White Evangelicals Stifle Own Values For Trump

by James M. Wall

The Rev. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas, the Susan D. Morgan Distinguished Professor of Religion at Goucher College in Baltimore, posed a question in an article she wrote for Sojourners:

“What values were really at stake for the 81 percent of white evangelicals who voted for a presidential candidate {in 2016} who uses crass language and admits to engaging in coarse behavior, and whose campaign was marked by vitriolic hatred of various people, particularly people of color?”

Brown Douglas served as Professor of Theology at Goucher College from 2000 through 2018. She gave up this post this month and is now the first African American woman to become Dean at an Episcopal Divinity School (EDS). 

The new dean is also the author of Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God (book cover above). Her book was written in the aftermath of the racial upheaval following the Sanford, Florida murder of teen-ager Trayvon Martin, on February 26, 2012.

Alice Woodson described the Brown Douglas book for Religious Studies Review as “a thoughtful and provocative analysis of the Trayvon Martin story and subsequent deaths of other unarmed African Americans at the hands of police brutality”. Woodson writes:

Douglas, a mother of a teenage son, “highlights a mother’s perspective” throughout the book while contrasting her pain with a sociohistorical analysis of what she has named America’s stand-your-ground culture.

Brown Douglas does just that in her Sojourners essay, noting that the value proposition of the Trump campaign “was made clear in the campaign’s ‘Make America Great Again’ vision.  This mantra tapped into America’s defining Anglo-Saxon myth and revitalized the culture of white supremacy constructed to protect it”.

She continues:

The Anglo-Saxon myth was introduced to this country when America’s Pilgrim and Puritan forebears fled England, intent on carrying forth an Anglo-Saxon legacy they believed was compromised in English church and society with the Norman Conquest in 1066.

These early Americans believed themselves descendants of an ancient Anglo-Saxon people, “free from the taint of intermarriages,” who uniquely possessed high moral values and an “instinctive love for freedom.” Their beliefs reflected the thought of first-century Roman philosopher Tacitus (quoted above), who touted the unique superiority of an Anglo-Saxon people from the ancient woods of Germany.

In his treatise Germania, Tacitus describes these Germanic tribes as a people for whom “good [moral] habits” were more effectual than “good laws” and argues that they possess a peculiar respect for individual rights and freedom.

Brown Douglas notes that Germania has been called “one of the most dangerous books ever written.” His words were used, she writes, ” to undergird horrific movements, such as the Nazis’ monstrous program for ‘racial purity’.” She continues:

Considering themselves descendants of these mythic Anglo-Saxon people, the Puritans and Pilgrims crossed the Atlantic with a vision to build a nation that was politically and culturally—if not demographically—true to their “exceptional” Anglo-Saxon heritage.

They saw this as a divine vision. They traced their Anglo-Saxon heritage through the ancient woods of Germany back to the Bible. They considered themselves the “new Israelites,” carrying forth a godly mission. Central to this mission was building not simply an Anglo-Saxon nation but a religious nation—one that reflected the morals and virtues of God, which in their minds were synonymous with the unsullied ways of their freedom-loving Anglo-Saxon ancestors.

It is  unlikely that Donald Trump has read Tacitus’ Germania, but his “border wall” is straight out of Tacitus’ play book.

Mexicans are not white Anglo Saxon. They are a people of color from a different ancient community, a people invaded and colonized by white Anglo Saxons.

Trump lies when he describes Mexican immigrants as dangerous criminals. He employs lies which connect to the fears of white Americans who have been exploited through fear since their ancestors killed the first native American after the not-so-pure Puritans brought their “white superiority” to these shores. 

Kelly Brown Douglas’ Sojurner essay is entitled “How Evangelicals Became White“, with an added subhead,  “For much of American evangelical history, spreading the gospel meant spreading whiteness”.

This is a harsh conclusion, but “spreading whiteness” is clearly the hidden message in Donald Trump’s political modus operandi. Building the utterly-insane, useless wall, is the racist “dog whistle” Trump knows his “base” will hear.

Brown Douglas found a recent bit of history to “spreading whiteness” spelled out in the writings of the 19th-century church historian Robert Baird, who wrote, “our national character is that of the Anglo-Saxon race.” She adds that Baird argued further that “essentially Germanic or Teutonic [are] the chief supports of the ideas and institutions of evangelical Christianity.”

From that linkage, Brown Douglas concludes that:

Christian Anglo-Saxon whiteness has subsequently served as the criterion, spoken or unspoken, for determining who is a ‘real’ American, who is entitled to the rights of ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,’ and who has the right to cross borders and occupy certain spaces. Essentially, whiteness provides the measure for what it means to be a legitimate citizen.

This “sacred witness” ushered this nation into the violence and hatred of slavery and segregation right on down to Charlottesville and racist laws like the “Stand Your Ground” Florida law.

And so it continues each time this President speaks or acts.

Brown Douglas is not condemning all White Evangelicals. She qualifies her analysis:

 To be fair, white evangelicals were not alone in their significant support of Trump’s campaign. Fifty-eight percent of nonevangelical white Protestants and 60 percent of white Catholics did the same. Researcher Robert P. Jones argues that the 2016 presidential election represented the “death rattle” of white Christian America’s attempt to protect the country from the consequences of a nonwhite America.

No one made this case more sharply than [former Congresswoman and presidential candidate] Michele Bachmann, who said to a gathering of “values-voter” evangelicals, “It’s a math problem of demographics and a changing United States. … [T]his is the last election when we even have a chance to vote for somebody who will stand up for godly moral principles. This is it.” The implication is clear: The more threatened the white demographic, the fiercer the defense of Anglo-Saxon white supremacy.

