Jonathan David Brown, grammy-nominated (twice) Christian music producer, died suddenly September 27, 2016, of an apparent heart attack. He was sixty years old. His face book pages (this and this) and a gofundme page are filling with condolences from some of the many well-known artists he worked with creatively. But his death also brings into focus a tangled, extremist legacy of hatred which, now more than ever, confronts white Evangelicalism with its own racist past… and present.
In the 1980s and early 1990s, “Contemporary Christian Music” was entering its heyday. Jonathan David Brown, who’d learned his production chops working with legendary Alan Parsons in the 1970s, had by the mid-1980s become one of CCM’s most well known producers. His work with Petra (over half a dozen albums), Daniel Amos (“Shotgun Angel”), Steve Taylor (“Meltdown”), Mark Heard (“Stop the Dominoes”), Twila Paris (“The Warrior Is A Child”), Carman (“Live: Radically Saved”), and Bill Gaither (to name only six artists) underscores his abilities. Also an accomplished musician on piano, vocals, and even bagpipes (he recorded the latter on a later Dixie Chicks album, “Little Ol’ Cowgirl”), he helped write as well as produce and perform.
But that was “JDB” the CCM and mainstream celebrity. There was another Jonathan David Brown…. the white supremacist.
June 9, 1990, Jonathan David Brown attended a Nashville-area Aryan Nation/KKK meeting. He took regular part in such meetings, held at the home of white supremacist friend Bobby Joe Norton, calling them “Bible studies.” Also there that night were Leonard William Armstrong, Grand Dragon of The Tennessee White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, and “skin head” Damien Patton. After the meeting ended, Armstrong and Patton drove to Nashville’s West End Synagogue. At 1 a.m. June 10, with Patton at the wheel, Armstrong leaned out of Patton’s car with a Tech 9mm pistol and fired “Six or seven shots” hitting the side of the building.
Brown’s role as co-conspirator developed quickly. After the shooting, Patton returned to his apartment with an AKS-47 rifle The Tennessean reported as having been purchased and provided to Patton by Brown. Police arrived later, breaking up the party and confiscating the gun. Meanwhile, persons at the synagogue discovered bullet holes and broken windows in their house of worship. The police, not yet connecting the duo to these shootings, released Patton the next day into Brown’s custody.
As early as June 12, 1990, the Nashville police were on Patton’s — and Brown’s — trail regarding the synagogue shooting. According to court records, Brown misled police about where Patton’s whereabouts, taking the younger man to his Pleasantville farm while telling authorities Patton was living in a Nashville apartment Brown owned.
Due to the federal nature of the crime, the FBI became involved. June 15 the FBI served a search warrant on Brown’s farm. There, they discovered a “chaplain’s” Ku Klux Klan membership card signed by Brown and an Aryan Nations (Church of Jesus Christ, Christian) membership card. Along with these, they confiscated a picture of Brown, Patton, and others (including Bobby Joe Norton, a leader of the Aryan Nation) saluting arms outstretched in front of a Nazi flag (below). A paramilitary training manual and copy of Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf were also confiscated.
When the FBI’s questioning of Brown revealed to him that they were seeking Patton for likely arrest, Brown arrived back at the farm and warned Patton. Brown purchased black spray paint and helped Patton paint the white car used in the synagogue shooting. He also provided a different license plate, removing one from a truck he owned and giving it to Patton. Along with this Brown provided cash to help Patton flee the state, later on wiring additional funds to him in Las Vegas. Five months after this, Patton came back to Brown’s farm, staying a month. Finally, in September 1991, the FBI tracked Patton down. The young man pled guilty to federal charges related to the shooting.
Brown over the next year testified before three grand juries, at first misdirecting them about his role in spray-painting the car and as to his knowledge regarding where Patton had gone. As the truth came out, he determined to forego a lawyer and defend himself. Confronted about the Nazi salute photo, he called Bobby Joe Norton to the stand and asked him: “Is it possible that the Aryan Nations use this to salute the King of Kings?” Norton, who had himself been involved in a 1983 synagogue bombing conspiracy for which he’d served five years in prison, answered yes. During the trial, under cross-examination regarding the holocaust in which six million Jews and many others were herded into concentration camps and mass-murdered by Nazi Germany, Brown denied the holocaust had happened.
