• Sean

Fear, Evangelical Christianity, Racism, and Police

Updated: Dec 23, 2020

(originally posted on 6/7/20)

One thing I have found remarkable, growing up in a suburban evangelical setting and then leaving, is how much fear is in that environment. What I find most striking is how much of that fear is fear of other people doing to them what they do to others. I first noticed it with accusations of the “Homosexual Agenda.” They were (many still are, I assume) terrified of some large orchestrated effort to “turn their children gay”. The fact that “turning someone gay” isn’t how human sexuality works is irrelevant here, what is important is that there was a fear of a large organized attempt to indoctrinate and influence children. This is not a thing - as I suspected at the outset and have continually discovered the further away I get from that space and into spaces more filled with a variety of LGBTQIA+ people. The important part, though, is that their fear is based in the fact that they are actively doing such things to others.

As a child raised in a “non-denominational” evangelical church and youth group that I attended through high school and a “non-denominational” evangelical christian school that I attended through middle school, I can attest very strongly to a unified effort to mold the minds of children in a specific direction - the “straight and narrow,” they called it. I also had a subscription to a christian teen boy’s magazine called Breakaway, which had a companion for girls called Brio, both of which had very deliberate content aimed at keeping children in the church and living in a very particular mode, often stoking fear of things outside the church like “secular” music. In these institutions, very clear messaging about rightness and wrongness were portrayed consistently, generally in ways that demonized humanity or diversity - whether of thought, sexuality, or anything else (I will say I don’t recall any explicit racism like there was homophobia or misogyny of the “the Bible says women should respect and submit to their husbands” variety, but if I read them again I’m sure I’d see some things that would unsettle me).

Included with the narrow moralistic messaging in these environments were lessons on how to evangelize. I got my earliest sales training from the church. Everything I learned in retail afterwards had pretty much already been covered but in a more manipulative way. Things like The Way Of The Master and other productions from Kirk Cameron and people like him were presented to us so that we could know how to strike up a discussion, turn it in our direction, and convince people that they were hellbound and needed to come to church. We had regular group meetings dedicated to this training that included practice runs with each other where we pretended to be on the street. Someone would act like a stranger and we’d strike up a conversation with them with the intention of giving them some sort of pamphlet or tract and getting them to come to church (getting their phone number to help “hold them accountable” was super ideal - often done under the guise of offering friendship). This level of manipulation and evangelism is absolutely not the method of any LGBTQIA+ people I have met. Providing a space and resources for people to be themselves is patently different than trying to make other people do your thing the way you want them to and demonizing them for doing otherwise. However, since that is how they operate, it seems that is how they assume everyone else operates. It embodies the idea of “accuse the other side of that which you are doing” - a quote often thrown around with questionable attribution. The difference, I think, is that it is less strategic misinformation than a lack of ability to fathom any way of thinking other than that which you are involved in.

This mindset is the same mindset that spawns authoritarianism and colonialism. The whole point is to have everybody doing everything exactly how you like it - “peace” through hegemony and uniformity as opposed to cooperation and mutual respect. The backlash against the current uprisings protesting racist police practices - and the larger recent surge in expressed white supremacy - embody this as well. I have yet to hear a black activist say they want a role reversal. They want equality. They want to exist without dying or being held down - physically or metaphorically - because of their skin color. The colonial mindset can’t fathom that, they believe that if they are not imposing oppressive force it will be imposed upon them - some think it is already happening. It is a worldview that requires aggressive action as opposed to cooperation and communication to maintain “peace” and “stability”. It is a binary belief that an uprising for mutual respect is actually an uprising for similar but inverted power structures and an inability to fathom a society where people who were violently oppressed don’t want complete retaliation or some form of total dominion. It says, “If I am not doing this to them, they will do it to me.” It is why police consistently say they “fear for their lives” despite being wrapped up in millions of dollars of military equipment.

It’s no accident that evangelicals have supported Trump, tend to fight against efforts at police reform, and oppose efforts to undo systemic racism. It’s a winner-take-all mentality that doesn’t allow for equal power to differing groups. It can’t fathom coexistence or cooperation across lines of diversity and as a result it has a fearful mentality that all other people are trying to manipulate, enslave, or conquer them as they have done to others. This will naturally lead to fighting and resistance, no matter how inaccurate their fears may be. The root of the evangelical christian belief is that nobody can go to heaven without doing things in exactly the correct way, which they alone know. They believe they are saving people from an eternity of suffering and damnation by “sharing the good news” - no matter how much it may be manipulative or colonialist it is in its effect. That self-assured self-righteousness permeates much of what it touches and leads to a significant arrogance and unfounded certainty in a number of areas - from what it means to be “Christian” to what it means to be “American.”

I suspect that this colonial mindset accuses other people of colonialism because it is what they themselves do, it’s how they see the world, and they can’t fathom any other way of the world existing. This mindset is at the root of white supremacy - both explicit and implicit - as well as police violence and we need to find ways to change it.


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