Yesterday, amid continuing white Evangelical freakout about a black man who refused to stand for the national anthem in order to protest racial injustice–a dog bites man story in and of itself, of course, or at least it should be–The Washington Post published Michael Frost’s “Colin Kaepernick vs. Tim Tebow: A Tale of Two Christians on their Knees,” as part of its Acts of Faith series. This response will not be so much a blog post about Kaepernick and Tebow as about WaPo’s failure to cover conservative Evangelicalism with a sufficiently critical lens. And damn, for a paper that adopted the slogan “Democracy Dies in Darkness” earlier this year, WaPo sure seems determined to keep the public in the dark about the toxicity of conservative Evangelical subculture, to the point where a more honest slogan, with respect to the paper’s coverage of Christianity, might be “Sure, democracy dies in darkness, but far be it from us to speak ill of Mordor.” Because–I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, even if I’m a voice crying in the wilderness–conservative white Evangelicals, as radical authoritarians, represent the single greatest threat to democracy and human rights in the United States today.
While I don’t even follow football as such, and am not much of a sports fan at all, let me say at the outset that #IStandWithKaepernick. Given the emotional power that professional sports have over so many people, Kaepernick’s choice, when he was quarterback for the 49ers, to use his platform to draw attention to police violence against African Americans and publicly support the #BlackLivesMatter movement through a continuous onslaught of backlash and criticism was admirable and courageous. The current round of backlash erupting among conservative Christians has been encouraged by their illegitimate president, who in a series of tweets impugned the patriotism of Kaepernick, now a free agent, and told the NFL it ought to fire athletes who refuse to stand during the national anthem. Because that is apparently a totally normal thing for a president to do, right? (Yo, Donald, your white supremacism is showing, and that goes for your white conservative Christian fanboys and fangirls, too.)
But now let’s get to Frost’s analysis, which starts off alright, but quickly devolves into a truly bizarre display of false equivalence, at least for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear. Frost effects his sleight of hand by constructing an entirely artificial model of Kaepernick’s social justice Christianity and Tebow’s conservative white Christianity, leading up to the nonsense conclusion that because each of these two types of Christianity has something the other lacks, the solution must be to overcome their “bifurcation” so that they can “enrich” each other. Here’s Frost:
The bifurcation of contemporary Christianity into two distinct branches is leaving the church all the poorer, with each side needing to be enriched by the biblical vision of the other.
Frost builds up to this bullshit by arbitrarily declaring that social justice Christianity lacks “personal piety,” which is particularly jarring in a piece in which Kaepernick’s personal piety shines through despite Frost’s patently absurd denial that it can exist. Why does Frost need such false dichotomies and mental gymnastics? The answer is pretty simple, but, for many, uncomfortable. Frost needs Kaepernick’s Christianity to lack something he can locate in Tebow’s, so that he can redeem Tebow’s, making the two Christianities equivalent in a way that fails to challenge the status quo. Supposedly Christians are to be judged by their fruits, but when it comes to white Evangelicals, Mormons, and conservative white Catholics, the U.S. mainstream media—WaPo is far from the only offender–prefer to judge these white conservative Christians by their words. They insist they’re not racist, therefore they are not racist, end of story. #SorryNotSorry, but that’s not how racism, which is systemic, works. Further, the white supremacist, misogynistic, anti-LGBTQ Christianity embodied by the vast majority of white Evangelicals is incompatible with democracy and downright irredeemable, and we need to say so. Kaepernick’s Christianity does not need anything from Tebow’s.
In short, Frost’s conveniently sloppy analysis, along with so much mainstream media coverage of American Evangelicalism, recalls the reflections of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the white moderate in his Letter from Birmingham Jail:
First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.
The mainstream media must do better in their coverage of toxic Christianity. Unfortunately, the mainstream American press exhibits a de facto taboo against treating any sort of religion as particularly problematic and not in some way, or even mostly, benign, hence the frequent recourse to logical gymnastics and false equivalence. I would like to suggest that one way to correct this would be to provide more space for ex-Evangelical perspectives and voices. Those of us who have lived toxic Evangelicalism from the inside know it well, and we ex-Evangelicals have been coming together as a movement for some time now, catalyzed by the enthusiasm of the conservative Evangelicals we come from for authoritarian demagogue Donald Trump. We are beginning to make our voices heard. It’s time for major mainstream news outlets to start paying attention.
(Yes, there are two number 17 entries in that thread. My mistake. Oh, for a Twitter edit button!)