Reflections from Phil & Emily on Wednesday’s events at the U.S. Capitol

In the wake of the mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol this past Wednesday, resulting in the deaths of five people, Phil & Emily offered several pastoral responses via social media. We’ve collected them here so that they’re easily found on the Brentwood website. (For the record, as Disciples pastors, we speak to the church but not for the church.)

Emily reflecting on white privilege

This is what white privilege looks like. Being able to push past police officers and storm the Capitol Building. Being able to break into Congressional offices and sit at desks and rifle through papers with no one stopping you. This is white privilege. We would be seeing a very VERY different scene playing out if this was a Black Lives Matter protest that stormed and breeched the Capitol Building. And if you can’t see that or recognize that, you have some very important work to do within yourself. I am shocked at what I am seeing, at the casualness with which these thugs are streaming through the halls of Congress. These thugs knew they could do it without anyone doing much to stop them. Terrorist acts are being carried out in the sight of the world right now on Capitol Hill. And these acts have been stoked and incited by the President of the United States. And then he had the gall to just spew his lies again in a pre-recorded statement in a paltry attempt to stop the violence. Shameful and horrifying events happening in our nation’s capitol. I have so much more to say but I just can’t bring forth the words…

Emily reflecting on (in the words of reformer Martin Luther) “calling the thing what it is”

It’s good to see CNN calling what is happening in Washington D.C. at the hands of a Trump supporting mob: Insurrection. Coup Attempt. Terrorism. These Trump supporters ceased being protestors when they breached the Capitol Building. They are terrorists attempting a coup.

Phil reflecting on the differences between white nationalist mobs and Black Lives Matter protests

I’m going to try to make this as simple as possible for those who seem to have so much difficulty distinguishing one thing from another, especially when it comes to differentiating between Black Lives Matter protests and yesterday’s riots at the capitol:

Let’s begin by analyzing how context works with a simple example from Sen. Josh Hawley, of my home state.

When Sen. Hawley raised his fist in support of yesterday’s rioters, it was the *same* motion made by 1968 Olympic medalists Tommie Smith and John Carlos. It’s the *same* motion that is often used in protests for racial justice. In the words of Wikipedia, it’s a symbol used to express solidarity and support, as well as unity, strength and resistance.

So what makes Sen. Hawley’s use of it different than Tommie Smith’s or John Carlos’s use of it, or BLM’s use of it? The answer is so obvious that it seems silly to even have to spell it out:

Hawley used it to express solidarity and strength for a movement committed to racism, authoritarianism and the subversion of democracy, not to express support for racial justice and equal treatment under the law. These are very different solidarities, to say the least, and raising a fist in support of white supremacy is very different from raising a fist in support of dismantling white supremacy.

Numerous examples abound. Yesterday on Twitter (where I spend most of my social media time) an image compared Nazi troops marching into Paris in 1940 to Allied troops marching into Paris in 1945. The former brought destruction to Paris, the latter brought liberation. Same actions, different contexts, different meanings.

Or think about the use of the n-word. It has a history; it has a context. It’s a term that was historically used by white slaveholding and white slave supporting oppressors in order to dehumanize Black people. In modern times it’s an absolute racist epithet still hurled by white people to dehumanize Black people. Yet at the same time, the original term has been altered by the Black community, and in some contexts within the Black community there’s a subversive use of the term that takes the power out of it, away from the oppressors, refashioning it in an affective way that subverts the power of the oppressor. These are very different things. One use is in the service of oppression, another use is in the subversion of oppression. This really isn’t that difficult to understand.

