We continue to hear of incidents that more than suggest that Catholics – and, in particular, their bishops – have learned very little from the clergy sex abuse crisis.
This is quite alarming and depressing, because the Church in North America has been dealing with issues regarding priests who abuse children and teenagers for at least thirty, if not forty years.
Catholics in Great Britain, Ireland and Australia have been facing this “plague” for almost as long. And those in the countries of northern Europe began reckoning more openly with abuse among the clerical ranks shortly after the turn of the millennium.
In the last several years, Catholics in the rest of the world have also been forced to admit that there are recurrences of priest sex abuse in their countries, too.
This includes places in the former Catholic bastions of Latin America and southern Europe, the largely homophobic continent of Africa and the mostly non-Christian expanse of Asia.
It seems like wherever 2 or 3 (hundred thousand) people are gathered in the name of Catholicism, there is clergy sexual abuse in their midst.
Sex makes Catholics go blind
As Catholics, we don’t like to hear that. And we don’t want to admit it, either. But what is worse is that many of us do not want to see – or maybe we’re too blinded by culture and history to see – what sexual abuse is really all about.
It is not about sex.
I repeat, and ask you to pause and think about it for a moment. It is not about sex.
For most Catholics, this is probably even harder to hear, because we don’t deal with sexual things very well. Our confused Church teachings on the subject tend to either make human sexuality an idol or (and, thankfully, this is less common today) something that’s dirty.
Reactions to recent revelations that Jean Vanier sexually abused several women prove the point.
The French-Canadian layman, who was seen as something of a living saint for his extraordinary work with mentally disabled people, was not guilty of committing sins against the Sixth Commandment.
At least not principally, so it seems clear to me.
‘Encroaching intimacy’ and the false spiritualization of sex
The women say Vanier abused them sexually. But they also say he did this under the pretext of some sort of mystical spirituality.
As much as this was sexual abuse in the physical sense, it was even more a spiritual abuse of these women, in the way he used the things of God to manipulate or control them.
Jean Vanier used spirituality – what I have learned to call from my own painful experience “encroaching intimacy” – as a way to obtain what the other person would not or could not offer freely.
I’ve never heard any theologian or preacher speak of it this way, but I am convinced that this is what it means to violate the Second Commandment, “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.”
There are people in the Church, especially among the ordained ministers (deacons, priests and bishops) or even lay leaders with a certain charism (like Vanier), who do this in a variety of ways.
Using one’s religious status
They use their position in the Church or their spiritual authority to satisfy their own self-centered needs or desires.
They do so – and often with little self awareness, it seems to me – by convincing people in the name of God to give them money, sex, honors, private information about others and all sorts of things.
Tele-evangelists who get rich peddling the so-called “prosperity Gospel” are the most obnoxious and blatant example of this. Certain scandal-stained Catholic religious orders that bilk widows and other wealthy people are no better.
We tend to look disapprovingly on them and rightly so.
Yet we fail to see how our own good priests and bishops – and other charismatic spiritual leaders – can fall prey to the same temptation to use their religious status (and, often unconsciously!) to feed their own personal needs.
And when I say “we”, I mean all of us Catholics. We tend to be blinded to this reality. We don’t want to see it.
In the name of the father
It is probably no coincidence that in a Church (and a society) that is male-dominated, the vast majority of those who sexually or spiritually take advantage of others are men.
The desire of men to manipulate or even abuse those who are weaker or under their authority – women, other men, teens or children – is probably also reinforced, even unwittingly, by the simple fact that men have always been able to do so in a patriarchal system like that of the Church.
Patriarchy and its first-born son, clericalism, have allowed men of God to violate the true meaning of the Second Commandment, probably from the days when the giants of our faith walked the earth.
They will continue to do so until women truly become equal members of the Church, equal to men at every level of decision-making authority and at every level of ministerial service.
We will not get to the root of the Church’s crisis of abuse until that happens.
An Episcopal priest in Massachusetts who formerly taught kindergarten and had recently been suspended by his diocese has pleaded guilty to possession of child pornography.
The Rev. Gregory Lisby of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts pleaded guilty to one count of child porn possession last week. He could face up to 20 years in prison and a fine of $250,000.
Last September, Lisby was arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation after authorities uncovered evidence that Lisby possessed approximately 180 images and 15 videos that likely depicted child pornography.
The evidence was discovered during a search of Lisby’s home, which he shared with his husband, the Rev. Timothy Burger of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Worcester, and their two daughters.
Burger has not been implicated in any of the charges and has filed for divorce from Lisby. The diocese considers Burger to be in good standing.
“In addition, even after he is released from prison, Lisby will not be permitted any contact with congregations in this diocese without my express permission,” wrote Fisher last week.
“Please know that we take the safety of children very seriously in the Diocese of Western Massachusetts, and our clergy and lay leaders participate in the safe church training programs mandated by the Episcopal Church.”
