The article removed from Forbes, “Why White Evangelicalism Is So Cruel”

**This was originally posted to Forbes on Sunday, Mar 11. Forbes took it down today. This is the explanation I received from the editor. Here is the original article in full:

Robert Jeffress, Pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas and an avid supporter of Donald Trump, earned headlines this week for his defense of the president’s adultery with a porn star. Regarding the affair and subsequent financial payments, Jeffress explained, “Even if it’s true, it doesn’t matter.”

Such a casual attitude toward adultery and prostitution might seem odd from a guy who blamed 9/11 on America’s sinfulness. However, seen through the lens of white evangelicals’ real priorities, Jeffress’ disinterest in Trump’s sordid lifestyle makes sense. Religion is inseparable from culture, and culture is inseparable from history. Modern, white evangelicalism emerged from the interplay between race and religion in the slave states. What today we call “evangelical Christianity,” is the product of centuries of conditioning, in which religious practices were adapted to nurture a slave economy. The calloused insensitivity of modern white evangelicals was shaped by the economic and cultural priorities that forged their theology over centuries.

Many Christian movements take the title “evangelical,” including many African-American denominations. However, evangelicalism today has been coopted as a preferred description for Christians who were looking to shed an older, largely discredited title: Fundamentalist. A quick glance at a map showing concentrations of adherents and weekly church attendance reveals the evangelical movement’s center of gravity in the Old South. And among those evangelical churches, one denomination remains by far the leader in membership, theological pull, and political influence.

There is still today a Southern Baptist Church. More than a century and a half after the Civil War, and decades after the Methodists and Presbyterians reunited with their Yankee neighbors, America’s most powerful evangelical denomination remains defined, right down to the name over the door, by an 1845 split over slavery.

Southern denominations faced enormous social and political pressure from plantation owners. Public expressions of dissent on the subject of slavery in the South were not merely outlawed, they were a death sentence. Baptist ministers who rejected slavery, like South Carolina’s William Henry Brisbane, were forced to flee to the North. Otherwise, they would end up like Methodist minister Anthony Bewley, who was lynched in Texas in 1860, his bones left exposed at local store to be played with by children. Whiteness offered protection from many of the South’s cruelties, but that protection stopped at the subject of race. No one who dared speak truth to power on the subject of slavery, or later Jim Crow, could expect protection.

Generation after generation, Southern pastors adapted their theology to thrive under a terrorist state. Principled critics were exiled or murdered, leaving voices of dissent few and scattered. Southern Christianity evolved in strange directions under ever-increasing isolation. Preachers learned to tailor their message to protect themselves. If all you knew about Christianity came from a close reading of the New Testament, you’d expect that Christians would be hostile to wealth, emphatic in protection of justice, sympathetic to the point of personal pain toward the sick, persecuted and the migrant, and almost socialist in their economic practices. None of these consistent Christian themes served the interests of slave owners, so pastors could either abandon them, obscure them, or flee.

What developed in the South was a theology carefully tailored to meet the needs of a slave state. Biblical emphasis on social justice was rendered miraculously invisible. A book constructed around the central metaphor of slaves finding their freedom was reinterpreted. Messages which might have questioned the inherent superiority of the white race, constrained the authority of property owners, or inspired some interest in the poor or less fortunate could not be taught from a pulpit. Any Christian suggestion of social justice was carefully and safely relegated to “the sweet by and by” where all would be made right at no cost to white worshippers. In the forge of slavery and Jim Crow, a Christian message of courage, love, compassion, and service to others was burned away.

Stripped of its compassion and integrity, little remained of the Christian message. What survived was a perverse emphasis on sexual purity as the sole expression of righteousness, along with a creepy obsession with the unquestionable sexual authority of white men. In a culture where race defined one’s claim to basic humanity, women took on a special religious interest. Christianity’s historic emphasis on sexual purity as a form of ascetic self-denial was transformed into an obsession with women and sex. For Southerners, righteousness had little meaning beyond sex, and sexual mores had far less importance for men than for women. Guarding women’s sexual purity meant guarding the purity of the white race. There was no higher moral demand.

