White Washed American Evangelical Exceptionalism Showed up at the Capitol in Jesus Name, Amen
I’m tracing the lines between an evangelical childhood and the radical events of January 6th.
I don’t remember growing up entrenched in politics but I remember that I said the Pledge of Allegiance just before the pledge to the Christian flag. I don’t remember knowing anyone who wasn’t a Christian, didn’t appreciate traditional family values, didn’t believe in taking the message of Jesus to the world, and didn’t vote Republican because after all, in homeschool culture in rural Kentucky, these are all one and the same.
I don’t remember being told about the electoral college but I do remember being told that God Himself ordained the President and that we should pray endlessly for His will to be done. I remember the hopeful nights of George Bush and the concern over Bill Clinton. I don’t remember Bush’s war crimes being discussed but I remember Monica Lewinsky being demeaned and Clinton being disregarded. God may ordain a president, but not this one, not now.
I don’t remember any platforms or policies being discussed, save abortion, and I remember lining the streets with signs protesting Al Gore’s campaign visit to my town in 1996.
I want you to understand that I was raised in the very best of white Jesus’ blessing.
I was sheltered from the New World Order, profanity in music, the devil’s drumbeats, and my own power or sexuality through the bubbles of home education, evangelical church, Creation “Science,” and upper-middle-affluence.
My greatest fear, growing up, was the desecration of the American Values my family was built on: the love of country, white neighborhoods, border walls, interracial and international adoption so children of color could stand a chance at a nice/white life, training up children in the way they should go by not sparing the rod or spoiling the child. I was part of a quiverfull of kids my parents had and held, in sickness and in health, in comfort and security of secrecy within my own home’s walls.
My greatest fear, growing up, was that I’d accidentally and unintentionally be too attractive, immodest, impure, and that not only would I lure my own older brother into the temptation and lusts of the flesh but that I may also tempt other brothers in Christ. My body was God’s Temple for His Holy White Masculinity to dwell in. And every shoulder was covered and every knee bowed. The thing about equating servitude and enslavement with White Jesus is that it makes a good case for servitude and enslavement of people who don’t look like we imagine White Jesus to look.
I didn’t think anything of writing my monthly check to Compassion International to “sponsor a brown kid,” in Brazil - the only return requirement was that he write me letters about how sad his life was and how much he loved his white savior which made me feel equal parts proud and guilty. The guilt kept the checks coming and the pride kept his photo pasted above my mirror in my room.
I remember attending Civil War Reenactments and reveling in how “true to history” many of the actors were. I don’t remember thinking it was strange to love so deeply the confederacy — it’s way of life and way of living. I remember blonde haired and blue eyed children who traveled with their parents for the reenactments, whose family business was selling World War II Nazi memorabilia when they weren’t flying the Confederate flag. Their passion for history was second only to their profession of faith in being chosen by God, redeemed and esteemed, heaven-bound.
I didn’t know that American Exceptionalism and Evangelical politics were at play when, on 9/11, I wrote my first op-ed for my school paper, wondering out loud how we got to where we were and then answering myself with
“prayer in schools” and “violent video games” because I didn’t understand that war has been waged and lives lost for centuries in western greed and pursuit of oil rights and go ye therefore into the world and make disciples and a Western Way of Living that disavows all other gods but White Jesus and the Almighty Dollar.
In 2002, I went to a Christian college that was 95% white. It was there, in the hallways of private school privileges, that I started to wonder aloud at the “rightness” that I’d always equated, subconsciously or implicitly, with both White and the political Right. I don’t think my parents set out to teach me that Jesus honored the tone of my skin, the way the sun kisses my nose in the summer, or the luck of the birthright but, intent or impact, they did.
As I watched the crowd rally and prepare to storm the Capitol, I searched the crowd for faces from my youth, my upbringing, my church pews, my neighborhood. They were there, I found out later. They were there.