When there are protests for Black Lives Matter, they are for the express purposes of dismantling white supremacy and all of the associated oppressions that go along with it. *This is not the same thing as riots that are in the service of strengthening white supremacy and all of the associated oppressions that go along with it.*

Those of you who equate what happened yesterday at the capitol with BLM protests make it crystal clear that you’ve never been to a BLM protest, and that you don’t have the first idea of strategies and tactics supported by BLM. One of the things emphasized the most is related to how vulnerable Black people are while in the presence of police (very different from the way the white mob was treated yesterday), and how disciplined actions by protestors are absolutely essential in all interactions with the police (and with counter-protestors). All of which tells me you haven’t taken the time to try to understand the movement at all, yet haven’t hesitated to critique that which you don’t understand. Further, you make it crystal clear that — for whatever reason — you can’t tell the difference between movements that support white supremacy from movements that support dismantling white supremacy (hmmm, I wonder why that’s the case?).

And just remember that white folks in the 1960s decried Martin Luther King Jr. as an agitator and extremist and rioter. In his Letter from Birmingham Jail he reflected on being called an extremist. At first he was uncomfortable with the label, but then started thinking about how his heroes in the Bible were also labeled extremists, but extremists for love. He made it clear that it’s not a matter of whether you are an extremist; it’s a matter of what kind of extremist you will be: will you be an extremist for love or an extremist of hate? History is full of examples of both kinds of extremists. He also reflected a lot on law and authority. People wondered why he was okay breaking some laws but not others. He quoted saints like Augustine to help folks make these important distinctions, saying “an unjust law is no law at all.” He said we are called to respect laws that conform to God’s moral law, and protest laws that are contrary to God’s moral law. He described how, in Hitler’s Germany, it was perfectly legal to harm a Jewish person but it was illegal to harbor a Jewish person. So it’s always a matter of understanding which laws are just and fair (those that reflect God’s moral law) and those that don’t.

The mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol yesterday were committed to overthrowing law and order (ironically, of course, because they claim to “Back the Blue” and to respect law and order), all in order to prop up a lying authoritarian fascist-craving demagogue who serves their interests of maintaining white power. If you think that’s the same kind of extremist who works to dismantle white supremacy, and who works to further democracy and equal treatment under the law (and at the polls), then I don’t really know what to tell you. But I do know what side of history you stand on.

Phil reflecting on the relationship between white nationalism and white evangelicalism

If you’ve paid any attention to the religious right over the years, or if you grew up in and under the cult of white evangelicalism (as I did), you could see all of this coming from a mile away. It’s the natural culmination of everything for which we were groomed, and all we had to do was listen to what’s actually been said. None of this is new.

White evangelical support for everything Trump represents is not hypocritical; it’s perfectly consistent with the shared values that have been at the core of white American evangelicalism for years (e.g., patriarchy, white heritage, desire for cultural dominance, etc.). Here’s how it all works:

It begins with indoctrination. From a very young age, you’re taught in church that you’re one of the chosen people with a mission to “take America back for God.” You learn violent songs in Vacation Bible School about being in the Lord’s army. You’re told that “ever since God was taken out of the schools, America has gone to hell in a hand basket” (what you aren’t told is that this rhetoric emerged in the 1960s when schools were being integrated).

In youth group you’re encouraged to go to prayer rallies at the site of the school’s flag (“See You at the Pole”), where you pray for the values of white evangelicalism to change your school and country (along the way you’re taught a bunch of out of context Bible verses like the one from Jeremiah, “If my people will humble themselves and pray, then I will heal their land”). If you’re like me, Rush Limbaugh was piped through the loud speakers at the student center during your first semester at the local Christian college.

All of this is to say that from elementary school onwards, the entirety of the Bible and Christian tradition is filtered through the lens of white grievances. We’re taught that America used to be the land of plenty, ”a beacon on a hill,” but now so-called “socialists and atheists and communists” (which is code for those working for civil rights, economic justice, racial justice, equal rights, voting rights, etc.) are trying to take it all over. They’re anti-God and agents of the anti-Christ. And it’s your God-ordained mission to not let that happen, to make America great again, to stand up for the America you believe in, and you have a role to play, whether you wear a suit like Josh Hawley or a Vikings costume like whoever that one dude was.

