Those burning crosses are symbols of evangelicalism.
I’m not here to fix evangelicals. That’s the job of those who still find value in it. My purpose in writing was to hold up the historical mirror to the movement, and show them who they really are.
White Evangelical Racism tells a concise history of the evangelical movement and-here is the hard part-the racist and racial elements that imbue its beliefs, practices, and social and political activism. It is racism that binds and blinds many white American evangelicals to the vilification of Muslims, Latinos, and African Americans. It is racism that impels many evangelicals to oppose immigration and turn a blind eye to children in cages at the border. It is racism that fuels evangelical Islamophobia. It was evangelical acceptance of biblically sanctioned racism that motivated believers to separate and sell families during slavery and to march with the Klan. Racist evangelicals shielded cross burners, protected church burners, and participated in lynchings. Racism is a feature, not a bug, of American evangelicalism.
“To a great extent, the evangelical church in America supported the status quo. It supported slavery; it supported segregation; it preached against any attempt of the black man to stand on his own two feet.” These words, uttered in 1970 by Tom Skinner-the son of a Black preacher and a former gang member turned evangelist-still ring true today.
Evangelicals’ support for current-day policies that seem draconian and unchristian is linked inescapably to a foundational history that we will uncover in this book. American history chronicles evangelical support for and participation in racist structures in America. Skinner got it right.
Why did you choose the subtitle The Politics of Morality in America?
The subtitle is about the thesis of the book: simply put, morality isn’t a religious issue for evangelicals, but a political tool they hide behind that allows them to obscure the racist and sexist pronouncements and laws they often back and promulgate. From the ways in which white women were put on a pedestal by white men in the Reconstruction and Redemption era, to the lifting up of the “family” as a way to disparage Black families as not being “moral” if there wasn’t a two-parent household, evangelical moral issues about sex, family and money have never been applied stringently to themselves or their leadership the same way they’ve applied it to other religions or ethnic groups.
One of the book’s theses is that evangelicals’ unwavering Trump support cost them a lot. But has it? What would you say to someone who suggests that their reputation with the general public hardly matters, given both the short political memory of white Americans and that the Electoral College, Senate representation, filibuster, gerrymandering, and voter suppression grant them disproportionate power anyway?
It may not matter to evangelicals that their reputations are shattered—after all they are used to saying that they’re persecuted. It fits their narrative. It does matter that the news media and voters keep believing that they actually care about moral issues. They care about power. And many of them are in power, so that is a concern for all sorts of policy issues, especially for reproductive and sexual rights.
It matters that the media and voters understand that moral issues are a tool for wielding power, and for obfuscating evangelicals’ need for access to it. It may be that they have power because of patriarchy and whiteness, but the pendulum swings, always. While their ascension has seemed to be a steep, uphill climb, I think the jig, as they say, is up.
One more note. There isn’t much about Trump in this book, for one particular reason: evangelicals didn’t become this because of Trump. Trump was simply the apotheosis of who they have been for a long time. He was close to the pinnacle of all they could want in a leader. He was just a bit too crass for the more refined evangelicals.
On the Atlanta spa killer:
The terrorists, the sheriff, and the church are all working together.