On April 22, 1992, Brown was charged in a three-count indictment “with perjury and as an accessory after the fact.” He’d attempted “to prevent the apprehension, trial and punishment” of Armstrong and Patton while knowing they had committed an offense against the United States. Further perjury allegations stemmed from Brown’s testimony before the grand jury on December 10, 1991. On August 20, 1992, after an eight-day jury trial, Brown was convicted on all counts. He was sentenced on November 12 to imprisonment for two years and three months, three years’ supervised release with special conditions, and was assessed a $10,000 fine. He appealed, unsuccessfully, and spent two years behind bars. He was released from the federal prison in Marion, Illinois, October 14, 1994.
How did the Evangelical media cover this story? In contrast to thorough, in-depth coverage done by the Nashville paper The Tennessean, Brown’s case was reported briefly, including a brief article in Contemporary Christian Music Magazine and another in Christianity Today, but seemed to quickly fade from view. Caught up in the immediate aftermath of an investigative expose on alleged ex-satanist and comedian Mike Warnke, I myself wrote about Brown for Cornerstone magazine (Page 18 volume 21 issue 99). I, too, gave him short shrift, around six or seven paragraphs. None of us reflected deeply enough upon just what this story meant about our music, our culture, or our faith. Brown was an anomaly, a tare among the wheat, a wolf among the lambs. All of us seemed content for the punchline — his conviction and prison sentence — to be enough. He had nothing to do with us. How could we be implicated in his extremist hate?
Significantly, Nashville (“music city”) had by the 1990s also become the epicenter of the Contemporary Christian Music industry. “The ’90s made one thing perfectly clear: Nashville was the industry’s home, not Southern California,” write three historians of the era. It would have been extremely hard for those in Nashville not to know all about Brown’s trials (there were at least three) and his forthrightly stated racist beliefs. Yet neither then nor since the first short news pieces have I been able to find any Evangelical voice examining Brown’s long-time participation in white fascist groups or his overt insistence these beliefs were Christian.
Jonathan David Brown seemed for a while to have vanished. Then, unknown to me at the time, Jerry Bryant’s Christian radio show “Full Circle” interviewed Brown in April 2009 (episode #113, mp3 still on line). No questions about Brown’s racist beliefs or conviction were raised. One day that same year, perusing a Christian musician’s face book page, I was startled to see Brown was producing her new album. It raised questions in my mind. I hoped, as in the case of a handful of other former KKK members and white racists such as Tommy Tarrants and Clay Hight, Brown had turned away from his hate-teachings.
No such evidence seemed to exist. To the contrary, I found evidence of his presence on white supremacy bulletin boards. I also located an obscure interview from 2003 revealing his racist beliefs.
JONATHAN DAVID BROWN’S TRIBAL IDENTITY
Though no longer a regularly working journalist, I felt that gut-sick, too-familiar loathing at the linkage of Jesus Christ with racism.Through a network of Christian musicians on face book I found his page. Messages there got no response. Belatedly, I did make brief and unexpected contact with Jonathan David Brown. Here — from a British website called Crossrhythms — is the entirety of our unsatisfying interchange. My first post on the site was not meant to contact him; I simply wanted Crossrythms to remove mention of his post-prison LP “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” by his new moniker “The Nazarite”:
Posted by Jon Trott in Chicago @ 22:44 on May 29 2009
Jonathan David Brown continues in his so-called “Christian Identity” beliefs. These are contrary to Scripture, decency, and Jesus Christ. He holds the belief, stated publicly, that not all the races are truly “descended from Adam.” These people — Africans and others — are often called “beasts” by the “Christian Identity” movement. I do *not* think Brown belongs in any Christian listings, if by Christian we mean truly biblical and representative of the teachings and life of Jesus Christ.
And his surprise response:
Reply by Jonathan David Brown in Oklahoma @ 02:24 on Jun 22 2009
Dear John [sic],
The idea that what I believe is “contrary to Scripture” is not explained in your post. You have no idea what I believe, only what others have said. I am merely a servant of Yahweh – nothing more. And in fact, the modern churches have given only lip service to Yahweh’s Laws … which is why the Nation is in the shape it is. They have filled their plates with unclean food and brought about his fury. Isaiah 65:1-6; Matthew 5:19. Even so, we must be patient with all who claim to belong to Him … that we might remain on the Path of Righteousness.
