Evangelicalism as an offshoot of slave society
“You got niggers in your church?” the woman asked me after I showed her my wedding photo album (1980, Churches of Christ, rural Alabama).
Historians have noted that the South has been particularly religious, in the evangelical sense. Since 1980 historians have called the tragic identity of southerners after the Civil War the Lost Cause, and have noted it is a religion that combines southern Confederate values and Christianity.
My relatives raised in the Churches of Christ (non-instrumental) would have said that they were restoring the One True Church that Jesus established on the Day of Pentecost, A.D. 33. Left out of the narrative was that the Churches of Christ split off from the Christian Church/Disciples of Christ in the north (1840-1880) because the northern congregations were beating the abolitionist drum, according to David Harrell, leading up to the Civil War (1860-1865). I heard that the One True Church had to leave the Christian Church because they were using instruments of music in worship, and because they had established a convention and elected a president, clearly the first steps toward establishing denominational hierarchy not found in the One True Church in the book of Acts. But I never heard that we split off because we hated abolitionists and wanted to keep slavery.
Everyone knows that the Ku Klux Klan were racists who believed that the only way to protect white jobs and control the sexual sins of the black man were to lynch a few every once in awhile. But we didn’t know why they burned a cross. It was because they were an evangelical Christian organization. They did not allow Catholics or Jews to join, only Protestant Christians. They sang a hymn and prayed at every meeting. We pointed at them as the racists. They never believed they were racists at all, they were just pointing out the biblical order of society and races. We couldn’t see that we were part of a larger movement that included the Ku Klux Klan and all the white evangelical southern churches.
Almost all of the denominations and sects split during the abolitionist movement, south from north. The Southern Baptist Church, The Southern Methodist Church, the Churches of Christ, the Presbyterian splits, almost all of them embraced slavery in the south and eschewed the Abolitionist Movement. Long after the Civil War they upheld the superiority of whites, and the tragedy of the undisciplined Negro, who unconsciously longed to go back under slavery where they were well treated, and benefited from an organized productive life as slaves.
My parents taught me privately to not be racist. And by the 1950s nobody talked about supporting slavery, but they did hate the Supreme Court for interfering in their Lost Cause Civil Religion, as they hated “Martin Lucifer Coon” for registering black people to vote. “What are they even marching for?” “Why are they causing trouble at the lunch diners? Nobody wants to mix. They prefer being separate.” “Why are they rioting?”
“Excuse me, there’s a Negro congregation across town on Lexington Avenue. I’m sure you would be much more comfortable over there.” (1964)
I never heard about Martin Luther King, or the struggle to vote, in my home, or in my church. I heard that the Baptists were wrong because they believed in Once Saved Always Saved, and used instrumental music in worship (The apostle Paul said, “Sing and make melody in your heart”, NOT on a piano, “in your heart”). But I never heard that black people were not permitted to buy an FHA financed house, and were not permitted to live in a white neighborhood and attend white schools.
The Lost Cause Civil Religion is a continuum. On the right is the KKK, and on the left are those who welcome black people into their congregation, as long as the black person leaves the congregation the same as when they entered, no changes, no discussions of race, except to confirm our beliefs.
Fear of the black man was what drove much of the Lost Cause Religion:
- Jingoistic patriotism, flag and country, and Dixie flag and the South shall rise again.
- Traditional male-female roles: men provide for their families, men defend women’s honor, women keep the home and raise children, men go to war,
- bootstrap ideology, work hard and you will succeed,
- opposition to socialism because socialism rewards the lazy,
- authoritarianism: harsh towards the weak, obedient to the powerful, competitive with peers.
- Children should be seen and not heard, paddled often, should be fearful and obedient.
- Whites were righteous, god-fearing and trustworthy. Blacks were addicts, thieves and violent.
- Our religion is right, yours is wrong. We’re saved, you’re going to hell. An evangelical prayer before every team sport.
One of the deacons in our church in Indiana used to tell Jewish jokes to his Jewish boss, who didn’t laugh. He was employed as a catalog photographer. When he was replaced by a black photographer he was incensed at the boss, the company, and President Carter’s policy of reverse discrimination. There was no self reflection. When the congregation started using overhead projectors he objected because they were unscriptural innovations. His Jewish jokes weren’t sinful, but the government and the overhead projectors were sinful.
When we drove from Indiana to Mississippi to see our grandparents, every bathroom stall had anti-black pro-KKK graffiti–every bathroom stall.
So now I realize that I was raised in a milder version of the Ku Klux Klan. And when I pointed out inconsistencies in the Churches of Christ I was met with the same nasty attitudes shown to the Freedom Riders and the Lunch Counter Protesters, and the Voting Registration Marchers in the 1950s-70s. I was opposing the real religion: The Lost Cause of Genteel Southern Society based on the backs of cheap black labor. That was and is the true religion of Evangelicalism in the United States.
The Lost Cause Religion can be seen in Evangelical Christians voting for the Republican Party:
- The embracing of the slogan Make America Great Again, by going back to the era when there were no blacks in the professional jobs at work, and one could tell jokes about Jewish stereotypes and not get fired.
- Evangelical Christianity is the true religion of the USA.
- This nation was made for white people, the others need to be quiet and try to fit in. believing that anything that is not white and evangelical is evil. Agreeing that voting stations in black neighborhoods should be closed.
- The belief that voting for Republicans saves more innocent lives because they are ProLife.
- Accepting that Mexican children can be separated from their parents and housed in chain link prisons for months and years resulting in permanent mental illness.
- Voting for more and more military power.
- Sending their children off to fight in wars far away.
- Wars with Arabs who believe in an evil religion.
- Being baffled by the anger around Black Lives Matter. What are they even fighting about? Blacks are treated better than Whites now.
- Democrats cheat and Republicans don’t cheat. The belief that Trump tells the truth (everyone who has played golf with him says he cheats on every hole).
Jesus was hated after he told the story of the Good Samaritan. That’s like telling a story about the Good Negro here in the Bible Belt, and how the Evangelicals crossed the road to get away from the bloody body in need.
They told me I was raised in Christianity, but what I was raised in was Racism and Authoritarianism: the opposite of Christianity. Evangelicalism is not primarily about Jesus, it is primarily about perpetuating the Lost Cause Religion of the South. If Jesus can fit in the cracks somewhere, then fine, we’ll let him in. But what the Bible Belt Evangelicals really want from Jesus is a nice Christmas dusting of snow so we won’t have to see the evil in our hearts.