|The crowd chants "Send her back!" at a rally on Wednesday night|
who put darkness for light and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!
In his speech at the opening of the National Museum of African American History in 2016, former President George W. Bush said, "A great nation does not hide its history. It faces its flaws, and corrects them."
"This museum tells the truth,” he observed, “that a country founded on the promise of liberty held millions in chains, that the price of our union was America's original sin."
President Bush was not the first one to speak of slavery and racism as America’s original sin, but the fact that he said it is a reminder that this should not be a partisan issue and his use of the phrase “original sin” reminds us that the issue is about faith as well as politics.
Confronting racism is a necessity for Christians regardless of their political affiliation.
Racism is evil and it produces bitter fruit for the recipients as well as for the perpetrators. There is nothing about it that can be called good. And woe to us when we do not call it out for what it is.
You can be a racist without being a fascist but you cannot be a fascist without being a racist. Sadly, both were on display in Greenville.
One cannot use those words without being accused of being an alarmist.
But the association is unavoidable.
We cannot pretend that evil is not evil, let alone that it is good.
Half a century ago, Jurgen Moltmann, perhaps the last of the great German theologians of the twentieth century, was visiting the United States for a theological conference when the discussion turned to segregationists in the South.
“They are Nazis,” Jurgen Moltmann declared, “and when you are confronted by Nazis you must defeat them.”
Nothing else matters, he insisted, until you get rid of the Nazis.
As my theology professor told the story, Moltmann had insisted to his fellow theologians that they had no business discussing theology until they had first done something about the Nazis.
I remember thinking that although the segregationists were certainly bad, it was hyperbole to call them Nazis.
Perhaps it is hyperbole to speak that way of the Greenville rally. I fervently hope so. But by the time we know for certain it may be too late.
Jurgen Moltmann grew up in a secular family in Hamburg. As a teenager he was drafted into the German Army near the end of World War II. He was captured by the British and spent several years as a prisoner of war. During that time his captors presented him with descriptions and pictures of the concentration camps at Buchenwald and Auschwitz, and he was overwhelmed with guilt for what his country had done.
While he was held prisoner an American Army Chaplain gave him a New Testament and it transformed his life. “I did not find Christ,” he would later say, “Christ found me.” After the war he completed a doctorate in theology and his reflections on Nazism and the war led him to develop “A Theology of Hope.”
Moltmann could see, as Paul Tillich, Karl Barth, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Reinhold Niebuhr, and others had made clear before him that the absolute claims of Nazism were theological as well as political. And that those absolute claims made it antithetical to Christianity.
When Moltmann insisted that there could be no theological discussion until Nazism had been addressed, he wasn’t introducing politics into theological discourse. He was recognizing that until they were dealt with, the absolute claims of Nazism made authentic theological discussion impossible.
In an interview published in Newsweek.com, Chantal Da Silva spoke with Yale philosophy professor Jason Stanley, one of the leading scholars of Fascism. And Stanley called the Wednesday night rally “one of the single most racist moments in modern American history.” He also said that the country is “facing an emergency.”
"The word 'emergency' is tricky to use because 'emergency' is a word that anti-democratic people use all the time to justify non-democratic measures," he said.
Stanley said that he was “shocked” when he watched the video of the Greenville rally where the crowd chanted “send her back” after Mr. Trump attacked Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, a Somali refugee who came to America as a refugee who came to American when she was eight years old.
The chants came after Mr. Trump had devoted considerable time to attacking Representative Omar along with three Democratic colleagues, Representatives Aryanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib, and Aexandra Ocasio-Cortez. The women are all persons of color, and Representative Omar is a Muslim.
Mr. Trump initiated the controversy at 5:27 a.m. last Sunday when he unleashed this tweetstorm:
“So interesting to see ‘Progressive’ Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (if they even have a functioning government at all), now loudly and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run. Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came. Then come back and show us how it is done. These places need your help badly, you can’t leave fast enough. I’m sure that Nancy Pelosi would be very happy to quickly work out free travel arrangements!”Apart from the obvious racism of telling anyone to go back where they came from, it misses the obvious fact that three of the four women were born in the United States. Rep. Omar is a naturalized citizen (like two of Mr. Trump’s three wives).
In the Newsweek interview, Stanley observed that Mr. Trump was expressing his “deep-seated commitment to fascism” as well as racism. "This whole administration has been orienting itself around attacking and vilifying ethnic minorities," he said. "It's horrifying to see."
"Fascist ideology is based upon the vilification of 'outsiders,' you know. It's an ideology that has, at its very center, panic and fear about outsiders. All fascist movements are toxically anti-immigration.”
"Fascist ideology says there's the nation and the members of the nation and they are ethnically defined and they face this mortal threat from leftism, communism, socialism and foreigners and so you would think the president has a choice: he could run saying well you know the economy's strength or he could run with one of the most toxic ideologies the world has ever seen... and that's what he's doing.”In the Newsweek interview, Stanley insisted that today's journalists cannot equivocate in calling out Mr. Trump’s speech for what it is: racism.
"Journalists have two competing pressures: one is to represent the different sides in political debates and, two, is to tell the truth. These run into conflict with each other when you have a very extreme situation like the one we now face where, with one political side, there is no reasonable way to represent it."Stanley argues that Mr. Trump “is utterly clear about his white nationalism and his racism.”
“You just have to call it what it is and not suggest that it's being misunderstood," he said.
Thank you for reading. Your thoughts and comments are always welcome. Please feel free to share on social media as you wish.
*The Jurgen Moltmann story was first included in a post originally published on August 16, 2017 in response to the Nazi demonstrations in Charlottesville, Virginia.