I pray for leaders who will unite us and who will work for tolerance and understanding. Leaders who emphasize our commonalities, not our differences. Tragically, too many of our leaders work to divide us, creating an “us and them” reality.
Sadly, we have leaders like Dan Patrick, lieutenant governor of Texas, who recently said that “racism will not go away until everyone accepts Jesus.” His statement divides, blaming faiths, different from his own, for racism.
Our Founding Fathers built religious freedom into the U.S. Constitution because they understood that religious zealots, believing they have the absolute truth about existence’s greatest mysteries, would tend to persecute people with different beliefs. Patrick’s statement encourages religious intolerance.
Claiming to accept Jesus as your personal savior is not a vaccine for racism. Historical facts prove this.
Our Civil War divided Christians from each other just as it divided the country. In 1844, the Methodist Church, and in 1847, the Baptist Church, fractured over slavery. Sermons in the South used the Bible to justify slavery, while in the North, you might hear a sermon on slavery’s evils.
Nazi Germany was a country composed of about one-third Catholics and two-thirds Protestants. Evangelical Lutherans were an important voting block for the Nazi party. While Christians like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was a Lutheran pastor and theologian, were willing to die to oppose Nazism (Hitler executed him in 1945), German Christianity didn’t save six million Jews.
My parents were “cloth-coat” Republicans and deeply religious Christians. They were good honest people, striving to live the love of Jesus. Nevertheless, they were trapped in the conventional prejudices they grew up with in the early 20th century. In college in 1968, I dated a wonderful African-American woman. My parents told me to break off the relationship, or they would cut my college support, Christian faith notwithstanding.
The documentation of President Donald Trump’s and his father’s racism is extensive. In 1954, the famous songwriter Woody Guthrie lived in one of Trump’s buildings and wrote “Old Man Trump,” protesting Fred Trump’s racist renting policies. In 1974, the U.S. Department of Justice sued the Trump management company for racial discrimination.
In 1989, Donald Trump paid for a full page ad calling for the execution of five black teenagers (Central Park Five) convicted of raping a white woman. Although DNA evidence would later exonerate them, Trump has never apologized. Endorsed by the KKK, Trump calls white supremacists fine people. Recently, Trump told a nearly all white crowd they had “good genes.”
In 2016, white evangelicals turned a blind eye to Donald Trump’s racism and voted for him. Although evangelical enthusiasm has dimmed a little, a June 2020 poll found 82% say they will vote for him.
But Christians today are divided. Eighty-eight percent of Black protestant Christians say they will vote for Biden.
Many Christians were outraged by Trump’s assault on peaceful anti-racism demonstrators, with gas and munitions, to pose with a Bible in front of St. John’s Church. To them, this was blasphemy. D. Stephen Long, who is a theologian and professor of ethics at Southern Methodist University, says “it is time that we call Trump what he is, an antichrist.” Long says, “When this is all over, when the smoke from the tear gas (or whatever chemical agent used) has cleared, American Christianity will stand condemned for following the beast.”
Forbes magazine interviewed Jerushah Duford, Billy Graham’s granddaughter, and reported “she doesn’t know how anyone can reconcile the stark contrast of the lessons of Jesus with what the world has witnessed in the White House during the last four years.” She criticizes church leaders’ silence while Trump pushes an “us-versus-them” narrative. Duford says, “I feel disoriented as I watch the church I have always served turn its eyes away from everything it teaches.”
Racist Christians “see through a glass darkly.” Christianity is absolutely antithetical to racism.
Jesus’ lessons not to judge others, to treat others as you want to be treated, and not to criticize the speck in your brother’s eye while ignoring the plank in our own — are all ignored by racists.
“The Good Samaritan” is Jesus’ most poignant parable against racism. Jesus, when speaking of treating neighbors with kindness, is asked by a lawyer, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus tells a story: a Jew is robbed, beaten and left naked alongside the road dying. A priest and a Jew pass by, avoiding and ignoring the dying man. A Samaritan comes by and compassionately saves the victim. Although Samaritans were despised by Jews, when Jesus asks who was the victim’s neighbor, the lawyer answers, “the Samaritan.” This parable is a strong statement against xenophobia and racism. It says everyone is your neighbor, and judge people by their character, not their nationality, religion, or race. It says you love God when you love others. It says indifference is sin.
Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s statement above is an excuse for ignoring racial injustice, one that’s long been employed by right-wing Christians to rationalize indifference. Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Tammy and Jimmy Baker weren’t on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, being beaten with Martin Luther King and John Lewis. Preferring indifference, they abandoned Jesus’ teachings.
Fortunately, Jerushah Duford is not alone. Ronald Sider is a theologian and president of Evangelicals for Social Action. In his book, “Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience,” Sider shows evangelicals live no better than others, and are more racist than average. He challenges them to live the love of Jesus. Recently, Sider edited “The Spiritual Danger of Donald Trump,” an anthology of essays by 30 evangelical leaders. The courage of such Christians offers hope of a less divided Christianity — and a country were Americans see others as neighbors again.
Roger Ledbetter is a politically-active resident of the Valley. He and his family have lived in Snoqualmie since 1979. Contact him through the editor by email: email@example.com.