Well, the Elected Narcissist Who Shall Not Be Named made a bit of dubious history this last weekend. For the first time in modern history, a sitting president has appeared at a conference of a hate group. Specifically the “Values Voter Summit,” hosted by the Family Research Council. That Steve Bannon was also was a featured speaker is key to understanding what happened here.
I decided to write about this, not primarily because of its political implications - it would be a full time job to write about politics - but because of a more personal connection here.
Regular readers of my blog will have noted that I have mentioned my own break with our longtime church, and also that I do not consider myself an Evangelical any longer. Mind you, I am someone who has been active in church life and ministry for more than 30 years. My children were raised in Evangelicalism, as was I. So this is no minor rupture. Evangelicalism has lost one of its most devoted members - and another generation besides. Why? Although any decision like this is complicated, one reason stands about above the others, and is the reason I didn’t just leave a particular church, but the entire tradition.
Our former church, and (white) Evangelicalism as a whole embraces - or at least tolerates - hate groups.
In the case of our former church, leadership went behind our backs to promote a hate group in my kids’ Sunday School (specifically the American Family Association - which I very much intend to write more about in the future). This was despite our clear objection.
The problem is, it isn’t just the one church. American (white) Evangelicalism is wedded to the politics of hate. No, not every Evangelical, obviously. There are good people in Evangelicalism, just as there are in Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Islam, and Atheism. But the overall system and tribe is wedded to a version of politics that places Republicanity (loyalty to the GOP) above the teachings of Christ.
So we left. We removed our children from this toxic environment. And I personally am never going back.
But what I want to specifically talk about in this post is what a hate group is, and why it matters. Let’s start with a definition.
Hate Speech: (n) speech that attacks, threatens, or insults a person or group on the basis of national origin, ethnicity, color, religion, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, or disability. (Dictionary.com)
In the laws of some countries (not the United States, which does not outlaw hate speech), such speech is defined as:
Speech, gesture or conduct, writing, or display which incites violence or prejudicial action against a protected group, or individual on the basis of their membership of the group, or because it disparages or intimidates a protected group, or individual on the basis of their membership of the group.
Here is the FBI definition of “Hate Crime”:
[A] criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity.
The reason I bring the definitions into this is that whenever you point out to a conservative (or particularly an Evangelical) that a particular group is a designated hate group, the defense is always something along the lines of “[group] is only considered a hate group because it believes gay sex is a sin.”
This is baloney.
Here in the US, the Southern Poverty Law Center is the best source for the list of hate groups, and it doesn’t consider mere differences in opinion about human sexuality to be sufficient to designate a group as a hate group. Rather, they use specific criteria.
The Southern Poverty Law Center defines a hate group as an organization that – based on its official statements or principles, the statements of its leaders, or its activities – has beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics.
Let me put this together into my own summary of the issue. As I see it, hate groups do the following:
- Tell lies about certain groups of people.
- Stir up fear and hatred against those groups.
- Advocate the use of political or economic power, or even violence against members of that group.
Or, to sum it up even more simply:
It’s that simple.
Now, let’s look at the claim. If the claim was true, then nearly every Evangelical church in the United States would be labeled a hate group. One estimate I was able to find on the number of churches in America was that there are nearly 400,000 churches in the US. (That’s about 1 for every 1000 people, incidentally.) The Southern Baptist Convention (the largest Protestant denomination in the US) alone counts in excess of 47,000 churches. And yet, you won’t find them on the SBC hate list. (The SBC gets mentioned occasionally because it appoints people associated with hate groups to leadership positions, however. But despite its recent issues with sexual obsession and racism, it is NOT listed as a hate group.)
So, clearly, merely being a non-affirming church won’t get you labeled a hate group.
The key difference is what I noted above. Look for the three prongs: lies, hate, and harm.
And let me give you an example here. There was, not too long ago, a person I know very well, who believed homosexual acts were sinful. This person, however, knew that it was wrong to tell lies about LGBTQ people, or to try to get others to fear and hate them, and this person would never dream of trying to harm LGBTQ people by denying them employment, housing, health care - or by advocating for their prosecution, imprisonment, or (horrors!) execution. That person was me in my 20s. And there were - and are - many like that me in Evangelicalism. In fact, that was how I was raised!
