WTL Conversations S2E9 [video]: Do We Want to be Healed? Mia Moody-Ramirez and Robert P. Jones on Racism in the White Church
Baylors' Truett Theological Seminary asks the right question.
Dear #WhiteTooLong readers,
Today I’m bringing you a combined post—some reflections on our current moment, along with a new weekly “WTL Conversations” post featuring video from my recent appearance at a conference on “Racism in the White Church” at Baylor University’s Truett Theological Seminary.
Hope and Humility
I’m happy to report that I’m writing this column from my PRRI office, which is officially open for the first time, almost exactly two years from our closure at the beginning of the pandemic. I rode the metro (still masking), greeted live human beings when I exited the elevator onto our floor, and participated in a socially distanced but embodied meeting. Even as I sit at my desk chair, I can hear the warm hum of conversations in the office next door and down the hall.
Of course, as President Biden noted in his “State of the Union” address last night, we don’t know what’s ahead. After coping with repeatedly upended plans during these last two years, we’ve all learned the wisdom of the chastening caveat from my southern upbringing, “God willing and the creek don’t rise….” But for now, I’m receiving the promise of new beginnings as our part of the earth slowly tilts back closer to the sun, as the daffodils respond, pushing their way through the compacted winter soil, and as new relational energy is generated by human proximity.
From Anti-Communist to Anti-Democrat: White Evangelicals’ Growing Love Affair with Putin’s White Christian Nationalism
But these days are also heavy, not only with reports of nearly one million lives lost from COVID-19 at home but from new wars abroad. Like many of you, I’m feeling the shock of the unprovoked violence unleashed by Vladimir Putin on the people of Ukraine. And I’ve also felt the return of a general anxiety about Russia as a threat not just to small countries on its borders but to Europe, the U.S., and to the world—something I hadn’t felt since my adolescence in the 1980s, captured in movies such as Red Dawn, Rocky IV, and even in comedies like Spies Like Us.
There’s also the head-spinning dissonance of the open support being expressed for Putin by many prominent white evangelical Protestants. Unlike the 1980s, when conservative white Christians were Cold War hawks, many key leaders in today’s white conservative Christian movement have cozied up to Putin.
This attraction to authoritarianism and white Christian nationalism couldn’t be seen any more clearly than in the contrast between Billy Graham and his son Franklin. While the father’s anti-communist positions in the 1950s earned him the nickname “God’s Cold War machine gun,” the son has increasingly praised Putin’s iron-fisted white Christian nationalism, achieved by coopting of the Russian Orthodox Church.
As I documented in The End of White Christian America, Franklin Graham often used praise for Russia, especially its oppression of its LGBTQ citizens, as a way of criticizing President Barack Obama. Here’s Franklin Graham in 2014: “Isn’t it sad, though, that America’s own morality has fallen so far on this issue—protecting children from any homosexual agenda or propaganda—[that] Russia’s standard is higher than our own.” Graham continued this strategy recently, as he called for his followers to “pray for President Putin”—without a call to pray for the Ukrainian people under assault.
He’s not alone. The Delaware GOP's official candidate for Senate in 2020, Lauren Witzke, recently delivered extended praise for Putin’s "Christian nationalist nation” at this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC):
I actually support Putin’s right to protect his people and always put his people first but also to protect their Christian values. I identify more with Russian, with Putin's Christian values than I do with Joe Biden…. Christian nationalist countries also are a threat to the global regime, the Luciferian [sic] regime that wants to mash everything together. But Putin takes care of his people. He looks out for his people. I watched as he deported, like they literally walked them through the streets, the criminal illegals who were coming into their country, they walked them out, and they escorted them out. And they said, “Get out!” I can respect that.
For a deeper dive on the growing love affair among many white evangelicals and Putin, I recommend this piece at MSNBC by my friend Anthea Butler: “Why white evangelical Christians are Putin's biggest American fan base.”
Amid all of this, Lent and Ash Wednesday have arrived.
In such challenging times, these 40 days of reflection and sacrifice seem fitting. Let me also recommend my friend Diana Butler Bass’s lenten reflections for those of you who are observing this season.
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Do We Want to be Healed? Mia Moody-Ramirez and Robert P. Jones on Racism in the White Church
In today’s WTL Conversations, I’m featuring two videos from my trip last week to Baylor University’s Truett Theological Seminary. I’m deeply grateful to Greg Garrett, Professor of English, who organized the conference and invited me to participate.
The title of the Baylor conference asks exactly the right question for white Christians: “Racism in the White Church: Do We Want to be Healed?” It’s also a question appropriate for Lent.
I was honored to be in conversation with Dr. Mia Moody-Ramirez, Professor and Chair in the Baylor University Department of Journalism, Public Relations and New Media.
And—bonus material!—here’s my closing keynote lecture for the conference.
White Too Long Available for Lenten Studies
I’m happy to report that we seem to have solved the supply chain issues from last fall, and my book White Too Long is widely available for Lenten studies. If you’d like to arrange a group purchase, Cokesbury books has discounts, along with seven video sessions and a leader discussion guide. See below for details.