I asked him twice more to answer just one question, the last, year later attempt sounding rather forlorn:
CHRISTIAN IDENTITY / KINISM / BRITISH (OR ANGLO) ISRAELISM
It is extremely tempting to view Jonathan David Brown’s beliefs as those of an “outlier,” someone we consign to a Crackpotsville outside the pale (pun intended) of Evangelical orthodoxy or history. Evangelical theology does not always contain these threads. But I maintain it cannot help but be profoundly influenced by their bleaching effects.
Jonathan David Brown believed a version of “British Israelism” / “Anglo-Israelism” — what has become known more commonly these days as “Christian Identity” or more recently “Kinism” (kin or “our kind” being at the heart of that idea). The history of theologically-framed race theories gets very convoluted, as various narratives mix, match, and at times collide. I will not pretend to do this depressing but rich topic justice here.
Anglo-Israelism — a doctrine claiming that the white European (and American) race is the “true” Israel — has roots reaching deep into not only Evangelicalism but American history. Not only white Protestants (the movement was and is often anti-Catholic), but also, to a confused degree, Mormons (who’ve since abandoned overtly racist portions of their doctrines) and other splinters from Christendom including Herbert W. Armstrong and the various groups he spawned embraced this theology in part or whole.
Is British Israelism always racist? Yes, though not always explicitly, and with different specific emphases. For instance, one can believe (as FOX and BLAZE host Glenn Beck apparently does) that the white (European) race is made of those formerly in the Northern Kingdom of Israel (the so-called “Lost Tribes”) and that America’s founding is basically the story of the “new Israel.” This does not seemingly mean, on the face of it, that non-white races are inferior or left out of God’s promise. But in actuality it does serve to place the white west — and white America specifically — at the heart of God’s narrative.
This is why, for some of us at least, Mormonism strikes one as the quintessential American religion; it has changed in many ways but the white race “lost tribes” theory remains embedded in its theology. America becomes literally the new Israel. Mormonism’s embrace of the lost tribes idea is only a further mutation of the idea white Evangelicals hold to this day: America — and American Christians — are at the heart of God’s plan. American Christians as euphemism, since rarely is it said “white Christians.” White racial privilege establishes that fact without it needing to be said. What a powerful, and powerfully rewarding, narrative this is! But remember this: Racial narratives are always powerful… if you are of the race God allegedly prefers.
British Israelism and its more subtle progeny also place colonization at the heart of theology. This is not something white people want to hear. But history underscores — no, screams — this reality. To make sacred what a nation-state does gives that state a safeguard from criticism within. The most blatant version of this idea comes with “manifest destiny,” the idea that God has called America to exercise its power over both non-whites within its borders and nation-states within its reach. As Professor of History Donald M. Scott observes,
In 1845, an unsigned article in a popular American journal, a long standing Jacksonian publication, the Democratic Review, issued an unmistakable call for American expansionism. Focusing mainly on bringing the Republic of Texas into the union, it declared that expansion represented “the fulfillment of our manifest destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions.” Thus a powerful American slogan was born. “Manifest Destiny” became first and foremost a call and justification for an American form of imperialism, and neatly summarized the goals of the Mexican War. It claimed that America had a destiny, manifest, i.e., self-evident, from God to occupy the North American continent south of Canada (it also claimed the right to the Oregon territory including the Canadian portion). “Manifest Destiny” was also clearly a racial doctrine of white supremacy that granted no native American or nonwhite claims to any permanent possession of the lands on the North American continent and justified white American expropriation of Indian lands. (“Manifest Destiny” was also a key slogan deployed in the United States’ imperial ventures in the 1890s and early years of the twentieth century that led to U.S. possession or control of Hawaii and the Philippine Islands.)
If the Jews were at the action’s center in the Old Testament, and the new Church was at the center in the New Testament, white western Christianity is (according to British Israelism) at the center of the action right now. Unavoidably, this is race-centered doctrine without historical undergirding but with horrific historical and contemporary consequences. It could be argued that a theological construct, British Israelism, neatly morphed into a secular “Manifest Destiny” apologetic for mass murder of native populations in America and the enslavement of Africans, among other crimes.
But to build further our understanding, let’s return to the more extreme forms of racist doctrine among Christians. If the white race is at the heart of God’s plan… what of the other races? William Branham (April 6, 1909 – December 24, 1965), a highly controversial preacher even among America’s Pentecostal movements, may not have believed in classic British Israelism (at least it is hard to figure his beliefs out) but he did strongly believe the races should remain separate; the man who converted him, Roy E. Davis, was “National Imperial Wizard” of the “Original Knights of the Ku Klux Klan” (see photo below).
