I know the alt-right is out there, but finding someone with half a brain and at least one unclogged coronary artery who defends what happened in Charlottesville over the weekend is next to impossible. Heck, even New York City’s brainiest evangelical pastor, Tim Keller, and the United States’ worst POTUS condemn racism, white supremacy, and violence in clear and forceful terms.
At the Gospel Coalition website, Keller wrote:
First, Christians should look at the energized and emboldened white nationalism movement, and at its fascist slogans, and condemn it—full stop. No, “But on the other hand.” The main way most people are responding across the political spectrum is by saying, “See? This is what I have been saying all along! This just proves my point.” The conservatives are using the events to prove that liberal identity politics is wrong, and liberals are using it to prove that conservatism is inherently racist. We should not do that.
Second, this is a time to present the Bible’s strong and clear teachings about the sin of racism and of the idolatry of blood and country—again, full stop.
President Trump agreed:
Racism is evil, and those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans. We are a nation founded on the truth that all of us are created equal. We are equal in the eyes of our creator, we are equal under the law, and we are equal under our Constitution. Those who spread violence in the name of bigotry strike at the very core of America. . . .
No matter the color of our skin, we all live under the same laws, we all salute the same great flag, and we are all made by the same almighty God. . . . We must love each other, show affection for each other, and unite together in condemnation of hatred, bigotry, and violence. We must rediscover the bonds of love and loyalty that bring us together as Americans.
One curious feature of these two reactions is whether Christianity added anything to Keller’s condemnation that were missing from Trump’s. Since Christianity is supposed to be a revealed religion and its truths come from sources that are unavailable to non-Christians (authoritatively anyway), you might expect Keller to say something Christian while Trump would speak in national or American terms. Yet, Keller only condemns while Trump both denounces racism and calls Americans to love — even to acknowledge God, the creator.The other arresting dimension of these reactions to Charlottesville is their effects on listeners. Are Americans more prone to believe that Keller or Trump is sincere? And are Christians any more skeptical of the authenticity of either condemnation? Chances are that the 81 percent who voted for Trump believe him while all of the Gospel Coalition’s readers believe Keller. It should also be noted that likely all the evangelicals who voted for Trump also believe Keller. Secularists and evangelicals who did not vote for Trump, however, are likely suspicious of the president and grateful for Keller’s identifying with the right side.
Yet, since both agree and both echo so many other people commenting on Charlottesville, is there more than meets the eye? Why do Keller and Trump both need to address this incident? For the POTUS who heads the federal government’s criminal justice system, speaking out on law breaking makes sense. But what about a pastor? I never would have suspected that Keller’s followers and readers see any appeal in the alt-right. Yet he warns,
Internet outreach from white nationalist organizations can radicalize people who are disaffected by moral decline in society. So it is absolutely crucial to speak up about the biblical teaching on racism—not just now, but routinely. We need to make those in our circles impervious to this toxic teaching.
Have we come to a point in U.S. history where any white evangelical, even with a long track record of respectability and mainstream publications, is potentially a white supremacist? Are members of the Gospel Coalition and the Southern Baptist Convention as likely to traffic in white supremacist ideas as those alt-right folks who marched on Charlottesville? Probably not, but the way we have conceived of racism since Ferguson (at least) is that it is both explicit (like Charlottesville) and systemic (like the United States). Your average reader of the Gospel Coalition website, then, is just as guilty of white supremacy as your unusual skin-head. Damned if you do or don’t.
Surely, racism is wrong. But anti-racism that can’t tell the difference between Trump and Keller needs a helping hand.