A dirty, racist etymology

In his post on white justification for violence against men of color this week, Joel mentioned the word cuck, a favorite insult from the alt-right that is fast making its way into the “mainstream” right’s vocabulary. It’s from the portmanteau cuckservative, which combines cuckold and conservative.

The cuckhold part is an aviary metaphor. A cuckoo bird will lay its egg in another’s nest for that bird to raise. It starts to appear as a metaphor in Medieval lit, most notably “The Miller’s Tale” by Chaucer, to describe a man whose wife is cheating.

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Above, the very ugly, very mean, very selfish, very smart cuckoo bird. 

It’s also the major theme of Othello, a tragic love story about a jealous black man murdering his white wife. (“I will chop her into messes! Cuckold me?”).

It’s also a fetish (a word that I use with no pejorative meaning) as Joel notes when he draws from an article on the term that originally appeared in GQ back in August:

The cultural importance of the cuckold in America is rooted in racism: in pornography, the wife of the cuckolded (almost exclusively white) husband is most commonly sleeping with African-American men, meant to provide an additional layer of humiliation if the white husband sees that man as “inferior.” In the world of pornography meant to elicit humiliation as an erotic sentiment, cuckold porn takes advantage of its viewers’ racist perceptions.

That’s also a source of the use of the term in white supremacy/alt-right circles: they see men who enjoy this fetish as weak, emasculated, effeminate, and not properly in control of/protecting their women/nation. The collapse of white women with White Womanhood with White Nationalism happens pretty quickly from here.

White nationalists thus use cuck to describe conservatives who don’t mind their nation (women) getting “fucked over” by people of color. One example: When ex-Breitbart writer Ben Shapiro criticized this “alt-right” website, Milo Yiannopouls (who was behind the racist Twitter attacks on actress Leslie Jones) sent Shapiro, upon the birth of his son, a photo of a black (biracial) baby–the idea being that Shapiro (who is not black), in leaving and criticizing Breitbart, had become a “cuckservative.”

Read cuck like “race traitor” or “n—— lover,” but on a larger scale: someone who is deliberately betraying their people by allowing the population to be “polluted,” sexually, genetically, or through immigration. It means being a dupe–like the birds who raise the cuckoos babies. The cuckoo doesn’t even wait for the host bird to leave the nest; it lays its eggs while the nestbuilding bird is sitting right there, attempting to defend its own home and babies, unsuccessfully every single time. The cuckoo is larger than its hosts (three times bigger than the reed warbler, one of the birds it picks on), and it often hatches earlier. If it hatches earlier, it promptly rolls its foster mother’s babies out of the nest; if its foster siblings are born first, it pushes them out.

When racists say cuck (and racists are the only people who say cuck), they are thinking about nonwhites taking over white cultures by infiltrating them, then destroying or displacing people, all while forcing whites to pay for the process: anchor babies, refugees disguised as stealth jihadists, Muslims practicing taqiyya in order to penetrate Western civilization and topple it from the inside, demographic warfare.

 

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Above, a featherless cuckoo, evil at birth, practices “nest eviction,” rolling its unhatched foster sibling to its death. 

This is why those in the alt-right don’t just talk about people as cucks but whole nations–white, European, Christian nations being dragged down by immigrants. Germany is held up as the primary example in white supremacist circles as a once-strong, homogeneous nation that is now weak, effeminate, emasculated, etc., as evidenced by its inclusion of Muslim/brown/immigrant bodies. Sweden is another place criticized for polluting its white population with brown and black skinned immigrants. If you wonder why Trump criticizes these nations for their immigration policies (even when such criticism sounds like nonsense to the rest of the world), know that he’s not talking to you; he’s talking to his extremist friends.

Cuck shows us how the alt-right (and their “mainstream” right allies) think about  white women (as white men’s property (a la Othello or, more importantly, the many women who are murdered each year by men who are “jealous” of their sexual attention) and nonwhites–people who, together, are fucking them over.

 

 

What Mike Pence Gets Right about Marriage and Wrong about Religious Freedom Makes Him Unfit for Office

I generally consider presidential and vice-presidential wives off limits for discussion, figuring that their lives are terrible enough, though I really struggle with anyone woman who could support either Trump or Pence.