Charles Fox Parham (June 4, 1873 – c. January 29, 1929), one of the co-founders of the modern-day Pentecostal movement, held to a version of British Israelism which claimed God had created non-whites on the sixth day and whites (Adam and Eve) on the eighth. (Both Parham and Davis would also become infamous for sexual scandals.) One of the saddest facts re Parham’s bigotry is that it derailed the Pentecostal movement from its original integrated roots and helped marginalize its 1907 black leader, William J. Seymour. The formation of the Assemblies of God in 1914 by all-white leadership, separating from COGIC (Church of God in Christ) and other black Pentecostals finished the job. This of course happened among almost every denomination in America: The Southern Baptists, today’s largest Protestant Denomination, gained that name when, over their “God-given right” to own slaves, they broke away from other Baptists. But I digress.
While classic British-Israelism usually traced its lineage through Old Testament Israel (which also left the Jews as part of God’s People), this doctrine changed where “Christian Identity” was concerned. Key in Anglo Israelism thought is the idea that there are two main “lines” from the era of Adam…. one being Adam’s line of descendants (those of the Promise) and everyone else being outside that promise. The “pre-adamic” races were created before the events recorded in Genesis. But God’s chosen, Adam and Eve, were white. One idea is that Cain’s sin led to God turning him black as a punishment and moving him outside the Adamic line as well. A harsher yet version of the Cain story is that Cain was Satan’s “demon seed,” implanted when Satan’s seduction of Even included sex.
William Branham believed this, and apparently believed the “serpent seed” people were too mixed in with God’s people to identify physically. But others came along to make the doctrine more racially specific about one people group or another, blacks or Jews being primary targets. Another idea — sometimes mashed together with the above, says it was Noah’s son, Ham, who was cursed (his son Canaan the one allegedly turned black). Esau and Jacob also turn up as the respective races’ alleged representatives (again with no biblical justification whatever).
Mixed into most strains of Christian Identity, obvious I hope by now, is an incredible current of antisemitism. In fact, one theory the Christian Identity people embrace covers nearly all the bases: The “Serpent Seed,” they say, was Cain; Cain’s offspring, Cainites or (as CI likes to put it) Kenites, are those the rest of us call “Jews.” The other races are inferior, beast-like beings who predated Adam’s perfection and allegedly are used by the Jews to oppress and impurify the white race–God’s true Israelites.
None of these doctrines have anything to do with a sane, scholarly reading of Scripture. But it doesn’t matter; they have so much to do with white history applied to other races. And they become not mere narratives, but actual weapons used to oppress. They displace Jews (whether Christian Jews or not) from the center of God’s story and replace them with white males. In the process, Jewishness becomes demonic. Other non-white races become rough prototypes God was experimenting with before he created his precious white folks. And race, not regeneration (“being born a second time” – John 3:16), becomes a defining characteristic of godliness and godly “identity.” In the end “Christian” becomes a mere euphemism for “white.” Those of us who don’t sign on are traitors to our race and “the faith.”
BUT SO WHAT? WE DON’T BELIEVE THAT!
Reformed (often called “Calvinist”) theology has had an outsized effect on Evangelical American thinking. This may be especially true where politics is concerned. As historian Mark Noll writes:
The prehistory of American theology includes a long-standing Western Christian assumption about the unity of all spheres of life under God, a somewhat narrower set of Protestant convictions about how traditional Western Christendom needed to be reformed, and still narrower patterns of belief associated with the Reformed or Calvinistic wing of the Reformation. [America’s God from Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln, p. 33.]
This is important to keep in mind. Calvinistic Puritans in New England saw their communities (which eventually became the thirteen colonies making up a future United States) as a new Israel.
Just as the current political climate has given us abundant proof that racism in America lives, so too more mainstream (if controversial) Evangelical Calvinist theologians offer evidence. Consider these quotes from R. J. Rushdoony (April 25, 1916 – February 8, 2001), the father of “Dominion” / “Christian Reconstruction” theology. (One might recall that Jonathan David Brown participated and preached a sermon at a Christian Identity event in Branson where Reconstructionist books were being sold.) Note Rushdoony’s words’ compared with Jonathan David Brown’s comments on “race mixing.” The seamless blending of racism with misogyny by Rushdoony in these quotes is almost artistic (italics added):
“Man can kill and eat plants and animals to use this creation under God’s law. But he cannot tamper with it, he cannot hybridize; which is to violate God’s kind. And the penalty for it, of course, is sterility. You can cross a horse and a donkey, but the mule is sterile. You can put all kinds of new variety of squash and carrots and the like on the market, but the penalty for these is sterility. They will not produce a seed. And while they will have certain advantages –the mule has certain advantages over the horse– they have marked disadvantages, and a greater frailty, sensitivity, nervousness (as with the mule), so that they are a real handicap.