Changes brought by the Civil War only heightened the need to protect white racial superiority. Churches were the lynchpin of Jim Crow. By the time the Civil Rights movement gained force in the South, Dallas’ First Baptist Church, where Jeffress is the pastor today, was a bulwark of segregation and white supremacy. As the wider culture nationally has struggled to free itself from the burdens of racism, white evangelicals have fought this development while the violence escalated. What happened to ministers who resisted slavery happened again to those who resisted segregation. White Episcopal Seminary student, Jonathan Daniels, went to Alabama in 1965 to support voting rights protests. After being released from jail, he was murdered by an off-duty sheriff’s deputy, who was acquitted by a jury. Dozens of white activists joined the innumerable black Americans murdered fighting for civil rights in the 60’s, but very few of them were Southern.

White Evangelical Christians opposed desegregation tooth and nail. Where pressed, they made cheap, cosmetic compromises, like Billy Graham’s concession to allow black worshipers at his crusades. Graham never made any difficult statements on race, never appeared on stage with his “black friend” Martin Luther King after 1957, and he never marched with King. When King delivered his “I Have a Dream Speech,” Graham responded with this passive-aggressive gem of Southern theology, “Only when Christ comes again will the little white children of Alabama walk hand in hand with little black children.” For white Southern evangelicals, justice and compassion belong only to the dead.

Churches like First Baptist in Dallas did not become stalwart defenders of segregation by accident. Like the wider white evangelical movement, it was then and remains today an obstacle to Christian notions of social justice thanks to a long, dismal heritage. There is no changing the white evangelical movement without a wholesale reconsideration of their theology. No sign of such a reckoning is apparent.

Those waiting to see the bottom of white evangelical cruelty have little source of optimism. Men like Pastor Jeffress can dismiss Trump’s racist abuses as easily as they dismiss his fondness for porn stars. When asked about Trump’s treatment of immigrants, Jeffress shared these comments:

Solving DACA without strengthening borders ignores the teachings of the Bible. In fact, Christians who support open borders, or blanket amnesty, are cherry-picking Scriptures to suit their own agendas.

For those unfamiliar with Christian scriptures, it might helpful to point out what Jesus reportedly said about this subject, and about the wider question of our compassion for the poor and the suffering:

Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.

What did Jesus say about abortion, the favorite subject of Jeffress and the rest of the evangelical movement? Nothing. What does the Bible say about abortion, a practice as old as civilization? Nothing. Not one word. The Bible’s exhortations to compassion for immigrants and the poor stretch long enough to comprise a sizeable book of their own, but no matter. White evangelicals will not let their political ambitions be constrained by something as pliable as scripture.

Why is the religious right obsessed with subjects like abortion while unmoved by the plight of immigrants, minorities, the poor, the uninsured, and those slaughtered in pointless gun violence? No white man has ever been denied an abortion. Few if any white men are affected by the deportation of migrants. White men are not kept from attending college by laws persecuting Dreamers. White evangelical Christianity has a bottomless well of compassion for the interests of straight white men, and not a drop to be spared for anyone else at their expense. The cruelty of white evangelical churches in politics, and in their treatment of their own gay or minority parishioners, is no accident. It is an institution born in slavery, tuned to serve the needs of Jim Crow, and entirely unwilling to confront either of those realities.

Men like Russell Moore, head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s public policy group, are trying to reform the Southern Baptist church in increments, much like Billy Graham before him. His statements on subjects like the Confederate Flag and sexual harassment are bold, but only relative to previous church proclamations. He’s still about three decades behind the rest of American culture in recognition of the basic human rights of the country’s non-white, non-male citizens. Resistance he is facing from evangelicals will continue so long as the theology informing white evangelical religion remains unconsidered and unchallenged.

While white evangelical religion remains dedicated to its roots, it will perpetuate its heritage. What this religious heritage produced in the 2016 election, when white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump by a record margin, is the truest expression of its moral character.