This white social conditioning (read: radicalization) leads to a bunch of interrelated dynamics:

(1) From a very young age, you’re taught to distrust the government. The deep state.

(2) This suspicion of the deep state leads you to become especially gullible to conspiracy theories. Not only do evangelicals grow up on really bizarre conspiracy theories about things like dinosaur bones being buried in the Garden of Eden by the devil in order to trick humans into affirming evolution (white evangelicalism is notoriously anti-science), but, more to the point, entire books of the Bible (like Revelation) are interpreted entirely out of historical context in order to make you think that “Big Brother” or the deep state is out to get you (for example, the coronavirus vaccine is secretly a device for government control). White evangelicals love a good conspiracy theory like no other.

(3) But why be so gullible to conspiracy theory? For a simple reason: White evangelicals would prefer believing bizarre conspiracy theories rather than having to confront the traumatic truth of what they actually support: racism, patriarchy, homophobia, etc.Indeed, white evangelicalism is, at its purest level, a cover for shame. Few people want to say out loud (or even acknowledge) their deepest motives. Often times (because of the way ideology works) they’re not even aware of them. For instance, few people want to come right out and say, or acknowledge, “I’m a racist and I support racist policies.” Instead, white evangelicalism provides the cover from having to acknowledge the truth of one’s motives. In the same way that Bob Jones used to hide his distaste for integration and interracial marriage by preaching that God ordained racial separation, so too do white evangelicals hide their homophobia by saying that marriage is only between a man and a woman. After all, they look really bad (to themselves and to others) if they have to acknowledge they’re not in favor of equal rights, so they have to dress it up in religious language to try to justify it. In the process they even fool themselves. (And if they don’t use religious language, they’ll dress up their callousness in other ways. It’s why so many try to justify intolerable police brutality by appeals to better sounding rhetoric related to so-called “law and order,” or whataboutism. All the while precious blood is spilled in the streets.)

(4) Anything that is a threat to the white evangelical way of viewing the world must be dismissed out of hand. The white evangelical psyche is so fragile (because of the deep desire and need to hide from having to acknowledge their true motivations) that it can’t handle any threats to it. As a kid, you’re always taught that your questions or doubts are the devil tempting you. As an adult, you’re taught to dismiss critical race theory out of hand, or to call Black liberation theology heresy, etc. etc. In fact, the white evangelical is so confident that their beliefs are Absolutely Right (outwardly, of course, because inwardly they’re all kinds of fragile) that any threat to their beliefs is viewed as persecution. White evangelicalism conflates “not having absolute and complete cultural domination, control and power” with “persecution.” As such, cishet white male evangelicals have mastered the art of the faux-persecution complex like no other. Hell hath no fury like a mediocre “persecuted” white man. (And they love to quote Bible verses about persecuted believers, thinking that not being able to say racist things on Twitter or having to wear a mask for public safety is the same as having the courage to tell Pharaoh to set the enslaved free.)

(5) Of course, this desire for cultural dominance is rooted in a deep fragility, especially from the fear of having to confront one’s true motivations. This is why white evangelicals get so amped up and their religious life functions like a drug, needing hit after hit after hit to sustain the high and to avoid the hard crash. If you go through detox or therapy it means having to acknowledge the truth of one’s reality, which is exactly what white evangelicalism is designed to conceal. It’s no wonder white evangelicals are so familiar with the term snowflake. They live it every day.

(6) All of which reminds me: white evangelicals have perfected the art of projection. As the saying goes, if you wonder what the religious right is up to, just listen to what they accuse their opponents of doing (ahem, suppressing the vote, among a million other examples).

(7) A lot of people will ask: But aren’t a bunch of white evangelicals nice? Yes, absolutely. You can be really nice in interpersonal exchanges (you can even give to charity!) yet still support all kinds of structural violence by supporting violent policies and violent politicians. Sometimes these politicians can even do the dirty work for you (think about how many folks said they didn’t support Trump’s rhetoric but they did support his policies).

