How The Hell Did We Get Here?

Following Super Tuesday as political analysts announced Trump's wins, they were quick to note that more than any other republican candidate, Trump has thus far been winning the vote of white evangelicals. Many have taken on the question of why this may be. Some suggestions include Trumps authoritarian bravado, others point to a hope that he will "shake things up" in Washington; still others have wondered if its because Trump is not afraid to fight. This article on the PBS website offers a few more reasons why white evangelicals may be drawn to Trump. I think all of these are interesting reasons, and may be true to one degree or another. But what seems to only be hinted at (if mentioned at all) is race. 

Yep. It is the thing we most hate to talk about in America though it so clearly defines much of the American experience. Education. Health. Home Ownership. Wealth. Safety. Mortality Rates. Incarceration. Job Opportunities. Environmental Quality. All have clear markers around race. And yet when it comes to speaking about policies and politics, we have a tendency to rely on colorblind rhetoric as if race is not a factor in politics. Even as we watch a candidate appeal to racism, nativism and ethnic exclusion as core components of his campaign. And backing much of the ugly rhetoric is a conviction to rebuke political correctness, which is more colorblind rhetoric for I-want-to-display-my-hatred-for-others-without-being-labeled-a-bigot... please-and-thank-you. 

But before we demonize Trump, the human, we would be wise to ask ourselves how the hell he got this far. Surely, if we were truly against everything Trump embodies, his campaign would never have gotten off the ground. Instead it appears to be sweeping the nation. And its not because Trump is so charismatic that he has seduced people. Its because Trump is saying out loud what has been nurtured in America (well, for centuries but) especially in the last few years of Obama's presidency. 

Since Obama took office (and while he was running), the colorblind rhetoric we have been so committed to became much stronger- as did the dog whistles, appeals to racist ideology and tapping into the fears of white Americans. The idea that people of color are taking from white people has been nurtured, watered and cultivated in every form possible: 

Politics. News. Entertainment. Schools. Social Media. Dinner Tables. and yes Churches. 

Now racism was a thing long before President Obama arrived on the scene, of course. But when America realized Obama was actually going to win, the {white} Church lost. its. mind. My husband and I had been attending a church in Ann Arbor, MI. It was a multicultural church with at least 500 members. We were thinking about joining until the pastor announced that she wanted to share a prophesy with us. It had been revealed to her who the next President would be (and she was sure we all knew as well). But what she really wanted to tell us was that as soon as he was installed there would be earthquakes across the country and martial law would have to be established immediately. She went on and on about the doom coming our way. And I know this church was not alone in its "prophetic" pronouncements. 

Did you all happen to walk into a Christian bookstore in 2007/2008? Those shelves were filled with books predicting the end times. There wasnt much more to purchase other than "be afraid, be very afraid." 

But Obama got elected and (surprise!) the world did not end. However, resentment took over this country. Outright, public, organized resentment. The jokes and comic strips being leveled at black people and middle eastern people was so over the top. And politicians used that resentment. Not just tolerated it. Not just remained silent about it. But used it, organized around it. Tea Party anyone? And the {white} Church remained apolitical... silent. The truth is even apolitical churches capitalize on the fear and resentment by not addressing racism- it means more people coming or at least not losing anyone. Too many churches did nothing to combat the fear and resentment based on the ideology of white supremacy. And now those same fears, resentments and ideology created this moment.

All this time too many Christians have been assuming that racism was fringe, a part of a dying generation that would simply change with time. While people of color have been working over time trying to point out how racism operates in our daily lives, in statistics, in systems, in the organizations where we work, and yes in our churches... no one wanted to believe that racism is doing quite well in this country. It is not dying; it is healthy and strong.  

Even if you wish to not acknowledge the statistics that showcase racial injustice in almost every aspect of our lives, even if you want to ignore everything #blacklivesmatter was brought to our attention there is still this: 

On June 17, 2015 a 21 year old, white male walked into a black church, sat down, observed the people, spoke with the pastor, and then resolved to shoot and kill as many of them as he could. 