You will know a tree by its fruit.

30 Comments

  1. Jonathan Myrick Daniels was not simply murdered. He was martyred. He was a graduate of Virginia Military Institute before going to the Episcopal Church’s General Seminary. His biography as a civil rights hero on the VMI website includes this description of his death: “In August 1965 Daniels and 22 others were arrested for participating in a voter rights demonstration in Fort Deposit, Alabama, and transferred to the county jail in nearby Hayneville. Shortly after being released on August 20, Richard Morrisroe, a Catholic priest, and Daniels accompanied two black teenagers, Joyce Bailey and Ruby Sales, to a Hayneville store to buy a soda. They were met on the steps by Tom Coleman, a construction worker, and part-time deputy sheriff, who was carrying a shotgun. Coleman aimed his gun at sixteen year old Ruby Sales; Daniels pushed her to the ground in order to protect her, saving her life. The shotgun blast killed Daniels instantly; Morrisroe was seriously wounded.” He is celebrated as a saint in the Episcopal Church’s calendar of lesser feasts and fasts.

    The VMI site is http://www.vmi.edu/archives/genealogy-biography-alumni/featured-historical-biographies/jonathan-daniels-civil-rights-hero/

    Thank you for posting this article about the toxic distortion of Christianity by American evangelicalism.

  2. On the subject of the emphasis on sexual purity, Thomas Ingersoll’s book To Intermix with Our White Brothers: Indian Mixed Bloods in the United States from the Earliest Times to the Indian Removals, has some illuminating comments on the development of the dominant role of white men and the obsessive concern for the purity of white women that needs to be protected by white men against the predations of non-white men in America.

    Since many Native Nations were matrilineal, marriages between white American men and Native women were very common in the US before the Indian Removal Act, and their children and grandchildren had gained prominent social and political status as per Jefferson’s Assimilation polices. But the relative rarity of white women/Native men marriages was also due to increasing numbers of laws that lowered white women’s social, political and economic rights, leaving them more and more dependent on their white husbands to provide for them.

    Native men, not having access to US citizenship, didn’t have the same rights, of course, that white men did. So white women were severely discouraged, even punished, if they married outside their race. Thus their ‘sexual purity’ was ‘protected’ against those evil sexually voracious Native men.

    I don’t remember if Ingersoll wrote about the involvement or stance of Christian churches in all this but the attitude probably dovetailed neatly with what the Forbes article describes. Unfortunately the book is ridiculously expensive on amazon but if you can find it at a library or used book store it’s well worth a read.

  3. This is the perfect shut down to the Atlantic’s April issue (https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2018/04/the-last-temptation/554066/) trying to have me feel sorry for these evangelicals.

    Having been brought up under the “protection” of an authoritarian “christian” household, I am not the least bit sympathetic to their cries of injustice.

    We were NOT in the South, but fundamentalism is the same world wide. I broke with the church at 18 over an argument with the Dean of a Christian College about creationism vs reality. The bigotry and hatred of “other” in that Wisconsin college town thrives to this day, 50 years later. These christians are not worthy of the name. As, my bible says: as ye sow, so shall ye reap.

    1. i liked the atlantic article, and i think you diminish and misrepresent it to suggest its intent was to make you feel sorry for evangelicals. in fact, it seems to me its author is in a remarkably similar situation to Chris: they no longer recognize the institution to which they were respectively committed; GOP Lifer no more, n’est-ce pas?

  4. Great article, will repost. I was married to an evangelical man, who claimed that it was a “grave injustice to Blacks when they were set free as they were well taken care of before”. He also drove a pastor from a Presbyterian church because he would not condemn homosexuality. Also women are meant to be subservient as this is the natural order of things ordained by god.
    It is very important that we understand where evangelical thought is coming from. It is very racist and misogynistic and most people, especially in the North are not aware of how insidious it is.

