In the last few weeks I have seen one too many Facebook posts (typically linking to desperate articles) from my Pensacola Christian School classmates of yore clumsily trying to justify Donald Trump as the “moral choice” in this election. That absurdity is what prompted me to write this post. Those of us who grew up in the fundamentalist movement are uniquely positioned to shed at least a small amount of light on how we got to where we are in this presidential election. But, tragically, the very thing that brought many to the fundamentalist movement is what blinds them so they can not see.
I am both angered and saddened by those who even mention morality and Trump in the same paragraph unless they do so to highlight that Trump is the antithesis of morality. The man, and the religious extremists and white supremacists who support him, represents what I believe to be a vacuous Moral Masquerade. This is their desperate attempt to force all Americans to live by their perverse values of hatred, fear and exclusion.
No. No. And No.
Back to the Early 60’s
I went to private Christian schools from kindergarten through a masters degree. My parents enrolled my sister and I in Pensacola Christian School1 back in the day because they knew the founder and his wife personally from church. They were good people of faith, and they wanted to start a school that would provide children the very best education. Each year Pensacola Christian School’s enrollment grew.
Then, something unexpected happened: integration became the law of the land. Racial tensions in my hometown reached a fevered pitch. As tensions grew, the public schools were reported by the media to be virtual war zones. Enrollment at PCS exploded as white families were determined to flee public school integration.
The founder of PCS, a brilliant businessman, saw an opportunity to make a lot of money by supporting Christian schools that, as a result of white flight, were starting all over the southeast. He seized it and began publishing and selling curriculum for those new schools. The Beka Books were initially selections from old public school curriculum (marketed as “Back to the Basics”) that was out of print and out of copyright. PCS began making money hand over fist, and a national movement was born.
Make no mistake about it, the Christian school movement across the nation, at its very core, was filled with white people fleeing integration. I am not saying that the founders of PCS were racists. I believe they started their school with pure reasons and intent having no idea what was to come. But the movement that came shortly thereafter absolutely was born of racism, fear and exclusion. I saw this up close.
Now in the 70’s and 80’s
Bob Jones University was and remains deeply embedded in this movement and is the institution from which the founders of PCS graduated. The racism of the university’s founder, his son and grandson is a matter of historical record. That familial racism coupled with parents who successfully avoided having their children in integrated public schools appears to have been the toxic stew that kept Bob Jones University a whites-only school, though they piously claimed the Bible made them do it. In 1983 Bob Jones University lost the final appeal of its case, to remain an all-white school, before the Supreme Court of the United States.
Jerry Falwell feared his Liberty University, also in the Deep South and serving the same white clientele of Christian school white flight, was next. So the leadership of the Christian school movement sought to hatch a plan to unify a large, contentious group of religious racists into a cohesive political movement.
Falwell was by far the most politically astute and believed he had the most to lose. The Moral Majority was born during this time and fished around for a unifying theme that would bring in the most money and the tightest sense of political unity. They couldn’t very well market themselves as a white supremacist movement after Jones lost his lawsuit before the SCOTUS; but, abolishing the Equal Rights Amendment was a top priority.
Falwell tried several themes to gain unity and more support, starting with the “godless communists.” Damn that Ronald Reagan; the Berlin Wall came down. But then, religious fundamentalists struck gold: abortion not only brought in the funds to finance an already well-funded movement, it unified the troops around a single theme they could own and use to catapult themselves into a political force. Even the Catholics hated abortion2. The terrifying and ever-so-mysterious “they’re-coming-for-your-children” gay agenda was later to be added as icing on the cake.
This movement was to become a powerful political force because literally millions of church-organized citizens would mobilize at election time as “values voters” dutifully voting as their religious leaders instructed them to vote: against abortion, against the free-loading welfare class3, against the gay. Ultimately, however, we must never forget the founding core values of this movement: racism, fear and exclusion. They are white. They are entitled. They don’t play well with others.
Fast Forward to Today and Their Core Values
Long story short, they finally took over the GOP in this national election with Mike Pence seated at the right hand of the almighty: Trump4 himself. The fundamentalist’s leadership has always been about power and money, not integrity. They were born in racism, fear, exclusion, misogyny, homophobia, and the unfettered greed of their leadership. Those are their core values. And now, with their supposedly “born-again,” “baby Christian” Donald Trump as their puppet, these core values are on parade in the GOP platform. Should they win the election, they absolutely will see to it that all Americans bow to their religious dictates. We are talking about a holy war.
We’ve watched the GOP die this year as these extremists took over. Everyone has seen it coming. What I didn’t expect was that there would be no dead elephant. The elephant is still there, it’s just something completely different now. I see it as the alien finally exploding out of the bloodied chest of the GOP and turning the whole party into incubators for evil: a party with zero national political experience and absolutely wicked, diabolical core values.
We really could have expected nothing less from a movement that was born in exclusion, born in fear, born in racism. When the Grand Old Party slept with the devil many years ago, they sold their souls. But, in their defense, who ever could have imagined that millions of people of faith could be so deceived for so long into accepting as of paramount importance that which God has so little to say5 while completely ignoring the core values that Christ always emphasized6.
How on earth did faith practice get turned on its head and become a powerful force of evil? I’ll tell you: their leadership never had integrity and gave wings to a message of hate, fear and exclusion born in the early ’60’s. With a profoundly heavy heart I’ve often written about this over the past decade.
Revival Is in the Air
But my spirit was revived last week when, at the Democratic National Convention of all places, the Reverend Dr. William Barber, II approached the lectern with the unstoppable force of almighty truth delivered with a thunderous conviction that shook the walls of the stadium as it reverberated in the hearts of millions of decent Americans across this land.
