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

Gunistianity

Bob Davis, radio talk show host and devout Gunistian:

I have something I want to say to the victims of Newtown, or any other shooting: I don’t care if it’s here in Minneapolis or anyplace else. Just because a bad thing happened to you doesn’t mean that you get to put a king in charge of my life. I’m sorry that you suffered a tragedy, but you know what? Deal with it, and don’t force me to lose my liberty, which is a greater tragedy than your loss. I’m sick and tired of seeing these victims trotted out, given rides on Air Force One, hauled into the Senate well, and everyone is just afraid — they’re terrified of these victims.

I would stand in front of them and tell them, “go to hell.”

I hear the same shit over and over again to those of us who seek solutions to the gun violence that plagues our lives and communities:

  • You are being too emotional.
  • You will strike at my constitutional liberties.
  • God – through his Holy Instrument the US Constitution – wants us to be well-armed.
  • Chicago and big cities are full of bad people and the people should take the city back by buying more guns.

These responses strike at the heart of several issues. But largely I’ve come to see it’s about a love of violence in a nation that has been prepped from childhood to believe that violence done by the right people is the solution to all of our problems. It will be the undoing of us all – our love and adoration of the Redemptive Violence Myth.

As I’ve said before here, people from outside of Chicago like to tell us what our problems are. More so, they like to give us the solutions to our problems. And the solution is guns. it’s always guns. Guns are to Redemptive Violenters what Batman is to DC fans. The answer for everything.

Want to make your streets safer? Guns.

Want to protect your kids? Give teachers guns.

Want to rid the world of crime? Give the good guys guns.

How do you prevent rape? Give your daughter a gun.

How do you stop domestic violence? Give the gal a gun!

Guns are sacred to them because violence is sacred. Violence is the religion. Christianity is just the window dressing.

Jesus did not preach nor practice violence. He preached and practiced love in the face of overwhelming violence. You can choose one or the other.

Image

Put away your sword, Petey. Everyone who lives by the sword will die by the sword..

-Jesus

Christian Nation?

According to research revealed in this Slate story, Americans are twice as likely to report regularly attending Christian church services as to actually go to church services with any sort of regularity. Which, apparently, means that we’re no more religious than, say, Europe.

But of course, there’s more than meets the eye, right? A few thoughts:

1) Since we’re basically a nation of functioning secularism, it doesn’t make sense (as if it really ever did) to call ourselves a “Christian” nation. It, of course, makes even less sense to blame all of our societal ills on atheists, (h/t Alise) as this poor letter-to-the-editor author does.

2) There’s that disturbing trend of mixing religion (and particularly, Christianity) with nationalism/patriotism. One should not confuse one for the other. Scary path, that is*.

3) Going to church – or not going to church – doesn’t make one a Christian. Following Christ does (and although different faith traditions have differing opinions on what that means, I will only say that simply reciting a prayer is *not* following Jesus). Within that, though, I do think that it’s important for people who follow Jesus to be at church – or more importantly, to be church. To be in communion with others who share in the stories, the tragedies, the heart breaks, the hope, the lives, the burials, and the bread and wine of Jesus’ body and blood. I do believe that the act of faith-community is an essential one.

But… I’m meeting more and more people who do not feel welcome in a church body. And that troubles me. It troubles me that people do not feel welcomed in the one place where they should feel invited. After all, wasn’t it Jesus who gave refuge to the adulteress when the townspeople wanted to stone her (and curiously left out her partner)? Wasn’t it Jesus who made the dreadful, scary, mixed-race Samaritan the hero of one of his most famous stories? Wasn’t it Jesus that welcomed the outcast sinners and tax collectors and fishermen and zealots and women into his close circle? Wasn’t it Jesus who went out of his way to touch the poisonous lepers? Wasn’t it Jesus who moved the merchants out of the temple so that the lame and blind can come in?

How, then, can Christian churches – who are to live as the communal embodiment of Jesus – not be able to embrace those who think/act/look/believe just a bit differently? Many of our churches have such a hard time with people with mental tics (depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia), for example. Is this because they don’t fit in with our particular notions of normalized Americans? Americans first, Christians second? Or is there another kingdom that Christians belong to? Is there another national identity that trumps all others – in which there is neither slave nor free, male nor female, Greek, pagan, or Jew?

