Righting America

A forum for scholarly conversation about Christianity, culture, and politics in the US
A Deafening Silence | Righting America

by William Trollinger

In a blistering August 23 LA Times op-ed historian Randall Balmer makes the case that contemporary American evangelicalism is an ethical disaster. One example is the fact that in the 2016 election 81% of white evangelicals voted for a man who “flaunted his infidelities and . . . boasted about his tawdry behavior toward women.”

But for Balmer, it is on the matter of race where evangelicals have shown their true colors. Not only did white evangelicals vote overwhelmingly for a man who “undeniably appealed to racist sentiments,” but “the deafening silence from leaders of the religious right in the wake of the neo-Nazi violence in Charlottesville, Va.” is clear evidence that “racism [is] at the very heart of the movement.” As Balmer concludes,

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, evangelicals took the part of those on the margins of society – women, the poor, workers, people of color. The 2016 election, coupled with the religious right’s anemic response to racism and white supremacy, suggests that this once proud and noble tradition is morally bankrupt.

Among those who have been silent or equivocal in the wake of Charlottesville, Balmer lists a veritable Christian Right who’s who: James Dobson, Jerry Falwell Jr., Franklin Graham, Robert Jeffress, Richard Land, Tony Perkins, Ralph Reed, and Paula White. For those who want to claim that the Christian Right leadership is not racist, then this list of “court evangelicals” (to use historian John Fea’s apt term) is pretty damning counter-evidence.

But wait. Perhaps Answers in Genesis (AiG) CEO Ken Ham offers a ray of moral light in the Christian Right darkness. After all, on the AiG website Ham has posted a one minute audio clip, “The Biblical Answer to Racism,” in which he notes that “as Christians, we should have nothing whatsoever to do with racism,” given that “there is only race, the human race.” And in the Creation Museum, there is an exhibit devoted to proclaiming that “According to God’s Word . . . We’re All One Race – ‘One Blood.’” (Righting America 179).

Alas. The folks at AiG elide the fact that white Christians “stood on their literal reading of the Word of God to issue forth a raft of proslavery polemics and to deliver an almost-infinite number of proslavery sermons”; they ignore the fact that biblical literalists supported segregation and opposed the civil rights movement; they remained mute during the Confederate flag controversy in the wake of the 2015 killing of nine A. M. E. church members by a white supremacist in Charleston (Righting America 186-191).

And Ham himself? Since July 2016 (the month Donald Trump secured the Republican presidential nomination) Ham has issued nary a blog post regarding white supremacists, the Ku Klux Klan, the rise in racially-motivated hate crimes, and – most recently – the neo-Nazi violence in Charlottesville. To bring this silence into focus, in these same fourteen months Ham has written 24 posts addressing various and very specific manifestations of the LGBTQ “menacethat threatens America, including, most recently, an attack on LGBTQ activists for “exhibit[ing] considerable hate toward Christians.”

In short, Ken Ham and AiG confirm Randall Balmer’s depressingly compelling argument. The deafening silence of Christian Right leaders in regards to racism and white supremacy points to a moral bankruptcy at the heart of the movement.