In Part One, we touched briefly on my personal experience with American-born Evangelical Christian religions, their racist past and anti-tolerance messaging. We touched on how religion is historically used to erase and homogenise a culture for compliant assimilation into an empire and the impact it has on our multi-cultural nation of Trinidad and Tobago.
Part Two was supposed to end on a heartwarming note but two major things happened in the world which altered the course of my internal dialogue. The first was the murder of Marielle Franco, a feminist, a human rights activist and an advocate for the poor in the favelas of Brazil and indigenous peoples. She was executed by military police for her outspoken activism.
She had become a voice for the voiceless, one of her major battles being against the return of the new, American Evangelical-endorsed Cabinet to its old money, all-white, all male past by removing all black people, Indigenous People and women from having any major office, position or lobbying power in Brazil.
|North America-Born Christian Sects||Year|
|Southern Baptist Convention,||1845|
|Seventh-day Adventist Church,||1863|
|Latter-Day Saint movement/Mormonism,||1830|
|Jehovah’s Witnesses,||1870 (1931)|
|Church of Christ, Scientist (Christian Science),||1879|
|Universal Church Of The Kingdom of God||1977|
Roman Catholicism in Latin America has given the world the most progressive pope in centuries. Pope Francis is himself a scientist who accepts evolution as valid and focuses heavily on social justice for the poor and protection of Indigenous Peoples, even advocating for tolerance for sexual minorities and atheists. He denounces the inhumanity of capitalism and the destruction of the environment.
However, in Brazil, just like in T&T, there has been a steady shift away from the RC Church. The country’s powerful oligarchy feels alienated by Pope Francis’ refusal to endorse their greed, pollution, inhumane corporate practices and the political corruption that enables it. But guess which religion lends itself more to their objectives? You’ve guessed it, American Evangelicalism.
In 1970, the number of Brazilians who were Catholics stood at 90 percent; today, it’s 50 percent, thanks to the wave of “neo-Pentecostalism” from the United States. According to The New York Times, over 2,800 missionaries from the US have come to Brazil. Can you say neo-colonisation!
One of the most popular American sects is the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God or “Igreja Universal do Reino de Deus” (IURD). It is a purveyor of “Prosperity Gospel” which demands monetary love offerings from poor folk, who are promised material success. Bishop Edir Macedo is the Brazilian Joel Osteen and is listed by Forbes as having a fortune estimated at $1.3b and his mega-church Solomon’s Temple was completed at the cost of $300m.
Now, nothing is wrong in and of itself with a new religion growing, except that these American Evangelical sects fleece poor people of their money and get heavily involved in politics, most notably, in supporting the abusive military police and agricultural oligarchs, earning the nickname the “Bullet, Beef, and Bible” caucus.
The cattle farming oligarchs oppress the Indigenous Peoples, whose rainforests they clear to raise beef. The military police oppress the poor in the favelas to keep them in their place and out of the spaces of white, upper-class Brazilians. The bible thumpers usually go after Indigenous and Afro-spirituality and culture as well as they oppose secularists and scientists regarding evidence-based public policy. They often use American Evangelical publications rejected in the USA for inaccuracy and harmful, unproven assertions. Marielle Franco was a piqan in their bambam.
The second event which changed my focus was the death of Reverend Billy Graham and retrospectives on his life’s work which brought into focus his refusal to stand firmly with the Civil Rights Movement in the USA.
Today many White Conservative Christians like Pat Robertson, who was against Rhodesia becoming a black-ruled Zimbabwe, love to drop the name Dr Martin Luther King Jr when it suits their agenda. However, their brand of Christianity was nothing like that of the Civil Rights Hero. Dr King was radically anti-capitalist, pro-worker, pro-poor, pro-racial and pro-social justice. King’s right-hand man, Baynard Rustin, was known to be gay and—up until her passing—his late wife, Coretta Scott was an avid supporter of women’s reproductive rights and the rights of LGBTQI people.
The Reverend Billy Graham might have called Dr King his “black friend” but he refused to appear on stage with Dr King after 1957—when a line was drawn in the sand and appearing with Dr King meant you endorsed his push for Civil Rights for Black Americans. Reverend Graham reluctantly agreed to allow black worshippers to attend his rallies but never made any statements to alienate his racist, white followers, many of whom, despite not being actively involved in atrocities, were silent and complicit, as this poet passionately conveys.
Their Evangelical sects never exposed their racism. That exposure came from secular sources such as the media, which documented their inhumanity towards those who were supposed to be their precious, fellow Christian family. It came from academia, which studied their racism and provided intellectual framing of the issue. It came when the Democratic Party pulled the rug out from under Bible Belt Conservatives and sided with the Civil Rights Movement, leaving them feeling jilted, ashamed and politically homeless.
Guess who took them in? The same GOP that used to be the Progressive Party, the Party of Ike who decried military industrial complexes, the party of Teddy Roosevelt who checked the big corporations, the Civil Rights Party of Lincoln, the party Black Americans used to support for generations.
As part of Richard Nixon’s Southern Strategy, it welcomed the racist, religious fundamentalist Segregationists against the warning cries of people like Conservative Republican Barry Goldwater, who, despite not being a paragon of racial virtue himself, at least knew the religious fundamentalism of white Evangelicals was dangerous for the constitutionally enshrined protection of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness, Separation of Church and State and evidence-based public policies.