Fisher also explained that the diocese has recently received what he called “devastating credible evidence” that Lisby sexually abused a teenager years ago.
“I am deeply saddened to know that a priest is alleged to have committed such a grievous sin, and on behalf of the entire church, I offer my most heartfelt apology to the victim, the victim’s family and to everyone whose trust in the church has been violated,” Fisher continued.
“I cannot undo this terrible situation, but I can commit our diocese to telling the truth and seeking healing and reconciliation for anyone who has been harmed by Lisby.”
Lisby previously served in the Episcopal Diocese of Newark, in New Jersey. This included time at Christ Church of Ridgewood from June 2010 through May 2015.
The Rt. Rev. Carlye J. Hughes, bishop of the Newark Diocese, said in a statement last September that there was no evidence that Lisby engaged in misconduct while serving at Christ Church.
“At this time, there is no indication of this behavior during the Rev. Lisby’s tenure in this diocese. Still, we will monitor this investigation carefully and are ready to launch a diocesan investigation if deemed necessary,” wrote Hughes at the time.
“We join the people of the Diocese of Western Massachusetts in praying for all children exploited by child pornography, and for the Reverends Burger, Lisby, and their family.”
Pastor Derek Scott Gandy remembers how high in the spirit everyone was at the True Cornerstone Church in Mobile, Alabama, on Friday night after prophetess Alisha Woodard was done preaching.
“She was the speaker that night and she did a fantastic job. The church was so animated and inspired. Everybody was high in the Holy Ghost,” Gandy told The Christian Post Wednesday. “We just had an incredible worship experience that night. It was just fire from Heaven.”
It was the second night of the 2020 Women of God Through Promise Conference at True Cornerstone Church and prophetess Woodard, described by Gandy and his wife, Kula, as a woman in her 20s who recently graduated from college, brought a powerful message.
In the story, the Shunammite woman shows great hospitality to Elisha so as a reward he prophesies that she would have a son to add to her childless marriage. She gives birth a year later and her son grows up. He eventually gets sick one day and dies, grieving the woman. She then goes back to Elisha for help and the prophet brings her son back to life.
“She was talking about how the Shunammite woman didn’t ask for the son that she received, but when she received that blessing she fought for the blessing that she had received from the man of God and how even when she went to go get the man of God, when the servant even asked how she was doing, she said it’s well. So she kept the faith, she kept pushing on and going on, and when she got to the man of God she just reminded him,” Kula said.
“She was just encouraging us all that even when things like death is all around, even when it seems like the blessing does not look like it’s gonna be there, just keep on pressing toward it.”
Little did the prophetess know that at the end of the service that night she would be forced to wrestle with death after the “devil … showed up in a deadly way,” according to pastor Gandy.
The Mobile Police Department said in a statement that at approximately 11:23 p.m. on Friday, they responded to the church on Halls Mill Road after receiving a report about a person being shot. When they got there, they saw a woman on the ground who had been shot.
The suspect involved reportedly fled the scene as police arrived. He was pursued by authorities and subsequently returned to the church. As officers approached his vehicle, however, the suspect shot himself. His car then crashed into the church. He was pronounced dead at the scene while his wife was taken to a local hospital where she is recovering.
Pastor Gandy and Kula identified the couple as prophetess Woodard and her late husband, Elder Ulysses Woodard. They both led the True Word of Deliverance Church of God in Prichard, Alabama, but for about two weeks now, they had been estranged.
“It (the estrangement) was very fresh,” said Gandy.
Elder Woodard was Gandy’s good friend and mechanic who always knew how to make him and his sons laugh.
What happened on Friday, he said, he never saw coming. Elder Woodard, he said, “wasn’t a monster.”
“I didn’t see this coming. … I didn’t see this coming. He wasn’t a monster, at least not that I’ve ever seen,” he said.
Without getting into any details, Gandy said his friend had “vented” to him about things in his relationship that he thought could have been helped with counseling but saw “nothing that would lead to this” — that his friend would shoot his wife in the chest while standing right next to him.
Gandy explained that on Friday night he was the last person to get out of the church when Elder Woodard approached him.
“When I went outside, he just said, ‘Pastor, can I talk to my wife please?’ And I said, ‘Sure, that’s your wife.’ And he never said anything to anyone. He did not stress anyone. He did not disrespect anyone. He never raised his voice at all,” Gandy said.
He said as he locked the door of the church he saw the elder and his wife talking. Everyone else had already left the church for the night except the Gandys and three of their children, two church members who were traveling with them, as well as the prophetess.
Pastor Gandy said when he tried to offer the prophetess a ride home after noticing things appeared to be getting heated between her and her husband, things got worse.
“My initial response was I got back out of my car and I said to them, ‘Let me take her home.’ We were gonna give her a ride home. We had picked her up for our service,” he said.
He said he eventually left the couple alone because he didn’t want to “get involved in domestic issues.”
“I sat in the car to wait for her to finish talking. But then when she started screaming, hollering, let go, stop, then he had come over,” Gandy said.
