetically warned: “The current process of spiritual demagoguery and rhetorical overkill has transformed the concern for victims into a totalitarian command and a permanent inquisition.”
Girard and Milosz describe my correspondent, though he remains a religious believer, albeit one anchored in a diminishing cult that substitutes left-wing politics for authentic Christian spirituality. (We have these on the Christian Right too, sadly.)
What interests me more — and concerns me more — is how Critical Race Theory and “antiracism” is racing through the more conservative churches. Let me remind you of some fundamental dogmas of antiracism (an Orwellian term designed to manipulate), as stated by its chief spokesman, Ibram X. Kendi:
- The only remedy to racist discrimination is antiracist discrimination. The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination. The only remedy to present discrimination is future discrimination.
- The most threatening racist movement is not the alt right’s unlikely drive for a White ethnostate but the regular American’s drive for a “race-neutral” one.
- An antiracist is someone who is supporting an antiracist policy by their actions or expressing an antiracist idea. “Racist” and “antiracist” are like peelable name tags that are placed and replaced based on what someone is doing or not doing, supporting or expressing in each moment.
There you have it. The only way to achieve justice, according to Kendi, is to discriminate against white people. White people who believe that justice requires fighting discrimination are worse than white nationalists. And there is no such thing as neutrality: all of life is filled with racial politics; everything you do and everything you think is either racist or antiracist.
This is a totalitarian race ideology — totalitarian because it leaves no aspect of life untouched by its race radicalism. Note well that it explicitly calls for people — white people, in this case — to be treated unequally under law because of their race, and if you oppose this because you believe that racial discrimination of any kind is immoral (as Dr. King taught), then you are worse than Richard Spencer and David Duke.
Ibram Kendi and his poison are welcomed by the most powerful companies in America to spread the word within. He is invited onto national TV to offer his counsel. “Antiracism,” a left-wing illiberal ideology, is part of the successor ideology to liberalism. This is what the powerful increasingly believe in this country. A college professor who teaches at a major US university told me the other day that the “architecture” of suppressing academic freedom, free speech, and free thought is going up right now throughout American academia — all in the name of “antiracism.”
Let me be clear: racism is wrong. Racism is sin. But you do not fight one kind of racism by instituting a different kind of racism. That’s what Kendi and his followers believe. It’s toxic, it’s dividing our country, and it’s going to lead to something very, very ugly.
This ideology has made its way into the (online) pages of Christianity Today, for a long time the flagship journal of American Evangelicalism. From an essay CT published online last week, under the title, “The Shocking Necessity of Racial Violence.” The author is a black woman, Christina Barland Edmondson. She begins by recalling the horrific racist violence of the 1920s Tulsa massacre. She points out — rightly! — that the Christianity of the white people of Oklahoma did not keep them from killing and plundering black people, solely because of race. There can be no doubt that Edmondson is right on this point. But then:
The so-called shared faith of white Christians and black Christians does not guard against violence toward the Emmett Tills, Tamir Rices, or George Floyds of society.
White supremacy’s sinful dance, swaying back and forth between Klansmen’s sheets and clergy robes, pains and plagues Christian of color and lies to white Christians. Violence is not neutered or challenged. White Christianity’s very design exists to maintain false piety and sear the consciences of white people against the oppression and exploitation of blacks.
Whoa! Emmitt Till was murdered by whites in Mississippi in 1955, in what was unmistakably a racist crime. The child Tamir Rice was shot by police in a 2014 accident when he pointed a toy gun at officers. That was a tragedy — but how in the world is it a racist act comparable to the murder of Emmitt Till? And in the George Floyd case, it is by no means clear that his death at the hands of Minneapolis police was motivated by racism. For Edmondson, though, the fact that the victims in all these cases were black is the only fact that matters.
This, of course, is how the “antiracism” theorists reason: the only explanation for disparities in outcome among racial groups in which blacks are disadvantaged (not, say, the NBA), is racism.
Edmondson goes on:
Spiritual violence against black Americans in the political sphere means disparaging and minimizing the faith of black Christians. Appealing to the notion of a singular Christian worldview, Southern Baptist Seminary president Al Mohler stated in a room filled with white men that a vote for Trump in 2020 would be most in line with “Christian worldview.” Mohler’s statement went beyond the partisan and political. His statement was theological with significant implications for the unity of the church in America. As president of the flagship seminary for the largest Christian denomination in the United States, his religious endorsement of a highly controversial president known for racist and sexist rhetoric and actions mattered significantly.
Christians debate the appropriateness of religious leaders speaking so openly about their personal support of candidates and the necessity of other Christians to fall in line. My concern, while subtle, knocks at the door of spiritual violence. By saying one’s “Christian worldview” leads to reelecting Donald Trump in 2020, Mohler asserts that faithful Christian theology applied to politics must draw the same political conclusions as most white conservative Christian men in this country. This is the group that has voted and will likely vote for Trump in large numbers again.
This same assertion, proclaimed from pulpits, tweets, and faux confessional statements, put on trial the Christian integrity and witness of black Christians who have overwhelmingly voted against Donald Trump. Black women report some of the highest levels of Bible study, charitable giving, authoritative views on Scripture, amount of time praying, and church attendance. But because of their political and theological misalignment with Trump and Republican agendas, they are deemed by default biblically ignorant, and at worse, heretics, cultural Marxists, and whatever new term works to caricature and discredit those holding a differing view. Welcome to politically motivated spiritual violence.
