The Black Community in Alabama Saved Us From White Evangelicals

As news of Doug Jones’ victory came in last night I initially rejoiced.

Watching one of the reddest places in America turn blue, and seeing voters there reject one of the most reprehensible candidates in recent memory certainly seemed like cause for celebration. It felt in that moment like a victory for the nation, for the state of Alabama, and for the Resistance movement pushing back for a year against the bigotry of this Administration and badly needing confirmation that our efforts were bearing fruit.

Trump was Tweet silent and reportedly furious.
Steve Bannon was all dressed up for a nazi afterparty that never happened.
Roy Moore was quoting Psalm 40 and blaming the horse he rode in on.
Equality, Diversity, and Justice had won the day.
A bit of light was breaking through.
There was reason for dancing again.
I joined in that dancing.

Then I looked at the numbers, and the party was quickly over:

68 percent of white voters chose Roy Moore.
96 percent of black voters chose Doug Jones.

63 percent of white women voted for Roy Moore.
98 percent of black women voted for Jones.



80 percent of self identified White Evangelicals voted for Roy Moore.

In other words, black voters saved us all from white Evangelicals. By simply voting their consciences, in ways that may not have intended, they did something redemptive for all of us. 

They almost singlehandedly spared us from a vile, hateful monster of a man—inexplicably, one that white Bible-thumping, God-is-love-ing, family valuing, professed followers of Jesus overwhelmingly embraced—again.

Just as they’d done in November of 2016, 81 percent of caucasian born-again Christians stepped into a voting booth and affirmed a man whose racism, homophobia, misogyny, and contempt for people of color was on full display in the weeks that led them there.

Excuse my language—but what the hell, white Evangelicals?

Alabama just gave you a chance to course correct from the God-awful decision you made a year ago.
You had a golden opportunity to stand in solidarity with marginalized people and to remind them that this is where Jesus would be.
You received an early Christmas gift in the form of an openly racist, brazenly homo/transphobic, historically predatory candidate—who you could and should have opposed as a no-brainer.

And to it all you said, “No thanks, we’re good.”

With his almost cartoony, nonsensical buffoonery, Roy Moore lobbed you all up a softball to at least ceremonially denounced bigotry—and 81 percent of you struck out swinging.

And you wonder why the Church is shrinking.
You wonder why people are fleeing organized Christianity in droves.
You wonder why more and more Americans see the term Evangelical as something devoid of Jesus and more akin to terrorism.

There will be all sorts of rationalizations proffered today and in the coming weeks; ways Bible Belt Christians will justify their vote, excuses evangelists and pastors will make, sermons about a perverse culture, conversations about whether people believed Roy Moore’s accusers—all in an effort to escape the obvious: White Evangelical Christianity in America is horribly broken and it may not be fixable. It is an exclusionary, divisive, deeply racist presence in a nation that wants and needs an expression of religion that doesn’t further divide an already terribly fractured people.

Those of us who are white and come from a Christian tradition, need to admit that White Evangelicalism is now the thing most antithetical to the message of Jesus.
We need to openly lament and condemn the supremacy embedded in it because the Jesus of the Gospels did.
We need to oppose it because it is now the very Roman Empire that Christ spent his days on the planet pushing back against.

Yes, Alabama is reason for celebration, but it isn’t only that.
It is an occasion to grieve the racism that still infects the blood stream of the White Evangelical Church.
It is a moment to lament how the message of Christ drifted in 2,000 years, from radical love for the poor and marginalized—into a haven for gun-waving bigots on horseback.
It is a moment to deeply express gratitude to the black community at large for affirming the things White Evangelicals should, but simply refuse to: compassion, equality, diversity, justice.

Alabama shouldn’t even have been this close, given the overt racism on display and the ugliness of the candidate.

Sadly, far too many white people still haven’t figured out that diversity is this country’s greatest asset—and that for Christians it should be a flat-out non negotiable.

