The Heresy of a White Supremacist Capitalist God in the heart of White Evangelicalism

Franklin Graham is a heretic.

I’m in the middle of writing a book on the connections between Evangelicalism and economic politics – whether that be Neoliberalism or more recently neofascism – and as such, I’m getting even more familiar with the central characters who loom large in the scope. Guys like D.L. Moody, Bill Bright and of course Billy Graham. As I’ve argued before, I don’t think that Billy’s son/apple Franklin falls far from the tree. If anything, Franklin is a grotesque caricature of his father; maybe the Id to Billy’s Ego. Where Billy cared about respectability and closeness to power, Franklin sees himself as the personification of power and thus dumps all pretext to respectability. He amasses power through politicizing his charities and evangelist stage – both of which he received through the work of being his father’s son (notice the gender. Not daughter).

This may come as a shock to many who follow the second-generation celebrity evangelist on Facebook. He is the figurehead of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, one of the largest and most respected Evangelical organizations in the world, as well as the charity Samaritan’s Purse, after all – two organizations with deep pasts, deeper connections, and even deeper pocketbooks in American Christianity. His father led many souls, as they say, to Christ through his campaigns (crudely called “Crusades” in the early years). And his Facebook feed, while often controversial, is full of seemingly innocuous statements pressing his readers into choosing heaven today while they still have a chance – as if they weren’t already converts. Even such seemingly easy political targets such as the Jill Stein-led voter recount and the death of Fidel Castro are often used for such pretext.

For wit:

Chinese President Xi Jinping made a statement that caught my eye. He said, “Comrade Castro will live forever.” That is true. All of us have a soul that is going to live forever in one of two places—Heaven or Hell. What we do here on earth determines where we will spend eternity. The only way to Heaven is by accepting God’s plan for our salvation—believing in His Son Jesus Christ and following Him as Lord. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6). Do you know where you will spend eternity?

This incredibly awkward transition was his father’s special formula: Look for relevant news articles having to do with life and death, redirect and turn it into a soul-winning question. This would be awkward in less capable hands than Billy’s. Make no mistake, Franklin is tremendously less capable than Billy. What’s almost remarkable here is that Graham doesn’t seem to use this opportunity to further his Partisan Hyper-Capitalist White Supremacy Churchianity Yawn.

This time.

Except that he had already talked extensively about the Evils of Castro in ways that seemingly celebrated his death, that exaggerated the hatred of Castro and erase the material positive he’s done, and that incompetently confuse Castro’s policies with those of liberal American politicians—not just self-described “socialist” Bernie Sanders, but also Keith Ellison, Elizabeth Warren, and most surprisingly, Hillary Clinton. None of these choices have ever called for radical redistribution of wealth or for workers to seize the means of production, but truth doesn’t stop Franky anyway.

Fidel Castro has died at age 90. Loved by few, hated by millions, his communist revolution deposed a dictator, but ushered in a socialist police state that drove the entire Cuban nation into complete poverty and oppression. And to think that Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, Senator Elizabeth Warren, Representative Keith Ellison and others wanted socialism as a model for our country today! And why didn’t they win? God—that’s why. The church prayed and came out by the millions and voted. Praise God! And may we all as free Americans give Him glory, great things He has done! This is why it is so important to vote. There’s another election in just two years—Christians need to stay involved and run for office at every level. The socialists are regrouping in great number right now, and they will come back strong, organized, and more determined than ever. This battle isn’t over.

Graham thanks God, the power of prayer, and most importantly White Evangelicals for delivering a White Supremacist White House.

Notice the pattern, though. First Graham has an emotional and irrational outburst about a group of people (Muslims, Black Lives Matter protesters) or policy (socialism, liberalism, American military exceptionalism) or even defending himself from charges (ie, xenophobia). Then he alternates with blanket calls to heavenly matters, such as prayers or altar calls reminding people about eternity.

For the Religious Right, talking about heaven and hell and the goodness of God is more than a distraction. It is a totem for all that is good. To talk about heaven and how to get there distinguishes a person as Good, and thus his political and social tastes as Good. Franklin Graham should be trusted because he talks so much about heaven and God; how could he be devious or deceptive?

