Why is evangelical Christianity in the US so heartless? There’s nothing inevitable about an extreme religious faction being insensitive. It certainly isn’t the case with Mormons. What is it about hard-core Christians, especially in the South, that makes their politics so cruel?
For years I’ve sat on this idea, not quite ready to commit it to writing. It just seemed too harsh, too damning. It’s time to talk about it. From a new post at Forbes:
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.
Christianity in the South, once forced to split away from contact with and accountability toward their northern brethren, developed in disturbing directions. Isolated under a terrorist regime in which any expression of dissent could lead to summary execution by your neighbors or your congregation, pastors in the South evolved an odd theology, stripped of human compassion or any urge toward social justice.
It isn’t a controversial concept. In fact, it’s simply a recitation of what happened. But for years I found that history hard to square the apparent moral virtues of Southern friends, neighbors and family I knew so well. White evangelical Christianity as an institution might be remarkably cruel, but if the individuals participating in those faiths can find their way to compassion, how important is the history of the institution?
The 2016 Election was a moral lie detector, exposing a lot of realities most of us would prefer not to see. All the excuses and explanations we offer for grandma’s racist comments or your neighbor’s insensitive jokes were burned away like tissue in a furnace. It turns out, these people really meant it. They really would unleash hell on their fellow man out of no motive greater than unvarnished bigotry. People I respected and thought I knew would do terrible things without the slightest hint of shame or conscience. It can happen here.
Perhaps, in realizing what America actually is, we can earn a chance to become what we always thought we were.