I say all of this not because progressives don’t have their own issues (we definitely do). I don’t say it because I’m not complicit in perpetuating things like racism and classism (I am). But I say this in order to shine a light on the reality of white evangelical radicalization and the power it holds over our country and our collective need for transformation. Because here’s another truth: white evangelicalism destroys both the oppressed and the oppressor. And we need liberation. Salvation. Communally and collectively, here and now. From everything that oppresses, and from everything in the service of oppression.

EDITED TO ADD: I probably should’ve ended this with some helpful resources for the “where do we go from here” kinds of questions. I think the first thing I’d probably say (and feel free to add options in the comments that you think are helpful) is that if we want to see change in our country as quickly as possible (locally and beyond), find out how you can support local organizers. This takes all kinds of people with all kinds of abilities, both on the front lines and behind the scenes. Georgia flipped because of hard work by ordinary people who proved extraordinary in their commitment. Here’s my favorite line from Stacey Abrams: “I’m not optimistic or cynical. I’m determined.” She’s the first to say that societal transformation is a team effort. So let’s find the organizers in our locations and come alongside the important work that needs to be done. As one of my fav pastor friends often says, “Find what’s yours to do.” I find that organizing for change is far more effective than “conversations over coffee or beer to agree to disagree.” We don’t have time to agree to disagree over the threat of white supremacy. At the same time this also means that (especially for cishet white guys like me) we need to lean into our discomforts and listen and learn. The same is true for predominately white congregations. How do we listen, learn, and find what’s ours to do?

For the long game, as a pastor, I’m especially drawn to the work of minister-theologian Thandeka, especially when it comes to healing the wounds of white supremacy as experienced by both the oppressed and the oppressor. You can go to revthandeka{dot}org for lots of helpful resources.

And for an insider’s take that explains the ideas I expressed here in much greater depth, I highly recommend Tad Delay’s book, Against: What Does the White Evangelical Want?

Part II:

I’ve been wanting to write a follow up post for a couple of days to add some nuance to my recent post on white evangelicalism. Mostly in order to clarify a few things I wrote and to add greater clarity.

Some folks want to highlight that not all white evangelicals are supporters of Trump, or the GOP, and that my original post painted with overly broad brushstrokes. And there’s of course merit to that. I’d be the first to acknowledge that it’s never “all white evangelicals,” so to speak. Here I’m talking about interrelated patterns and histories. Of course not all white evangelicals are Trumpers. According to the polls, about 85% of them are (at least those who admit to it). So we are talking generalities here.

But what’s often lost in these conversations about “not all white evangelicals” are the more important matters related to the way religious rhetoric and institutions shape the way people view truth and reality, and that’s especially what my post was trying to highlight. For a very long time time, predominant forms of Christian “truth” (and purpose and mission) have been wedded to white supremacy. While there are more obvious examples like Manifest Destiny and the Doctrine of Discovery, frequently it is so subtle that it goes unnoticed, which is precisely why it’s so effective from an ideological perspective (to recall Mark C. Taylor’s maxim, “religion is most influential where it is least obvious”).

It’s also imperative for me to point out that for a long time in American history, it was possible to more readily distinguish between fundamentalism and evangelicalism. But with the rise of the religious right, which reached its pinnacle in Trumpism, these distinctions are now completely blurred. For example, Liberty University (or Baptist Bible College here in Springfield) used to be considered fundamentalist, but now (aside from what might appear in the most strict ethnographies) have been subsumed into evangelicalism. The confluence of, say, Jerry Falwell Jr. and QAnon and Sean Hannity and Josh Hawley and Robert Jeffress (as well as the evangelical leaders and institutions in my hometown) with Trumpism has got us where we are. And this only happened by interpreting Christianity through the lens of white supremacy and white nationalism, whether intentional or not. And while we never could’ve guessed it, are we surprised at all that in the story that broke yesterday Josh Hawley traces so many concerns to Pelagius? (After all, Hawley’s reading represents an old and very tired attack leveled by evangelical theologians against liberals regarding supposed “works righteousness.”)