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Above, Mike and Karen Pence wave at the crowd and one of the several inaugural balls this past January. Want to read more about how conservative Christian women understand freedom through constraint? Check me out

You may have heard that Mike Pence never dines alone with a woman who isn’t his wife, nor does he attend events where there is alcohol present without her. If he were someone else, I’d say cool, whatever your marriage needs.  Maybe it means he doesn’t trust himself not to sexually assault women. Maybe it means he doesn’t want to be falsely accused of sexual impropriety. Maybe it means he’s been unfaithful (or addicted to alcohol) before and that hurt his wife, or maybe her father was a philanderer or an alcoholic, and this is his way of addressing any insecurity she might have about lousy husbands. If it was just about them, I would be happy to give Pence the privacy and dignity in his relationships that he has withheld from same-sex couples.

But it’s not just about him. His decision to never meet with a woman alone means that men have had more access to him than women. That means that women have not had an equal opportunity to petition their government–our First Amendment Right. It means the women of Indiana (and now the women of the whole US) are not being treated equally under the law.

I’m sure Pence has his reasons–potentially even good ones–for this personal standard. If his reason is so worthwhile, though, he should have taken pains to insure that it didn’t undermine anyone else’s opportunities or rights. How?

He could meet with no one one-on-one.

If Pence could organize his life so that he never met with a woman alone, he could also have organized it so that he never met with a man alone.

This would have insured that all constituents had an equal opportunity to meet with him.

If that idea seems unworkable–How could he get any business done?–then you understand that his choice made politics unworkable for women. You also now see your assumption that politics is for men, not women.

This is typical Pence, though: willing to make women bear the costs of HIS personal choice. (Ironic, yes, for someone arguing against federal funding for Planned Parenthood on the grounds that taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay for someone else’s moral failing.)

But it’s the same logic behind his anti-LGBT efforts in Indiana. An anti-LGBT Christian makes the personal choice to be a florist. She refuses to provide flowers for a wedding of two gay men. If you think that the First Amendment and equality are important, you probably think that the florist is choosing both her anti-gay faith and her job. She is not compelled to either, but the law does mandate that she treats customers equally. She has a choice: defy what she sees as a key point of her faith (Thou shalt not arrange flowers for gay weddings!) or quit being a florist.

You make your choice, and you take your consequences–but you don’t demand that someone else take the consequences of you living out your faith. That’s on you.

And you know who really should understand this, dear 606 readers? Mennonites. Even conservative Mennonites who oppose gay marriage. Because we are asked all the time to make the choice to compromise our faith or live with the consequences. And we do! Our kids get heckled for not saying the pledge. (“You must hate God!” as one sweet child told my daughter this year.) Our grandparents went to CPS instead of war, and our great-grandparents got tarred and feathered for refusing to serve in or support World War I.  Some of us pay the consequence of war tax resistance. The proudest parts of our history aren’t Anabaptists dying for their faith–they are the stories of Anabaptists refusing to let our enemies die so that our faith could be protected.

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Above, a woodcut telling the story of Dirk Willems. A Dutch Anabaptist in the mid-1500s when the faith was illegal, Willems fled a prison guard by crossing thin ice. When the guard fell in behind him, Willems turned back to rescue the man, leading to his own capture and, eventually, burning. 

Pence doesn’t have to be a theologian or a church historian to understand this, though. He simply has to care that his constituents and his colleagues have equal access to his ear. If he did–or if he had bothered to consult with a woman with more insight than the women he apparently does bother to talk to–he would have either stopped his discrimination against women or changed his policy to insure that he didn’t dine with men alone, either. His other choice was to not take a job that would require him to be alone with women in order to guarantee their basic constitutional rights. (Other examples: if you don’t want to look at ladyparts, don’t become an ob-gyn. If you don’t want to pour booze, don’t open a bar. If you don’t want to defend people who have done wrong, don’t be a public defender.) That, not his perhaps unusual marriage protocols, is why he’s unfit for office.

And his selfish, lazy Christianity should have clued you in.

 

If White Men Really Cared about Women

The story of the rape of a minor child in Rockland, Maryland by two minor students, both undocumented immigrants, is repulsive. The girl, 14, was pulled into the boys’ restroom in what the boys, both 17, said was a consensual sex act; their attorneys have said that a previous conversation, including the exchange of explicit photos, proves that the act was consensual. (In fact, this is not how consent works. Consent isn’t given the day before but the moment of.) And, according to Maryland law, a sex act involving a 14 year old is never consensual because people under age 16 cannot give consent. You might not like that law, but it shouldn’t be a surprise to two 17 year old boys.  It will be for the court to figure out of this non-consensual sex act was rape or something else.