The same spirit that caused my mother in law to put a MAGA hat on my nephew’s head or my brother-in-law to purchase full tactical gear to protect himself or my family to reject their immigrant daughter-in-law or my childhood friends to scream “stop the steal” was present in the twisted faces of the mob that carried Bibles and erected a gallows for a Vice President who, before American Exceptionalism and Stop the Steal enabled them, was revered as a godly example.
Set on the so white, so far Right faces of the mob was the same expectation of preservation and of safety that white men in America have always assumed. It is the same safety that compelled white slave owners to continue holding slaves after the Emancipation Proclamation or to kill them before they’d ever see freedom. The same safety that set up segregation and attacked Rodney King. It’s the same historic safety that enabled my family to uninvite me to a reunion because I’d once carried, briefly, an upside flag in an act of distress after George Floyd was murdered. The same safety that allowed so white, so far Right men to surround my little sister and a group of 7 queer kids and protesters with motorcycles, circling them, dangerously close, and ripping their signs and Pride flags from their hands while hurling “I hope you get raped,” their direction, in Jesus name. It’s the same safety that attacked Berlinda Nibo for walking alone as a black woman near a White Male Stop the Steal Rally in LA on Wednesday — opposite side of the country from the Capitol Coup — same sentiment. Not a single one of the men who ripped off her hair, hit and maced her, expected the police to do anything except what they did: stand by and watch her attack.
Look, I literally KNOW people who marched to the Capitol on Wednesday, at the behest of their President, with intent to “peacefully protest.” These people are arguing, now, that they were prayerful, and filled with hope. That the insurrection was planted by Antifa and paid for by George Soros. These are tried and true failed attempts to rationalize the behavior of the exact people they have aligned themselves with. Discernment is gone. Prayer is pointless. These people, who I have known to want to be goodhearted, full of grace and spirit, have been woefully deceived.
“How can people go from faith to fury so quickly?” My 14 year old son, as atheistic as they come, asks me as we drive the 45 miles northwest to our local ski hill. “When you believe you are Right, more right than anyone else, your Rightness enables you to throw out the facts and your faith empowers you to push your rightness on anyone in your wake.”
It may not be an immediate shift from wearing the white choir robes to donning a white pointed hat — but the childhood stories that White Washed American Evangelical Exceptionalism read aloud to us enable the mindset that celebrates Donald Trump macing his protesting people in order to hold a Bible for a photo shoot. Remember that the Bible is full of stories where God commands His Exceptional People to war against, take over, destroy, enslave, and control those who are not Chosen and Right. Remember that EVEN if you dig into the deep gospel of Jesus Christ, a gospel that I believe, (with far more enthusiasm and far less atheism than my son) is still the closest thing to a radical Left blueprint to a radical Way of Truth, you have to unpack the history that led us to needing a Savior in the first place.
Here is what I understand: these are my issues, unique to my experiences, that shape my intent and the lens I look into the world with. I don’t expect or imagine that your lens is the same. I don’t expect or imagine that your curiosity or conclusions are the same.
But I do understand what might make a grandmother become obsessed with a lying president who tells her he’s “talking straight,” because perhaps his perceived wealth will somehow trickle down to her if she just believes. I do understand what convinces a straight white man that he’s being discriminated against when he walks past a Pride parade. I do understand what compels a woman, long told that she is responsible for her brothers gaze to live in secret infidelity instead of outward intimacy. I do understand that the stories we are told about our history and our honesty form our hubris or humility. That these stories are hard wired into our memories and imprinted on our handshakes — that they rim the glasses we drink from and the glasses we look out into the world from behind.
I am a follower of Jesus. And I watched, in equal parts horror and unsurprise, as others who claim to work in Jesus’ name enacted terror in America on Wednesday. I believe that White Washed American Evangelical Exceptionalism led us here, tracing the ocean of anger backwards down the rivers of revisionist history into the streams of insecurity and the trickles of denial of truth. The only way forward is all the way back, digging new trenches, hydrating new fields, harvesting new crops, bearing new fruit.