“There is a religious war going on in this country. It is a cultural war, as critical to the kind of nation we shall be as was the Cold War itself, for this war is for the soul of America.” — Pat Buchanan
Why is racism so hard to eliminate? Why do otherwise “good” people around us seem to hold on so strongly to prejudice, while blissfully denying they have any? How can evangelicals, who claim to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ, support so many policies and politicians who work to harm minority communities? The answer is in the ephemeral yet powerfully galvanizing term “culture wars."
This is About Power, Not Race
Listening to NPR and well-meaning liberals trying to inject some gentle understanding into our race issues can give one the false, and oddly comforting idea, that politics harmful to minorities simply comes from a lack of awareness to “inherent bias” (which we all do have) and a primitive instinct to fear those different from us. For sure, this is a factor. However, if it was the only factor, one can reasonably assume these issues would not be so hard to overcome in society. There is something deeper going on.
If you confront the average religious-right activist, you will always here a direct denial, “I’m not racist! This isn’t about race!” As controversial as this sounds, I encourage you to consider for a moment they are telling the truth. The truth is that this is not about race or skin color, this is about power. The religious right has a place of social and political power and they are terrified of losing it.
Why the Religious Right Cherished Their “Black Friends”
A lengthy confrontation with religious-right activist will also inevitably lead to a listing of their “black friends.” Ben Carson, Clarence Thomas, and Michael Steele are welcomed with open arms because the color of their skin provides a sense of comfort to the religious-right, but carry no cultural affectations associated with actually being “black.” They talk, dress, and carry themselves in a way that is unthreatening and does not challenge the subtext of white, right, evangelical culture.
This doesn’t just apply to the black community. If your culture isn’t from Europhile Anglo-Saxon background, you are considered a threat to white evangelical culture. What is feared the most from the religious-right communities is change. Dramatic cultural differences challenge the norms at the core of society. This war for culture is what allows a powerful majority to hide it’s motives behind a rhetoric of “tradition” and “cultural values” when it is really fear and oppression.
The Culture of the Religious Right is Extremely Fragile
If you ever feel like minorities in America endure a lot, requiring extreme events to stand out in protest, but white America feels like it screams “foul” at the slightest offense, you are feeling correct. You see, white culture is full of unspoken rules, judgements, pitfalls, and fights for social status. As a straight white man who grew up in the Evangelical church, even I live in the knowledge that any room of people who look like me are still judging my speech, dress, and crediting me according my ability to mirror their political and religious views.
Rising through the ranks of a white Evangelical community is all about being able to outwardly display an achievement of their ideal “lifestyle.” This is why hypocritical, and obviously vapid, religious leaders like Joel Osteen thrive in this country. But even Joel, the untouchable, is one caught-on-camera “dap” away from losing his entire base of support. This hidden fear, at the base of everything in our communities, comes out in spades when confronted with the possibility of having to learn another culture. After all, we spend our whole lives trying not to get burned in our own.
Let’s Face the Culture Wars Head On
My entire point here is that while progressive Christians, the free press, and social activists shouts “racism!” – Evangelicals just keep tuning it out with “culture wars!” But here’s the thing: Culture wars are terrible! Culture wars are worse than racism because they go after people’s souls, not just their skin. They target free-thought and free-will in the claim that conformity is a form of “righteousness” and diversity in life itself is somehow evil.
I could rewrite this entire article for the LGBTQ+ community as well, just replace “Ben Carson” with “Peter Theil.” Even that is an issue of power in gender roles, instead of an actual conviction for sexual morality. We need to start using THEIR WORDS when confronting them. Culture wars insight violence, perpetuate economic inequality, and dehumanize those around us. After all, there is another group in the world devoted to cultural purity, regardless of race, and we call them terrorists.
“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter go in. Who to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much of a child of hell as yourselves.” — Matt 23:13–15 (ESV)