“… Saint Paul states here what already had been stated repeatedly in scripture, that mixed marriages, marriages between believers and unbelievers are forbidden. But at the same time he also states that unequal yoking is the principle in the Deuteronomy passage thou shalt not plow with an ox and an ass together. What is the principle there? Unequal yoking! So that unequal yoking of any kind runs counter to God’s law. This appears also very clearly in the law with respect to marriage. Man was created in the image of God and woman was created from man with the reflected image of God in man. And woman was termed a helpmeet, which means a reflection, or front, or mirror. In other words the woman is to reflect the man’s nature and supplement, assist, further him in his calling. This means therefore that if they are unequally yoked she cannot be of any assistance to him in his calling. So that if it is inter-religious marriage, or interracial, or intercultural, normally the disparity is too great for it to be a valid marriage in terms of God’s standards. The burden thus of God’s law is clearly against inter-religious marriage, or interracial, or intercultural marriages, in that they normally go against the very idea of community which marriage is to establish.
“The question is, in case some of you did not hear it, ‘Supposing there is a mixed marriage with respect to race; and assuming that both are of the same faith, what is there in scripture that might be against that?’ Well, the answer is that there is not a law against it, but there is basically a principle that militates against such marriages, so that you might say they are just barely legal, but in principle scripture is opposed to them. Because the whole point of marriage is that the wife be a help-meet to her husband, and the term help meet means in effect a mirror, an image, one who reflects him spiritually, that is in terms of faith, in terms of a common background, in terms of a common purpose. Now, marriage between persons of very different races generally doesn’t fulfill that requirement, you see. So that it can be technically a marriage, but it isn’t one in which the wife can be a help meet. So that, while it can legally qualify, theologically you could say there are factors that normally in almost 99 cases out of a 100 hundred would militate against it.
“… when there are marriages between races, very often it is not the best of either. And this is another factor that commonly militates against the success of such marriages, in that it is the lower levels that tend to unite in most cases.”
Forgive me for deconstructing the Reconstructionist’s father figure. But note the male fear: sterility! “They will not produce a seed.” They will become no longer powerful. And the wrong wife will fail to “reflect” the male back to himself. As I say, racism and misogyny never sounded so poetic…. or just creepy.
J. I. Packer, a conservative, scholarly Evangelical, responded with an interesting critique of Rushdoony and other in the “Christian Reconstructionist” camp (italics added):
“…They bring in what one would have to call a presupposition which they never allowed fully to break surface — the Messianic presupposition regarding American identity. [In this view], the United States of America, founded by the Pilgrims who fled old England and brought with them the ideology that God wants a redeemer nation, came to the States because they could no longer see England in this redeemer nation role. They then implanted this Messianic mindset into American culture. But this puts the Reconstructionists into the Anglo-Israelite camp.
“They certainly don’t see themselves as fitting into that camp, but that’s properly where they belong. I had to do with the `British-Israel’ movement when I lived in Britain, and I recognize the same kind of thinking. [Reconstructionists] of course don’t affirm that they’re the `lost tribes of Israel’ in the way that the founding Anglo-Israelites did, but they are saying that the mantle of Old Testament Israel has fallen on the United States of America. It follows then that the U. S., just as Jonathan Edwards thought, is to be the centre of worldwide evangelism producing the converted world to which Christ would come back. This implies that America must rise to the height of its vocation as a godly nation in its legislation, culture, and political procedures.
“This leads to Reconstructionist backing for all manner of attempts to take political control in the management of the country […] They are trying to turn the United States into a Christian nation so the country can inherit the mantle of Old Testament Israel.”
Note the mention of Jonathan Edwards, central to the narrative that America was founded as a “Christian Nation.” The title for Jonathan David Brown’s LP, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” comes from Edwards’ most famous sermon.