In the meantime, parents at the school are asking why the school included undocumented students. I’m wondering why in the world they care. (I’m wondering this specifically as I dig up my youngest child’s birth certificate, which I’m required to show when I register him for kindergarten. Would the state prefer that non-citizen children not go to kindergarten?)

Immigrants, both legal and illegal, have a much lower incarceration rate than the native-born populations. (And, to really drive home the point, I’m citing stats from the CATO Institute on this one.) The data supports the theory, which is that undocumented immigrants face much stiffer consequences for criminal behavior, so they avoid it. What is a speeding ticket for me is deportation for them.

Above, Flora’s suicide in The Birth of a Nation, D.W. Griffith’s 1915 racist propaganda film promoting the KKK as a defense against imagined black violence. Young Flora bravely kills herself–a fate better than rape by a black man, played by white actor Walter Long in blackface. 

Joel lays out some of our (white people’s) long, ugly history of violence against people of color (especially black men), justified by fear or or punishment for crime, especially against white women. Narratives of sexual conquest, sexual ownership, and the patriotic duty to protect (white) women are central elements in our most enduring national myth: that white men must beat back people of color in order to protect the world from declining into chaos and disorder (which is to say, women but especially racial minorities having power).  They use sexual violence as both a strategy and a justification in this endeavor.

 

But let’s take them at their word–not the Dylann Roofs or James Harris Jacksons, but everyday white men who would never admit that their concern about the sexual safety of women was limited to white women and really about whiteness and not women. Let’s even give them the benefit of the doubt and say that their care isn’t limited to white women.

As a white woman, here’s what I’d like white men so concerned about women’s sexual safety to do:

  1. Stop raping.
  2. Stop being surprised that rapists look like nice young (white) men. Most rapists choose victims of their own race. If you care about white women, keep your eye on white men.
  3. Stop other men from raping.  Intervene if you suspect an assault is about to or is happening. Empower other men to intervene, too. Not sure how to do that? Take a class in bystander intervention–just like you ask us to take ridiculous classes in self-defense.
  4. Call out rape culture every single time you see it or hear it. If you aren’t sure what it looks or sounds like, educate yourself. Stop participating in it, condoning it, or ignoring it. Boycott companies that profit from it, and tell them why.
  5. Make violence against women a men’s issue, not a women’s one.
  6. Stop passing the cost of rape prevention on to women.  We don’t want guns on campus or rape drug detecting nail polish. We want you to not rape us or laugh as other men do.
  7. When women say they have been threatened or harmed, believe them. If you find it easier to believe a white woman who has been raped by a black man than a white woman who has been raped by a white man, ask yourself if you are really caring about women or really caring about whiteness.

Really, it’s not complicated: stop raping, ignoring rape, encouraging rape, or dismissing rape. If you want to do more, look for places where rape is more likely to occur: the military, fraternity houses, and high school, college, and professional athletics teams.

Silver Whistle Necklace

Above, a stylish silver rape whistle on a matching chain, available for $21 on Etsy. It comes with a “stunning Swarovski birthstone drop charm,” so you can personalize your rape defense system. Or buy several charms to coordinate with your closet!

Oh, prefer not to look at how such cultures contribute to sexual violence against women? Then perhaps what you really care about is maintaining white power to dominate men of color and not women at all.

Republicans and Motherhood

If you are or were ever a young liberal or progressive in a family with older conservative relatives, it’s likely that one of them has thrown that (wrongly attributed) Winston Churchill quotation at you at some point:

“If you’re not a liberal when you’re 25, you have no heart.  If you’re not a conservative by the time you’re 35, you have no brain.”

Not only did Churchill not say that, it doesn’t even align with his thinking. But don’t roll your eyes as you tell your elders this. Have pity on them. They were probably listening to Wayne Newton and watching Robert W. Welch, Jr. movies with their friends while all the cool kids were at Woodstock and now they have no stories to tell their grandkids. But I digress…

Being a mother has provided me with a little insight into why it’s actually Republicans who act like spoiled teenagers. Teens, of course, grow up; this week’s healthcare debacle in the House, led by “policy wonk” (ha ha ha!) Paul Ryan shows us that Republicans are struggling to do the same.