When the leaders of the most dominant expressions of Christianity in the U.S. interpret Christian theology and the biblical tradition through the lens of white supremacy, this is what we get. Let’s not forget that the rise of the religious right (formerly known as the Moral Majority) started as a movement to fight integration and equal rights. Only later did it come to be associated with the pro-life movement, which represents the greatest ideological cloak of all. Evangelicals frequently try to hide true motivations with pro-life rhetoric. I can’t count how many times evangelicals have told me they only support Trump because he’s pro-life, yet when pressed on the fact that (according to all the data available) progressive policies actually reduce the rate of abortions far more effectively than GOP policies, they still hitch a ride with Trump. This tells me time and again that their interest isn’t truly about being pro-life (otherwise they’d support policies that actually reduce the rate of abortions, such as access to equitable healthcare and education and policies shown to reduce poverty rather than exacerbate it).

Over the years there have been lots of evangelicals who have supported equal rights and abolition. It’s never all white evangelicals. But if white evangelicals today want to say Trumpism isn’t representative of their views, this is a really good time to come out on the record and say so. When white evangelicals get defensive about my posts, I’ll frequently respond by asking, “So you support BLM and equal rights for LGBTQ+ individuals and condemn complementarianism and don’t equate BLM protestors with white nationalists?” And time and again (with very few exceptions), when push comes to shove, these white evangelicals still hitch a ride with Trumpism. That’s why I paint with broad brush strokes. Because this is a broadly true observation.

Some folks have a really hard time acknowledging the relationship between white supremacy and the most dominant expressions of Christianity in the U.S., including but not limited to evangelicalism. (This was me for a very long time.) Many white folks aren’t aware of it (and once we are aware of it we prefer suppressing it — again, this was me for a very long time). But until we confront white supremacy in our lives and faith traditions we will never dismantle it. Transformation (or healing) requires the hard work of confession and repentance.

Facebook is a place where people type with their thumbs, present company included. If anyone is interested in exploring these dynamics in much more depth, there are lots of good books and articles available to read. I recommend the following resources to anyone who wants to seriously reflect on these dynamics (there are tons more than these; this is just a recent sampling):

Austin Channing Brown, “I’m Still Here”

Kristin De Mez, “Jesus and John Wayne”

Michael Eric Dyson, “Tears We Cannot Stop”

Jonathan Wilson Hartgrove, “Reconstructing the Gospel”

Robert Jones, “White Too Long”

Jame Cone, “The Cross and the Lynching Tree”

Gerardo Marti, “American Blindspot”

Tad DeLay, “Against”

Lenny Duncan, “Dear Church: A Love Letter from a Black Preacher to the Whitest Denomination in the US”

Jemar Tisby, “The Color of Compromise”

Edited to add: The answer to bad theology is not no theology but good theology. As Luther (and later Bob Dylan) remind us, “We all have gods; it just depends on which ones we’ll serve.)

Edit #2: Friends are adding some great book suggestions in the comments 👇🏼

A Great Cloud of Witnesses

As we build community together, we are doing it in the presence of the life and legacy of the saints who have come before us. Each of them help us listen for the Spirit’s call in our own lives, and to reflect on how Christ is leading us as individuals and community.

Jan. 10: Francis and Clare
Jan. 17: Martin Luther King Jr.
Jan. 24: George Tinker
Jan. 31: Perpetua & Felicity
Feb. 7: Fannie Lou Hamer
Feb. 14: Valentine

2021 Martin Luther King Jr. March

From the Springfield NAACP: “If you can’t fly, then run. If you can’t run, then walk. If you can’t walk, then crawl. But whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.” Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 

The pandemic cannot stop us; we are moving forward with a “virtual” MLK March. Choose a day over the MLK weekend, and walk or drive on a predetermined path along Springfield’s African American Heritage Trail. 