Perhaps the most startling graphic in the Washington Post’s breakdown was this one:

White born-again Christians—and everyone else.

Everyone else seems to get it.

Everyone else seems to have this “love your neighbor as yourself” thing down.

Everyone else seems to realize how much White Evangelicals have lost the plot.

As a white Christian living and serving in the Bible Belt, someone who is trying to excavate Jesus from the ugly stuff he has been buried in, today I gladly stand alongside Everyone Else.

Thank you to the black community for representing Everyone Else—when white Evangelicals again refused to.

 

 

Dear Alabama,

Dear Alabama,

We don’t know each other well. I visited briefly a few times over the past twenty years; the four days I spent in Birmingham with a group of teenagers working on a crumbling church, the weekend visit I made to Montgomery to a college friend’s wedding. These were cursory and fleeting glimpses of you, I admit.

Most of what I know about you I know from a distance; through the news and on social media and from the history books. Such things only offer a limited view I realize—and as much as I’ve tried to formulate an accurate image of you, I know I’m dealing with incomplete information. Whatever portrait I’ve created in my head of who you are or what you care about, is at best a poor caricature, so you’ll have to forgive me.

Having said that, that imperfect picture of you I’ve constructed lately is admittedly concerning. Over the past few months, the story that these disparate fragments of information are writing together, is one of rekindled bigotry; of a descending, politically partisan morality, of a fiercely exclusionary, coercive religion. It is a story of the steady erosion of civil rights. It is a story of only white lives really mattering: white, Christian, male lives, most specifically.

And here’s the thing, Alabama—that story may be fully jacked up, it may be a complete distortion of who you are. The racism and misogyny, the dehumanizing language about LGBTQ people, the gun-waving bravado, the sexual assault victim- blaming that are all becoming your bold type headline—that may not be who you are or want to be. The ugliness of these days may not be your story at all.

And that’s the beautiful thing about elections, Alabama: they let us tell our true stories. They give us the moment to speak solely for ourselves; about who we are, what matters to us, the kind of world we want to live in, the kind of men and women we want representing us. We get to tell people what we demand and what we will not tolerate. Our morality and our values and our hearts are on display in the votes we cast or do not cast.

We get to cut through every stereotype, every media cheap shot, every irrational fear, every time-tested bit of shorthand. 

We get to remove all doubt as to who we are.

You get to do this too.

Today is important for many people, but it’s most important for you—because today you get to tell your story, and at the end of the day that story will be your legacy.

It won’t be a story written by the liberal or the conservative media or by people looking on from a distance or from occasional visitors who might speculate. It won’t be written by Presidential Tweets or polls or pundits or bloggers who spent a few days with you.

Tomorrow the world we wake up and you will have spoken clearly and loudly to us.

You will have said:

This is who we are.
This is what we value.

This is what we think about the diverse humanity comprising this nation.
This is how much we care about the vulnerable and the marginalized and the silenced.
This is what we believe about black lives and dreamers and me toos.
This is what we want the world to know about us.

Stereotype and caricatures and false stories are always terrible things. They are wasteful and unhelpful and insulting. They are the source of far too many unnecessary wars and far too few honest conversations.

And that, Alabama is why I look forward to finding out who you really are today.

I look forward to you speaking your truth today so I can stop wondering if I’m right about you.

America is looking on.

We’re all listening.

We’re all watching.

Show us who you are.

Whatever you say today—we’re going to believe you.

A Manifesto of Resistance Christians

Sometime truth is just volume.

The loud people get to write the story that everyone hears, the one they come to believe is the only story. In this way, they get to define what is true for those looking on who may not hear anything else.

Right now there is a story being written about Christians in America; a story saturated with cruelty, one absent of compassion, and because the author’s volume is so great and their profile so high—that is becoming the singular story. It is becoming true for all of us.

But that is not our story.
There is another story.
There is a different kind of Christian.
We are such people.