The Reconstructionists — some of them, anyway — deny Packer’s charge linking their theology to Anglo-Israelism. (The Reconstructionists do a lot of denying re their linkage to the far right.) I suggest re-reading Rushdoony’s quotes above in light of J. I. Packer’s words. Again, there is a racism which is overt and a racism which assumes, without reflection, the centrality of whiteness (and maleness) to God’s narrative. The latter, I believe, is shared by Reconstructionism even if Rushdoony’s racial narrative is rejected.
Francis Schaeffer, a sharer in Reformed/Calvinist belief, takes us one more step in bringing this discussion from the far reaches of a fascist faith to the heart of white Evangelicalism. Francis Schaeffer, for readers not acquainted with him, is well remembered by “Boomer” generation Christians, especially those who “met Jesus” during the 1960s through 1980s. His “The God Who Is There” and “True Spirituality” (to name two of many books he wrote) helped young Jesus People realize that intellectual pursuits were not only acceptable, but necessary, portions of faithful life. Schaeffer’s debits, which had to do with his over-willingness to be a non-self-reflective “generalist” about topics beyond his knowledge, would eventually come to haunt him and us. (The generalist charge, in fairness, can be leveled against many of us!)
There is little doubt Schaeffer would have rejected Rushdoony’s racist intermarriage doctrines out of hand. But here is where we must face the linkage between hardline racism and a deeper racism integral to white Evangelical “identity.” Consider what one of his biographers, Barry Hankins, says about a meeting Schaeffer had with R. J. Rushdoony and that meeting’s aftermath.
In 1976, while living in California, [John] Whitehead met Rousas John Rushdoony, the father of Christian Reconstructionism. While all Reformed Calvinists and virtually all traditional Christians believe that the moral law of the Old Testament is still binding for Christians under the New Covenant, Reconstructionists believe that the Old Testament civil law is the norm as well. Simply put, they believe that the goal of politics is the eventual reinstitution of Old Testament law as the legal system of the United States.
Jonathan David Brown explicitly believed this doctrine, drawing attention over and over to the failure of most Christians to obey the complete Old Testament Law. In his brief response to me he cited Matthew 5:19, a usual proof-text for those holding to a belief that all Old Testament Laws must continue to be kept: “Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”
Back to Hankins’ biography:
“Their agenda includes the death penalty for homosexuals, adulterers, and even incorrigible children. To be fair, most Reconstructionists do not believe that the Old Testament can or shoud be imposed by force in America…”
Again, it is unlikely Schaeffer went as far as Rushdoony and other Reconstructionists with such ideas. But the most important passage to our discussion is this:
Schaeffer was enamored with Rushdoony’s writings in the 1960s, and it is quite likely that Schaeffer’s belief that the United States was founded on a Christian base came in part from Rushdoony. People who lived at [Schaeffer’s Swiss retreat] L’Abri recall Schaeffer talking about Rushdoony and being very excited about his books.
Schaeffer eventually lost interest in the Reconstructionist icon because of Rushdoony’s embrace of the idea that Christ would return only after the victorious church took over all institutions of power on earth; this conflicted with Schaeffer’s more standard Evangelical view that Christ would return to establish the Kingdom of God himself — sooner rather than later.
John Whitehead and Francis Schaeffer, then, rejected chunks of Rushdoony’s worldview but embraced the key portion that said America had been founded explicitly as a Christian nation–and that our militant purpose was to return it to that state. Whitehead would even write a book about it, The Second American Revolution, and help Francis and son Frank Schaeffer (the latter since repudiating his role in helping “create” the Christian Right) author their version, A Christian Manifesto. In Manifesto, Francis Schaeffer overtly connected the American Revolution and form of government to the Reformation and to one Samuel Rutherford. Schaeffer’s assigning such a central historical role for Rutherford has drawn fire from historians. But again, that argument doesn’t matter much here. The punchline — an alleged “Christian America” from which we have strayed and to which we should return — does.
This thread running through the fascist right, R. J. Rushdoony, and Francis Schaeffer confuses and conflates Christianity with (white) American Nationalism. Remember the historical facts: America was conceptualized, framed, and (with violence against the British, non-white indigenous peoples, and African slaves) founded by white males. Many of these “Christian” founders owned slaves. The Constitution was expressly constructed not only to “free” the white males but also to enslave the “3/5s persons” working many of their plantations. With that in mind, let’s read this swath of Schaeffer quoted by The New Yorker‘s Ryan Lizza (2011):
“The colonists followed Rutherford’s model in the American Revolution. They elected representatives from every state who, by way of the Declaration of Independence, protested the acts of Great Britain. Failing that, they defended themselves by force….
