Researcher explains how white supremacy came to dominate evangelical Christianity — and the modern Republican Party
Conservative Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin, in an August 3 column, explains the prominent role that racism plays in the modern-day Republican Party and the Christian Right — and she draws on the insights of Robert P. Jones, author of the book, “White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity” and founder of the Public Religion Research Institute.
Jones’ work, Rubin notes, “has explained how loss of primacy in American society fueled a white-grievance mentality — the same mindset President Trump so effectively read and manipulated.” And his book, according to Rubin, shows “how white supremacy came to dominate not just southern culture, but white Christianity.”
Interviewed by Rubin for her column, Jones explained, “The eruption of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2013, coupled with the racist and anti-immigrant rhetoric that became the central campaign strategy of Donald Trump in 2016, were certainly catalysts for writing the book. Trump’s response to the neo-Nazi demonstrations in 2017 was also a turning point for me. Trump waited 48 hours to issue any statement, and when he did, he equivocated — stating there were ‘very fine people on both sides.’ And I was stunned that Trump’s inability to flatly condemn neo-Nazis.”
Jones went on to tell Rubin, “In more recent days, Trump’s use of police and federal agents to disrupt peaceful protests connected to the Black Lives Matter movement and his doubling down on support for the Confederate flag and monuments has also done little to dislodge white evangelical support, which remains at 63% favorable.”
Of course, the vast majority of Christians are neither racists nor fanatics. African-American churches have a long history of fighting white supremacy and white nationalism, and there is a world of difference between what Mainline Protestants believe and what the far-right white evangelical movement believes. But it is the lunatic fringe of Christianity that the modern-day GOP — including Trump — panders to.
Jones told Rubin, “It’s important to note that the Republican Party has a decades-long history of deploying, in various degrees, what has been dubbed ‘the southern strategy,’ a racist dog-whistle politics that fuels white grievances and exploits racial divisions to win elections. In 2005, Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman formally apologized to the NAACP for these tactics, but that was 2005. I think it is clear that Trump’s own racist instincts are driving his strategy, and this is becoming abundantly clear to the American public.”
Another talking point one often hears from Trumpistas is that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 received many “yes” votes from Republicans, which is true but overlooks the fact that the GOP is way to the right of where it is was in 1964 — and the fact that the Democratic Party has long since abolished the old racist Dixiecrat wing of its party. The southern Democratic segregationists of 1964 are hardly celebrated in the Democratic Party of 2020.
Jones told Rubin, “The one enduring, animating issue that fueled white flight from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party has been civil rights for African-Americans. This was the issue that originally pulled Jerry Falwell, Sr. out from behind the pulpit and into organizing the Christian Right political movement. This white supremacist undercurrent, tied to white Christian identity, is the key to understanding our current political polarization and the transformation of our two political parties over the last few decades. Today, approximately seven in ten self-identified Republicans are white and Christian, compared to only three in ten self-identified Democrats. These divisions along racial and religious lines began with the passage of the civil rights acts in the mid-1960s, picked up steam with (President Ronald) Reagan and have continued to increase even over the last decade.”