Here’s my insight, which came to me while dislodging a Lego–a piece very important to the Battle of Scarif set–from the innards of the garbage disposal yesterday:

Mothers get to make all of the no-fun decisions. I get to choose between which vegetables I will later fight with my children about eating. I get to decide which way we will spend our emergency savings: fixing the car or fixing the van. I say no to everything fun: riding without a seat belt or a bike helmet, adopting stray dogs, sleepover parties with neighbors we’ve just met. I get to decide on how toddler misbehavior gets handled, under what conditions a PG-13 movie is okay for a kid and under what conditions it is not, on what strategies we will use to bring up tween child’s grades, and on who started it, who had it first, and what order kids have to take showers, which shouldn’t have to be a *@!*& decision at all because they’re all going to get them before the night is over. I give all the fun choices–which game we will play, what kind of pizza topping we’ll order, what movie we will watch on family movie night–away.

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Above, cheese–the pizza of motherhood.  

Society demands that mothers act as scolds–it’s how we keep our kids safe, and when kids are not safe, it’s our fault–and also blames us for being so controlling. The rewards are great, of course, but they take a lifetime to accrue.

And our kids do blame us and resent us, too. If you were a teen once, you probably at some point (perhaps for a very long time) were pretty sure you knew how to be an adult better than your parents. You may have even mentioned this in a sulky comment or screaming match. When I’m a parent…!

But what if they actually had (or did) leave you in charge? You would have stayed awake all night playing video games and eating Taco Bell for every meal. For, maybe, like, years.

That’s the present-day Republican Party. They can cry and scream about how awful the Democrats are because they haven’t had to actually do anything except symbolically attempt to repeal Obamacare.  They sulk that America isn’t living up to Ayn Rand’s dreams. (Side note: Outgrowing Ayn Rand is a sign of the development of the frontal lobe, which is why most young people are done with her by their junior year of college.)

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Above, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, in his gawky, adolescent, delusional, intolerable, utterly-unprepared-for-leadership phase.

For the first time in more than a decade–and only the third time (two short periods during the GWB years) since the Depression–Republicans are fully in charge: House, Senate, White House. They can’t rely on Democrats from stopping them from making destructive decisions. It’s easy to complain about Mom when you know she’s not going to let you do stupid stuff. You might even use her as an excuse as to why you can’t do something dangerous and complain about her at the same time. It’s okay! We take on that role willingly. Tell your friends I’m a bitch, but don’t get in the car with a driver who has been drinking. I’ll always come to pick you up.

But now it’s time to be a grown up. And Republicans have shown that they can’t. They call Democrats naive and unrealistic, but what’s unrealistic is to expect Americans to believe that a tax cut to billionaires is a patriotic duty.

Republican’s hatred of the poor and people of color, which they try to disguise as patriotism, works fine to gin up votes and donations. It doesn’t work when you try to enact it by taking away much-needed help in the battle against opioid addiction or maternity coverage. Even Confederate flag waving Trump voters recognize that they aren’t gaining freedom when rural hospitals close. This is why most Americans support a simpler, more transparent, more affordable version of the ACA: single-payer health care.

Trump promised Republicans that they would win so much they’d get tired of winning. Instead, they’ve been lazy losers so long that any talent or skill they had in leading has been forgotten.

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Do fathers get to make boring, sad choices too? Of course. But I’m writing about my experience. You can ask my husband about his when he gets done vacuuming and washing our 15 year old minivan.

Apologies? No–Justice.

Central, I think, to the feedback Joel recently received about white people owning up to our racial mistakes is the idea that white people today shouldn’t have to apologize for past racial injustices that they didn’t commit. After all, some whites–just like some blacks–don’t have family trees that even touch American slavery!  This is a common argument, so I want to focus on it.

Factually, it’s not wrong. Lots of white immigrants came here after the Civil War was over, just as lots of black immigrants have come since. If what is being sought is an apology from those whose families fought for slavery to those whose families were enslaved, we’d have a real mess. Some of us had families on both sides of the war. Some of us have ancestors who were slave owners and ancestors who were enslaved–either at different points in history or at the same time, producing enslaved children from rape. If apologies were in order, lots of individuals would be apologizing to themselves.

