Michael Stone of Progressive Secular Humanist here on the Patheos Atheist channel recently posted about the Black Lives Matter protesters who shut down a Bernie Sanders event in Seattle last week. I don’t want to address the main thrust of Stone’s post—except to note that black activists have plenty of good reasons to be upset with Democratic politicians—but I do want to address two specific points he made.
First, this point:
[P]erhaps even more damning, on her Facebook page, [Marissa Jenae] Johnson [one of the protesters] admits that she was a Sarah Palin supporter. This fact, the fact that she once supported Sarah Palin, is in itself indicative of poor judgement and faulty character, and provides a larger context for her more recent moral failure.
Let’s see. When I was in high school, I supported George W. Bush. A lot. I also campaigned for countless other Republican politicians, especially the more conservative ones. Indeed, I supported Tea Party primary challenges before there was a Tea Party. I must have poor judgement and faulty character in spades.
Or maybe my beliefs, ideas, and positions have shifted since high school (as Johnson’s have). That is a thing that, you know, happens. The idea that we should dismiss anyone who was conservative in high school as having poor judgement and a faulty character is horribly problematic. After all, high school students are still figuring out how to navigate this world around them, and lack the experience (and independence) of adults!
Second, this paragraph:
[T]here is always something particularly depressing and disturbing about any African American clinging to Christianity, when Christianity was in fact the tool of the slavemaster, the religion that justified the enslavement and subjugation of African Americans, the religion that justified Jim Crow and segregation, the religion that continues to keep Americans of all color ignorant and uninformed, at once frightened and beseeching of a God that does not exist.
Christianity was also the religion of Martin Luther King Jr. and a tool of resistance in the hands of antebellum slaves. There’s a reason Harriet Tubman was called “Moses.” Yes, Christianity was used by white southerners to justify slavery, but it was also used by abolitionists (black and white alike) to argue against slavery. In the hands of the black community, Christianity has often been a tool not only of survival but also of empowerment.
Stone titled his post “BLM Activist Who Shut Down Sanders is Radical Christian, Sarah Palin Supporter.” Stone seems to feel that both Johnson’s teenage support for Palin and her self-identification as a “radical Christian” should discredit her—he went so far as to refer to Johnson’s “Christian privilege” in the context of her critique of white privilege.
I wonder whether Stone has heard of liberation theology. Progressive or radical Christianity, which serves to critique power and push back against oppression, is a thing that does in fact exist—and has for, well, a very long time. My atheist colleagues are free to object on the grounds that liberation theology is still, well, theology, but they very much need to modify their frequent portrayal of religion as totally and completely and always oppressive. Yes, religion often serves as a tool to uphold highly problematic power structures—but it also sometimes serves as a tool to overthrow those same power structures.
This post is not about whether Johnson was right in her approach or about Johnson’s specific relation to the Black Lives Matter movement (though I will say that anyone saying that Black Lives Matter protesters should silently support Democratic politicians because the Republican politicians are worse are missing the point). I simply wanted to step in to push back against Stone’s suggestion that one’s politics in high school should permanently impugn one’s character (it shouldn’t) and his positioning of Christianity as only and solely an oppressor of people of color (it isn’t).