We are Christians who have no tolerance for bigotry that denies the inherent worth of a human based on their pigmentation or orientation—especially when it commandeers the name of Jesus to do it. Dehumanizing language would be a foreign tongue to him, threat of violence toward others unthinkable, coordinated bullying an abomination.

We recognize that virtually nothing about this Administration or Republican leadership resembles Jesus of Nazareth, and we reject any claim that he would sanction the expelling of immigrants, the rejection of refugees, or the walling off of foreign neighbors. These things are the antithesis of the open-hearted Gospel of welcome and care for the other.

We see the white supremacy and fascism currently being championed from the Oval Office, in pulpits, and through partisan, extremist media—and we fight any effort to normalize it, because such hatred has no business being spoken in the same breath as Jesus who preached peace.

We condemn the reckless vilification of Muslims, believing their faith tradition as rich and important and worthy of respect as our own. No religion has a monopoly on truth or on terrorism—and we stand with our Muslim brothers and sisters being assailed by this President simply because of the faith they claim; one as meaningful to them as ours is to us.

We see in the Scriptures, Jesus’ clear disdain for religious hypocrisy; those who leveraged their position and other’s fear of God in order to victimize people. We reject the extremists of the Christian Right who would build a theocracy here and coerce people into compliance—because the heart of this and all faiths, is free decision.

We affirm the rights of women to have sovereignty over their own bodies, and we oppose men who would assert their preferences, prejudices, or religious beliefs upon them, whether individually or corporately, through personal conduct or legislation.

We have read and studied the Bible, and we know when someone is twisting it to their advantage, when they’re distorting it to oppress and discriminate, when they are making God in their own angry image—and we believe this is happening more egregiously than ever in America in the highest levels of Government and Church leadership.

We know that imperfect people build corrupt systems, and that the American Church is systemically afflicted with supremacy that needs to be eradicated; that its leadership needs voices of historically marginalized communities in order to heal it.

We openly oppose the Evangelists, pastors, and preachers who’ve allowed their callings to be usurped by ambition; those who now so easily bow before a President who hasn’t the slightest desire to reflect Jesus. 

We denounce the violence, misogyny, and nationalism characterizing American Evangelical Christianity, as it bears no commonality with a Jesus whose life and ministry were marked by diversity, compassion, and radical hospitality to the outsider.

We are not defined by solely by any Christians denomination, category, or movement. We are not merely Evangelical or Mainline, Charismatic or Contemplative. Our convictions and declarations transcend political party and they are bigger than one politician. They are a Christianity of fierce, loving resistance: to fear, to patriarchy, to exclusion, to nationalism, to white supremacy, to power, to isolationism.

You may not realize such Christians still exist anymore, in fact on many days we begin to feel as though we are a terribly endangered species too, that perhaps we are alone in these days—but that is merely the volume of the other story-writers fooling us. Make no mistake though, we number in the tens of millions and we are as grieved as you are by those using God to do damage to the poor and the vulnerable. We’re committed to pushing back against it.

So yes, there is certainly a loud and quite terrible story being written by people professing faith in Jesus right now; one that seems preoccupied with making the table smaller, with pushing difference to the periphery, with dispensing damnation and with marginalizing those already at disadvantage.

There is a Christian story of misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, and bigotry that has the megaphone and the platform right now.

This is not the story we want speaking for us.

We are Christians of compassion and hospitality and diversity, fully committed to making a nation that can be sanctuary and refuge for everyone who desires it, a nation where compliance with one faith tradition is not a mandatory requirement for admission, one whose burdened is to build bigger tables not higher walls.

You may find this all encouraging or worrisome, depending on who you are.

We are Christians actively, relentlessly, and fully resisting hatred.

And we’re not going away.

 

The “Gospel” According to Roy Moore

To the Christians in Alabama,

I hear you and I have something in common—well, at least we’re supposed to.

We’re supposed to both be followers of Jesus of Nazareth, which means we’re apparently on the same team, so to speak.

