“But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you . . . ” – Jesus Christ
Never mind Jesus’ words. White American Christians know it’s just fine to hate, as long as you hate the right people.
Hate has brought more people to white American Christian churches in America than love has.
Hate spawned whole new white denominations: the Southern Baptist Church, formed to keep Black people enslaved.
More recently, the North American Lutheran Church, formed in 2010 to prevent LGBTQ people from being pastors or being married in the church.
Christians have fundraised on hatred, explicitly or implicitly, suggesting that we could “love and welcome all,” but Jesus, well, he definitely was a white American guy who liked flags and guns.
Now, eight more people are dead in Georgia.
The suspect, a 21-year-old White man named Robert Aaron Long, of Woodstock, Ga., said the shootings weren’t racially motivated, even though six of his victims were Asian-American women, and white conservatives have spent the last year blaming AAPI people for the COVID-19 virus, calling it KungFlu or the China Virus, and leading to a documented rise in incidents of violence against Asian Americans, according to NPR.
Long said he suffered from sexual addiction, and according to the Cherokee (Ga.) Sheriff’s Office, he “blames the massage parlors for providing an outlet for his addiction to sex.”
At age 21, living in an unincorporated section of a Georgia County not far from one of America’s hubs of thriving Black culture, Atlanta, in a state where Democrats won two Senate runoffs in January, tilting the balance of power in the U.S. Senate away from Republicans, Long straddles the lines of two Americas. His America: male, conservative, white, Christian, and Southern — is losing.
The Washington Post’s Sarah Pulliam Bailey wrote an extensive article about Long’s ties to the Southern Baptist Church, specifically an ultra traditionalist and conservative offshoot called Founders Ministries, which lists the church where Long was baptized as one of its member congregations. Pulliam Bailey interviewed Long’s former youth minister, Brett Cottrell, who said Long’s father was “considered an important lay leader in the church,” and the family attended morning and evening activities on Sundays, as well as meetings on Wednesday evenings and mission trips.
Were these the tools of Long’s radicalization? Building blocks and indoctrination of the hatred that would lead him to go on a killing spree?
Once we would have thought that these past church activities only added to the shock. How could it be that this good, “church boy,” would turn into a killer? We would call him a “lone wolf.” We’d wonder about mental illness, about family trouble. We’d tell Long’s story as an individual, rather than explore his place in a pantheon of angry, white, male, conservative, Christian mass shooters.
Maybe it’s something about the “culture.” A parenting issue. We don’t say that when the accused is White.
But the sheriff’s office said it wasn’t a hate crime. Cottrell said Crabapple First Baptist Church in Milton, Ga., had several non-white members. The pastors never preached about racism.
They didn’t have to. A message got through loud and clear that preached the supremacy of whiteness: who was good and worthy of forgiveness, a place in God’s Kingdom. Always KINGdom. Because God is a powerful white American man. Rich, too.
The Washington Post captured a video of the sermon preached by the Rev. Jerry Dockery at Crabapple Baptist this past Sunday. Dockery told his congregation the apocalypse was near. He suggested America had “45 presidents in our brief history.”
Joe Biden is the 46th President of the United States, but many conservatives, including conservative White Evangelicals, deny that Biden was legitimately elected, a line of messaging promoted by former President Donald Trump.
The sermon talked about Christ waging war. About a dragon deceiver thrown into eternal torment.
The Revised Common Lectionary, a set of Bible readings used by the Roman Catholic Church and most American mainline denominations, had an assigned Gospel reading this past Sunday that included this line from Jesus, “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him,” – John 3:17.
But that type of Jesus: inclusive, universal, loving, forgiving; was nowhere to be found at Crabapple First Baptist.
And so Long learned to hate.
He learned to hate the non-white Americans whom his denomination originally decreed should be kept in chains.
He learned to hate women, whom Southern Baptist doctrine deemed were under the “headship” of their husbands, and unfit to preach or lead men in Bible studies, or serve on leadership boards at church.
He learned to hate himself, when for whatever reason, his relationships didn’t conform to the pattern his church had taught him they should: a domineering man and a willing woman. He sought out that sexual satisfaction and dominance, not intimacy, at the hands of vulnerable Asian women, in massage parlors across Atlanta.
His brain was hopped up on hatred. His church told him he was dirty, impure. His church told him they were destroying the America his family of White men had built and dominated for generations. He chafed under COVID restrictions. He sought comfort in his faith. His faith told him Jesus was calling him to wage war, to take up weapons, to force women and non-white Americans to submit to him, or pay the price.
And of course he knew how to obtain and fire a gun. Because guns, more than love or forgiveness, are sacrosanct among too many White American Christians. We are like those in the crowd who shouted: Crucify Him! We prefer killing to life itself, even though we are approaching our High Holy Day, when we supposedly claim that Jesus’ greatest victory was the triumph of life over death.
Instead we glory in killing machines and slaughter ourselves in the process.
Where is that triumph today in America? O Death thy sting … it hurts. We are gathered at the tomb but we are denying our own death, so that we cannot be resurrected.
For white Christians, our so-called faith rings hollow.
Perhaps Long will not be prosecuted under a hate crime statute. Prosecutors and law enforcement officials say those cases are notoriously difficult to prove.
But I ask this of all those who claim the name of a Savior who commanded us to love: how much hate does it take to make a hate crime?
In Georgia. In America. We have blood on our hands.
This piece first appeared at ChurchAnew.org.