  5. Thanks for this article. The distortion and mutation of the core Christian message goes very deep. In college, I researched the First Great Awakening as an historical phenomenon of the 1740s. In my research, I came across a story of a man in Georgia who was converted by the preaching of, I believe, George Whitefield, one of several English preachers who came to the colonies and preached to huge, outdoor crowds. This particular man, after Whitefield left, read the Bible without benefit of filter and determined that slavery is evil. He put his plantation up for sale, freed his slaves, and commenced to preach this doctrine. His neighbors got together and bought his plantation, rounded up and re-enslaved his former slaves, and had him arrested and thrown in a lunatic asylum — as he had clearly lost his mind. That’s how deep that rabbit hole can go.

  6. I was on the inside of it all; a pastor on staff at a non-denominational Evangelical church for nearly 15 years until it became known that my son had come out as transgender.l and I had to step down.

    Here’s what I can tell you:

    1. Evangelicalism is a machine fueled by money. Most pastors who are inclined towards racial reconciliation, social justice, women’s equality, LGBT inclusion etc., cannot do anything about it because it will divide their church and offerings will fall. Then, how will they pay for the high tech auditoriums, huge facilities, large staffs and etc. falling back on the tried and true, “it’s just not Biblical” wins every time. And, like me, male Elders who are wholly ill equipped to weigh in on these challenging topics will always take the path of least resistance to keep “unity”, which really means “keep the offerings” up. The machine is controlled by white men and a few women who write books, have radio shows and Bible studies that continue the drumbeat of fear.

    2. Most people who attend these churches are good people who simply are looking for a port in a storm. Life is hard. Times are challenging and people need to gather in community to do life together. Most are not willing to disagree with the tribe because they might be turned out. So they are conditioned not to stand up to injustice because there will be some harsh, angry old man with a Bible in one hand who will tell them to shut up and get in line or get out. Usually they just get back in line.

    Cynical? Yes. I know. But good people allow bad things to happen for a lot of reasons – and that’s why the Evangelical church has drifted far, far away from the teachings of Christ.

    1. “Most people who attend these churches are good people who simply are looking for a port in a storm.” and “But good people allow bad things to happen for a lot of reasons.” I disagree. I am one of the said women Chris mentions who was ensconced in conservatism. And not even in the south, unless Southern California counts as “The South”. The “Christians” who haughtily demanded that God demands I stay with my abusive husband were not “good people”. Did they bring a meal here and there to other church goers? Yes. Did they pray at dinner? Yes. Did they smile and hug each other Sunday morning? Yes. IMO, that does not make them “good people”. That’s a pretty low damn bar.

      1. Marianne,

        I just wanted to say thank you for sharing your story and honest opinion. I’m so sorry you had a bad experience at a church who was not interested in keeping you safe. Unfortunately, you are one of many who have been given unbiblical advice regarding domestic violence. I’m a licensed counselor who specializes in domestic violence and is also a Chistian. Exodus 21 gives a woman the option to leave and divorce her husband if he becomes abusive. Also, many other Scriptures condemn violence in general. Unfortunately not many churches are trained in this issue to be able to provide good guidance and a safe haven for survivors. Hearing yet another story strengthens my resolve to better equip churches to minister more effectively to folks like you. Sometimes pastors call and consult with me which is good. Indeed, White evangelicalism does not represent the heart of God towards the vulnerable, such as survivors of violence, people of color, those in the LGBT community, etc. I will always keep my door open to these precious people and hope that I can be like the Good Samaritan who crossed cultural boundaries to lovingly and generously care for the broken. God bless you.

    2. I take it that you stood by your son. I applaud you for that. So many “well intention-ed” believers buy into the fallacies regarding the LGBTQ children of others and expect such families to “reject” their children in favor of a false purity. As a now former catholic the last straw for me came when the USCCB published a letter urging families to do just that; reject their Transgender Children. For me this has turned into a “beliefs” vs. “Faith [Relationship]” issue. As a part of my own journey to seek conscious contact with the Higher Power of my own understanding, I received the miraculous Gift of a Relationship with Jesus. For me, that has led to me to quit the church of my childhood and walk away from three years of Seminary studies in 1995. I am still open to the idea of associating with a church community if God so inspires that, but now I am content to devote my time to my own continued studies and Contemplative Prayer. May the Unconditional Love of our Creator bless you and your family.