What I mean is, since we both claim to be Christians, we’re supposed to be trying to do the same thing here on the planet: to emulate the life of Christ, to reflect his character in the world, to (as he said) let people know that we are his followers by the way we love.

Roy Moore claims to be a Christian too—which means he claims to be about this same loving, compassionate, Jesus-emulating work in the world that we are.

And since I hear that many of you agree that he is indeed someone living in the image of Jesus and plan on voting for him because of this, I guess I just want to ask you specifically how you believe he’s doing that.

When you look at Jesus of Nazareth and you look at Roy Moore of Alabama—what are the similarities? Where are the affinities? Are they similarly good news?

How do you conclude that he is emulating Jesus, as he looks back fondly on a time when white people owned black people? Precisely how do you connect the dots between these sentiments and the Jesus you know—the one who said he came to set captives free and to release the oppressed?

Exactly how is he perpetuating the good news of Gospel by telling us we’ve asked for shootings and mass murders, by angering God because we don’t have organized prayer in schools and council meetings? Where specifically in the life of Jesus do you see such warnings? I see a Jesus who decried any public displays of religiosity, so I’m a bit confused.

Precisely what is he teaching people about Jesus, when he compares gay people to those who have sex with animals; when he says that LGBTQ people should be illegal? How do you declare another human being illegal and where does Jesus sanction such things? As you scan the biographies of Jesus written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, where do you see anything that sounds like that? (Citations would be appreciated.) 

How is a man who has admitted to at least occasionally dating teenage girls while in his thirties (one who has been accused by multiple women of forcing himself on them physically, some when they were as young as 14), how exactly is that kind of man representing the Jesus who said “Let the children come to me and do not hinder them?” If you were teaching children about Jesus this Sunday morning, how would you connect such conduct? 

And while you consider your answers, I’ll caution you not to use or offer Moore’s words about God as a reason. They are not a reason. They are not proof of anything.

Anyone can throw around words about God; about fearing God or trusting God or honoring God. This isn’t about simply invoking the name of God. That’s easy. Murderers do that. Terrorists do that. Warmongers do that. Rapists do that.

No, as professed Christians, (which you, me, and Moore all claim to be) this is about something much more specific and measurable: perpetuating the life of Jesus, through lives that seem to be made out of similar stuff. That’s the whole deal: how we live.

I’ll invite you to go and read the Sermon on the Mount, then read some of Roy Moore’s quotes—and ask yourself if these are made of the same stuff. If you conclude they are, then do what you feel called to do. But if you see a disconnect, you may want to take that to Jesus in prayer and ask whether you really want Jesus represented where you live—or just a voting block.

This may sound like I’m telling you how to vote, but I’m not. I just want us both to be clear on what you’ll be saying as a follower of Jesus at the polling booth if you vote for Roy Moore, so that there won’t be any confusion moving forward:

What you’ll be saying, is that you love Jesus and want people to know his love through your life.
You’ll be saying that you want this world to know more of his compassion and benevolence and mercy—to find that abundant life he said he came to bring.
You’ll be saying that God is love, and that you want to reflect this love by imitating Christ.
This is the good news you’re here to share.

You’ll also be saying that Roy Moore resembles this same Jesus; that his words and his conduct show those looking on, what Jesus looks like in a life.
You’ll be saying that the racial slurs and the homophobia and the fear-peddling and the sexual improprieties are sufficiently Christlike enough for you to amen.
You’ll be saying that as a Christian—you and Roy Moore are in the same work here on the planet: showing people Jesus.

And you’ll be confirming that you and I actually don’t have anything in common after all other than a label.

You’ll be telling me, that one of us has Jesus of Nazareth completely twisted and has totally lost the plot here.

Maybe it’s me.

Maybe I’m missing something.

Maybe I don’t know what Jesus looks like at all.

Because I see no Jesus in the Gospel according to Roy Moore.

I don’t see any goodness in his news.