The Last Holdouts: White Evangelical Christians, Why Can’t You See?

Then-candidates Donald Trump (L) and Mike Pence take questions from the audience at the Hotel Roanoke & Conference Center on July 25, 2016, in Roanoke, Va. Trump made a point to address the evangelicals during his visit to the bible belt.
Photo: Sara D. Davis (Getty Images)

A recent Quinnipiac poll found 50 percent of white Americans do not believe Donald Trump is racist. Among evangelicals, the poll goes on to say, “While half of voters think President Donald Trump is racist, religion shows an even bigger divide. Only 21 percent of white evangelicals believe the President is racist.”

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The inability of white clergy to disciple white Christians and challenge racism, particularly in evangelical churches is extending a historical trajectory of complicity and active participation in racial violence and death.

Accordingly, Michael Gerson, Washington Post columnist and devout Christian said, “These challenges run deeper than politics. Many white evangelical Christians hold a faith that appeals to the comfortable rather than siding with the afflicted. They have allied themselves with bigots and nativists, risking the reputation of the gospel itself. And, in some very public ways, they are difficult to recognize as Christians at all.”

By siding with a voice that promotes racism and white supremacy, some white Christians, namely some white evangelicals, have lost their moral footing. The larger problem, however, is that they do not care; they, in fact, feel justified in their thinking and in promoting policies that reflect hate. Yet, what they don’t seem to realize is that joining on this hate-spewing bandwagon we have rolling through our country, touting the ole’ red, white n’ blue, has serious repercussions beyond raucous, patriotic flag-waving.

Why can’t they see?

Why are so many Americans of European descent, including these so-called Christians, the last to acknowledge the tragic implications of white supremacy and racialized othering? Many people of color, particularly black and Latinx folks, have been sounding this alarm related to white supremacy and its dangerous implications for years. Many know that red in our flag is all about bloodshed and pain. Not many white Americans have been willing to listen. Until very recently, even within progressive and liberal circles, the naming of white supremacy was met with eye rolls and often accusations of divisive language. Yet, in the immediate aftermath of these most recent mass killings in Dayton, Ohio and El Paso, Texas, we must acknowledge a hard truth: these last holdouts, who deny the impact of racialized othering and white supremacy, continue to put our democracy at risk and place many lives in harm’s way.

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In early August, our nation endured yet another bloody weekend fueled by the lethal combination of white supremacy, irrational anger and access to military-grade weapons. It is also worth noting that many neighborhoods across the country experienced what is now daily attacks of gun-related shootings and homicides, with little national compassion or sympathy. Our nation’s feckless responses to these realities reinforce the inadequacy of our current leaders’ grasp on how to move our country, boldly and quickly past these white supremacist trappings. It is increasingly obvious many of our country’s leaders lack the nuance, complexity, and training to understand how white supremacy, trauma, anxiety and violence are constantly at play within the American psyche, producing deadly acts and othering policy frameworks. Even worse, the muscle memory responses of to whom our national government extends compassion and resources to heal and be safe expose how deeply racialized we continue to be in 2019.

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Author and Democratic presidential candidate Marianne Williamson spoke very eloquently about the dark psychic forces Donald Trump has tapped into during his neophyte yet consequential political career. Her words have rightly described what is at stake if many more White Americans can’t figure out how to quickly re-calibrate themselves to the demagoguery of Trump and Trumpism. If Donald Trump, an individual with a long history of racist behavior and words, cannot offend the moral and political sensibilities of a majority of White Americans, to the point where they reject him as the leader of an extremely diverse country, we must for their sakes, save them from themselves. We must forge a new identity of belonging where everyone belongs to one another. This process of forging should not exclude these last holdouts, but it should de-center their leadership and anxieties as we press toward a world that defeats white supremacist ideology and its claims upon our collective and individual lives.

I believe people of faith and moral traditions must be willing to bear the burden of shifting the spiritual and social climate from exclusion to belonging. Because the language of our traditions has been weaponized for colonizing and imperialistic ends, we must reclaim our language and practices in ways which disciple and form people away from human hierarchy and racism.

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The good news is we need not start from scratch. There are many multi-racial faith-based and interfaith groups working every day to build broad anti-racist coalitions grounded in the spirit of belonging. Every faith leader and person of faith should cultivate relationships across difference at the local level to make this real and transformative. And I believe every leader who seeks political office, particularly at an executive level of our government, should be required to take anti-racist trainings to help them gather the critical skills to lead our nation through these tumultuous times. These skills and commitments must be enthusiastically embraced by us all if we are to overcome the last holdouts among us.

In my childhood church, we sang a gospel classic by Richard Smallwood, “We Can’t Go on This Way…We’ve Got to Find a Better Way.” He is right. It is up to the many who know better, to do better. And heal the soul, and broken bodies, of our nation.

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The Rev. Michael McBride is the co-chair of the Black Church PAC, campaign director for LIVE FREE, and director of urban strategies for Faith in Action. He is based in Oakland, Calif.

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