Talking Christian values with the far Right in red America

By Ashley P. White-Stern

Last week I wrote about my views regarding the type of fundamentalist Christian ideology drawn upon by Bush’s reelection campaign. I mentioned also that I am black and Jewish: I am the product of a bi-racial, multi-ethnic, and multi-religious household. As I said, I’m clearly wary of this white evangelical Christian (and largely pro-male, militant) ideology. In a nutshell: It’s toxic to my way of life.

I am from Boston. This means that, while I have grown up in what is surely a liberal launch pad, I am also quite familiar with the elite faction of the Republican Party. There is a big distinction between East coast, establishment conservatives and all those red-voting Christians in the South and Midwest. The former will actually profit from Republican policy nation-wide. The latter—the significantly less financially secure republicans—stand to lose a lot over the next four years: jobs, adequate health care, good education, fair housing…the list is long and painful to write. But, as a friend of mine said, “because of so-called moral issues, those evangelical Christian republicans took their gun rights and shot themselves in the foot.”

We know about the tenacity of a caste system, and the ways that power asymmetries rely precisely upon the complicity of the most oppressed in order to maintain viability. One of my biggest fears about the future and fundamental religious ideology of the Christian conservatives is that we are producing in our country a caste system that is driven by—rather than the untouchables—the unteachables. The unteachables deny the fruits of the Enlightenment project. They resist critical inquiry, paradigm-changing dialogue, and the very notion that life and truths are not fixed entities, but rather, fluid and continually in flux.

Some of the best postmodern writing shows us that the Enlightenment project itself was far from being ideology-free: I’m thinking of Zizek, here. I won’t say that once science and philosophy broke free of the Church humanity was liberated from oppressive ideology. Likewise, one cannot say that individual men, while vanguards of critical thought, were also not paradoxically mentally enslaved. Women, black, and brown folks the world over are still disproportionately denied access to the upper echelons of critical thought and the production of scholarly knowledge. On the other hand, critical thinkers prove time and time again the dangerous limitations of conventional beliefs. How could we be in the academy and think otherwise?

I maintain that education is one of the most radical tools of liberation. Last week, Emily Alpert wrote in the Maroon that the liberals in this country ought to begin dialogue with the moderate right. That dialogue, however, already exists. The moderate Right live in the same designer homes, outsource the same jobs overseas, and steal from the same transnational corporations as many influential folks on the Left. Forget the moderate Right. Let’s get the most conservative, the most evangelical, the staunchest fundamental Christians: Let’s talk to them.

Don’t misunderstand: this is not a patronizing delusion that the academy can liberate the conservative Christian masses. On the other hand, now is the time for an all-encompassing, re-education project. We need critically to examine our own, self-inflicted bondage, and we need evangelical Christians to do the same. If the Christians can only talk about the world on their terms, fine, let’s ask new questions. When did Christ say the rich should get richer while the poor get poorer? What about the role the Christian church has had in deliberate, systematic attempts to destroy black America?

I, for one, would like the black fundamentalist Christians to lead this dialogue. I’d like the black folks in the Bible Belt to challenge their white neighbors to think critically about the world. They could start by addressing the profound legacy of racism and segregation in this country. Problematic as it is, religion is here to stay. At least, if it were wielded differently, religion could be a tool of liberation and not enslavement. Again, I’m not a Christian. But I see value in the work of James Cone, who writes in Liberation: A Black Theology of Liberation that, “because the Church is that community that participates in Christ’s liberating work in history, it can never endorse while people are suffering. To do so is to say Yes to the structures of oppression. Since it has received the gospel and has accepted what that means for human existence, the church must be a revolutionary community, breaking with laws that destroy persons.” Who is destroying people in America? It’s not liberals and their immorality. It’s not the evangelical Christians, with their “Jesus saves” slogans. It’s the powerful elite, cranking the gears of a complex, profit-making machine. The sooner the fundamentalist Christians realize this, the better.