The bottom line is that in their support of Trump, much of white Christian America opted to support a white supremacist vision for the country. As for white evangelicals, far from abandoning their role as “values voters,” they simply made clear what they value above all else.

At the annual 2017 Values Voter Conference, Trump knew he had come home to his “base” as he became the first sitting president to address the annual Values Voter Summit.

The British-based Guardian reported on October 13, 2017:

Trump entered a ballroom at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington to applause, cheers and chants of “USA! USA!” He proceeded to cast himself as a man of God. “Everyone here today is brought together by the same shared and timeless values,” said the thrice-married socialite and reality TV star who was once recorded bragging about grabbing women “by their [private parts]”, yet who gained strong backing from Christian evangelicals in last November’s election.

“We cherish the sacred dignity of every human life.

“We believe in strong families and safe communities. We honor the dignity of work. We defend our constitution. We protect religious liberty. We treasure our freedom, we are proud of our history, we support the rule of law and the incredible men and women of law enforcement. We celebrate our heroes and we salute every American who wears the uniform. We respect our great American flag.”

This last point brought conference delegates to their feet amid whoops and whistles, making clear where their sympathies lie in the dispute between Trump and football players who “take a knee” during the national anthem in protest over racial injustice and police brutality. 

White Evangelicals who voted for Trump  had to stifle their evangelical values and their Republican belief in “personal character and moral integrity”.

As New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote Friday,

“It has not always been this way”. Brooks added that “In the decades before Trump, the Republican Party stood for an idea: character before policy.”

Where does this leave us? 

Donald Trump has desecrated Teddy Roosevelt’s “Bully Pulpit” by preaching hatred and bigotry. He has found Satan’s key to the door of racism. He has opened it and won an election which gave him enormous power to do evil. 

What are we going to do about it? We must fight back with what we have at our command to stem this tide of evil. Look around and you see people who are already fighting.

I see high school students forcing a reluctant Florida legislature to act against unbridled gun violence.

I see Ahed Tamimi, a Palestinian teen-age girl in an Israeli jail cell defying an Israeli military occupation force which fears her because she exposes their evil actions.

Whom do you see? What will you do? And when will you act?

About wallwritings

From 1972 through 1999, James M. Wall was editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine, based in Chicago, lllinois. He was a Contributing Editor of the Century from 1999 until July, 2017. He has written this blog, wall writings.me, since it was launched April 27, 2008. If you would like to receive Wall Writings alerts when new postings are added to this site, send a note, saying, Please Add Me, to jameswall8@gmail.com Biography: Journalism was Jim's undergraduate college major at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. He has earned two MA degrees, one from Emory, and one from the University of Chicago, both in religion. He is an ordained United Methodist clergy person. He served for two years in the US Air Force, and three additional years in the USAF reserve. While serving on active duty with the Alaskan Command, he reached the rank of first lieutenant. He has worked as a sports writer for both the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, was editor of the United Methodist magazine, Christian Advocate for ten years, and editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine for 27 years. James M Wall died March 22, 2021 at age 92. His family appreciates all of his readers, even those who may have disagreed with his well-informed writings.
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8 Responses to White Evangelicals Stifle Own Values For Trump

  1. Rd Miner says:

    I thought Douglas did a good job of framing anglo-saxon , white supremacy as a religious “holy war.” I also appreciated her insight that Stand Your Ground and concealed carry laws replaced lynchings as a way for whites to administer extra-legal justice.

    We’re discussing this book after Easter. I’ll have to look for the Sojorners article.

  2. Patricia says:

    I act all the time against injustice. I have been since Vietnam, Civil Rights, ERA. Both main political parties in the USA are corrupt, the Justice system lacking. But one must be the change community by community, issue by issue, speaking out.

  3. Most enlightening, as usual.

  4. I am politically active (beyond voting) for the first time in my life and am finding other like minded people rising up to make a difference and turn the tide. The time for action is now.

  5. Don Wagner says:

    Thanks Jim, for drawing our attention not only to this excellent article, but the issues of America’s original sin—racism, exceptionalism, racial purity, settler colonialism, and other mythis that are often justified by a distorted reading of the Bible. Of course there are elements of racism and exceptionalism in the scriptures but so called “true believers” generally skip over the Prophetic critique hat moves us toward equality, justice, and inclusivity found in the Hebrew Prophets, Jesus, and the Muhammad. The extreme Zionism of Netanyahu, Trump and VP Pence’s extreme Christian Zionism are marked by thier racist agendas toward Palestinians and anyone that criticizes their vicious ideology and false theology. A new website has just been launched by a independent Evangelical scholars, clergy, and laity that will provide a thoughtful alternative to the distortions of Trump, Netanyahu, the VIce President, Rev. Hagee, Franklin Graham and other Christian Zionistss. Please check out http://www.christianzionism.org. With gratitude for Wall Writings, Don

  6. Robert Assaly says:

    The Pilgrims indeed succeeded in establishing their improbable fantasy of “a religious nation,” infecting these shores with their original sin: the WMD of Puritanism. Its “death rattle” cannot sound soon enough.

  7. J, Patterson says:

    Very interesting. Thanks, Jim.

  8. jjperegrine says:

    So it is bigoted and wrong for whites to trivialize the history and heritage of minorities, but it is perfectly kosher for minority social justice warrior Kelly Brown Douglas to target whites with her stereotypes and her semantic attempts to trivialize and nullify our heritage and history?

    I frankly do not have any time for such hypocrisy, bye.

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