Although I attended a black church my entire life, I was ordained into the Southern Baptist Convention, an organization complicit in the rise of the alt-right and whose troubling racial history and contemporaneous actions revealed a deep commitment to ignoring the influence of white supremacy. Last year, I wrote a piece for the New York Times about why I left, and as a result, I got death threats, was called a racist, and, surprisingly, received quite a few invitations to lunch with white pastors.
Now, I’m not a man who turns down free food, and this is especially true when white conservatives are paying. Black folks did not get the promised 40 acres and a mule, so the least I can do is get a free lunch in the name of the ancestors. It was at one of these reparation lunches when a white pastor made a comment meant to undermine white supremacy but which only showed his ignorance of how racism functioned.
“I disagree with you,” he said after we’d ordered. I don’t remember what he chose, but I know I ordered an aged steak. He was the leader of a large, white congregation, so I figured he could afford it. Besides, what good are reparations if you don’t order from the expensive side of the menu?
“Why is that?” I asked, anticipating nonsense.
“Because white Christians see souls, not race,” he said. “That’s what makes us—me and you—so different.”
This is illustrative of what I hear often from evangelicals. White Christians like to think themselves above the influence of racism. In both in their daily lives and in their political choices, I’ve seen white evangelical Christians go to great lengths to try to prove that race has nothing to do with where they live, with whom they associate and how they vote, and this study, published last week, is an attempt to prove that point.
The Billy Graham Center Institute and LifeWay Research, the most prominent evangelical research firm in America, polled white evangelicals trying to understand why 8 out of 10 of them voted for Donald Trump. Their goal, they state, is to “debunk the 81%,” or, more pointedly, understand the underlying reasons for why this demographic, white evangelicals, voted the way they did.
According to the study, the top three reasons white evangelicals voted for Trump were economic anxiety (17 percent), concern over healthcare (11 percent) and immigration reform (10 percent). Ed Stetzer and Andrew Macdonald, the researchers who conducted and published the study, summed up their findings in the following way: “ ... [E]vangelicals voted more along Republican values than traditional social conservative values,” and found that “many of Trump’s evangelical voters were not enthusiastic about him as a candidate.”
What Stetzer and MacDonald are trying to do is explain why white evangelicals, who are fond of calling themselves moral and Bible-believing, voted for a pussy-grabbing womanizer given to xenophobic diatribes. The problem is that the researchers either did not ask or did not report the responses to their questions about race or xenophobia. I think I know why.
As Vann Newkirk told us in the Atlantic, Nikole Hannah-Jones reported in the New York Times Magazine, and now Vox makes plain with data two years after the election, “Trump voters were motivated by racial resentment (as well as hostile sexism), and [there is] very little evidence that economic stress had anything to do with it.”
What’s more, since his election, Trump has had many opportunities to distance himself from the racist rhetoric that got him in office. It would not have excused what he said, but it would have been an attempt at human decency. Instead, he has doubled down on his white supremacy, with policies like the immigration ban and his “very fine people on both sides” comment in response to the “Unite the Right” march in Charlottesville, Va., last year. Just this week he proclaimed himself to be a nationalist—leave it to Trump to be the first white Hotep.
Yet, in spite of this, (or, perhaps because of it,) Trump’s approval rating is at an all-time high. Higher, in certain polls, than Obama at a similar point his presidency. And what’s the one group Trump has never had to worry about? White evangelicals. They are his base, his road dogs and the only religious group that still supports him in large numbers. Most recent polls indicate that he has a 71 percent approval rating with the guitar playing, “God’s Not Dead” demographic.
Evangelicals can try to rewrite history via revisionist polling if they want, but, to quote the urban philosopher Shawn Carter: “men lie, women lie, numbers don’t.” Put simply, whiteness with a side of misogyny was the primary reason why what happened on Nov. 6, 2016, happened.
After lunch, I thanked the pastor for the meal and started for my car.
“Have I convinced you?” he asked, hoping that his “we don’t see race” statement had changed my mind.
I didn’t even respond. I laughed in his face and then walked to my car.
For some reason, he did not invite me to lunch again.