I drove home from Baylor University on the evening of Election Day with knots in my stomach, knowing by the time I arrived home, a new president would likely be selected. While I drove my mind drifted to the issues facing our nation and communities. I thought about the murdered unarmed black men and the Black Lives Matter movement they inspired. I thought about cops gunned down in the line of duty, veterans broken by wars, poor folks needing healthcare, and the children who fear their parent’s deportation by ICE.
By the time I arrived home, the die was largely cast for Trump. I know fear. But despite the heartbreaking realities I witnessed over the past decade living in the hood, and perhaps because of them, I never experienced a more terrifying night than Trump’s victory. I trembled.
As I watched, I remembered Dylan Roof entering Our Mother Emmanuel in Charleston to slaughter black Christians. The nation witnessed the black church’s instinct as they shook America with grace and forgiveness in a time of personal chaos and heartbreak. As the results came in election night, however, America witnessed a different church and set of instincts. White Christians, folks I love and respect, headed to the election polls and followed James Dobson and David Duke in nominating the KKK’s candidate.
After the election, the nation was left wondering if anything separated the Evangelical white Jesus from the white Jesus of the KKK.
Perhaps there is little surprise in the partnership between Evangelicals and the KKK. Living on the other side of segregation’s fall, white Christians searched desperately for a way to secure their way of life and articulate a new moral vision. Christians needed a new rhetoric that was not explicitly based in race or region but that was designed to protect families and soothe Christian anxieties in a changing nation. The best spokesman for a new guiding vision was none other than James Dobson. Dobson provided a new voice for conservative Christian politics. His background in psychology provided for him a quasi-scientific and thoroughly therapeutic presence that felt so different than the open bigotry of the previous generation.
Under Dobson, the “Focus on the Family” generation was born. This generation believed they rejected white supremacy even while they maintained a segregated way of life through their suburban neighborhoods and schools. Rather than embracing the needs of the nation’s most vulnerable as a core family value, it was the suburban family that defined Dobson’s platform and shaped his fears and hopes. This segregation of family values produced instincts that warred against families of color as white Christianity evolved from segregation’s attempt to “secure our way of life” in explicitly racist terms to “family values” understood on thoroughly white terms.
WHO GETS TO DEFINE “FAMILY VALUES”?
The primary instincts in the “family values platform” were sick understandings of “pro-life” and “law and order.” Pro-life was reduced to “pre-birth,” as Focus on the Family fought for in-utero infants but failed to fight for a helping hand for poor mothers desiring to bring new life into the world. Providing for poor mothers and their children was perceived as incentivizing promiscuity among the poor. Better to reduce health benefits for poor mothers and allow their children to go hungry. Choosing moral superiority over empathy, conservative “family values” viewed poor families as economic and moral drains rather than as gifts with equal dignity, value, and potential.
Likewise, the fear-based spell of Dobson’s “family values” empowered a vision of law and order that worked to divide and destroy non-white families through mass-incarceration and deportation. Beginning in the ’80s and reaching a fevered pitch in the ’90s, the War on Drugs raged along racial lines. For the same crimes that sent white youths—the most likely users and dealers of narcotics—to resort-style rehabs, black and brown men were sent to prison.
With similar cold-hearted logic, the new century brought the fear of the immigrant following 9/11. Though there was no more evidence linking immigration to terrorism than there was linking Iraq to weapons of mass destruction, ICE’s war against immigrant families raged on with support from the very folks who centered their thinking on family values.
Indeed, it is hard to conceive a closer comparison to the work slavery performed on the family, work that ripped weeping baby boys and girls from powerless mothers and fathers, than the ongoing work of mass incarceration and immigrant deportation. And like the days of slavery past, this work goes forward under the blessing of too many white Christians. It is breathtaking how many families we consider of no value under Dobson’s “family values” agenda.
WHOSE JESUS WILL WE FOLLOW?
Now, every time poor and immigrant families go through the sacred rituals of their day, from holding children, to sharing a meal, to providing medicine for the sick among them, they do so under Trump’s haunting promises to rip immigrant families apart, rob children of Obamacare, and deplete the federal assistance they need to survive. The remarkable accomplishment of Dobson is yet another generation of white Christians incapable of seeing the impact of their fears on poor families fighting for survival. Though there is little doubt that evangelicals voting for Trump cast their ballot with varying degrees of enthusiasm, there is no doubt David Duke is thankful for Dobson’s labors that empowered evangelicals to embrace KKK values despite their colorblind claims.
Trump’s election via the Duke / Dobson partnership forces white Christians to ask this question: Will white Christians follow the Jesus of the KKK or the Jesus of Our Mother Emmanuel?
As our nation embarks on a new era, Christians of all colors and political affiliations must learn from the grace and mercy Our Mother Emmanuel extended to Dylann Roof, as well as their defiant confidence in God even when such confidence seems absurd. But we also must join our Mother Emmanuel in fighting for the dignity of all of God’s babies by centering our political priorities on the needs of the poorest families among us. We must hold our nation and its Christians accountable for their racist instincts.
By learning from the Prophetic Black Church, we know we need not wait to emphatically denounce the demonic and dehumanizing promises of Trump’s presidential platform, nor wait to labor in hope-filled expectation for a day when our nation is no longer capable of electing a candidate supported by the KKK for God is love and love will trump hate.