A spy in the house of love

A spy in the house of love January 15, 2022

Anthea Butler on WHYY’s “Radio Times” discussing her book White Evangelical Racism: The Politics of Morality in America.

The subtitle there is important. Butler’s point is that “morality” and “the politics of morality” are not identical. That often they are not even compatible.

Butler’s book came out around the same time as Kristin Kobes Du Mez’s Jesus and John Wayne, but it hasn’t attracted the same kind of direct attacks against it and its author that J&JW has from the most vocal proponents of patriarchal white Christian nationalist evangelicalism. That’s partly because, I think, those dudes are — appropriately — even more afraid of Butler and of her argument. (Heck, they may hate the book, but they enjoy saying “Jesus and John Wayne,” yet they can’t even bring themselves to read the name of Butler’s book out loud.) And it’s partly because she’s already outside of the gates they imagine themselves to be keeping. Butler is a Catholic Ivy League professor, not someone they can “farewell” from their churches or whom they can leverage right-wing billionaire evangelical donors to have fired from her job.

Plus, Butler confuses them — and not just in the way that everyone who is not a white male Christian American confuses them. She was raised Catholic, then converted to white evangelicalism — she has a degree from Fuller Seminary — but then converted back. White evangelical leaders are fine with evangelicals becoming Catholics as long as it’s in pursuit of greater power to criminalize abortion and homosexuality, but when they encounter a born-again-again Catholic who chose to do that for any other reason they’re just bewildered.

(None of which is to suggest that Butler and her book are not being attacked. She’s a smart Black woman who’s right, and that means she will always be attacked by people who will never be any of those things. Her hate-mail is, I’m sure, a ceaseless, vast, and vile cesspool. But the smarmy Old, Restless & Reformed theobros and their allied Powers That Be of official white evangelicaldom aren’t publicly attacking her in the same way they are Du Mez and Beth Allison Barr.)

• Grove City professor and too-hot-for-Patheos blogger Warren Throckmorton writes about learning that he is descended from one of the founders of Providence. Roger Williams and a dozen other religious refugees, including John Throckmorton, left behind the hegemonic Christian nationalism of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and established that their town in Rhode Island would “hould forth liberty of Conscience.”

My first thought reading that as a Baptist was that Dr. Throckmorton should join us since, after all, being a Baptist is in his DNA. But then I remembered that’s exactly the opposite of how we Baptists think this works, which is kind of our whole point.

• Republican state senator, MAGA-insurrectionist, white Christian nationalist, and white nationalist Christian Doug Mastriano managed to graduate from my Baptist alma mater without ever learning what Williams and John Throckmorton understood about “liberty of Conscience.” And now Mastriano has announced that he is running for governor of Pennsylvania and also, apparently, for king of Israel and Judah: “A Devout Christian Conservative Kicked Off His Campaign For Governor With … A Shofar?

TPM’s Matt Shuham does a pretty good job there summarizing the weird white Christian nationalist mania for appropriating this Jewish symbol. But he misses the supercessionist angle we discussed here last year, so let’s revisit that:

These Christians love their idea of the shofar because in their mind Christian America is the New Israel, replacing it and claiming for itself (for America, or for white America) every promise or blessing or reference to Israel from anywhere in the Bible.

Supersessionism isn’t specifically about America. It’s the Very Wrong idea that the [Gentile] church supersedes Israel as God’s chosen people. In theory and in the abstract, that doesn’t necessarily involve a Christian nationalism that conflates this church with America as God’s Chosen Nation, but in practice here in America it always does. In any case, Christians, step away from the shofars, please.

• Speaking of white Christian nationalists running for governor, here’s some news from Alabama: “James opens gubernatorial campaign with evangelical appeal.”

Business owner Tim James appealed to evangelical Christian voters as he opened his Republican campaign for Alabama governor Wednesday, railing against the threat of “godless Marxism,” quoting scripture and claiming God has called the conservative state to lead the nation. …

James, a toll road developer who has said he isn’t vaccinated against COVID-19, said Republican leaders hadn’t done enough to fight vaccine mandates, allowing one to take effect at the University of Alabama at Birmingham before the state attorney general’s office intervened. James said he would fight “casino barons” to prevent Alabama from becoming “the Las Vegas of the South.”

Wonder how this fight against “casino barons” is going to go over with a white Christian nationalist voter base that worships a casino baron as their lord and savior.

• My favorite surprise twist ending [Spoiler Alert for a 114-year-old novel now in the public domain] is in G.K. Chesterton’s dazzling, stranger-than-intended book The Man Who Was Thursday. Our hero, an undercover policeman, finally infiltrates the inner circle of the anarchist conspiracy only to realize that every other member of that inner circle is also an undercover policeman.

That’s what I was reminded of reading this post by Miguel Ruiz, “Confessions of a Former ‘Worship Leader.’” What Ruiz confesses is that he was an impostor, a fraud — someone who had mastered the art of faking earnest sincerity and heartfelt devotion thanks to years of practice. All those years he was, like Thursday, constantly worried and afraid that he would be found out and exposed as an infiltrator and counterfeit.

But Ruiz also suspects and hints at something that poor Thursday never suspected until it was too late: That everyone else there is faking it too. He says that, for him, performing a particular expression of alleged love and devotion replaced any authentic expression of those things, and made love and devotion themselves seem distant and inapproachable.

“I can’t help but think I am not alone in my story,” he says. And I can’t help but think that’s true.

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