His speech is today’s primary source. I will be the first to tell you that I am no longer a religious man precisely because of the messages of hate, fear and exclusion I disdained in my youth. But I can not tell you the power of truth I find in Dr. Barber’s remarks. I would invite you to listen to his speech in it’s entirety as you read along. He denounces the moral masquerade of the Christian fundamentalist evangelical extremists’ jihadist movement (my carefully chosen terms, not his—so don’t blame him) by presenting what, regrettably, has now become a radical message of faith practice: love.
I find Dr. Barber’s speech a stunningly bright beam of God’s light!
Good evening, my brothers and sisters.
I come before you tonight as a preacher, the son of a preacher—a preacher immersed in the movement at five years old. I don’t come tonight representing any organization, but I come to talk about faith and morality.
I’m a preacher, and I’m a theologically conservative liberal evangelical biblicist . [Cheers] I know it may sound strange, but I’m a conservative because I work to conserve a divine tradition that teaches us to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. [Cheers]
I’ve had the privilege of traveling the country with the Rev. Dr. James Forbes, and Rev. Dr. Tracey Blackman, and sister Simone Campbell as we are working together in the revival and calling for a revolution of values. And as we travel the country, and as we see things, that is why I’m so concerned about those that say so much, about what God says so little, while saying so little about what God says so much. [Cheers]
And so, in my heart, I’m troubled, and I’m worried by the way faith is cynically used by some to serve hate, fear, racism and greed. We need to heed the voice of the scriptures. We need to listen to the ancient chorus in which deep calls unto deep. The prophet Isaiah cries out, “What I’m interested in seeing you doing,” says the Lord, “as a nation is: pay people what they deserve; [Cheers] share your food with the hungry. Do this and then your nation shall be called a repairer of the breach.” [Cheers]
Jesus, Jesus ,a brown-skinned, Palestinian Jew, called us to preach good news to the poor, the broken, and the bruised, and all those who are made to feel unaccepted. Our constitution calls us to commit our government to establish justice, to promote the general welfare, to provide for the common defense, and to ensure domestic tranquility. [Cheers]
Now, to be true, we have never lived this vision perfectly. But this ought to be the goal at the heart of our democracy. And when religion is used to camouflage meanness, we know that we have a heart problem in America. [Cheers]
There have always been forces that wanted to harden, even stop the heart of our democracy, but there have also always been people who stood together to stir what sister Dorothy Day called a revolution of the heart and what Dr. King called a radical revolution of values. [Cheers]
I say to you tonight, that some issues are not left versus right, or liberal versus conservative. They are right versus wrong. [Cheers] We need to embrace our deepest moral values and push for a revival of the heart of our democracy. When we fight, to reinstate the power of the voting rights act, [Cheers] and we break the interposition and nullification of the current congress, we in the South especially know that when we do that, we are reviving the heart of our democracy. [Cheers] When we fight for $15 and a union, [Cheers] and universal health care, and public education, and immigrant rights, and LGBTQ rights, [Cheers] we are reviving the heart of our democracy. [Cheers]
When we develop tax and trade policies that no longer funnel our prosperity to the wealthy few, we are reviving the heart of our democracy. [Cheers] When we hear the legitimate discontent of black lives matter and we come together — we come together to renew justice in our criminal justice system, we are embracing our deepest moral values and reviving the heart of our democracy. [Cheers]
When we love the Jewish child, and the Palestinian child, [Cheers] the Muslim, and the Christian, and the Hindu, and the Buddhist, and those who have no faith but they love this nation [Cheers] we are reviving the heart of our democracy.
When we fight for peace and when we resist the proliferation of military-style weapons on our street, [Cheers] and when we stand against the anti-democratic stronghold of the NRA, we are reviving the heart of our democracy. [Cheers]
In times like these, we have to make some decisions and I might not normally be here as a preacher and as an individual, but when I hear Hillary’s voice and positions, I hear and I know that she is working to embrace our deepest moral values, and we should embrace her. [Cheers]
But let me be clear. Let me be clear, that she, nor any person can do it alone. The watchword of this democracy and the watchword of faith is “We.” The heart of our democracy is on the line this November and beyond. [Cheers]
Now, my friends, they tell me that when the heart is in danger, somebody has to call an emergency code. And somebody with a good heart will bring a defibrillator to work on the bad heart. [Cheers] Because it is possible to shock a bad heart and revive the pulse. In the season, when someone to harden and stop the heart of our democracy, we are being called like our fore-mothers and fathers to be the moral defibrillator of our time. [Cheers]
We must shock this nation with the power of love. We must shock this nation with the power of mercy. We must shock this nation and fight for justice for all. We can’t give up on the heart of our democracy, not now, not ever! [Cheers]
And so, and so I stop by here tonight to ask, is there a heart in this house? [Cheers] Is there a heart in America? [Cheers] Is there somebody that has a heart for the poor, and a heart for the vulnerable? [Cheers] Then stand up. Vote together. Organize together. [Cheers] Fight for the heart of this nation. [Cheers]
And while we are fighting, sing that old hymn:
Revive us again;
Fill each heart with Thy love;
May each soul be rekindled with fire from above.
Thine the glory. [Cheers]
PBS News Hour of William Barber on YouTube (same as shown above)
If not the first fundamentalist Christian school, then certainly exceedingly close to it. ↩
The fundamentalists hate Catholicism. ↩
never use the real words they had banging around in their white heads ↩
“I, and I alone.” as he so famously said. His authoritarian nature is perfect for an authoritarian religious cult: They and they alone know how God wants you to vote! ↩
abortion and homosexuality ↩
literally everything else ↩