In the late 70’s, History had begun to paint White Conservative Christians as the villains of the 20th Century and their new GOP relied on political strategists to re-brand them. They needed a cause to rally around!
They could not use the human rights of the Civil Rights Movement, the Anti-War and Earth Love Movements of the hippies or anything remotely anti-capitalist to regain the moral high ground. So, they invented a new Triple G Morality that policed Gestation, Genitalia Use and Gender Roles.
This was something the White Christian Conservatives were already good at, having had, for years oppressively guarded the “purity” of white women against black, Latino and Native American men and keeping her firmly under the thumb of her white, male guardians. They even got Conservative Roman Catholics—whom they secretly despised—to join their voting base, using the slogan “We are the Sexual Purity Party.”
Sexual matters became the only subject of moral outrage by the now rebranded White Christian Conservatives. Their focus on sex as the most important moral issue meant that racism, lying, enabling of fraud and exploitation by bankers, illegal wars, polluting the environment, impoverishing the working poor, preying on the sick and suffering for profit, needlessly depriving citizens of their freedom and support for the war and guns lobby were no longer considered seriously immoral.
They effectively changed the conversation on morality so that their politicians could engage in all of these and still be considered “morally upright” just as long as they put up a front of “family values.”
In 2018, the GOP base of White Conservative Christians no longer needs to hide their overt racism, gun worship, Social Darwinism. They’ve also long dropped their “family values” front just as Bristol Palin dropped her panties for premarital sex while preaching Abstinence Only.
White Christian Conservatives now openly support political candidates who are adulterous and/or sex offenders just as long as (s)he vows to stop the “browning” of America, make racial segregation legally possible through defunding public schools and legalizing religious exceptions for discrimination against citizens. They voted for child molesters like Roy Moore. Known adulterers and sexual assaulters like Donald Trump are now their new messiahs, in whom they trust to enable their Dominionist goals.
Make no mistake, none of this means the current Democratic Party are saints. They are also the bitch of the Corporations and work mainly for their corporate overlords, as Bill Clinton and Barack Obama have demonstrated on numerous occasions.
However, their base is markedly different when it comes to racial inclusion and religious and cultural diversity. Their base is progressive when it comes to getting money out of politics, workers’ rights, helping the poor, improving public education, protecting the separation of Church and State, respecting scientific literacy and evidence-based solutions, protecting the planet and universal human rights of all citizens. Behind them is a Progressive Christian Movement, walking in the footsteps of Dr King and focusing fixedly on the cause of the “least of these,” according to the Gospels.
They are the Christians behind the Moral March, they are Roman Catholic Nuns On The Bus, they are the Quakers who have been progressive since their active involvement in the abolition of slavery. They are the Episcopalians, who joined the Civil Rights Movement, going so far as to even die in the struggle right alongside their black brother protesters. They can be found in social media groups such as Liberals Like Christ, The Christian Left and their ministry, Christians Tired of Being Misrepresented, pushing back against biblical legalism and political meddling by hypocritical, prosperity gospel theocrats.
They support the universal human rights of all, even if they are non-Christian and they stand with Muslims who are victims of hate crimes. They believe that justice is what love looks like in public and practical application.
Reverend Billy Graham’s passive-aggressive retort to Dr King’s now famous “I Have a Dream” Speech was, “Only when Christ comes again will the little white children of Alabama walk hand-in-hand with little black children.”
This is no different from what I was raised to believe inside an American Evangelical sect. No need to get up, stand up, stand up for your rights! Just send thoughts and prayers and proselytize for converts. No need for scientific research into the real reasons for problems and evidence-based solutions. No. Just send thoughts and prayers and proselytise for converts.
Allow the rich to get richer. Allow the social injustice to continue. Allow the oligarchy free rein. Allow the planet to be destroyed. Don’t upset the status quo! Wait for Jesus to come and make everything better, one day, soon, soon, we promise.
Yes, we promised 2000 years ago; wait a little longer. Wait another 100 years while doing nothing but sending thoughts and prayers and proselytising for converts.
If individual believers want to wait for a Saviour to solve everything, they are welcome to do so. But I must point out that while they are being passive and sending prayers for every horrific headline, their leadership within American Evangelical faiths are being very aggressive.
They are exporting misogynistic, imperialist preachers and missionaries, especially to mineral-rich countries in the Global South. They are actively forming Bullet, Beef and Bible caucuses wherever there is corrupt/inept leadership and oligarchies. They are trying to stamp out labour movements, women’s movements, Black and Indigenous People’s movements and movements for religious tolerance. They are trying to get scientific evidence out of public policy-making.
Franco’s assassination by the Bullet, Beef and Bible caucus in neighbouring Brazil brings into sharp focus why we here in Trinidad and Tobago need to wet our own roofs.
Be wary of the Unholy Triad of Religious Fundamentalism, Big Business and Right-Wing Fascist Leadership (the Police/Military being their arm).
Never forget which people got the bible and piety and which people got the land and the wealth the first time around, when Christianity came to the Global South from a white man’s empire.
Editor’s note: Click HERE to read Part I of The Battle for Souls.