Christianity, Examined

Over 50 faith leaders from across the country, representing various denominations, added their signatures to a statement entitled "Called to Resist Bigotry - A Statement of Faithful Obedience." These faith leaders addressed the open bigotry of GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump, lifting the racism, sexism and religious bigotry of this man who would be president, as reasons for them as faith leaders to speak out. Jesus would not want this, and does not condone it, is their message.

Silence, these leaders agreed, is not an option. They invoked the words of German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who said, "Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act." The silence of faith leaders, they agreed, is a travesty to the cause and he foundation of Christianity.

Donald Trump is about exploiting the underlying and deep-seated racism of white Americans. The racist hatred isn't just directed against African-Americans; no, by Trump's own words, the xenophobia extends to Mexicans and Muslims as well. Trump has proven to be innately skilled at stirring the ever-bubbling pot of racial hatred that has been a standing feature of American life and democracy from this country's inception.

The faith leaders also mention Trump's treatment of women, and the fact that he denigrated American war hero John McClain.

These faith leaders call upon Americans to go to the principles of Christianity to denounce what Trump is doing. The statement says that "This is not merely an electoral debate in which Christians hold legitimately differing policy views from one another. Rather, it is a public test of Christian truth and discipleship."

Those words sound good, but there is a problem. There is no such thing as "Christianity" as a standard religion with a common theology. No, Christianity seems rather to be more individualistic than communal and common; it is regional and not international; its theology is dictated by the ideology of those who profess to believe in Jesus the Christ. And that is why "good Christian people" are supporting Donald Trump, in spite of his hateful rhetoric and his bigotry.

Many, though by no means all, of Trump's supporters are from the South. These people have felt marginalized by the Republican party and by government in general; the Great Recession affected them in ways that are still negatively impacting them. Jobs have been lost and with them, financial security. Manufacturing jobs were sent out of the country and that move, made to help make the rich richer, resulted in an economic underclass that included more white people than had ever found themselves in that particular place of economic struggle.

Historically, whites have resisted anyone or any group of people who sought to participate in reaching for "the American dream." Whites have attacked even other whites as those groups tried to enter the workforce. The rivalry between Italians and Irish, for example, existed largely because the two groups - of white people - were competing for jobs.

Now, it seems that the black people, and the brown people, and the LGBTQ community - are all competing for jobs that whites, among others, lost, due to outsourcing.

But the problem is exacerbated by what I will call "regional Christianity." Southern Christianity, and the way many white Southerners interpret the Gospel of Jesus Christ, was shaped on a Biblical interpretation - or misinterpretation accounted historically and is probably much in play now. This "brand" of Christianity looks on segregation as a God-sanctioned desire. It has historically taught that the quest of black people for human and civil rights is against the will of God. It has also taught that what matters to Jesus is individuals "getting right" with God. "Getting right," this brand of theology holds, does not include being in favor of equality for black people or integration. God, these Christians believe, made different races and God intended for them to remain separated.

In the height of the Civil Rights Movement, many white Southern Christians considered the work to get equal rights for black people as being antithetical to the Gospel. Rev. Joe Odle of Mississippi argued that "civil rights occupies a place secondary to redemption from sin through Jesus Christ. (quote taken from Carolyn Renee Dupont's book, Mississippi Praying: Southern White Evangelicals and the Civil Rights Movement, 1945-1975, p. 175).

Neither segregation nor racism was a sin, many Southern Christians taught, and that sentiment is still the underbelly of Christianity, not only in the United States, but throughout the world. Many "good Christians" believe that discrimination against people of color is God-ordained and God-sanctioned.

So, while many "good Christians" are appalled by what Donald Trump is doing and saying, the fact is that many white Christians are reading God and the words of the Bible in a different way than do people of color. and they are proud to it! They are practicing what they learned in Sunday School, and from their parents, grandparents, pastors...and Sunday School lessons. They have been taught - it is ingrained in them - that "Segregation of the races is not - as we have been told - evil, unchristian, and barbaric." (Dupont, p. 129)

Donald Trump is speaking their language, singing their song.

During the 60s, religious leaders, white as well as black, tried to infuse the struggle for civil rights for black people with their interpretation of the Gospel. They depicted Jesus the Christ as a social revolutionary who demanded that we all take care of "the least of these." They worked to bring about justice for those who said Jesus, in essence, said it was ok to discriminate against them.

This same Jesus would not condone their discrimination and bigotry against the LGBTQ community, they believe, and Jesus would certainly put a stamp of disapproval on the opposition to same-sex marriage.

It is troubling, but the religion called Christianity has never been able to get people to act as a beloved community. Groups have latched onto their own interpretations of the Gospel and have come out in far different places.

The signatures of the faith leaders is admirable and even necessary, but as long as Christianity is regional and not universal, demagogues who are "good Christian people" and who go to church every Sunday will continue to support and believe in the rightness of racial, sexual and gender discrimination.

They will believe, as they always have, that Jesus is directing their actions, their words ...and is massaging their bigoted hearts, telling them that hating and discriminating against people of color, is the right thing to do.