“After recognizing man’s God-given absolute rights, the Declaration goes on to declare that whenever civil government becomes destructive of these rights, ‘it is the right of the people to alter and abolish it, and institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.’ The Founding Fathers, in the spirit of “Lex Rex [Law is King – jt],” cautioned in the Declaration of Independence that established governments should not be altered or abolished for ‘light or transient causes.’ But when there is a ‘long train of abuses and usurpations’ designed to produce an oppressive, authoritarian state, ‘it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government…’
“Simply put, the Declaration of Independence states that the people, if they find that their basic rights are being systematically attacked by the state have a duty to try to change the government, and if they cannot do so, to abolish it.”…
“The thirteen colonies concluded that the time had come and they disobeyed. We must understand that for Rutherford and Locke, and for the Founding Fathers, the bottom line was not an abstract point of conversation over a tea table; at a creation point it had to be acted upon. The thirteen colonies reached the bottom line: they acted in civil disobedience. That civil disobedience led to open war in which men and women died. And that led to the founding of the United States of America. There would have been no founding of the United States of America without the Founding Fathers’ realization that there is a bottom line. And to them the basic bottom line was not pragmatic; it was one of principle.”
Here we see the threat of force as an ideological foundation-stone for the angry (and very white) Tea Party folk, the Texas Governor (Rick Perry) who talks about his state seceding from the Union, the Glenn Becks and Rush Limbaughs whose constant theme is a “godless” nation straying from its roots due to “pluralism” and “godless, gutless liberals.” Sabre-rattling is unending on the right, playing into of course the National Rifle Association’s hawking of assault rifles and much testosterone-fueled fantasizing. And perhaps shooting up a synagogue. (In 2015, the same West End Synagogue targeted by Jonathan David Brown’s friends was again shot at — a single bullet hole in the building’s front window frame to remind those within how vulnerable to kinetic hatred they are. Police continue searching for suspects.)
We see the tangle of Bill Gothard, Douglas Phillips, and other figures within the so-called “Christian Patriarchy” and “Quiverful” movements, influenced by Reconstructionists and white male power fueling white male assumptions. Christian identity and White identity meld. Evangelical David Barton’s thoroughly-debunked pseudo-history of America founding father Thomas Jefferson, The Jefferson Lies, claimed to prove that the slave-owning agnostic was actually a fervent Christian opposed to slavery. It was pulled from publication by the very conservative Thomas Nelson Publishers after its abysmal falsehoods were exposed — didn’t prevent Barton from being praised by Newt Gingrich and becoming the confidante of Ted Cruz.
History says theology is far, far too often the weapon used to sacralize — make appear sacred — laws and actions by a people bent upon their own advancement at others’ expense. One vividly obvious example from history: A culture makes impossible a person of a particular color’s education (literally ruling it illegal to teach such a one to read or be read to); manual labor for most of the person’s waking hours is deemed their proper place; they are said to be three-fifth persons, not quite human except for economic considerations (quite valuable in that respect); they do not enjoy any of the social conditions of those who own them, including marriage, stable families, freedom of movement.
And then the (white) (objective) observer comes and sees the conditions such persons are kept in, their apparent inability to show signs of being well-rounded or intelligent (educated) socially-adept human beings. (Thomas Jefferson wrote that black slaves had ”a very strong and disagreeable odor.”) And this is cited as evidence that they are inferior, a lower species of being, than their captors. And theology is brought to bear to institutionalize, to legitimate, to be able to invoke God’s name and proclaim “God granted us these creatures, who after all could not get along without us.” The constructed web of man-made, but God-blamed theology spreads to ensnare its victims more and more surely. This terrible process of reification — enforcing a narrative and then noting the reality as though it were “natural” and unavoidable — is the heart of white (male) privilege.
Black writer Ta Nehesi Coates says it so much better:
“But race is the child of racism, not the father. And the process of naming ‘the people’ has never been a matter of genealogy and physiognomy so much as one of hierarchy. Difference in hue and hair is old. But the belief in the preeminence of hue and hair, the notion that these factors can correctly organize a society and that they signify deeper attributes, which are indelible—this is the new idea at the heart of these new people who have been brought up hopelessly, tragically, deceitfully, to believe that they are white.”