However, that is not what these designated hate groups do. In fact, they clearly meet the three criteria:
- They tell lies about LGBTQ people. Chief among them is the lie that LGBTQ people are a bunch of sexual predators, out to rape the children. Also, that there is a “gay agenda” to that effect. A few others would be the historically ludicrous one that the Nazis were a bunch of gays (actually, they murdered the gays along with the Jews and other ethnic minorities…), that being gay is bad for your health, and that being gay is contagious, like a virus. These lies have been disproved over and over. And that is even before one gets to the theological lies. Those are obviously beyond the scope of what the SPLC does - and the scope of this post. The lies are told for a particular reason:
- These hate groups stir up fear of LGBTQ people. That is the whole point of the lies. Stir up fear, and then use that fear to raise money. This is the only reason organizations like the AFA exist. They prey on gullible and fearful parents (usually Baby Boomers) and then feed them a steady diet of conspiracy theories about all the nefarious liberals/atheists/gays/brown people out to destroy white America. And people send them money. And then they focus on:
- Lobbying for laws to do harm to LGBTQ people. This can go all the way from using a fear of same-sex marriage to elect open white supremacists to the White House to pushing “religious freedom” laws making it legal to deny LGBTQ people the right to access to the basics of society - housing, employment, healthcare, government services, to calling for the criminalization of gay sex. And yes, some of the featured speakers at the “Values Voter Summit” have called for just that. (That includes the likely future senator from Alabama, Roy Moore, who has said that we should imprison or execute gays.) Heck, some of the speakers have openly called for the murder of gay people. (Hello, Kevin Swanson - no relation, thank God…)
I am not going to list all of the ways in which the various players in the Values Voter Summit qualify for hate group status. The SPLC website has information, or you can spend some quality time with Google. Probably the best site for primary sources is Right Wing Watch, which has painstakingly recorded and linked the actual audio, video, and text of the specific things these hate groups have said and written.
But I didn’t need to go look up audio for most of this. I lived it. During our time in the Bill Gothard cult, I heard ALL of this crap. And during my years as a homeschooler, this was in the background. Sure, my parents didn’t buy all - or even most - of it. But it was in the air we breathed. It has been pushed strongly for the last several decades.
And unfortunately, it has gone increasingly mainstream in American Evangelicalism.
Now, let’s talk a bit about an uncomfortable truth.
Hatred toward LGBTQ people goes hand in hand with racism and misogyny.
If you had told me this in my teens, I would have laughed.
After the last election, I was faced with the inescapable conclusion that the Left has been all too correct about this.
Hatred toward LGBTQ people does indeed come from the same dark place in the soul as racism and misogyny. And one tends to be associated with the other.
Here is where Steve Bannon comes in. Bannon has bragged about making Brietbart.com into a platform for the “alt right.” Which is a hip way of saying “white supremacy and misogyny.” He has praised the neo-Nazi novel The Camp of the Saints, which envisions the destruction of “white civilization” by immigrants and native brown and black people. I mean, this shouldn’t even be debatable. The guy is solidly and obviously a white supremacist with a political agenda that matches that of the KKK.
And here he is at a “moral values” conference. Apparently, one of those “values” is whiteness. (And don’t think those outside the Evangelical bubble haven’t noticed...this one - brought to my attention by an African American - and Christian - friend of mine - is worth watching…)
For that matter, the AFA is deeply committed to a white supremacist worldview and political agenda. I hope to write about this in more detail in the future, but the AFA has always stood for hostility toward immigrants, denigration of African Americans, contempt for the poor, fear and hatred of Islam, religious supremacy, racial and cultural supremacy, opposition to feminism, and glorification of the middle class white culture of the past. Oh, and the AFA was a big supporter of Le Toupee. Big surprise! (Yes, that's Bryan Fischer, who was supposedly dismissed from the AFA for saying African Americans "rut like rabbits".. of COURSE he is still part of the organization.) Again, I intend, when I have time, to write a fairly exhaustive post laying out (with links) all the appalling stuff the AFA and its personalities have said over the last couple of decades. They have thoroughly earned the designation as a hate group. (Let me be clear - I pointed this out to church leadership a few years ago - and apparently it was ignored.)
Ah, one of the gems from Bryan Fischer, STILL writing for the AFA...because one of the tenets of Christianity is CLEARLY to tell poor sick brown people to go someplace else and die, so that deserving rich white people don't have to pay for the undeserving poor...Christ would surely approve...
And here is another gem, a sentiment shared by Dominionists everywhere, including Roy Moore and (historical revisionist) David Barton. So nice to have lies like this taught to your children...see Thomas Jefferson...
Oh, and one more thing. About the time we left our church, several leaders were re-posting stuff from Milo Yiannopoulos. Yeah, the openly white supremacist and misogynist guy, who would end up excusing statutory rape (thus giving credence to the lie that gays are out to get the kiddies...yeah, good move there…) It has been rather like discovering the white robe and hood in people’s closets. Definitely enough for me to realize that someone like me would never be truly welcome in Evangelicalism - but the Steve Bannons of the world will be more than welcome - celebrated.
Again, to be clear, this isn’t everyone in Evangelicalism. There are so many great people there! But great people are in the Mormon church too - I know many of them - but that doesn’t mean that the system itself is okay. I have enough serious theological differences with the LDS faith that I would never consider converting. Likewise, I have enough moral and political differences (and yes, theological differences - I don’t believe Christ would be okay with either white supremacy or social darwinism) that I can not consider Evangelicalism to be a morally acceptable place to raise my kids. The good people are not enough to overcome the poisonous politics and unchristian theology.