Additionally, this disembodied heavenly talk is also a placemat for justice. If and when there is injustice for the racial/sexual/gender/economic minority[i], it is nothing compared to the glories of heaven and the tortures of hell. Here, heaven is robbed of embodied meaning and replaced with a hollow hope, specifically vocalized in order to maintain status and stability.

This is how they are heretical. Jesus was explicit about earthly matters of justice in an age and region of imperial and military oppression, colonization, and exploitation. Jesus followed the prophets’ lead in calling on the government to apply justice, to feed, to care for the widows and the fatherless, to welcome the stranger.

The literal products, progenies, and beneficiaries of White Evangelicalism – Franklin Graham and Jerry Falwell, Jr. – are men who believe that God is not only a white American  capitalist, but the Most Capitalist of Capitalists. The most American of Americans. The Most Xenophobe of Xenophobes. The Most White of Whites.

God is a neo-nazi, a fascist, a white supremacist who values property over people and runs a charity collecting worthless trinkets to entice poor people into his version of an unjust, decrepit heaven.

Franklin Graham is the incarnational image of his own God. Franklin sees capitalism, whiteness, and American Christian culture as intrinsically good and worthy to be praised and spread. He uses his charity and pulpit to extol his praises upon it. Praise Whiteness now, for when you die, you will come face to face with Whiteness and what will you have said about it and its son, White Jesus, Capitalist of Heaven and Earth?

Graham’s gospel is bad news for the outcasts Jesus surrounded himself with.

I cannot see the Jesus of the Gospels being enthralled or even making sense of Franklin Graham’s picture of him. Of course, all Christians somewhat make Jesus in their own image—but any image of Jesus that doesn’t start with him hanging out with misfits and oddballs and ends with him criminalized and literally hanging with the wretched of the earth and the rebellious (before a bodily resurrection) is missing key elements.

If Jesus assembled his disciples today in America, I imagine he’d include a black trans teenager, an undocumented Latinx mother, and a repentant financier or credit agent who gave away his ill-gotten wealth. Trump would refuse to give away all that he owned and be turned away. I see Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell, Jr, and their colleagues colluding with the state to retain and expand their power by planting evidence on Jesus and betraying him to Death Row.

How did the Son of Humans die? He was too beautiful and brave for the political religious order.

 

 

[i] Not numerically, but in terms of power differentials

Martin Luther King and King Falwell

As I’ve said several times and will say many times to come, Martin Luther King, Jr. is known by most for one line in one speech and wearing suits when he protested*. It’s this sheer veneer of a hagiography of King that allows Liberty University to welcome #DonaldNaziTrump to give the MLK address. Which is weird because presidential candidate Donald Trump is basically running as a national Sheriff Bull Connor. But the higher-ups at the conservative Evangelical Liberty U, despite having many students of color, feel the xenophobic, misogynistic, racist, jingoistic Trump is an appropriate speaker for a retrospective on Martin Luther King, Jr.

“We chose that day so that Mr. Trump would have the opportunity to recognize and honor Dr. King on MLK day,” Liberty University President (and son of founder) Jerry Falwell, Jr. told The Richmond Times-Dispatch.

[Falwell] pointed to King’s principle that people should be judged, as King put it ‘not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.’
“Liberty stands for that principle and I believe that Mr. Trump does as well,” he said.

Liberty’s Falwell Jr. swears that a crude, racist, violence-loving capitalist class fascist lives by Martin Luther King’s standards. Let’s think about the abundantly evident patterns being made here for a moment.

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Jerry Falwell, Jr. giving a speech at Liberty University

The first being that there is little critical analysis of King’s legacy in the public eye. Just like Jesus, we remake him in personal images because we don’t want to scrutinize the text – and even when we do, we are rarely honest about the presuppositions we carry with us in our readings.

Take this consideration in combination with the fact that Jerry Falwell, Jr. is a crude, racist, violence-loving capitalist theocrat, like his father Jerry Falwell, Sr. before him. And that he interprets others in binary models in this framework. If they are good, they think like him and are like him. If they are bad  they may or may not think like him, but are on the receiving end of his actions – for example, those Muslims that he told Liberty students to “end” and should be “taught a lesson”.