Once we choose — and we do choose — to believe the construction that this nation’s founding was rooted in choices made by godly (white) men and that America’s narrative is the narrative of God’s people (akin to Israel), we have chosen a road that leads over and over to disaster. Francis Schaeffer, for all his goods and failures, may have done the most damage to his many disciples (me once included among them) by encouraging us to misread the history of our nation as the history of God’s People. Our only tragic “manifest” destiny has been to learn (unlearn) via the hardest ways, foolishly finding the deepest part of the river to cross. And those who paid most dearly were those we, in our naive (intentional) ignorance called “other.”
I, too, am concerned with “Christian Identity.” What is my identity as a Christian? How does my commitment to Jesus Christ intersect with my responsibilities as a member of a modern pluralistic democratic republic? How do I affirm the bodies of black people as real, precious as my own? Jesus chose to be born as a Jew, a non-white, and during a time his people were under the boot of the world’s largest Empire. As a citizen of the world’s currently largest and by far most powerful Empire, how do I bear witness to Jesus Christ? Dear Lord, it seems so often that before I can speak of Jesus I must speak against those using his name.
AMERICA IS NOT GOD’S CHOSEN NATION
Evangelical politics is based on one simple premise: America was founded on Christian principles. From that comes the next error: America is God’s Chosen Nation. Both of these ideas are half-truths, half-lies. Virtually all nations contain somewhere in their historical DNA precepts one could call “Christian.” All nations are chosen by God’s Love because God’s heart opens to invite all people. All other errors of political thought and action, including the most monstrous error of all, Evangelicalism’s alliance with the political right, descend from the false assumption that America is “special,” first in line, better than or leader of the others. And wrapped all round these ideas is the unspoken reality of white maleness. Our forefathers — white, male, and slavery-upholding and enhancing — did in fact create a mosaic of greatness and brokenness, equality and gross inequality. It is time to let go of these white nationalist ideas, or more likely (again my cynicism) have them torn from our grasping fingers by the relentless forward movement of God’s narrative.
Again: God loves all nations, all peoples, and calls them all to his purposes. Old Testament Israel no longer exists, its descendants hounded and harried through history. New Testament Israel — the Church — also is a diaspora, called to be such by the Lord Jesus himself. America is not even mentioned in the Bible. But we — individually and corporately — are in the narrative. I even dare to believe we *are* the narrative unfolding.
Finally, and here I dare to say I speak as a prophet (though with a very small “p”): The rising up of race baiting hate-monger Donald Trump will likely within a month or two be conveniently as forgotten by his Evangelical supporters as the story of Jonathan David Brown has been. Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell, Jr., James Dobson, Eric Metaxis, and a plethora of other white males will turn away from Mr. Trump as though he never existed. His sin — failure to win the election — will be seen as far worse to these men than Jonathan David Brown’s racist ideology.
When I discovered earlier this year that polling said 78% of white Evangelicals (and a far higher percent yet of white male Evangelicals) supported the darling of white racists nationwide, Donald Trump, I realized the struggle was over. I had to let go. I still have to let go. My tears over the past few decades have been for a movement that God used to draw me to himself, to help me grow, but also to confront me with a vision of faith that was not faith but idolatry. Those tears were over the loss of my innocence, the loss of my naivety, the loss of a narrative that comforted me but was untrue to minorities, women, and so to me (a white male).
You hurt me then and you are hurting me. You were my family, which is why it hurt(s). You were also Jonathan David Brown’s family. You failed him and you failed me. Your hands are wrapped around an idol to which they have clung so tightly, so long you no longer can let go even if you wished it. But you do not wish it. You think that monstrosity is part of your own body! You find your excuse to hold on to the demonic power of white masculinity, a narrative that dooms your witness forever as long as you cling. Let go.
Jesus is moving (let go) and his movement is toward those who suffer and away from those who deny suffering.
Jesus moves toward those who mourn the death of Jonathan David Brown. He moves toward those abused by powerful men in high places (let go). He moves toward women and men and children murdered in the name of God, or no god, or any other ideological insanity one can construct. He does not always rescue us from our sufferings (let go), I finally understand that. But he does dwell with us in the suffering if we dare dwell there rather than return to our comforting idols (let go). And he charges us to lessen our neighbor’s suffering.
Who is my neighbor? a man asked Jesus once. The Lord said, “Let me tell you a story….”
[None of bluechristian.com / jontrott.com is either supported by or participated in by members of the Christian community to which I belong. They endure my mental and spiritual gyrations but do not necessarily embrace them.]