By Danny R. Johnson – National News Editor
WASHINGTON–During the 1960s civil rights movement, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would often chastise most white evangelicals for their vicious and violent support for segregation and their unrelenting license to use the tools of government to deny African Americans and other non-whites their equal rights. It is a historical fact that the most powerful and politically connected white protestants have used their white privilege over the centuries as a badge of honor to preserve their narrowly defined “culture” and “way of life.”
Democrats and Republicans have used race and equality interchangeably to satisfy a specific plan and political purpose. But the Republican Party is undeniably on record as being the most vehement opponent of civil rights legislation, gun control and safety, and racial equality. Today’s Republican Party is not the party of Abraham Lincoln, whose policies, and Republican-controlled Congress of the 1860s freed the enslaved people but abandoned them in post Reconstruction in the 1870s.
White protestants have historically flocked to the Republican Party because the ideology of opposing civil rights fits perfectly well with their religious traditions and dogma, which leads me to a recent survey conducted by the Southern Policy Law Center (SPLC). In late April 2022, the SPLC and Tulchin Research polled 1,500 Americans to examine how the broader American public has absorbed the extremist beliefs and narratives that mobilize the hard right.
The survey found that the ideas underpinning the white nationalist “great replacement” narrative recently cited by an alleged white supremacist terrorist in Buffalo, New York, have become thoroughly mainstream on the political right. 7 in 10 Republicans surveyed agree to at least some extent that demographic changes in the United States are deliberately driven by liberal and progressive politicians attempting to gain political power by “replacing more conservative white voters.” Across the political spectrum, SPLC found substantial support for threatening or acting violently against perceived political opponents.
The House Select Committee investigating January 6, 2021, Capitol Hill insurrection will hold its first public hearing today and is expected to give an overview of its findings from the past year. Before the gavel is hammered, Donald Trump supporters, the far right, and white supremacist groups have already called the hearings a “witch hunt” to persecute “the law-abiding patriots who stormed the capital in defense of white Americans.”
The SPLC survey uncovered disturbing analyses that all Americans who believe in a pluralistic democracy cause concern. Most Republicans and Democrats believe their political opponents threaten the country and want to harm their political opponents. That kind of hatred could fuel partisan violence — a possibility that the survey results suggest Americans should take seriously. When respondents were asked if they approved of threatening or assassinating a politician, one in five said they at least approved.
While levels of support for threats and violence do not differ among partisans, Republicans are more likely to agree that “some violence may be necessary to get the country back on track.” The mood, overall, is pessimistic: 44% of Americans agree that the “U.S. seems headed toward a civil war shortly,” including 53% of Republicans and 39% of Democrats.
White evangelicals who subscribe to using violence to further their cause instead of the ballot box have openly declared their hostility to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, whom they claim to profess they serve. According to most Republicans, anyone who does not support opposition to civil and voting rights legislation, equal justice in the criminal justice system, teaching a balanced and truthful account of American history, pro-abortion, pro-gun safety legislation is an extremist.
White evangelicals need to understand that millions of extremists in their ranks do not subscribe to their level of hate. Was not Jesus Christ an extremist in love – “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use you?” Was not the prophet Amos an extremist for justice – “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” Was not the Apostle Paul an extremist for the Gospel – “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus…We are neither Jew, Greek, nor Gentiles…We are all one in Christ Jesus.” Was not Lincoln an extremist – “This nation cannot survive half slave and half free?”
So, the question is not whether we will be extremists but what kind of extremists we will be. Will it be extremist of hate or extremist for inclusion, reconciliation, and civility? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice, or will we be extremists for the cause of justice? White evangelicals stood on the sidelines during blatant injustices inflicted upon our society. They participated in sanctimonious hypocrisy of claiming to serve Jesus while our country is being torn apart from within.
When you look at the evangelicals, ministers, and bishops who lead millions of followers from their beautiful cathedrals, churches, and halls with lofty spires pointing heavenward, you ask yourself, “What kind of people worship here? Who is their God? When Donald Trump and the Republican Party inspired the January 6 insurrection, where were the voices? With guns being the leading cause of death among children, where are the courageous men and women when corrupt politicians and wicked men and women in high places do nothing when innocent children are slaughtered with high-capacity rifles?
The white evangelicals have blemished and scarred the body of Christ through their greed, stubborn attitude, and fear of being nonconformists.
The church is not a building. The church is a collective body of believers scattered over the globe who believe in the Gospel of love, mercy, and compassion as taught by Christ. This Gospel does not impose its will on anyone, but it stands in the truth of justice, liberty, and inclusion.
Let us all hope that the dark clouds of pessimism and evil spread across our land will soon pass, and the deep, drenched fog of misunderstanding and mistrust will be lifted. I am not so naïve as to believe this will happen overnight. I might not live to see its fruition, but our grandchildren must know that we have passed the baton on to them, and hopefully, because of our unselfish devotion and example, they will finish the work we started.