Power of a Distinctly White Hue

On August 9, a day before a devastating storm hit Iowa, the New York Times profiled voters in Sioux Center, one of the most conservative Christian communities in the state, let alone the entire country.

In her reporting, Elizabeth Dias recalled Donald Trump’s infamous January 2016 campaign rally in Sioux Center, where he said he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan and not lose any voters. More to her subject, it’s also where he promised that, if elected, “Christianity will have power…. You’re going to have somebody representing you very, very well. Remember that.”

Mike Kuhlenbeck’s reporting herein, on investigations by secular watchdogs into the administration’s massive grants to churches during the coronavirus pandemic, shows the president has kept his word in this regard. And when it comes to having power, Becky Garrison’s interview with the Public Religion Research Institute’s Robert P. Jones reveals that American Christians have long enjoyed power of a distinctly white hue.

Interviews with a number of families in Iowa’s Sioux Center led the Times’s Dias to this conclusion:

Evangelicals did not support Mr. Trump in spite of who he is. They supported him because of who he is, and because of who they are. [emphasis added]…White straight married couples with children who go to church regularly are no longer the American mainstream. An entire way of life, one in which their values were dominant, could be headed for extinction. And Mr. Trump offered to restore them to power, as though they have not been in power all along.

I was struck by just how self-focused and narrow-minded the thinking was of some of the evangelicals Dias spoke to. One wife and mother talked about how easy and laid back her family’s life was and at the same time under siege from gay and nonwhite Americans. Referring to the Obama presidency, she noted: “[W]e spent eight years, if not more, with our freedoms slowly being taken away under the guise of giving freedoms to all.” Vexed that “Caucasian Americans are becoming a minority,” she also sung Mike Pence’s praises as “the very supportive, submissive wife to Trump.” (Discuss amongst yourselves.)

Conservative Christianity’s white problem is becoming more and more apparent. In late July evangelical radio host Eric Metaxas thought he had a zinger of a reply to the announcement that the United Methodist Church was partnering with White Fragility author Robin DiAngelo for a video series called “Deconstructing White Privilege.”

“Jesus was white,” Metaxas tweeted. “Did he have ‘white privilege’ even though he was entirely without sin? Is the United Methodist Church covering that? I think it could be important.”

Ok, not all humanists are even sure Jesus existed, but we all know that as a Jew from the Middle East, there’s no way he was a flaxon-haired blue-eyed white guy. (And please tell me I don’t have to explain that this issue’s cover is satire.)

It’s all a bit much to take, and I haven’t even mentioned the pandemic.

This summer the Commerce Department released data confirming the nosedive the economy took in the spring as the nation shut down to guard against the coronavirus. People who’ve been reading me over the years know that I have an affinity for Frank Sinatra because my dear dad loved his songs and sounded a lot like him. “That’s Life” had been kicking around in my head of late: You’re ridin’ high in April, shot down in May. But I know I’m gonna change that tune/When I’m back on top, back on top in June. The administration was indeed hoping the economy was bouncing back in June as cities and states were urged to reopen. But if there’s nothing shaking come this here July… At month’s end, the hoped for V-shaped economic recovery took a different trajectory on the strength of another v-word—and it wasn’t victory.

But I stopped singing the song. There will be no rolling ourselves into a big ball because there’s an election coming and so much good work to be done. After civil rights icon Congressman John Lewis (D-GA) died on July 17, his last public words appeared in the Times. Lewis, who was not himself a humanist but a champion of so much we hold dear, concluded with a call to humanity that brought tears to this humanist’s eyes:

When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the twenty-first century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war. So I say to you, walk with the wind, brothers and sisters, and let the spirit of peace and the power of everlasting love be your guide.