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Justin Sullivan – Getty Images North America

Contrary to King’s most famous mode of organizing, Falwell, Jr. told his Christian students that they should arm themselves. In their school. Never mind the implications of intimate violence in an environment rife with hyper-masculine theology and ecclesiology. While King advocated nonviolence as a means of organizing protest, it was as a critique of violence located within White Supremacist democracy. We can’t talk about nonviolent agitation without acknowledging that it is an organized resistance to the locus of violence: White Supremacist Empire.

King, it should be noted, was not strictly opposed to gun ownership for black families in terms of protecting their homes from direct white violence (cf Taylor Branch’s At Canaan’s Edge). Malcolm and the Panthers preached that this personal method of protection should be extended to organizational efforts against the threat of White violence. In the end, Dr. King and the Black Panthers fell to White violence and intentional disruption (and Malcolm would have likely have done so too if his life wasn’t cut short by an internal power play).

If Falwell, Jr. is to be believed and White Christians are under violent siege from Muslims, then and only then can his call to arms be taken seriously.

But

we

aren’t.

Muslims in the US and abroad are exponentially more likely to be harmed and killed by White American Christian violence than white Christians are by Extremist Muslim violence. In this scenario, Falwell represents the Klan, mob violence, and lynchings that King and his contemporaries were under threat from and (sometimes) armed themselves against.

This centering and outpouring of White violence coupled with the economic terror known as capitalism is central to how Jr. envisions Jesus and Martin Luther King. So of course Trump – another crude White Supremacist capitalist – speaking at an event honoring the pacifist, anti-racist, class-consciousness King is perfectly acceptable.

Trump, Falwell Jr. tells us, reminds him of his father.

President Ronald Reagan and Rev. Jerry Falwell

Jerry Falwell, Sr., by the way conspired with FBI Director J Edgar Hoover to spread propaganda about King and elevated American capitalism over and above the health of Black Americans. In the 1960’s, he preached that racial segregation was ordained by God. And…

In a 1964 sermon, “Ministers and Marchers,” Falwell attacked King as a Communist subversive. After questioning “the sincerity and intentions of some civil rights leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Mr. James Farmer, and others, who are known to have left-wing associations,” Falwell declared, “It is very obvious that the Communists, as they do in all parts of the world, are taking advantage of a tense situation in our land, and are exploiting every incident to bring about violence and bloodshed.”

Falwell concluded, “Preachers are not called to be politicians, but soul winners.”

Then, for a time, Falwell appeared to follow his own advice. He retreated from massive resistance and founded the Lynchburg Christian Academy, an institution described by the Lynchburg News in 1966 as “a private school for white students.”

Note: Many progressives tend to overplay Falwell’s post-Brown V. Board explicit racism as the genesis and centrality of Liberty University and his Moral Majority. Falwell Sr would later repudiate and even destroy remaining copies of sermons such as “Ministers and Marchers” and “Segregation or Integration: Which?” – arguably for political and numerical reasons, to further his reach and base among those who did not care for such explicit racism. The concern here is this false thinking that racism, like misogyny, is only real and harmful when it’s explicit rather than structural. The Moral Majority and Falwell both endorsed policies and practices which were functionally racist and sexist, but not out of a desire to be racist or sexist.

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For God and the Empire – via Wiki

In the contemporary West, the White Supremacist Empire is located in the relation that the state and its arms (the police and the military) have with corporations and banks. This was true during King’s era as seen in Jim Crow and Vietnam, and it is true in its current manifestations of the War on Crime and the War on Terror. On the rare, exaggerated, and misattributed occasion that peaceful protests get out hand and start burning or looting, White media and masses tend to focus on that rather than the White violence that is the we fail to recognize actual violence.

The actual violence is that people, and especially black and brown people, are commodified and perceived as property in the first place. We see how this happens in both practice (privatization of black and brown schools; overpolicing) and in memory (King as nice-&-eloquent black man who asked whites to free his people).

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*For more, check out Austin Channing Brown’s “What Would MLK Do?