IF you would like to walk or drive to all five locations along the march, start at Silver Springs Park (1100 N. Hampton Avenue), travel to Lincoln School (815 N. Sherman), stop at Church Square North (900 N. Benton Avenue, the historic Washington Avenue Baptist Church), visit Church Square South (600 N. Benton Avenue), and end at Park Central Square. Please visit at least two of the sites and snap selfies in front of the historic buildings or the markers. Share your experience with us on social media using #MOVINGFORWARDMLK. 

Prizes will be given out the entire weekend; NAACP board members will walk or drive the path between the hours of 11:00am and 2:00pm on Friday through Monday, handing out NAACP t-shirts and gift certificates to Big Momma’s Coffee & Espresso Bar or The Coffee Ethic. 

SPECIAL COLLECTION:

This year as part of the march, we are collecting warm outerwear for unsheltered individuals in our community. Please drop off scarves, gloves, and socks in the collection bin at Big Momma’s, located at 217 E. Commercial Street, Springfield, MO 65803.

Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America

Each week, beginning Jan. 18th (Martin Luther King Jr. Day), participants are invited to read excerpts from the Rev. Dr. Michael Eric Dyson’s bestselling book, Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America

In each week’s newsletter, Phil will provide a schedule of readings for, as well as questions for discussion. You’re invited to interact with one another (and Phil) on Facebook (join the Facebook discussion group here). Or, if you aren’t on Facebook, you are welcome to email your responses to Phil (brentwoodchristianchurch@gmail.com) and he will add them to Facebook for you.

You can purchase the book here.

Christmas Eve Concert

Brentwood family and friends, we’re so excited to share this year’s Christmas concert with you! [Click here to watch]

While we wish we could be together in person for our annual Christmas concert, we remain grateful for the ways we can still share love and joy with one another this holiday season. Our hearts are forever longing for more hope, peace, joy and love to be born into our lives and world (perhaps this year more than most), and it’s our hope that this concert helps you experience these things in some small way. 

We would like to express our deepest gratitude to everyone who made this concert possible, including our vocalists (Ed Christiansen and Emily Bowen-Marler), musicians (Nylah Rogers, Andy Sun, Greg Burris and Maurice Bowen), sound technician (Andy Thomason), videographers (Lily Snider and Travis Marler), and candle lighters (the Smith family). This is truly a team effort and we couldn’t have done it without you. 

With warmest Christmas wishes, 
Your friends at Brentwood Christian Church 

PROGRAM

Christmas Medley – Nylah Rogers, piano

Ave Maria (Schubert) – Ed Christiansen, vocals; Andy Sun, piano

Ding Dong! Merrily on High – Emily Bowen-Marler, vocals; Nylah Rogers, piano

Wexford Carol – Emily Bowen-Marler, vocals; Andy Sun, piano; Nylah Rogers, keyboard

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas – Ed Christiansen, vocals; Greg Burris, guitar

Gesù Bambino – Emily Bowen-Marler & Ed Christiansen, vocals; Andy Sun, piano

Ave Maria (Bach) – Emily Bowen-Marler, vocals; Andy Sun, piano

Once in Royal David’s City – Emily Bowen-Marler, vocals; Nylah Rogers, piano; Maurice Bowen, trumpet

O Holy Night – Emily Bowen-Marler, vocals; Andy Sun, piano

Silent Night – Emily Bowen-Marler, vocals; Nylah Rogers, piano

Christmas Eve at Brentwood

We invite you to celebrate the wonder of Christmas Eve with us:

Online
We have a beautiful online concert featuring Ed Christiansen, Emily Bowen-Marler & friends that you can watch online at brentwoodchristianchurch.tv (it will be available for you to view on your own schedule, anytime on or after Dec. 24th).

In person
We also are holding a brief outdoors, in person, socially-distanced candlelight & carols worship service. It will begin at 5:30 p.m. on the front lawn of the church. Masks and social distancing are required.