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Why is white evangelicalism so cruel? – Update (2)

Why is white evangelicalism so cruel? – Update (2)

In an op-ed in Forbes [or, rather, was in Forbes]*, Chris Ladd proposes that today’s southern white evangelicalism is cruel and that cruelty stems from our nation’s slavery and Jim Crow history.

…Religion is inseparable from culture, and culture is inseparable from history. Modern, white evangelicalism emerged from the interplay between race and religion in the slave states. What today we call “evangelical Christianity,” is the product of centuries of conditioning, in which religious practices were adapted to nurture a slave economy. The calloused insensitivity of modern white evangelicals was shaped by the economic and cultural priorities that forged their theology over centuries.

Many Christian movements take the title “evangelical,” including many African-American denominations. However, evangelicalism today has been coopted as a preferred description for Christians who were looking to shed an older, largely discredited title: Fundamentalist. A quick glance at a map showing concentrations of adherents and weekly church attendance reveals the evangelical movement’s center of gravity in the Old South.

What developed in the South was a theology carefully tailored to meet the needs of a slave state. Biblical emphasis on social justice was rendered miraculously invisible. A book constructed around the central metaphor of slaves finding their freedom was reinterpreted. Messages which might have questioned the inherent superiority of the white race, constrained the authority of property owners, or inspired some interest in the poor or less fortunate could not be taught from a pulpit. Any Christian suggestion of social justice was carefully and safely relegated to “the sweet by and by” where all would be made right at no cost to white worshippers. In the forge of slavery and Jim Crow, a Christian message of courage, love, compassion, and service to others was burned away.

Stripped of its compassion and integrity, little remained of the Christian message….

*Addendum: Explanation from Forbes on why it removed the post from its site. Extract:

We took down your evangelical piece.  It was way out of bounds — painting the entire evangelical movement with a broad brush. We also have a policy of not talking about social issues like abortion at Forbes Opinion — only economic policy and politics.  We try to keep things data driven. Also, given your criticisms of Robert Jeffress, you should have reached out to him for comment.

Here’s some of what Ladd said about Jeffress:

Regarding the affair and subsequent financial payments, Jeffress explained, “Even if it’s true, it doesn’t matter.” Such a casual attitude toward adultery and prostitution might seem odd from a guy who blamed 9/11 on America’s sinfulness. However, seen through the lens of white evangelicals’ real priorities, Jeffress’ disinterest in Trump’s sordid lifestyle makes sense.

Photo: Walter Escobar of Texas holds a photo of his family, including his deported father, Jose Escobar


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Marshall Scott

Again, Brother Knapp, this is not to say that all of our churches weren’t contaminated. Certainly, the Episcopal Church was. However, there were those churches that talked about it and struggled with it, and those that reached to Scripture to defend the status quo. I can’t imagine it was a person claiming to be atheist who paid for the billboards of my childhood that began, “God made the races different” (and more I will not repeat). Those “good men” who gathered on the courthouse lawn one Saturday a month in their white robes and pointed hoods were certainly almost all in church the following Sunday morning, believing God had blessed Saturday’s “fellowship.”

True of all “evangelical” Christians now, or even then? No. Too true of some prominent “evangelical” Christians then, and continuing to today? Unfortunately, yes.

Marshall Scott

With all due respect, Brother Knapp, I can attest to the theme, if not the tone, of Ladd’s article. Growing up in Tennessee during the Civil Rights struggles of the ’60’s and ’70’s, the religious claims for resistance to change and to equal rights were made by those churches that these days claim “Evangelical” (capital E) as their hallmark, if not their name. As I sometimes say, “I grew up breathing Southern Baptist air,” and in that air was the theme of keeping the races separate and unequal.

Marshall Scott

Nor do I condemn all, or even most, evangelical Christians. There are many evangelical Christians among my family and friends. There also those facts of history, and, sadly, of current political “Evangelicalism” – a separable if not totally separate category – that I cannot deny. And, after all, no church in those days was free of racism, or is so today. Most of us, though (and certainly not just Episcopalians), wrestle with that, seeing how we can live better before Christ.

Kenneth Knapp

I share your disapproval of political “Evangelicalism” but I don’t find political Evangelicals to be any more odious than political Episcopalians. During the last election cycle the national church produced a 48 page document of political opinions that we are supposed to hold! I think we need to repent of our own sins before we “call out” theirs.

Kenneth Knapp

With all due respect, Brother Scott, I don’t think your background justifies your condemnation of Evangelicals. (Luke 6:37).

Joan Wylie
Ralph Milligan

Just curious whether you know why the article disappeared from

Kenneth Knapp

Imagine if you or I had written an editorial suggesting that Islam was cruel. This was naked religious intolerance and Forbes was right to take it down. They made a mistake publishing it in the first place.

Kurt Hill

No, Kenneth, the more accurate analogy would be to imagine if someone suggested that a certain kind of pseudo “Islam” was cruel (ISIS, or Wahhabism, for example). Fundamentalists (they love to call themselves “Evangelicals”) are heretics, there is simply no other way to describe them. I have seen them in action, too. Backward, bigoted, educationally challenged and full of themselves in their general ignorance.

Kenneth Knapp

” Backward, bigoted, educationally challenged and full of themselves in their general ignorance.” – sounds like a definition of the intersection of faith and politics to me! Thank God we are not sinners like those Evangelicals over there!

Howard Burkett

The analogy might hold had the author written an article suggesting Christianity were cruel. He has not. The author is at pains to describe a particular subset of Christians and dares to suggest historical and social factors which make them that way. I’ve read over the past few decades any number of similar, and less nuanced, pieces dilating on the peculiar nature and history of Salafism, Wahabism, and other sects and subsects of Islam and what sets them at odds with the modern world and pluralistic society, which would be a better analogy. The author is, furthermore, an expatriate Texan, brought up under the Southern Baptist hegemony, so perhaps he knows whereof he speaks.

Kenneth Knapp

He has not described a subset. He has created a straw man that appeals to the prejudices and hatred of Episcopalians.

peter durand

Religious intolerance?! Or correctly calling out intolerant, racist religious right is more like it.

Kenneth Knapp

“Calling out” is condemning. Jesus suggests we shouldn’t do that. It is funny how quickly we defend religious intolerance when it is used against people we hate. It is so easy to see the specks in the eyes of the religious right.

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