  7. It’s too bad they took it down. It’s a very provocative article. But it does seem like there are some logical gaps in it. How would giving up a theology that elevates white men do anything to help gay men and lesbians, for example? Also, there are plenty of people in the North who hold this fundamentalist attitude, too. And the writer admits Russell Moore is critical of it though he was the head of the SBC. If he was head of the SBC and somehow managed to avoid holding those attitudes, then does the South’s history of slavery really explain them?

    1. Russell Moore is not the head of the SBC.

      Dismantling an theology built around protecting the interests of white men would open up the denomination to *the rest* of the Gospel message. That would allow the faith to serve something like a traditional Christian role, similar to Mainline Protestant denominations, on issues all over the spectrum. It wouldn’t just benefit homosexuals, it would benefit everyone.

      The people in the North who share an ideological viewpoint with NeoConfederate conservatives in the South don’t run all of the institutions of social, economic and political power in the North. That’s why blue states are blue, and why even the reddish states in the North are marginally more prosperous, just and sane than their peers in the Deep South.

      1. Chris, sorry I got the information about Moore wrong.

        I do think there’s something true about your article. Since fundamentalism is more prevalent in the South than the North, the slavery background probably has something to do with it.

        However, it’s unclear exactly how the fundamentalists (or “evangelicals”) would put in practice what you are recommending. Exactly what is erroneous about their theology in 2018? I’m sure that since there are people like Moore in the SBC, there are Southern Baptists who are strongly opposed to racism and yet still believe the Bible is inerrant and homosexuality is wrong. I don’t believe in inerrancy myself, so I disagree, but if you are talking about how fundamentalists should be more like mainline Protestants, you are kind of preaching to the choir. I doubt many fundamentalists will be persuaded.

        For example, I read an article by Philip Yancey that was strongly opposed to Trump and said that evangelical Christians should work to protect minorities like people of color, immigrants, and even homosexuals. But I assume Yancey still believes homosexuality is wrong. So he accepts “the rest of the gospel” while holding on to the evangelical theology.

      2. It would be understandable that a mainstream site might decline to publish an article like this. But to publish it and then take it down, claiming the reasons they did is really pretty lame. I tire of religion in general, so thanks for writing it and keeping it out there.

        That said, the only problem I have with an article like this is the focus on the south and NeoConfederate conservatives. There are many stripes of racism. The racism of the north was and is segregation by choice (white flight), failed government experiments that concentrate race and poverty (the housing projects) and yes, social, economic and political institutions in the North that denied decent housing to blacks via gerrymandering, city/development codes, and lending policies.

        It is easy to focus on overt racism. But these policies in the north have damaged the last two generations of people of color and their access to education and ability build wealth and pass it on far more than the racism so often associated with the old south.

  8. This is but a small part of the history of the Evangelical church and its Southern roots. I first came across this particular article about 10 years ago, but I have other books in my possession that have similar thoughts.

    http://www.pcahistory.org/HCLibrary/periodicals/spr/v05/5-3-3.pdf

    A small part justifying white slavers AND God’s people to support white slavers:

    “One man very complacently tells us that every man is entitled to the fruit of his own labour; and that the master, in appropriating that of the slave, defrauds him of his right. It is then denounced as a system of robbery and plunder, which every good man should labour to banish from the earth. But where is the maxim, in the sense in which it is interpreted, to be found in the Scriptures? Where, even in any respectable system of moral philosophy? ****Where are we taught that the labour which a man puts forth in his own person is always his, or belongs to him of right, and cannot belong to another? How does it appear that what is physically his, must be legally his?****”

    1. Stephen,
      Thanks a lot for posting that. It’s interesting to read a religious defense of slavery from an educated Southern churchman of that time.