I want you to read that sentence again because it flies in the face of everything we tell ourselves to make us feel better about racism. "Its just old people?" Nah. "Its not ever violent anymore?" Nah. "Christians transcend racism?" Nah. "The Civil Rights Movement fixed it?" Nah. "If we just spent time together, it would be better?" Nah. Roof stayed awhile, pondered, analyzed, even had a conversation, and he still opened fire.  

And this was months ago. Just months ago. 

Not in the days of slavery.

Not in the heat of the civil rights movement.

Not years ago. 

Less than a year ago was the execution of black bodies bent over their Bibles in church. And there were still some who were convinced that Roof was some sort of strange anomaly- as opposed to a young guy who grew up hearing the rhetoric, being nurtured by the rhetoric of the previous eight years of his life. 

Before you start to think through the lone gunman response, consider this. One action that has become a defining marker of a Trump rally is the abuse of people of color- yelling. screaming. kicking. ejecting. pushing. shoving. screaming racial slurs. We have photos, videos, and interviews of people of color being treated violently in public when those who are violent know cameras are on. One person decided to make a photo of him screaming at a black woman the cover art on his Facebook page. My point here is that while Roof was the only one to commit the massacre, he is not the only person being nurtured by racism. And until we really reckon with the culture of racism, we will continue to see violence erupt wherever we condone it (including but not limited to Trump's rallies).

For too long our nation has refused to deal with the legacy of white supremacy in all its forms. We have instead capitalized on it, to our shame. 

The problem of racism was created long before any of us got here. This is true. But it will remain for as long as we use that as an excuse to do nothing. We the Church can no longer afford to remain silent (or apolitical or any other fancy terms for ignoring whats happening). The Church must be on the forefront of combatting white supremacy and the fear, resentment and scarcity that white supremacy nurtures. Or else we will continue to pay a heavy price for the burdens  and violence of racism, nativism, exclusion, resentment and fear. All these lead to violence. Every time. It is the only place they lead. 

For the record, I want to reiterate that I think Trump is little more than a billboard, or perhaps a mirror. He is only reflecting back to us the flames of anger, fear and resentment that have been stoked unabated. He is not really the problem. He is only tapping into what already exists in America- in large scale. Not fringe elements, not isolated cults, not one singular demographic... but large portions of America. And truth be told, other candidates are tapping into it to one degree or another on both sides of the aisle. Race has been and will continue to be a political pawn for as long as we have a race problem. The exploitation of race is real, yo.

So what is the church supposed to do, exactly? Well aren't you glad I asked a few friends  to assist me in answering this question? Here are some suggestions, but I pray more churches (Christians) who are convicted by these present realities will get creative and add more to the list! 

Nathan says, "The white church needs to have a real discussion about white culture and realize that white culture does not equal every white person." 

Caris says, "I wish every church would read Divided By Faith, Disunity in Christ, and Radical Reconciliation." 

Abby says, "I wish the white church would listen to black church's story and take it at face value instead of getting defensive." 

Giovanni says, "study America history. Recognize connections between past and present. Bring the results of that study to the pulpit." 

Jonathan says, "the Church (the people) must stop waiting on the church (the institution) to initiate change, and start seeking to understand." 

Mindy says, "The Church can pray against the spirit of deception and blindness that keeps white Christians from seeing the obvious truth of racism." 

Amy says, "to move theology book by people of color onto the shelf that hods Calvin and Barth. Theology needs to be the WHOLE church in discourse." 

Ruthie says, "Pray over the church- that minds would be renewed and the veil lifted. Holy Spirit Come!" 

For more thoughts (or to add your own) hop on twitter and use #WhatTheChurchCanDo.

I hope we will do something. Doing nothing is no longer an option. 


*PS- if you dont understand the references to the white church and the black church please read Divided By Faith as an introduction. It is a short book and will lead to longer works to fill in the blanks.* 


Austin Brown1 Comment