Prophetess Woodard was trying to get away to get into Gandy’s car but her husband grabbed her arm.
“He managed to keep her in his grasp and he managed to get to his car and that’s where he had his weapon,” Gandy explained.
When asked if that’s when Elder Woodard shot his wife, he said, “Yes.”
When asked where he was at that point, he said: “I was in my car. The door was open. We pulled on against the weapon, standing right next to me. And he shot her in the chest. I had had my daughter so when he shot her I pulled off to the other side of the building.”
Pastor Gandy said he and his wife are still trying to process the tragedy and he is working on getting counseling for his children.
“What I struggle with is the fact that our young daughters were there. And I struggle with them actually returning (to the church.) And I’ve been thinking about how do we find a way to purchase a new church to leave that site. Of all of this, that’s probably the toughest thing,” Gandy explained.
“Our little daughter, she actually saw him shoot himself, so it’s tough. He was my friend. We didn’t talk every day, we probably didn’t talk every week. We didn’t hang out other than when I go to the shop for him to fix my car but you know, we were friends,” he said. “He was my comedian. He was funny. … He just kept me laughing. He kept my sons laughing.”
Kula Gandy described prophetess Woodard as a “very sweet young lady.”
“She was just doing her thing. She was about Jesus. She loves Jesus. She loves His word. She’s just a vessel that’s just willing to be used by God,” Kula said.
And that’s why she wasn’t surprised by how the prophetess fought with her faith to stay alive after she was shot.
“She was calling on Jesus. Myself and another sister, we went and were praying for her after he (her husband) had left. He was on a high-speed chase with the police. So as soon as his car left, we went there and she was on the ground and she was crying and she was calling on Jesus, and we got down there and we started praying over her and for her,” Kula said.
She said she visited her in the hospital on Saturday and doctors said she’s “looking to do good” in terms of her recovery.
Earlier this month, prophetess Woodard and her late husband celebrated the fourth anniversary of their church under the theme “A Church Yet Holding On” featuring 1 Corinthians 15:58, which says: “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.”
There are, as Cornel West has pointed out, only two African-Americans who rose from dirt-poor poverty to the highest levels of American intellectual life—the writer Richard Wright and the radical theologian James H. Cone.
Cone, who died in April, grew up in segregated Bearden, Ark., the impoverished son of a woodcutter who had only a sixth-grade education. With an almost superhuman will, Cone clawed his way up from the Arkansas cotton fields to implode theological studies in the United States with his withering critique of the white supremacy and racism inherent within the white, liberal Christian church. His brilliance—he was a Greek scholar and wrote his doctoral dissertation on the Swiss theologian Karl Barth—enabled him to “turn the white man’s theology against him and make it speak for the liberation of black people.” God’s revelation in America, he understood, “was found among poor black people.” Privileged white Christianity and its theology were “heresy.” He was, until the end of his life, possessed by what the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr called “sublime madness.” His insights, he writes, “came to me as if revealed by the spirits of my ancestors long dead but now coming alive to haunt and torment the descendants of the whites who had killed them.”
“When it became clear to me that Jesus was not biologically white and that white scholars actually lied by not telling people who he really was, I stopped trusting anything they said,” he writes in his posthumous memoir, “Said I Wasn’t Gonna Tell Nobody: The Making of a Black Theologian,” published in October.
“White supremacy is America’s original sin and liberation is the Bible’s central message,” he writes in his book. “Any theology in America that fails to engage white supremacy and God’s liberation of black people from that evil is not Christian theology but a theology of the Antichrist.”
White supremacy “is the Antichrist in America because it has killed and crippled tens of millions of black bodies and minds in the modern world,” he writes. “It has also committed genocide against the indigenous people of this land. If that isn’t demonic, I don’t know what is … [and] it is found in every aspect of American life, especially churches, seminaries, and theology.”
Cone, who spent most of his life teaching at New York City’s Union Theological Seminary, where the theological luminaries Paul Tillich and Reinhold Niebuhr preceded him, was acutely aware that “there are a lot of brilliant theologians and most are irrelevant and some are evil.”
Of the biblical story of Cain’s murder of Abel, Cone writes: “… [T]he Lord said to Cain, ‘Where is your brother Abel?’ He said, ‘I don’t know; am I my brother’s keeper?’ And the Lord said, ‘What have you done? Listen: your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground!’ ” Cain, in Cone’s eyes, symbolizes white people, as Abel symbolizes black people.
“God is asking white Americans, especially Christians, ‘Where are your black brothers and sisters?’ ” Cone writes. “And whites respond, ‘We don’t know. Are we their keepers?’ And the Lord says, ‘What have you done to them for four centuries?’ ”
The stark truth he elucidated unsettled his critics and even some of his admirers, who were forced to face their own complicity in systems of oppression. “People cannot bear very much reality,” T.S. Eliot wrote. And the reality Cone relentlessly exposed was one most white Americans seek to deny.
