I feel compelled to reason with my white evangelical sisters and brothers about their political choices, particularly those of late. We agree on the ultimate issues of Christ, salvation, the Bible and such.
But, with all the humility and respect that I can muster, I have to ask this question: What if you are wrong about your political analysis?
I ask this question of you and “your side,” but please believe me when I tell you I have asked and continue to ask that same question in my own introspection and my own assessment of “my side.” Sometimes my question frightens me, but it inevitably brings me closer to God.
I recognize that God’s ways are above our ways, and God’s thoughts above our thoughts. I realize the best we can do is gaze through a glass darkly, for we don’t yet see truth face to face — so we only know in part. Therefore, the hubris it requires to believe we are fully correct all the time can prove to be a dangerous tool used by the enemy to distract us from what God truly calls us to: unifying love and loving unity.
“The hubris it requires to believe we are fully correct all the time can prove to be a dangerous tool used by the enemy.”
Wouldn’t it be ironic if it turned out that both abortion and marriage equality were further codified into law due to the political processes set in motion by the evangelical deal with the devil that brought us Trumpian politics?
It appears this month’s midterm elections revealed and emboldened a potent portion of the populace that heretofore had been relatively dormant. Now, states across America have begun legislative proceedings to ensure that both of the issues so many white evangelicals define as their most crucial causes, their twin hills to die on, be permanently protected and preserved in both state and federal law.
What if this is an inevitable consequence of hitching your wagon with forces who are willing to feign allegiance to whatever cause will motivate you to give them power, but in actuality don’t share your convictions? What if a movement built upon the shifting sands of compromise proves unable to stand and endure?
What if your alliance with those who claim abortion to be the most pressing moral issue of our time, yet prove to be more interested in the degree to which they can profit (politically and financially) from the war than in winning the battles of saving the lives that truly define the war, actually ends up with them achieving their goals while you end up empty handed? What if it turns out that when you dance with the devil the devil always calls the tune?
What if the real goal of those who lead the so-called “pro-life” movement was more about gaining power? What if, for all the hand-wringing fervor they want you to engage in concerning abortion, they don’t really want you to fully consider all the implications and consequences of their stance overturning Roe v. Wade because that really was not their ultimate goal? For instance, the Bible rightly speaks against drunkenness, but who among us thinks a return to the days of prohibition would be right and prudent? What if they are using good and godly people like yourself to politically mobilize a vast community of churchgoers who were largely silent toward politics before abortion became the pronounced cause du jour in the late 1970s?
What if those white evangelical leaders have a somewhat tacitly inherited agenda from their ideological forefathers which has to do with another issue altogether? At the dawning of the Civil Rights movement of the mid-20th century, white conservatives (especially in the church) largely opposed the fight against racism, Jim Crow segregation and institutional white supremacy. They had invested more than a century and a half conceiving, birthing, nurturing, maturing and matriculating an America the way they understood God had intended it to be: for the preferential benefit of white people.
“In their minds, they had power and wealth over people of color, and, by God, they intended to keep it that way.”
In their minds, they had power and wealth over people of color, and, by God, they intended to keep it that way. They were able to control their destiny by their electoral dominance of state legislatures, Congress and the White House. But by the 1940s and 1950s two factors came into view which threatened what they saw as America’s greatness.
First, the Civil Rights movement began to gain momentum in the judicial branch of the government. White conservatives thought they always would be able to maintain their white supremacist power structure until 1954’s Brown v. Topeka Board of Education Supreme Court decision opened the doors to the desegregation of public schools.
Second, passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the foreseeable increase in the non-white portion of the population signaled that white conservatives were going to have to learn to lead from a numerical and electoral minority if they were to maintain their power.
If this was accurate, then their highest priorities would be twofold.
First, they would seek to secure a majority in the judiciary so they would be able to find relief by correcting the mistakes of what they derisively call the “activist court” — such as the Voting Rights Act and affirmative action.
Second, they would endeavor to find a way to control who gets to vote by dominating state legislatures and Secretary of State offices across America, thereby passing and enforcing legislation that proves in practice to target and limit the electoral participation of certain people groups — just like they did back when America was “great.”
Now, you may say this is paranoia, but today affirmative action is being challenged at the Supreme Court, while voting rights challenges are being enforced around the country (particularly in areas with large Black populations) with the practical effect of targeting Black voters “with almost surgical precision,” as described by one appellate court decision.
“The Voting Rights Act of 1965 has been effectively gutted by conservatives.”
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 has been effectively gutted by conservatives with the Shelby v. Holder Supreme Court decision of 2013, essentially asserting that the protections of the Civil Rights movement were unnecessary and harmful because they worked. In the words of dissenting Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: “Throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”
To discount my analysis, you would have to believe several unlikely propositions.
You would have to believe America is no longer plagued by what has been termed our “original sin” of white supremacy, even though it was legally implemented from before our founding through a century of slavery and an additional century of Jim Crow segregation — essentially from 1619 through 1968.
You would have to believe that three and a half centuries of sinful habits that undergirded the acquisition of unparalleled wealth and power could be erased and reversed in much less than 50 years with neither adequate repentance nor recompense.
You would have to believe the ideological progeny of the conservatives who established and advocated for slavery, fought a war to preserve a way of life financed by oppression, eliminated the gains of Reconstruction, enforced a hundred years of segregation, and fought against the Civil Rights movement now are for the progress of that same Civil Rights movement, even as they continue to oppose those progresses while using the same ideological rationales and often the same rhetoric of their ideological forefathers.
You would have to believe we can trust the same white conservative evangelical movement that largely missed what has proved to be the most impactful move of God upon American society (the Civil Rights movement) by being preoccupied with the salacious issues surrounding who is having sex with whom.
“You would have to believe the ends justify the means, which is counter to what we know about the ways of God from the Bible.”
Not only that, but you would have to believe your partnership with the ones who enable you to exercise your power has no ill consequences. You would have to believe the ends justify the means, which is counter to what we know about the ways of God from the Bible.
What if the world hears your loud stance for biblical marriage but sees the fact that Christian marriages are often more likely to end in divorce than non-Christian marriages and concludes that Christians have very little practical authority to say anything about marriage, straight or gay? What if your enthusiastic embrace of such men as Donald Trump and Herschel Walker actually undermines your testimony of godly marriage?
What if the world sees your blatant compromise over the character values you once said mattered in order to demonstrate your fealty to Trump and determines your faith to be hypocrisy activated for the sake of your own power, profit and protection?
What if the world sees your apparent inability to delineate between the belief that Trump has done no wrong and the belief that Trump can do no wrong and determines your MAGA fervor to be the type of cult worship narcissistic megalomaniacs tend to crave?
What if your Faustian bargain with the embarrassingly under-qualified and ill-equipped Herschel Walker actually undergirds some of the most painful negative stereotypes of Black men? What if your cynical willingness to promote the clearly wrong Black candidate simply to gain control of the U.S. Senate actually hinders your ability to earn the trust of a significant portion of Black voters well into the future?
What if the inevitable result of undermining the confidence of America in the integrity of its elections by building a movement based upon the Big Lie of a stolen election is consistent underperforming at the polls, an entirely foreseeable outcome?
In short, what if your political calculations are off? What if there prove to be negative consequences (including spiritual consequences) for your compromises? What if you are wrong?
Sid Smith III is a music ministry consultant and serves at Third Baptist Church of San Francisco. His father, Sid Smith Jr., was a pioneer Southern Baptist Convention leader credited with starting more than 400 predominantly Black SBC churches.
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