I knew Mike Huckabee before. Before he was governor of Arkansas. Before he was a presidential candidate. Before he was a Fox News personality. Before he was a multimillionaire. Before he was pitching racial slurs.
Back then he was a Southern Baptist pastor in Texarkana. Back then he was the minister who officiated at my father’s funeral service. Back then he was a compassionate family friend. Back then he was a progressive church leader. Back then he was a man of integrity.
So, when I read this quote from him last week, I asked myself, “What happened to my friend, Rev. Mike Huckabee?”
He tweeted, “I’ve decided to identify as Chinese. Coke will like me. Delta will agree with my ‘values’ and I’ll probably get shoes from Nike & a ticket to @MLB games. Ain’t America great?”
This statement is wrong on so many levels.
It conflates two current discussions as if they were one and the same — the concern over the rise in hate crimes against Asian Americans and the reaction to Georgia’s new state legislation that disenfranchises voters under the guise of making voting safer. Coca-Cola, Delta, Nike and Major League Baseball did not use their corporate influence and power to protest the treatment of Asian Americans. They took a stand against voter suppression. At the shallowest level, Huckabee’s tweet is wrong because it is based upon an inaccurate premise.
But to a much deeper degree, the Huckabee comment is egregious and snarky. It is racist. It stirs into flames the embers of suspicion, judgment and hatred toward Asians, especially Chinese, that have been burning ever since Donald Trump first called COVID-19 the “Chinese Virus” in March 2020 and the “Kung Flu” in June of that same year.
“Huckabee has exchanged his previous gospel preaching with a cheap huckstering of carnival-style deception and attention-grabbing.”
Moreover, the comment demonstrates that Huckabee has exchanged his previous gospel preaching with a cheap huckstering of carnival-style deception and attention-grabbing. It promotes stereotyping and scapegoating. It uses familiar and desirable products like soft drinks, airline flights, athletic shoes and sporting events to incite a reaction from consumers by peddling the lie that Chinese and other Asian Americans are somehow receiving favorable treatment. In truth, they are the recipients of discrimination, verbal abuse and even violence.
Most troublesome, however, is the way that Huckabee’s tweet calls into question his own commitment to the way Jesus lived. That’s why former Southern Baptist author and speaker Beth Moore was so disappointed in her friend that she called him out: “Mike, I’ve shared a meal with you at your beautiful table. I’ve heard you profess Christ as Lord. This is entirely antithetical to the gospel.”
Regrettably, Huckabee responded to Moore with pious deflection and gross insincerity: “I don’t take Twitter or myself that seriously but I do take gospel seriously. I truly wish you only joy and continued blessings. May the power of the resurrection lift you to high places this Easter weekend, my dear sister.”
A quick internet search of Huckabee quotes over the years uncovers a number of statements that show that at certain times in his life he has indeed expressed commitment to the kind of life that Jesus lived.
One of these comments was the declaration, “Inside every human being there are treasures to unlock.” This quote is similar to another he made when explaining what being a Christian meant to him: “The best way is to say that as a Christian for me the essence of Christian faith is that you treat others as if you wish to be treated.”
Huckabee’s anti-Chinese tweet, as Beth Moore and many other Christians have noted, certainly did not acknowledge any treasures in our Asian American fellow citizens, nor did it treat them as the former Baptist pastor himself would like to be treated.
Furthermore, Huckabee has publicly testified, “Jesus said, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers.’ And I think a lot of people don’t understand that there’s a difference between a peace lover and a peacemaker. Everybody loves peace, but wearing jewelry around your neck and saying, ‘I love peace’ doesn’t bring it.”
Yet, what he has stirred up in his recent tweet is not peace but division, not acceptance but rejection, not love but hatred. Perhaps what he was wearing around his neck was an ID tag that said, “I love press.”
One must wonder, when Huckabee was crafting his sarcastic slur against Chinese neighbors, was he remembering that the Prince of Peace said that his children would be peacemakers?
A couple of other quotes, however, may reveal what has made the self-proclaimed Christian so angry. Reacting to our “woke culture,” Huckabee has decried the social justice campaigns that he fears are reducing the role of Christian faith in our society: “Christian convictions are under attack as never before. Not just in our lifetime, but ever before in the history of this great nation. We are moving rapidly towards the criminalization of Christianity.”
And what is Huckabee’s defense mechanism against this encroaching secularization? Perhaps it is to strike back, hard and unforgiving, which may be why he was such a fan of Donald Trump.
“The way you stop the school bully is you put your fist in his face and you put his butt on the ground.”
One sees a clue in his response to bullying: “The way you stop the school bully is you put your fist in his face and you put his butt on the ground.” This advice is far from the admonition of Jesus, who in Matthew 5:38-39 said: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.”
Scot McKnight, an Anglican professor of the New Testament at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary, defines apostasy as “a theological category describing those who have voluntarily and consciously abandoned their faith in the God of the covenant, who manifests himself most completely in Jesus Christ.” I am not qualified to judge the nature of Mike Huckabee’s Christian commitment or his faith in Jesus. But I do believe the judgment of Jesus, who in Matthew 7:21 said: “Not everyone who says to me, ’Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.”
Thus, when I recall that Jesus identified the second greatest commandment as, “’You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” I begin to wonder if Huckabee has somehow lost his spiritual grounding. Is he like the seed on the path that is scorched by the heat of public opinion such that his former faith has withered? Or is he like the seed surrounded by the thorns of influence, popularity and wealth that have choked out his earlier loyalty to the Jesus Way?
I knew Mike Huckabee years ago, and I haven’t seen him personally since that time. I hope that beneath the popular, political façade he still has the same heart. Perhaps he does, but I just don’t recognize him anymore. Will the real Mike Huckabee please stand up?
Rob Sellers is professor of theology and missions emeritus at Hardin-Simmons University’s Logsdon Seminary in Abilene, Texas. He is a past chair of the board of the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago. He and his wife, Janie, served a quarter century as missionary teachers in Indonesia. They have two children and five grandchildren and now live in Waco, Texas.