“Christianity is essentially a religion of liberation,” Cone writes. “The function of theology is that of analyzing the meaning of that liberation for the oppressed community so they can know that their struggle for political, social, and economic justice is consistent with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Any message that is not related to the liberation of the poor is not Christ’s message. Any theology that is indifferent to the theme of liberation is not Christian theology. In a society where [people] are oppressed because they are black, Christian theology must become Black Theology, a theology that is unreservedly identified with the goals of the oppressed community and seeking to interpret the divine character of their struggle for liberation.”
The Detroit rebellion of 1967 and the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. a year later were turning points in Cone’s life. This was when he—at the time a professor at Adrian College, a largely white college in Adrian, Mich.—removed his mask, a mask that, as the poet Paul Laurence Dunbar wrote, “grins and lies.”
“I felt that white liberals had killed King, helped by those Negroes who thought he was moving too fast,” he writes. “Even though they didn’t pull the trigger, they had refused to listen to King when he proclaimed God’s judgment on America for failing to deal with the three great evils of our time: poverty, racism, and war. The white liberal media demonized King, accusing him of meddling in America’s foreign affairs by opposing the Vietnam War and blaming him for provoking violence wherever he led a march. White liberals, however, accepted no responsibility for King’s murder, and they refused to understand why Negroes were rioting and burning down their communities.”
“I didn’t want to talk to white people about King’s assassination or about the uprisings in the cities,” he writes of that period in his life. “[I]t was too much of an emotional burden to explain racism to racists, and I had nothing to say to them. I decided to have my say in writing. I’d give them something to read and talk about.”
Cone is often described as the father of black liberation theology, although he was also, maybe more importantly, one of the very few contemporary theologians who understood and championed the radical message of the Gospel. Theological studies are divided into pre-Cone and post-Cone eras. Post-Cone theology has largely been an addendum or reaction to his work, begun with his first book, “Black Theology and Black Power,” published in 1969. He wrote the book, he says, “as an attack on racism in white churches and an attack on self-loathing in black churches. I was not interested in making an academic point about theology; rather, I was issuing a manifesto against whiteness and for blackness in an effort to liberate Christians from white supremacy.”
Cone never lost his fire. He never sold out to become a feted celebrity.
“I didn’t care what white theologians thought about black liberation theology,” he writes. “They didn’t give a damn about black people. We were invisible to their writings, not even worthy of mention. Why should I care about what they thought?”
“After more than fifty years of working with, writing about, talking to white theologians, I have to say that most are wasting their time and energy, as far as I am concerned,” he writes, an observation that I, having been forced as a seminary student to plow through the turgid, jargon-filled works of white theologians, can only second. Cone blasted churches, including black churches that emphasize personal piety and the prosperity gospel, as “the worst place to learn about Christianity.”
His body of work, including his masterpieces “Martin & Malcolm & America” and “The Cross and the Lynching Tree,” is vital for understanding America and the moral failure of the white liberal church and white liberal power structure. Cone’s insight is an important means of recognizing and fighting systemic and institutionalized racism, especially in an age of Donald Trump.
“I write on behalf of all those whom the Salvadoran theologian and martyr Ignacio Ellacuría called ‘the crucified peoples of history,’ ” Cone writes in his memoir. “I write for the forgotten and the abused, the marginalized and the despised. I write for those who are penniless, jobless, landless, all those who have no political or social power. I write for gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and those who are transgender. I write for immigrants stranded on the U.S. border and for undocumented farmworkers toiling in misery in the nation’s agricultural fields. I write for Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, on the West Bank, and in East Jerusalem. I write for Muslims and refugees who live under the terror of war in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria. And I write for all people who care about humanity. I believe that until Americans, especially Christians and theologians, can see the cross and the lynching tree together, until we can identify Christ with ‘recrucified’ black bodies hanging from lynching trees, there can be no genuine understanding of Christian identity in America, and no deliverance from the brutal legacy of slavery and white supremacy.”
The cross, Cone reminded us, is not an abstraction; it is the instrument of death used by the oppressor to crucify the oppressed. And the cross is all around us. He writes in “The Cross and the Lynching Tree”:
The cross is a paradoxical religious symbol because it inverts the world’s value system, proclaiming that hope comes by way of defeat, that suffering and death do not have the last word, that the last shall be first and the first last. Secular intellectuals find this idea absurd, but it is profoundly real in the spiritual life of black folk. For many who were tortured and lynched, the crucified Christ often manifested God’s loving and liberating presence within the great contradictions of black life. The cross of Jesus is what empowered black Christians to believe, ultimately, that they would not be defeated by the “troubles of the world,” no matter how great and painful their suffering. Only people stripped of power could understand this absurd claim of faith. The cross was God’s critique of power—white power—with powerless love, snatching victory from the jaws of defeat.
