Evangelicals Can’t Have It Both Ways on Race

Evangelicals Can’t Have It Both Ways on Race May 26, 2020

Remember Eric Metaxas? He’s an avidly pro-Trump evangelical author and radio host. Some time back, I wrote that the pro-Trump children’s books he’d written reminded me of—well—Nazi children’s books. I explained why, and Metaxas subsequently got mad at me on twitter.

Today, I have some advice for Metaxas—don’t tweet things like this:

BREAKING: Just now Joe Biden tried & failed to walk back his “You ain’t black comment” by saying “Sho nuff you is fo shizzle ain’t black! Cuz Massa Trump be fixin to put all y’alls behinds back in chains! You done got yo sefs no choice in dis hyah. And that’s a FO sho fo sho!”

Really, really don’t. As quite a few twitter users pointed out, this is essentially the twitter version of blackface. It’s gross and it’s racist. It’s just so gross. Don’t do this. 

As Hemant Mehta wrote:

This is why there’s no conservative version of The Daily Show. Conservatives aren’t funny or clever. Their response to a racist comment is to be waaaaaay more racist. Unlike Biden, Metaxas hasn’t apologized. That tweet is still up. He’s just retweeting supportive comments now.

Metaxas did eventually delete his original tweet—either that or it has been removed by twitter. There is no walking back or apology to be seen on his timeline, however, and his retweets of supportive tweets are still up, along with this defensive tweet. Metaxas was being “humorous” and “sarcastic” and making a “joke” his supporters say.

That’s what white people said blackface was, too: a “sarcastic” exaggerated portrayal of black people’s mannerisms, features, and patterns of speech in order to put on a “humorous” show. It wasn’t funny.

The most charitable interpretation of Metaxas’ tweet is that rather than actually “thinking Blacks talk like this” his’ “joke” was that “Biden thinks Black people talk like this.” This is not a sufficient explantation, of course. As another twitter user noted, while Metaxas’ intent may have been “to showcase biden placating black people,” his tweet showed “disregard for black people by playing into minstrelsy in order to mock both us and biden.”

It doesn’t matter what “joke” Metaxas was trying to make with his tweet, he managed to tweet something that was both racist and evoked memories of historic racist minstrelsy at the same time. Not cool! It’s absolutely the case that everyone makes mistakes. I wouldn’t be at all so hard on Metaxas if he had listened, apologized, and purposed to do better. But he didn’t. He didn’t do that at all.

And here’s the kicker: Metaxas’ tweet came only days after he argued that liberals need to acknowledge that efforts to combat racism are based in the Bible:

Those of us who are Christians have to understand that anybody who’s against racism, anyone who is against slavery, anyone who’s against any of this bad stuff, you know, you can use that to explain to them, yes, and guess why you’re against that? Guess why this culture knows racism is wrong? We got it from the Bible.

And by the way, that’s a fact. You don’t need to like it, you don’t need to be a Christian, but that’s a historical fact. There’s no way around that, that the idea of abolishing slavery, the idea that slavery is wrong, all these ideas worked their way through history and they come from Scripture.

If you’re going to argue that you’re super anti-racist—in fact, that anti-racism stems from your religious tradition and your religious tradition alone—you need to at least act like it. That means listening when people said you messed up, it means doing research and asking questions until you understand, and it means making a change. 

I’m not sure whether Metaxas realizes this, but his response to pushback against his tweet has ensured that the exact the people he wants to target with his “did you know that opposition to racism comes from the Bible” line probably won’t listen to a word he says on the subject—he has shot his credibility on this all to hell.

I get that it’s uncomfortable to have a mistake you made called out, but doubling down when you made a mistake isn’t going to erase the mistake you made, or make people suddenly conclude that you didn’t make one. I actually think there’s more room in our culture than people sometimes think for honest mistakes and genuine learning. The real problem is when people make a mistake and then refuse to learn, or even to listen.

If Metaxas truly cares deeply about black people and about combating racism, he should want to listen when people tell him that something he has said is racist or deeply harmful. He should want to listen, so that he can stop saying things that perpetuate racism or cause harm. Instead we get this.

Oh, and by the way, while we’re at it, what Metaxas misses in his comments on the history of abolitionism and anti-racism is that, in the antebellum South, support for slavery also came from the Bible. Both pro-slavery proponents and abolitionists based their arguments on the Bible and the will of God. This was also the case during the civil rights movement, where African Americans drew on the Black church to argue against segregation while white southerners argued that the Bible said God created the races to be separate, and that miscegenation was evil.

You know what? It’s bad form to care more about whether your forebears did the right thing than about doing the right thing yourself. If you’re going put a lot of emphasis on your forebears getting something right—and use it as some sort of “gotcha” point—you should probably put some energy into making sure you get it right as well.

I’ve been pondering this ever since I ran upon the question on twitter: If white evangelicals believe so strongly in original sin and human depravity, why do they insist with such vehemence that nothing they do or say could possibly be even the tiniest bit racist? Is racism not a sin? And if it is a sin, why do they think they are exempt?

And no, I haven’t forgotten about Joe Biden’s comments. On that subject, I’d point you here.

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