This is why hate groups matter. They cannot be dismissed as a mere fringe, unfortunately. Lies, fear and hatred, and the intent to harm others have become endemic to our religious and political discussion here in the US. And they have become a key part of the indoctrination of our children within Evangelicalism, which is why I left.
Why do we even want to be associated with hate groups?
This is my question. I mean, I don’t see anything about even the most literalist and conservative approach to Christianity that should justify telling lies, stirring up hatred and fear against those outside the tribe, and trying to harm others. The whole idea just seems contrary to the spirit of Christianity and the teachings of Christ.
Furthermore, it seems rather risky to tie religious faith to a particular political party, or even a particular political point of view. Shouldn’t Christianity be bigger than politics? Shouldn’t the call to love our neighbor be paramount over party loyalty?
Do we really want to send the message that those who do not adhere to a particular political philosophy aren’t welcome?
Do we want to have the reputation as a bunch of racists, misogynists, and bigots?
Or, as much to the point, do we really think Christianity is for whites? Really?
A friend from law school sent me this article from Scot McKnight, which really resonates with me on why I cannot in good conscience call myself an “Evangelical” any longer, and why I cannot raise my kids in that tradition. The word “Evangelical” now means “Trump voter.” Or, more broadly: Evangelical = Republican = Trump supporter = White Nationalism = Affinity for hate groups. Sadly, this is pretty much diametrically opposed to the original meaning of Evangelicalism back in the early 1800s, which supported Feminism, opposed slavery, advocated for social justice, and generally went against the wealthy establishment. How things have changed…
Money quote from McKnight’s post:
“Then came Reagan and Jerry Falwell, James Dobson and James Kennedy and theology and sociology were usurped by politics. Evangelical meant Republican. What they didn’t recognize is that “evangelical” became “whiteness” and many Latin Americans and African Americans and Asian Americans were excluded. Then came 81% for Trump. Something’s very very wrong here.”
“Don’t call me ‘evangelical’ if you mean Republican!”
Theology has indeed been usurped by politics. And that is why Steve Bannon is a featured speaker at a “Values” conference, Milo Yiannopoulos and Ayn Rand are adored by church leaders, and the symbol of 1980s greed, sexual license, racism, and nativist demagoguery gets 81% of the white Evangelical vote.
And why a seemingly elementary moral question - should hate group propaganda be part of what we teach our children - is something the American Evangelicalism gets consistently wrong.
And why I am done. And why my children will not be raised in the Evangelical faith tradition.
Stop whistling past the graveyard on this. My family is just the tip of the iceberg. The younger generation is abandoning Evangelicalism in droves. Gee, I wonder why?
Just an observation: this election and its aftermath has done more than all the Richard Dawkins of the world have ever done to convince people of the moral bankruptcy of American Christianity - particularly Evangelicalism. The very fact that Steve Bannon is welcome at a homophobic conference is the strongest possible argument that opposition to gay marriage is indistinguishable from vicious racism. And so many Evangelicals - including my former pastor - are so eager to excuse hate groups and their poisonous teachings rather than take a moral stand against lies, fear and hatred, and harm of other groups. I stand by my prediction on the morning after the election: 20 years from now, Evangelicals will be wondering why the young people have left, and why Evangelicalism is reduced to a bunch of old white people, it won’t be because they didn’t focus on apologetics, or because they didn’t spend enough time on systematic theology. It will be because they allowed politics - and hate - to take precedence over the teachings of Christ. “Evangelicalism” now - and in the future - will look an awful lot like Steve Bannon, Ayn Rand, and Donald Trump. And not the least bit like Jesus Christ.
Just a reminder: I blogged about this before the election. Le Toupee managed to slander and show contempt for every single group in the hate speech list:
National origin, ethnicity, color, religion, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, and disability.
And we aren’t even a full year into his term, and he has taken time to cause harm to EVERY. SINGLE. ONE. OF. THESE. GROUPS.
Ask yourself if this reflects the character and teachings of Christ...
And then, think of the deathly silence about all of this in the last few years. Um, yeah. I had to endure several screeds from the pulpit about homosexuality. And not one freaking word about racism or social darwinism. Or one freaking bit about, let’s see, sexual assault, slander against immigrants. Or one rebuke against hate group affiliation, immersion in white supremacy, or contempt for the poor. Nope, it was too damn clear that it you could hold any political opinion - as long as it was Republican - and Trumpian - in every respect. Others need not bother.
Before commenting, please read my comment policy. In the context of this post, I don’t need an argument about why I am wrong and why Evangelicalism is right. I have left. I am not going back. And you have likely lost two generations - probably more - as a result. Maybe instead of arguing you need to look in the mirror. It isn’t me that has chosen hate groups over keeping the next generation. It isn’t me that has made Evangelicalism = Trump. Take a look in the mirror.