PLURALISM still remains a far cry in the United States where Christian evangelism and conservatism got rejuvenated by the presidency of Donald Trump. More than a quarter of Americans identify themselves as evangelists who see themselves as Jesus Christ’s soldiers for making the USA a Christian nation. Eighty per cent of white evangelicals voted for and, by and large, continue to support president Trump. While such a support from the conservative wing of Christianity may seem like a fundamental contradiction, but to Trump’s faithful supporters, it is providence at work in human history. They believe in Trump and, like any blind believers, they will not change their allegiance to him, no matter what the ‘liberal’ media say about their beloved president.
They also believe that God is making America great again through an imperfect human agent like Trump. They have a very narrow view about the notion of ‘one nation under God’ than what the founding fathers envisioned for this country and are, thus, opposed to an inclusive nation that is respectful of the minorities.
As hinted above, these so-called evangelists have no moral qualms about supporting a president who is known more for debauchery and immorality than anything moral or good. Christian Moral Majority leader Jerry Falwell, Jr has celebrated Trump as a ‘dream president’ and Franklin Graham (Evangelist Billy’s son) said ‘God’s hand intervened’ to elect him. At the 2018 National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, DC, several speakers said no president in American history has done as much as this one to promote ‘religious freedom.’ One can only wonder if these Christian preachers and their blind followers have lost moral compass.
I say this because they cannot be oblivious of Trump’s hateful comments about religious and non-white minorities that call America their home, let alone asylum seekers from outside.
How could a faithful Christian be against asylum seekers if he or she has read the Bible? Did Moses not flee from Pharaoh’s Egypt and took asylum in Midian of northwest Arabia? (Exodus 2:15) Did Joseph, the carpenter, not flee to Egypt with Mary and her infant Jesus to escape from King Herod’s rule? (Matt. 2:13) How do Christian ministers reconcile their lord Jesus Christ who said ‘Love your enemy’ with a president whose policy is to strike back at all critics? Why would people who claim to stand for family values so uncritically support a three times-married man who according to Ronan Farrow’s reporting for the New Yorker set up complex legal arrangements to cover up multiple affairs throughout his current marriage?
The abuse of religion by morally bankrupt preachers is nothing new in the USA. As noted by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove in a February 2018 article, in the 19th century, when black and white people built a moral movement in America to abolish slavery, plantation owners paid preachers to write theological defences of white supremacy.
‘Human bondage wasn’t only allowable for slaveholder religion. It was reflective of God’s design — a righteous order in society to be preserved at all costs. Slavery went away, but this peculiar American faith did not. Historians refer to the movement to end Reconstruction in the South as “the Redemption movement” because Southern preachers told their people that God was redeeming them from Northern aggression and “Negro rule” when President Rutherford B Hayes removed federal troops from the South in 1877. By 1896, “separate but equal” was the law of the land. A celebrated preacher of the early 20th century, Thomas Dixon, wrote a bestselling novel glorifying the Ku Klux Klan as champions of morality; by 1915, it was a major motion picture, The Birth of a Nation’, Wilson-Hartgrove wrote.
It is quite obvious that many of the evangelist preachers have not abandoned their old ways and are behind the resurrection of the white supremacist toxic ideology that is responsible for so much of violence these days from Charleston, USA to Christchurch, New Zealand to neo-fascist-run countries in Europe. As noted by many observers, what binds these killers from Norway to New Zealand is the ‘slaveholder Christianity’ that views multiculturalism as a code word for the destruction of the ‘native white national identity’. They believe that a nation should be composed of a single ethnicity — the white race, and are, thus, anti-immigrant and anti-minority of any kind, especially Muslims. Many of these bigots have no first-hand knowledge about people of other faiths but only the distorted views passed on to them by their hateful preachers.
One would have liked to believe that of all the places, Abraham Lincoln’s America would be the north star to guide others towards a more inclusive world. Apparently, all such hopes and aspirations are proving to be wrong in Trump’s America. Many lawmakers are emboldened by Trump to openly espouse ‘slave-holder’ Christianity, and white supremacist and ‘land-usurping’ pro-Israel sentiments that go against the very teachings of their Bible. Suffice it to say that they have lost moral compass.
Last week on Monday, in my state of Pennsylvania, a state legislator by the name of Stephanie Borowicz, who won the seat in 2018 ‘running as a Christian conservative and referencing the Bible often in her campaign’ delivered prayer on the floor of the state’s general assembly, invoking Jesus more than a dozen times and injecting several political statements before ending.
In one portion of the prayer, Borowicz began referring to president Donald Trump’s policies toward Israel. She continued: ‘Jesus, you’re our only hope. God, I pray for our leaders, Speaker Turzai, Leader (Bryan) Cutler, Gov (Tom) Wolf, President Trump. Lord, thank you that he stands beside Israel, unequivocally, Lord. Thank you that, Jesus, that we’re blessed because we stand by Israel and we ask for the peace of Jerusalem as your word says, God. We ask that we not be overcome by evil and that we overcome evil with good in this land once again.’
Many lawmakers found the speech ‘disrespectful’ and insulting to non-Christians, especially given the fact that for the first time in Pennsylvania history an Afro-American legislator, Democratic Rep Movita Johnson-Harrell was sworn in as the state’s first female Muslim lawmaker. Rep. Jordan Harris called it hateful and saying she used the moment to ‘weaponise religion’, and Rep Kevin Boyle saying the prayer ‘epitomises religious intolerance.’
House Democratic Whip Jordan Harris said, ‘Prayer was weaponised from the speaker’s dais.’ Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf said he was ‘horrified’ by the invocation, according to the Associated Press.
As noted above, Christian evangelicalism, akin to slaveholder religion, is becoming a serious threat to pluralism and multi-culture in many parts of the western world. But, America’s slaveholder religion is not the only faith in this land. Writing in the 19th century, when slaveholder religion was still taking root in white Americans’ consciousness, Frederick Douglass said, ‘Between the Christianity of the slaveholder and the Christianity of Christ, I see the widest possible difference.’
To quote Wilson-Hartgrove, ‘The faith that drove Douglass and thousands of others to risk all in the fight for abolition has also been passed down, one generation to the next, in the American story. Preachers like Sojourner Truth and JW Hood rallied the faithful to fight for Reconstruction after the Civil War, just as Social Gospelers were motivated by a moral vision, and the Civil Rights movement was sustained by the preaching of the Rev Dr Martin Luther King, Jr and the freedom songs that flowed out of Southern churches into the streets and jails. This faith is with us still in churches that offer sanctuary to immigrant neighbors facing deportation and in the Moral Movement led by the Rev Dr William J Barber, II.
‘If slaveholder religion is still with us in the 21st century, the moral force of this other tradition is with us as well. To distinguish between the two is to make clear that people of faith have a choice to make. Faith that props up extremism isn’t the only religion in our public life, but our history makes clear that slaveholder religion will dominate unless people of faith are willing to put our bodies on the line to insist on a better way.’
I pray and hope that Wilson-Hartgrove is right and we have the courage and wisdom to denounce bigotry and intolerance.
Dr Habib Siddiqui is a peace and rights activist.
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