      Actually, I believe he’s probably right that there is nothing in the Bible that exactly calls for abolition. To me, this shows how Christians are influenced by broader trends in culture. I think that by this time, humanity had reached a level of development where we couldn’t justify slavery anymore. For example, it was ruled out by Kant’s influential Categorical Imperative just a few decades before.

      Now, this is not to say there weren’t lots of Bible-believing Christians who thought the Bible prohibited slavery. I notice the writer talks about how abolitionists were forced to find rather odd tangents for justifying their position. Some years I cataloged something called the Anti-Slavery Collection that had been housed at Oberlin College. It was a collection of abolitionist pamphlets from the 19th century. One argument a writer made was that slavery was ruled out by the prohibition on fornication, because some slave masters got sexually involved with slaves. I think Christians at that time just realized what an inhumane institution it was, and naturally they were able to find things in the Bible going against it.

      Another thing that was interesting about that Anti-Slavery Collection is that the same organizations that put out abolitionist tracts also put out tracts one would call traditionally religious, on things like the necessity of turning to Christ and the absolute truth of the Bible. I think the collectors wanted to document that people opposed to slavery were not necessarily “rationalists,” as that southern Presbyterian insinuated they were.

      Do you belong to the PCA? It would be interesting to know what the PCA says about this issue today.

  9. For me, this article summarizes and encapsulates my own thoughts, ever since I first was challenged to rethink my theology and politics by a black man who asked me point-blank: “Do you know I’m black?”

    That led to a re-examination of all I’ve thought and believed, and stirred up long-forgotten memories of my own research into my own church history back in my teens, where I read the documents from sincere pastors in the 1840s demanding that our Northern brethren understand that slavery was a positive good AND that the topic of slavery was an unfortunate thing to divide our church over, BUT we would have to do so, because God ordained slavery for the black man and slave-ownership for the white man.

    That got washed away as my fellow Christians turned the faith into a whitewashing of history and a glorification of white American men.

    It is a terrible and wicked thing what we’ve done as American Evangelicals to do this to our faith, and then to do this with our (and how do I emphasize this enough) *fellow brothers and sisters in Christ*, let alone the men and women that God created in His image.

    Very good insights, my friend. I hope we can continue this painful unveiling of our past which appears hidden but is actually in plain sight for everyone else to see.

    We white Evangelicals just don’t want to see it.

  10. An interesting Vox Article that’s tangentially related:

    https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2018/3/12/17094874/political-polarization-correctness-american-politics

    The premise is worth considering-we’re a possible victim of our own success in dealing with external threats, because now we have nothing to distract from the internal divisions that have always been there. David Brin has an analogy of a Civil War that’s been going on for the life of the republic, mostly cold, but having periodic flare ups of hot.

  11. A “you can’t handle the truth!” moment? I’ve come to the conclusion that any attempt to talk to these people is a waste of my time, and my goal is to have the absolute minimum of interaction with them. And to work on outvoting them. Many of the policies that I support would also be to their benefit, and I’m fine with that.

    I did get to see the original post, but thanks for reposting here.

  12. Thanks for posting that article Chris. I did manage to capture and forward on to some family and friends before it vanished?… Did the heat in the kitchen get too hot for editors at Forbes, or perhaps an offended southern evangelical got their hands on the content management system…
    Peace and thanks for being a sane, critical voice.

      1. Well, it’s “out there”…I re-posted it yesterday on a few FB sites where dozens read it and then shared with friends via email….You would think Forbes would have the courtesy to contact the author of a blog posted to their site and explain why they were taking it down (-;

        Golly, Chris, you’ve officially “crossed over” into the hinterland of “those who dare to tell the truth about the white evangelical movement”. Welcome to the blacklist club! Be very glad you live in Chicago not Tyler, TX!

        I have re-posted the cached link to all my original sites and emails….so it lives on! (David don’t know how you did that but, thanks!)

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