Present-day Christians misinterpret the cross when they make it a nonoffensive religious symbol, a decorative object in their homes and churches. The cross, therefore, needs the lynching tree to remind us what it means when we say that God is revealed in Jesus at Golgotha, the place of the skull, on the cross where criminals and rebels against the Roman state were executed. The lynching tree is America’s cross. What happened to Jesus in Jerusalem happened to blacks in Arkansas, Mississippi, and Kentucky. Lynched black bodies are symbols of Christ’s body. If we want to understand what the crucifixion means for Americans today, we must view it through the lens of mutilated black bodies whose lives are destroyed in the criminal justice system. Jesus continues to be lynched before our eyes. He is crucified wherever people are tormented. That is why I say Christ is black.
Every once in a while, when Cone expressed something he thought was particularly important, he would say, “That’s Charlie talking.” To know Cone was to know Charlie and Lucy, his parents, who wrapped him and his brothers in unconditional love that held at bay the dehumanizing fear, discrimination and humiliation that came with living in Jim and Jane Crow Arkansas. He, like poet and novelist Claude McKay, said that what he wrote was “urged out of my blood,” adding “in my case the blood of blacks in Bearden and elsewhere who saw what I saw, felt what I felt, and loved what I loved.”
The essence of Cone was embodied in this radical love, a love that was not rooted in abstractions but the particular reality of his parents and his people. The ferocity of his anger at the injustice endured by the oppressed was matched only by the ferocity of his love. He cared. And because he cared, he carried the hurt and pain of the oppressed, the crucified of the earth, within him. As a boy, after dark, he waited by the window for his father to return home, knowing that to be a black man out on the roads in Arkansas at night meant you might never reach home. He spent his life, in a sense, at that window. He wrote and spoke not only for the forgotten, but also in a very tangible way for Charlie and Lucy. He instantly saw through hypocrisy and detested the pretentions of privilege. He never forgot who he was. He never forgot where he came from. His life was lived to honor his parents and all who were like his parents. He had unmatched courage, integrity and wisdom; indeed he was one of the wisest people I have ever known.
Cone was acutely aware, as Charles H. Long wrote, that “those who have lived in the cultures of the oppressed know something about freedom that the oppressors will never know.” He reminded us that our character is measured by what we have overcome. Despair, for him, was sin.
“What was beautiful about slavery?” Cone asks in his memoir. “Nothing, rationally! But the spirituals, folklore, slave religion, and slave narratives are beautiful, and they came out of slavery. How do we explain that miracle? What’s beautiful about lynching and Jim Crow segregation? Nothing! Yet the blues, jazz, great preaching, and gospel music are beautiful, and they came out of the post-slavery brutalities of white supremacy. In the 1960s we proclaimed ‘Black is beautiful!’ because it is. We raised our fists to “I’m Black and I’m Proud,’ and we showed ‘Black Pride’ in our walk and talk, our song and sermon.”
He goes on:
We were not destroyed by white supremacy. We resisted it, created a beautiful culture, the civil rights and Black Power movements, which are celebrated around the world. [James] Baldwin asked black people “to accept the past and to learn to live with it.” “I beg the black people of this country,” he said, shortly after “Fire” [“The Fire Next Time”] was published, “to do something which I know to be very difficult; to be proud of the auction block, and all that rope, and all that fire, and all that pain.”
To see beauty in tragedy is very difficult. One needs theological eyes to do that. We have to look beneath the surface and get to the source. Baldwin was not blind. He saw both the tragedy and the beauty in black suffering and its redeeming value. That was why he said that suffering can become a bridge that connects people with one another, blacks with whites and people of all cultures with one another. Suffering is sorrow and joy, tragedy and triumph. It connected blacks with one another and made us stronger. We know anguish and pain and have moved beyond it. The real question about suffering is how to use it. “If you can accept the pain that almost kills you,” says Vivaldo, Baldwin’s character in his novel Another Country, “you can use it, you can become better.” But “that’s hard to do,” Eric, another character, responds. “I know,” Vivaldo acknowledges. If you don’t accept the pain, “you get stopped with whatever it was that ruined you and you make it happen over and over again and your life has—ceased, really—because you can’t move or change or love anymore.” But if you accept it, “you realize that your suffering does not isolate you,” Baldwin says in his dialogue with Nikki Giovanni; “your suffering is your bridge.” Singing the blues and the spirituals is using suffering, letting it become your bridge moving forward. “For, while the tale of how we suffer, and how we are delighted, and how we may triumph is never new, it always must be heard,” Baldwin writes in his short story “Sonny’s Blues.” “There isn’t any other tale to tell, and it’s the only light we’ve got in all this darkness.”
“I would rather be a part of the culture that resisted lynching than the one that lynched,” Cone writes at the end of the book. “I would rather be the one who suffered wrong than the one who did wrong. The one who suffered wrong is stronger than the one who did wrong. Jesus was stronger than his crucifiers. Blacks are stronger than whites. Black religion is more creative and meaningful and true than white religion. That is why I love black religion, folklore, and the blues. Black culture keeps black people from hating white people. Every Sunday morning, we went to church to exorcize hate—of ourselves and of white racists.”