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Above, a Civil War cemetery for Union soldiers in Kentucky. To my family’s great pride, one of our ancestors fought for the Union. He was white, was willing to die to end slavery, and still benefited from white privilege. How do we know? Because he got $1o of pay per month for soldiering, compared to a black soldier’s $7 per month. The US government finally granted equal pay–and supplied it retroactively–after black soldiers refused to re-enlist.

White people have never had to fight to be equal to blacks. That’s white privilege and black punishment.

But it’s not apologies that are in order. It’s justice.

And it’s not just justice over the issue of slavery (though that needs to happen too). It’s the years of interest that have accrued since then. While some white people deflect by saying that “Slavery was so long ago!” it’s the very “long ago” of slavery that has allowed inequity to build.

Think of it this way: Would you be better off if your great-, great-, great-, great-, great-, great grandpa was a billionaire or if your father were a billionaire?

It depends on how well your family managed wealth. If your family had done a great job, over generations, of managing great-, great-, great-, great-, great-, great grandpa’s wealth, you’d be much better off than if that money had been around for only one generation.

So the issue isn’t (just) slavery: it’s the generations between slavery and now. Over time, systems that are overtly racist have been legally struck down: slavery, Jim Crow, redlining, rampant stop and frisk. But the benefits that white people collected during that time still collect interest. Whites who bought houses in neighborhoods where people of color couldn’t still own those houses, and they continue to rise in value at a rate higher than the houses that people of color were able to purchase. Redlining might be illegal now, but the generations of people it harmed still live with the consequences. And, as Joel says, it’s not just white privilege–it’s also black punishment. A century and a half after slavery, half a century after Jim Crow, it’s still being felt, too.

You don’t just “apologize and move on” because an apology doesn’t right this wrong. It’s a wrong that grows bigger over time, not smaller, because interest accrues one way (if you are white, in your favor, whether your family was here during slavery or Jim Crow or not) or another (if you are black, against you).

And everything I just said assumes that opportunities are equal now, that the deck isn’t stacked in the favor of white people, which just isn’t true.

 

 

 

 

White Innocents and Accomplices

Joel:

Can I talk about race without talking about politics and religion? I’m not sure, because I think that Michael Eric Dyson‘s is a prophetic voice and in reading the passage you shared–

“Even when individual black people confront individual white people, even when we love one another, white innocence still clouds our relationships. We are two historical forces meeting, and the velocity of that history is so strong that it can break the bonds of individual love.”

–I’m a sinner convicted, as I (a white person who too often fails in the fight against white supremacy) ought to be.

Above, the cover of Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America by Michael Eric Dyson, professor of sociology at Georgetown University. 

I recall watching the incident (“fuck up,” as you honestly called it) you describe, and I felt for you then–mostly empathy and a little anxiety, because I know how hard it is, when you’re white, to question white supremacy all the time, and you actually have to do it all the time to avoid a failure. Everything white people encounter is set up to support white supremacy and to make sure that we, as white people, feel uncomfortable questioning it. I felt empathy because it’s an easy mistake to make (White supremacy makes sure it’s easy.), and I felt anxiety because I have made it too.

But, of course, it’s easier to fight when supremacy when you’re white than when you’re not–and you can give up when you’re tired and still get credit for your efforts. So, as you say, sympathy should only extend so far.

White supremacy is a marvel of social construction. We rarely see its architecture, but we occupy its space all the time. What you describe as a “fuck up” is exactly what this system is designed to produce; it’s not a mistake but the purpose.

As white people, we can design against this (and here I mean design in both the sense of mindfully creating and in the sense of plotting). For example, I use a lot of visual illustrations with my students. I’m deliberate about it–about 25% of my students are racial minorities, mostly African Americans, and I overrepresent people of color in my positive examples. It takes a very small extra effort. If I’m searching for images, say, of older married heterosexual couples, Google Images shows me mostly pictures of white people. Same if I’m searching for “librarians” or “scientists” or “happy families.” I have to add “African American” or “Hispanic” or “Asian” to my search terms if I don’t want a bunch of white people to show up. The search terms that yield black faces? “Criminal.” “Mugshot.” “Single mother.”