*</Lame Yoda reference.>

Questioning Evangelicals: Corporate Sin

“Corporations and nations don’t kill people. Individual bad persons kill people. Individually. Sometimes with guns.”

That line of logic is prevalent in my own Evangelical movement. Evangelicals do not recognize corporate sin, this concept that a group of people can be responsible for the sins of the entire group, even if they did not individually sin. Which is odd, to say the least.

First, Western Christians (under which Evangelicals fall) believe that all of humanity is cursed with the consequences of sin because of the follies of a couple representative members (Adam & Eve). Second, Christians believe that when sin entered the world, it ruined not just A&E and their offspring, but the whole world. Which includes not just nature, not just hurricanes and tsunamais and earthquakes and other “Acts of God.” But every social interaction, every attempt at brotherhood (see Cain and Abel) and community (see Babel) is tainted beyond simple matters of ‘me’ and ‘you’.

But let’s look at an example, shall we?

“You shall not murder.”
“If someone strikes you on the one cheek, offer him your other cheek.”

How are these rather straight-forward Biblical imperatives reconciled in the minds of Evangelical Christians in the light of our constant drumming of war triumphalism? How does a Christian live a moral life and participate as a soldier – if the primary function (not necessarily purpose) of a soldier is to kill?*

A friend tried to help with this disconnect once, using common logic from the EC fray:

“Suppose you’re called to the military by your country. You operate in obedience to your country. You fight because you have to. You shoot because you have to. That other person on the other side may, just like you, have a family – kids and a wife. But it’s your duty to shoot, to defend your country. You can rest assured that you are not personally responsible for that person’s death. The responsibility for the death is on the government’s head.”

At this juncture, it seems important to note that there are a few meteoritic holes in this argument (like, How come many of the same people who say we have to obey our government in times of war will openly disavow obeying the government in something so paltry as paying taxes? Or, Is it more important to be obedient to my government or to my conscience?), but let’s take this example at face value, shall we? What we are told to do here is remove individual guilt and place it on a corporate entity.**

Which is one of the few periods when Evangelicals recognize any sort of corporate sin in any form. Evangelicals are so centered on individual sins (lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and the pride of life as committed by each person) that the idea that companies, corporations, local governments, nations (or at least non-Axis-of-Evil ones), industries, markets and their directors and/or members can be held guilty for their actions is foreign to them. The meltdown at Enron, for example, can be blamed on a few reckless people – not a reckless corporate atmosphere of rapid growth and immense competition that precluded false financial reports meant to buff up their image yet accomplishing a wide-scale gang-raping of jobs and safety.

However, if one were to point out the evils rampant in, say, the police force, she will be told that it is the work of a few bad apples.
Likewise, the housing collapse was the work of individual predatory lenders (or, for the less compassionate, individual poor people who should have known better).
The related banking collapse.
Classism.
Homelessness.
Sexism.
Racism.
Homophobia.
The sex slave trade.

These are all the works of isolated individuals, not systemic problems. They just need some Jesus and those problems will be taken care of. Right?

And then there’s more massive problems, not so easily deflected to individuals:
Global poverty.
Slavery in general (which is bigger than ever).
Terrorism.

Often looking into the abyss of these problems, many fellow Evangelicals would rather not face the ‘Why’ of these dilemmas (or if they do they turn to overly-simplistic or even racist answers). Instead, they work on trying to serve the people caught in the problems (or, in the “Axis of Evil” example, advocate for war. Again…). Which is beneficial to a point, but severely limited. It only allows us to rescue a few hand-picked individuals and only for a short period of time. Further, the good vibes associated with the rescuing allow us a reprieve from the guilt associated with our comfortable life and all the riches; they allow us to continue to feed into the machines that entrap people. Rather than tearing down the prisons and allowing the prisoners to go free, we’re content with sending in a check every once in a while. Rather than confronting our luxurious and wasteful nation. Rather than challenging banking and insurance policies and practices that are clearly unethical. Rather than calling the gods of war and their connections to account for the blood they shed. Rather than picking up our cross daily for the sins of our generation.

We’ll just continue to blame individual sin and find a scapegoat here and there. As long as we don’t have to be personally responsible for others’ sins…

* I do not indict soldiers in this argument. I am merely bringing in a moral argument.
**Except, for many on the Evangelical Right, the sins of the government in declaring war on “our enemies” (currently, Brown People and Muslims) are absolved.