There will come difficult moments in our own lives, moments when we are faced with an impulse, driven by fear or self-interest or simple expediency, to turn away at the sight of suffering and injustice. We will hear the cries of the oppressed and want to shut them out. We will count the cost to our careers, our reputations and perhaps our security, for to truly stand with the oppressed is to be treated like the oppressed. But a force greater than our own will compel us to kneel down and pick up the cross. The weight will cut into our shoulders. Our step will slow. Our breathing will become labored. We will be condemned by the powerful and ignored or reviled by the indifferent. But we will demand justice. And when we do, we will say to ourselves, “That’s Cone talking.”
Onward, Christian Fascists By Chris Hedges: Chris Hedges is a Truthdig columnist, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, a New York Times best-selling author, a professor in the college degree program offered to New Jersey state prisoners by Rutgers University, and an ordained Presbyterian minister. https://www.truthdig.com/articles/onward-christian-fascists/
The greatest moral failing of the liberal Christian church was its refusal, justified in the name of tolerance and dialogue, to denounce the followers of the Christian right as heretics. By tolerating the intolerant it ceded religious legitimacy to an array of con artists, charlatans and demagogues and their cultish supporters. It stood by as the core Gospel message—concern for the poor and the oppressed—was perverted into a magical world where God and Jesus showered believers with material wealth and power. The white race, especially in the United States, became God’s chosen agent. Imperialism and war became divine instruments for purging the world of infidels and barbarians, evil itself. Capitalism, because God blessed the righteous with wealth and power and condemned the immoral to poverty and suffering, became shorn of its inherent cruelty and exploitation. The iconography and symbols of American nationalism became intertwined with the iconography and symbols of the Christian faith. The mega-pastors, narcissists who rule despotic, cult-like fiefdoms, make millions of dollars by using this heretical belief system to prey on the mounting despair and desperation of their congregations, victims of neoliberalism and deindustrialization. These believers find in Donald Trump a reflection of themselves, a champion of the unfettered greed, cult of masculinity, lust for violence, white supremacy, bigotry, American chauvinism, religious intolerance, anger, racism and conspiracy theories that define the central beliefs of the Christian right. When I wrote “American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America” I was deadly serious about the term “fascists.”
The evangelical magazine Christianity Today, by stating the obvious about Trump, that he is immoral and should be removed from office, became the latest recipient of the Christian right’s vicious and hypocritical backlash. Nearly 200 evangelical leaders, including former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, former Rep. Michele Bachmann, Jerry Falwell Jr. and Ralph Reed, signed a joint letter denouncing the Christianity Today editorial, written by the magazine’s president, Timothy Dalrymple, and outgoing Editor Mark Galli. Evangelical Christians who criticize Trump are as swiftly disappeared from the ranks as Republican politicians who criticize Trump. Trump received 80% of the white evangelical vote in the 2016 presidential election, and in a poll this month 90% of Republicans said they opposed impeachment and ouster of the president. Among Republicans who identify as white evangelical Protestants, that number rises to 99%.
Tens of millions of Americans live hermetically sealed inside the vast media and educational edifice controlled by Christian fascists. In this world, miracles are real, Satan, allied with secular humanists and Muslims, is seeking to destroy America, and Trump is God’s anointed vessel to build the Christian nation and cement into place a government that instills “biblical values.” These “biblical values” include banning abortion, protecting the traditional family, turning the Ten Commandments into secular law, crushing “infidels,” especially Muslims, indoctrinating children in schools with “biblical” teachings and thwarting sexual license, which includes any sexual relationship other than in a marriage between a man and a woman. Trump is routinely compared by evangelical leaders to the biblical king Cyrus, who rebuilt the temple in Jerusalem and restored the Jews to the city.
Trump has filled his own ideological void with Christian fascism. He has elevated members of the Christian right to prominent positions, including Mike Pence to the vice presidency, Mike Pompeo to secretary of state, Betsy DeVos to secretary of education, Ben Carson to secretary of housing and urban development, William Barr to attorney general, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court and the televangelist Paula White to his Faith and Opportunities Initiative. More importantly, Trump has handed the Christian right veto and appointment power over key positions in government, especially in the federal courts. He has installed 133 district court judges out of 677 total, 50 appeals court judges out of 179 total, and two U.S. Supreme Court justices out of nine. Almost all of these judges were, in effect, selected by the Federalist Society and the Christian right. Many of the extremists who make up the judicial appointees have been rated as unqualified by the American Bar Association, the country’s largest nonpartisan coalition of lawyers. Trump has moved to ban Muslim immigrants and rolled back civil rights legislation. He has made war on reproductive rights by restricting abortion and defunding Planned Parenthood. He has stripped away LGBTQ rights. He has ripped down the firewall between church and state by revoking the Johnson Amendment, which prohibits churches, which are tax-exempt, from endorsing political candidates. His appointees throughout the government routinely use biblical strictures to justify an array of policy decisions including environmental deregulation, war, tax cuts and the replacement of public schools with charter schools, an action that permits the transfer of federal education funds to private “Christian” schools.