This is appalling, and I cannot believe it was published by Christianity Today. Al Mohler may or may not be correct about the necessity for Christians to support Donald Trump. It is a prudential judgment. I know Christians who are completely unconflicted about voting for either Trump or Biden. But I also know Christians who are going to vote for Joe Biden, though they cannot abide the Democratic Party’s policies, because they believe that the continuing presence of Trump in office hurts the country. And I know Christians who are going to vote for Donald Trump, though they cannot stand him and think he has been a lousy president overall, because they believe that putting a Democrat in the White House would result in laws and policies that hurt the country more than having Trump does.
I don’t judge the quality of those people’s faith based on how they plan to vote, and I resent it when people do. Edmondson crosses some important lines in her denunciation of Al Mohler. She’s perfectly within her rights to criticize his judgment. But she goes farther. She accuses him of racism, simply for reaching a different political conclusion than black Christians — as if disagreeing with black Christians on political matters is necessarily racist. She puts words in Mohler’s mouth that he did not say. She accuses him of “politically motivated spiritual violence.” Coming right after a denunciation of the murderers of the Tulsa victims, and of Emmitt Till, as well as those who killed Tamir Rice and George Floyd, this is unconscionable. Christianity Today ought to be ashamed for publishing such slander.
Edmonson ends with this:
The humanity and its intrinsic resistance to oppression is so evident in the black believer in America, pushing, pressing, praying, and protesting against the violence of racism. Through humor, scholarship, and art, they mock the foolishness of the caste system that places the beloved of God on the bottom. The necessary violence of racism is combated by the nonviolent and steadfast resistance of black Christians, which reminds all of us who we are designed to be. White Christians, will your shared humanity and Christianity move you from violence and violence-denying to the nonviolence of empathy, solidarity, and repair?
Oh? What about all the rioting and looting, in which black Americans participated? Was that the fault of black Christianity? Of course it wasn’t. You cannot blame the black church for what those individual criminals did. You cannot plausibly blame all black people for what they did, any more than you blame all white people for racial violence perpetrated by individual whites. The sacrificial work of abolitionism by white Christians of the 19th century does not negate the evils done by white segregationist Christians, but it should at least remind people that the line between good and evil on racial matters does not run between the races.
Collective guilt is a monstrous idea. Racializing ordinary political and theological differences, and accusing one’s political opponents (if they are white) of being party to a long and brutal history of violence, including rape and murder, simply because of the color of their skin — that is scandalous.
And it is fundamentally anti-Christian. Every one of us is a sinner. Every one of us has it within our hearts to give ourselves over to all manner of sin, including violence. And, like the aboriginal sinner Adam, we want to point the finger at the Other, to externalize our shame by saying that the Other Person made us do it, or the Other Person bears the true guilt here, or the Other Person is more evil, and so forth. Resorting to a strategy of collective guilt (and its corollary, collective innocence), is dangerous and corrupting.
I don’t see anything wrong in principle with examining the history of how the church in America has handled, and mishandled, racial matters. But this interrogation has to be carried out in good faith, not as an empty exercise in asserting power. What I’m seeing today from too many places — including among white Christians — is exactly what Rene Girard saw twenty years ago:
The current process of spiritual demagoguery and rhetorical overkill has transformed the concern for victims into a totalitarian command and a permanent inquisition.
We are living through a caricatural “ultra-Christianity” that tries to escape from the Judeo-Christian orbit by “radicalizing” the concern for victims in an anti-Christian manner.
I took that from the Stanford scholar Girard’s 2001 book I Saw Satan Fall Like Lightning. This further quote is useful:
I did not read Mohler’s defense of voting for Trump, but I imagine it has to do with the fact that the Democratic Party and contemporary progressivism favors precisely the things that Girard lists as the effects of radical contemporary victimology: abortion, euthanasia, and sexual undifferentiation. It is entirely possible that Trump is so bad that it is necessary for believing Christians to vote for the Democrats anyway. I don’t believe that personally, but I believe that it is possible for a Christian to believe that in good faith. But what must be firmly rejected is this idea that a Christian who votes against the party of abortion, euthanasia, and sexual undifferentiation is guilty of racialized “spiritual violence.”
This is a great deception. It is being used now to silence dissent: either get in line behind progressive politics, racial and otherwise, or stand denounced as a bigot. This is not about expanding the conversation and deepening our understanding of a complex phenomenon. It is about forcing dissenters to fall silent.
It will not stop there. Mark my words: it will not stop there. I began this post with a quote from a letter a self-described progressive Episcopalian sent to me to denounce me. I believe the vanguard leading the charge against individual traditional Christians, their churches, and their institutions — will be zealous progressive Christians. Ultra-Christians, as Girard might have called them. More Christian than Christ.
UPDATE: Reader Digory posts this comment:
Just so there is no confusion, Christina Edmondson appeared at an event hosted by the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission in 2016. The Gospel Coalition was also a host (think Trevin Wax). So she’s not criticizing Al Mohler from the outside; this is internal warfare against religious conservatism.
Evangelical leaders made *huge* bets that Edmondson and friends would bring about racial reconciliation in our churches. Instead, there is huge pressure to join Kendi’s feel-good racism. Either the SBC and PCA will become a force for this new liberation theology, or else there will be new, woke-evangelical denominations.
About 15 years ago, we had a resurgence in Reformed Puritanism among evangelicals. It’s hard to believe it all amounted to the creation of a new PC(USA). But that seems to be the best possible outcome.
UPDATE.2: Sorry, a reader just pointed out that I forgot to link to the CT essay. I’ve repaired that in the above post; here’s the link again.