My inclusion of faces of people of color in lectures doesn’t dismantle white supremacy, but it matters–just as the inclusion of children of color in photos in newspapers matters. At our mid-term check-in, I ask students in an anonymous survey if they see people like them represented in our course content, from the readings to the images and examples used in lectures. In the open-ended response section of the survey, many students of color self-identify and share that they hadn’t noticed that I’d been including positive representations of racial minorities but that, with this question, they now did–and that they appreciated it. A colleague does a similar experiment in class, teaching a string of all white authors, then asking students if they’ve noticed anything about the course up to that point–a course that focuses on racial minorities in the US. Few students recognize that their classroom knowledge about racial minorities has, so far, been informed only by white perspectives, which then prompts a discussion about why we think about white men as the norm and everyone else as deviant–even to the extent of treating them as experts on non-white people. What often surprises white students about these exercises is that their peers of color often don’t notice either that we’re being deliberate about including faces and voices of color or that we’re teaching only white men (or, if they notice, they don’t mention it in class). That doesn’t mean that our students of color are “color blind”; it means that they, too, have been trained by white supremacy not to expect anything else and not to complain about it.

So, we can design to push against white supremacy. But sometimes we fail to design well enough. And if we are well-intentioned, historically-informed, empathetic, sociologically-aware white people committed to not just equality but to justice, we feel bad about it (because we should) and often defensive (because sometimes our failures are complicated and we might have reasons for them that aren’t obvious to our critics–though the only thing that ultimately matters is the harm we do or the good we advance). We can try to correct it, clean it up, and help the people we’ve wounded. We try to do better. We can individually repent–apologize and change.

But we also have to recognize that our failures don’t, as you say, happen in isolation. White supremacy is full of tricks, and one of its tricks is to convince “good” white people (you know, not the kind that wear hoods) that our mistakes are individual–“not all white people”–and ahistorical.  But my racist errors aren’t errors–they are weapons crafted and refined by hundred of years of culture that devalues black and brown bodies, lives, and experiences, and when you are white, you are armed with them all the time. They are embedded in our language, our laws, and our social structures. As a white person, you might use that weapon only occasionally and by accident, but when you are a person of color, you face assault all the time. And the wounding is physical as well as spiritual, emotional, and mental. It changes the DNA of its victims, which means it changes families across generations. 

Just as “for many minorities in America, the past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past,” it isn’t past for whites, either. We are armed with white supremacy unless we decide–in every interaction–to put it down.  We can’t be innocent while we are holding a weapon.

But innocence shouldn’t be our goal. Repentance means knowing you’re guilty and then seeking to restore (which keeps the focus on the other person), not to be forgiven (which is about our own feelings). We should seek to be accomplices, guilty of actively tearing down white supremacy, actively lifting up people of color, actively opposing individual and structural racism, actively stepping back so that people of color can step forward, actively defending black-and-brown-only spaces, actively funding efforts initiated and led by people of color, and doing what we’re told by people of color gracious enough to tell us how to do better.

 

Out of Religion, Deeper into Bigotry

Conservative churches bear responsibility for rising bigotry.

“For years, political commentators dreamed that the culture war over religious morality that began in the 1960s and ’70s would fade,” writes Peter Beinart in The Atlantic. “It has. And the more secular, more ferociously national and racial culture war that has followed is worse.”

Beinart’s “Breaking Faith” is a fantastic, comprehensive, terrifying examination of how religion and politics are splintering. The most worrisome part isn’t that Black Lives Matter activists aren’t using the Christian model of MLK (one many see as catering to white notions of respectability, a position a bit ahistorical, but who can blame them in the time of a whitewashed King?). It’s that conservative whites are leaving conservative Christianity, which taught, at least officially, that, in God, “there is no Jew nor Gentile”–in other words, that, before God, all people are equal.

When white progressive Christians leave Christianity, it’s often because even the most progressive form of the faith is too conservative. (“Ding, ding! Unitarian Universalism! Last stop before ‘religious none‘!”) When white conservatives leave their faith, they don’t become more liberal. Argues Beinart, “They become intolerant in different ways.” White conservative Christian defectors are more racist, more Islamphobic, and more xenophobic than their peers who stay in church–but less homophobic (which may tell you about how much homophobia gets preached and taught in churches).

Beinart isn’t arguing causation; it could be that dropping out of church makes you more of a bigot, or it could be that bigots are more likely to drop out of church. But what is clear is that conservative churches are missing an opportunity to help white people overcome bigotry.