I studied ethics at Harvard Divinity School with James Luther Adams, who had been in Germany in 1935 and 1936. Adams witnessed the rise there of the so-called Christian Church, which was pro-Nazi. He warned us about the disturbing parallels between the German Christian Church and the Christian right. Adolf Hitler was in the eyes of the German Christian Church a volk messiah and an instrument of God—a view similar to the one held today about Trump by many of his white evangelical supporters. Those demonized for Germany’s economic collapse, especially Jews and communists, were agents of Satan. Fascism, Adams told us, always cloaked itself in a nation’s most cherished symbols and rhetoric. Fascism would come to America not in the guise of stiff-armed, marching brownshirts and Nazi swastikas but in mass recitations of the Pledge of Allegiance, the biblical sanctification of the state and the sacralization of American militarism. Adams was the first person I heard label the extremists of the Christian right as fascists. Liberals, he warned, as in Nazi Germany, were blind to the tragic dimension of history and radical evil. They would not react until it was too late.
Trump’s legacy will be the empowerment of the Christian fascists. They are what comes next. For decades they have been organizing to take power. They have built infrastructures and organizations, including lobbying groups, schools and universities as well as media platforms, to prepare. They have seeded their cadre into the political system. We on the left, meanwhile, have seen our institutions and organizations destroyed or corrupted by corporate power.
The Christian fascists, as in all totalitarian movements, need a crisis, manufactured or real, in order to seize power. This crisis may be financial. It could be triggered by a catastrophic terrorist attack. Or it could be the result of a societal breakdown from our climate emergency. The Christian fascists are poised to take advantage of the chaos, or perceived chaos. They have their own version of the brownshirts, the for-hire mercenary armies and private contractors amassed by Christian fascists such as Erik Prince, the brother of Betsy DeVos. The Christian fascists have seized control of significant portions of the judiciary and legislative branches of government. FRC Action, the legislative affiliate of the Family Research Council, gives 245 members of Congress a perfect 100% for votes that support the agenda of the Christian right. The Family Research Council, which has called on its followers to pray that God will vanquish the “demonic forces” behind Trump’s impeachment, is identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group because of its campaigns to discriminate against the LGBTQ community.
The ideology of the Christian fascists panders in our decline to the primitive yearnings for the vengeance, new glory and moral renewal that are found among those pushed aside by deindustrialization and austerity. Reason, facts and verifiable truth are impotent weapons against this belief system. The Christian right is a “crisis cult.” Crisis cults arise in most collapsing societies. They promise, through magic, to recover the lost grandeur and power of a mythologized past. This magical thinking banishes doubt, anxiety and feelings of disempowerment. Traditional social hierarchies and rules, including an unapologetic white, male supremacy, will be restored. Rituals and behaviors including an unquestioning submission to authority and acts of violence to cleanse the society of evil will vanquish malevolent forces.
The Christian fascists propagate their magical thinking through a selective literalism in addressing the Bible. They hold up as sacrosanct biblical passages that buttress their ideology and ignore, or grossly misinterpret, the ones that do not. They live in a binary universe. They see themselves as eternal victims, oppressed by dark and sinister groups seeking their annihilation. They alone know the will of God. They alone can fulfill God’s will. They seek total cultural and political domination. The secular, reality-based world, one where Satan, miracles, destiny, angels and magic do not exist, destroyed their lives and communities. That world took away their jobs and their futures. It ripped apart the social bonds that once gave them purpose, dignity and hope. In their despair they often struggled with alcohol, drug and gambling addictions. They endured familial breakdown, divorce, evictions, unemployment and domestic and sexual violence. The only thing that saved them was their conversion, the realization that God had a plan for them and would protect them. These believers were pushed by a callous, heartless corporate society and rapacious oligarchy into the arms of charlatans. All who speak to them in the calm, rational language of fact and evidence are hated and ultimately feared, for they seek to force believers back into “the culture of death” that nearly destroyed them.
We can blunt the rise of this Christian fascism only by reintegrating exploited and abused Americans into society, giving them jobs with stable, sustainable incomes, relieving their crushing personal debts, rebuilding their communities and transforming our failed democracy into one in which everyone has agency and a voice. We must impart to them hope, not only for themselves but for their children.
Christian fascism is an emotional life raft for tens of millions. It is impervious to the education, dialogue and discourse the liberal class naively believes can blunt or domesticate the movement. The Christian fascists, by choice, have severed themselves from rational thought. We will not placate or disarm this movement, bent on our destruction, by attempting to claim that we too have Christian “values.” This appeal only strengthens the legitimacy of the Christian fascists and weakens our own. We will transform American society to a socialist system that provides meaning, dignity and hope to all citizens, that cares and nurtures the most vulnerable among us, or we will become the victims of the Christian fascists we created.
