‘Nobody’s from here’

‘Nobody’s from here’ March 30, 2021

• Franklin Phineas Hophni Graham is famous as the son of an iconic white evangelical evangelist and he is infamous as the John the Baptist who prepared the way for the white evangelical messiah, Donald Trump. Franklin was touting Trump as a candidate way back in 2011, but he was also Trump before Trump himself was — preaching a vicious nativism and religious chauvinism, including calls for a Muslim ban long before Trump campaigned on it.

So what happens when the Trumpiest of Trump-worshipping court evangelicals starts telling his disciples that they should get vaccinated? It doesn’t go well: “Franklin Graham unfazed after evangelical base blasts him for encouraging vaccines.”

That RNS piece notes that Franklin Graham isn’t anti-medicine since he is, among other things, the titular president of Samaritan’s Purse, a relief agency that sends medical missionaries to provide medical care all over the world. (That RNS report refers to Franklin as the “founder and president” of Samaritan’s Purse. That’s an understandable mistake, since nearly all white evangelical ministries are led by a “founder and president-for-life,” but it’s still a mistake. Samaritan’s Purse was started when Franklin was still a teenager, uncertain of his future with the family business. He inherited the nominal leadership years later in an apparent attempt to reform the wayward failson or, at least, to reform his image.)

The report also mentions that “His mother’s father, Dr. L. Nelson Bell, was a medical missionary to China.” That’s true, but wildly insufficient. Medicine did not turn out to be Bell’s life’s work. He retired from the mission field at the age of 47 to pursue his true calling as a staunch defender of segregation and Jim Crow. That’s where Bell’s fiercest passion and his greatest legacy lie. And that’s what makes his grandson so much like him.

• Sometimes humans are really cool. Here is a shiny, happy story to cleanse the palate: “The Heartwarming History Behind a Brewery’s Kosher Sake.”

For goodness’ sake.

• “Evangelical disillusionment is finding a home in book clubs.” Book clubs have been around for a long time in white evangelical circles. That’s how we wound up with things like The Prayer of Jabez or The World’s Worst Books.

But the news here — the good news in Isaiah Murtaugh’s RNS report — is that many of these white evangelical book clubs are now turning to good books:

The conversation that started in Heinen’s mom’s group in 2016 has continued, most recently with a Zoom book club on Kristin Kobes Du Mez’s polarizing history of white evangelical masculinity: Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation.

… Jesus and John Wayne is but one popular entry in a growing market for books that deconstruct evangelical culture and theology. The trend is led by books like Tisby’s history of white Christian racism and racist complicity, Color of Compromise, which grew popular after last summer’s racial justice protests, and Aimee Byrd’s critique of evangelical gender norms, Recovering from Biblical Manhood & Womanhood. There is D.L. Mayfield’s The Myth of the American Dream, critiquing evangelicalism’s adoption of nationalist values. Mayfield herself wrote about finally leaving evangelicalism this past summer during the racial justice protests.

A new batch of deconstructionist and justice-oriented literature is just arriving. Tisby’s praxis-focused follow-up, How to Fight Racism, hit online shelves on Jan. 5, the day before the U.S. Capitol attack. Speaker and writer Sheila Wray Gregoire’s criticism of evangelical sexual ethics, The Great Sex Rescue, published on March 2, and Baylor history professor Beth Allison Barr’s The Making of Biblical Womanhood will publish on April 20. On [March 22], Anthea Butler, a prominent professor of religious studies at the University of Pennsylvania, debuted her own critique of evangelical politics: White Evangelical Racism.

Murtaugh’s description of these titles — “books that deconstruct [white] evangelical culture and theology” — is clarified by that more specific explanation that follows, “deconstructionist and justice-oriented literature.” But let’s clarify that further. These are not books that set out with the primary purpose of “deconstructing [white] evangelical culture and theology,” but that wind up having to do that in order to fulfill their primary purpose of orienting that culture and theology toward justice rather than away from it. They are not “deconstructionist” and also, incidentally, “justice-oriented.” They seek a greater orientation toward justice and therefore, necessarily, have to engage in that deconstruction.

In any case, these books are getting people reading and they’re getting people talking. You love to see it.

• Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Larry McMurtry died last week at the age of 84. Here’s a terrific interview Mother Jones’ Michael Mechanic did with McMurtry in 2014, in which the then 77-year-old author of Lonesome Dove makes a lot of the same points as Kristin Du Mez, but with more of a Texas accent and a sense of surly resignation. Mechanic and McMurtry say “demythologizing” where Murtaugh says “deconstruction” and “disillusion,” but it’s the same process:

MJ: You’ve described Old West mythologies as destructive. Which ones particularly grate?

LM: The Western notion of masculinity goes back a long way. It doesn’t allow for women, and it’s also racist — it doesn’t allow for other cultures.

MJ: Is your antipathy partly rooted in your own childhood run-ins in small-town Texas?

LM: It was more like the culture that I lived in and absorbed by osmosis: It was a racist, anti-feminist culture, and it had been throughout the whole period of settlement. It was still all that when I was a little boy.

MJ: To what degree have you succeeded in your demythologizing mission?

LM: I haven’t succeeded at all. It’s just as racist and misogynistic as it ever was. The image of the cowboy is one of the dominant images in American culture.

• Here’s Larry’s kid, James McMurtry, with one of my favorites from his first album and the song that provided the title for this post. The audio, like McMurtry’s voice, is a bit glitchy, but it’s a great song:

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