In fact, churches are likely contributing to the problem. Beinart doesn’t go this far, so I want to be clear that this is my argument, not his. Beinart draws his supporting data mostly from quantitative research on church attendance and political views (which makes sense as he’s a political scientist). My work is qualitative and draws from texts (sermons, Sunday school curricula, radio broadcasts, blogs, etc.) produced by religious believers and leaders.

Conservative churches support bigotry when they claim that America was founded as a Christian nation.

First, it’s not true. This means that attempts to make it true require telling lies about our history, including erasing the many non-Christians who participated in the nation’s founding,and pretending that native genocide and the slave trade were somehow “Christian.” Second, this claim shows a fundamental misunderstanding of our form of government, which has no place for religion in it.

Above, a video promoting David Barton’s Wallbuilder’s tour of Washington DC, which explores America’s “Christian heritage.”

When churches repeat this lie–for example, peddling the work of pseudo-historian David Barton or booking his “Christian heritage” tours of Washington DC–they are really saying We are willing to lie to insert ourselves into a place of importance.  They are also saying, This is country is ours, not yours. 

Conservative churches support bigotry when they claim that America is a falling nation. 

Few Christians go so far as to say that we’re doomed (though Westboro Baptists ran godhatesamerica.com for years; it highlighted all the reasons why God hates the USA), but many Religious Right fundraising newsletters are filled with the claim that we’re just on the brink of losing God’s blessing. That threat is used to inspire participation in all kinds of foolishness–from engagement in the “War on Christmas” to blind support for Israel. In Damned Nation: Hell in America from the Revolution to Reconstruction, Kathryn Gin Lum traces out much of the history of the declension narrative (We need a volume II, Redemption to the Present). The good news is that this history is long–we’ve apparently been angering God since the start, but he’s not destroyed us yet.

Image result for righteousness exalteth a nation AND billboard

Above, a billboard includes the first part of Proverbs 14:34: Righteousness Exalts a Nation. The second part of the verse stresses that “sin is a reproach to all people.” The lower part of the billboard encourages voters to “Vote Biblical Values.” In the middle, there is an image of a colonial-era American flag and a Minuteman, implying that the US was founded as a Christian nation and was exalted before God because of Christians’ righteousness. 

When churches teach that America is falling apart, that our nation is dying or already doomed, and that the only way to save it is to diminish the rights of others, they are really saying, It’s non-Christians’ fault that the nation is a mess. 

Conservative churches support bigotry when they claim that Christianity should be given special honor by our government. 

Fifty years after mandatory faculty-led prayer was removed from public schools, conservative Christians still feel the sting of being told that they aren’t special–at least in terms of public support for their faith. Their resentment at being denied their rightful place (see “founded as a Christian nation” above) in our culture and politics is a constant source of humiliation–and motivation for ridiculous efforts to force Christianity on everyone. The great Baptist tradition of keeping the government out of one’s religion has long been set aside by the Religious Right. When churches teach that Christianity should be given special honor, they are really saying, People unlike us should be treated worse than us. 

These messages form the core of conservative churches’ teachings about the place of Christianity in the US. Evidence to the contrary–like the fact that church attendance was pretty low throughout most of US history or that our premarital sex rate has always been pretty high or that the pledge didn’t always include Under God and that our money didn’t always include In God We Trustdoesn’t mean much when folks are committed to seeing themselves as very special and underappreciated.  When these churches say that they are welcoming, what they mean is that they welcome people like them. It’s not hypocritical for them to say that non-Christians don’t belong because they don’t believe that non-Christians founded the nation, help the nation, or deserve to be in the nation.

When these messages are combined with the many failures of the US church today–its derision of working class and the working poor, its judgments about gender that rob poor men and women both of their dignity, its failure to support the reality of families–the result is that many white conservatives leave, and they leave genuinely hurting. Maybe they believe in God or maybe not, but it’s not clear that he or religion has done much to improve their lives.

But they keep believing some of the messages they’ve heard at church (and that are reinforced in messages they from their narrow selection of rightwing news sources and their conspiracy-minded political leaders): This country is mine, not yours.  It’s your fault that this country is a mess. If people like me dominated, it wouldn’t look like this. You deserve less than me. You are a danger to this nation. 

Conservative churches bear responsibility not just for the departure of former believers but for where they end up next–and for how that endangers everyone.