Over the span of the last few months, I have had a series of conversations with an atheist. This atheist is very close to me and our conversation has been rewarding for me. Both of us have tried to be honest and clear about the reasons we have for our beliefs. One recurring theme of […]
Let’s discuss the truth about Christian morality shall we?
Funny huh? Christian morality said it was perfectly ok for Christians to commit mass murder in at least 9 forced conversion programs against the Pagans called the Crusades into Northern Paganlands. Their morality said it was ok for Christians to make it a death penalty punishment in 356 AD to be a Pagan. Christian Emperor Constantine said it was morally alright for Christians to beat to death on the spot? A Pagan child playing with a Pagan statute as a child plays with a doll. Christian morality said it was ok to brutally put to death Pagan priests and priestesses, to destroy Pagan temples and to even destroy the Great Library system of Alexandria.
Christians morality said it was perfectly ok for Christians to invent brutal torture machines to torture and put to death those they declared as witches, heretics and scientists who disagreed with them.
Christian morality said it was perfectly ok to own a fellow human being as a slave. And even fought a war to keep fellow human beings as slaves.
Christian morality said it was perfectly ok to start wars between each other and slaughter each other, because the Christians from one sect said the Christians from the other sect was demonic. Leading to such things as the Thirty Year war, between Catholic and Protestant Christians which literally wiped out 75% of the Germainic region and took three generations to come back from that one.
Christian morality said it was ok for Christians to slaughter whole towns of Jewish people, and to murder more Jews on their way to the Crusades to Jerusalem and to murder every man, woman and child once they got to Jerusalem.
Christian morality said, it was ok, under their ChristoTaliban Manifest Destiny theology? To commit the worst act of mass genocide against us Native Americans of North, Central and South America, to butcher and slaughter us Natives, to starve us to death, to make us march on 1,000 mile death marches, most of the time in the middle of winter, to what Christians called reservations, but we called Death Camps and also? Christian morality said it was ok to kidnap our children, force them into Christian Industrial Schools, were they were beaten, tortured, starved, raped and destroyed and Christians felt it was their moral duty to wipe out any trace of their Native heritage.
Christian morality of these days? Says it is ok for Christians to demand brutal death penalty punishments for lgbts, atheists, Pagans and others, but no atheist, lgbt, Pagan or other that Christans say should be put to death? Has no moral right to stand up to psycho Christians like this because? Atheists, lgbts and others are then persecuting Christians.
Christian morality these days says it is perfectly ok for Christians to defend and support a proven pathological liar, a proven three time adulterer, a proven bigot and racist and misogynist pig, a proven thief and con artist, and proclaim him chosen of god and anyone who does not agree with them? Are pure evil and hate god and Jeebus and are not true Christians, but hey, Christian morality also said that during President Barack Obama’s two terms? It was ok for Christians to lie about him, insult and denigrate him, call him a Muslim, do the birther bullshit and threaten to even murder him and his family, to post memes and pictures of him and his family faces replaced with apes and monkeys, or to hang Barack Obama in effigy or burn him in effigy.
Christian morality says it is perfectly ok to demand brutal death penalty punishments for lgbts, but when someone demands death penalty punishment for their hundreds of thousands of Christians pastors and priests busted for raping kids? Or their leaders busted for protecting these pedophiles and causing more children to be raped by protecting them? Why that is evil, screams Christians and we should just forgive those pedophile priests and pastors, even if their actions? Caused their victims to commit suicide and their souls are going to hell if they did commit suicide, but their pedophile priest or pastor who raped them? All they gotta do is say a magic prayer and they get to spend eternity in heaven.
Christian morality said? It is perfectly ok to lie about us atheists, to defame and denigrate us atheists, and to even demand all our rights be taken away, our right to even hold public office has been taken from us in Christian red states, our rights to adopt children, etc? Were also taken away from us. But if an atheist stands up to this bullshit from ChristoTalibans? Why then? It is we atheists who are the evil ones persecuting you peaceful, loving, non-judgmental righteous christians.
Now? I guess it is time for all LGBTS to demand the same death penalty punishment for adulterers that Christians scream for lgbts huh?
Leviticus 20:10 If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.
Deuteronomy 22:22-24 If a man is found lying with the wife of another man, both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman, and the woman. So you shall purge the evil from Israel. “If there is a betrothed virgin, and a man meets her in the city and lies with her, then you shall bring them both out to the gate of that city, and you shall stone them to death with stones, the young woman because she did not cry for help though she was in the city, and the man because he violated his neighbor’s wife. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.
So when do we stone to death Donald J Trump and all the other adulterers for adultery as commanded in the bible be done to them? I mean if we are supposed to stone to death homosexuals? Why do you all give a pass to adulterers who are also supposed to be stoned to death?