Christian Lynchings in the South
Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images
The latest example — which is only a continuation of many more such examples — is an incident from George Fox Univeristy in Oregon. Students at this private Christian school hung an image of Barack Obama in effigy. When you hang a black man like that, proper term is really "lynch," a practice vigorously pursued by many good Christian gentlemen in the American South. How many students at George Fox do you suppose come from the South and are simply continuing to practice the traditions of their forefathers?
A campus custodial crew discovered the cutout of the Democratic presidential nominee about 7 a.m. Tuesday. Crew member Katlyn Search, 21, a George Fox senior from Battle Ground, Wash., said the cutout was hung by fishing line from a tree near Minthorn Hall. She, another student on the crew and their supervisor took down the cutout and reported the incident to the administration. Search said Obama cutouts can be purchased at a local supermarket.
The cutout was accompanied by the words "Act Six reject." Act Six is a scholarship program that was established two years ago and is aimed at including more low-income and minority students in the George Fox student body. Students are chosen for their leadership potential; all receive full scholarships.
Baker, the university president, said about seven of those students are African American. About 20 percent of the student body is minority, "which for us is a really significant achievement," he said.
Source: Oregon Live
George Fox University, by the way, was founded by Quakers — some of earliest abolitionists in America. It's a "significant achievement" to have a whole 20% minority students? This should tell us something about the school and just how white it is. How many students at George Fox University prefer a school with an even smaller minority population? How many see no difficulty in combining a racist ideology, White Supremacism, with a conservative, fundamentalist form of Christianity?
It’s interesting that while conservative evangelical Christians are unequivocal in their support for racial equality, the very structures of their faith serve to perpetuate inequality. It’s true that opponents of racism, slavery, and segregation have been inspired by religious beliefs. It’s true that anti-slavery activists, like civil rights activists, organized and worked from Christian churches. If this activism has been anywhere close to the equal of activism on behalf of racism, slavery, and segregation, though, why do Christian churches seem to remain the most segregated institution in American culture?
According to the research done by the authors of United by Faith: The Multiracial Congregation as an Answer to the Problem of Race. only 7.5 percent of the more than 300,000 religious congregations in America are racially mixed, but only 5.5 percent of Christian congregations are racially mixed. Thus, as bad as religious groups in America are about encouraging racial and ethnic diversity in worship, Christian groups are actually worse.
Almost as bad is the manner in which many Christians enable this sort of behavior by denying its presence in their ranks.
Jared Rogers, a 21-year-old senior, also was among those who found out about the incident when he read the campus-wide e-mail. "I was surprised. Obviously. it's not something you'd expect for a Christian campus," Roger said. "To me, it's someone who wanted a lot of attention."
He said he thinks the hanging of the cutout was "definitely racist."
"Why would you connect Obama to Act 6 unless you were intending racist undertones?" he said. But he added, "We've never had anything like that on campus. In general, George Fox is not racist at all."
At least Jared Rogers recognizes that the act was racist — the fact that he needs to point it out so specifically and strongly suggests that others at the school may be denying the racism. Nevertheless, Rogers is still having trouble recognizing that racism is something you should expect just about anywhere in America. A Christian campus not only isn't exempt, but in some cases Christian campuses have been some of the strongest bastions of racism. Has he never heard of Bob Jones University?
When it comes to the idea that "George Fox is not racist at all," I think that a good response comes from alumnus Auguste at Pandagon:
George Fox is a weird conundrum, in a way: The faculty is very moderate for a Christian school - the perennial conflict is when sheltered fundies get their kids to the school, find out the Biology program has a course in Evolution, they raise a stink about it, and the administration calmly tells them that if their kids don’t want to learn evolution, they’re more than welcome to stay as far away from the science building as their conscience dicates, thank you very much.
Of course, this throws a wrench into the plans of a few pre-med creationists. Win-win, n’est pas? - but the student body skews crazy. I’m talking Sarah Palin, God-bought-my-swimming-pool crazy. And although you don’t have to be a BMW-driving evangelical to be a complete, unrepentant bigot, it certainly helps.
Of course, not only the fundies have unexamined privilege issues: This is a private college in Oregon, after all. And although when I was there 10+ years ago...there were several racially charged incidents on campus, I had both hoped things had improved and wondered what the reaction was to Obama’s candidacy, given the overwhelming conservativeness of the students. Both questions were answered for me yesterday, and I wish I were more surprised. [emphasis added]
So, the student body skews "crazy right-wing Christian" and, at the same time, the campus has a history of racially charged incidents. Well, everywhere in America has a history of racially charged incidents because the entire country has a long, tragic history of racism, so in a sense George Fox University is probably pretty average. On the other hand, there is also a strong correlation in America between conservative religion among whites and racism. Because of that, it would be legitimate to wonder if perhaps the correlation here is more than coincidental.
Ku Klux Klan (KKK) Salute a Steel Cross
December 2, 2000, Cincinnati, Ohio
Photo: Tom Uhlman/Getty Images
If so, the only way forward for the administration at George Fox University is to confront racism directly. They have to acknowledge the past history and present reality of racism in America — which is to say, that racism isn't merely historical but is instead a very real and present factor. They have to acknowledge the extensive involvement of Christianity in American racism, doing a lot of the heavy ideological lifting necessary to provide religious and political justifications not only for slavery, segregation, racism, and discrimination, but also for the current denials of continuing racism and the rejection of programs which would address the effects of racism.
Basically, George Fox University has to make its students feel responsible for the state of race relations in their community, families, and churches. They have to make the students participants, not spectators, and get them to realize that White Supremacism is a systematic problem which must be attacked on the level of institutions, not merely a personal sin which can only be solved through personal salvation. So long as white students feel that standing on the sidelines as passive observers of others' racism means that they are removed from the problem, then the problems will continue and those who are willing to lynch blacks — in effigy or in reality — will feel empowered to continue doing so.
To see where this sort of Christianity leads, we need to move to the other side of the country. In New Jersey, a white nationalist organization has distributed flyers attacking Barack Obama simply because his skin color is darker than theirs:
They show unflattering photos of Obama, including one that makes him look like Osama bin Laden above text that says: "Black Ruled Nations most unstable and violent in the world."
The black-and-white flier cites poverty, HIV and unemployment rates in Haiti and South Africa and says: "The United States of America will be next! Why should we seal our fate by allowing a black ruler to destroy us?"
Source: Huffington Post
The Smoking Gun has a picture, if your stomach is strong enough. The League of American Patriots, which is listed on the flyers as being responsible for them, says that their membership is "restricted to adult heterosexual men and women who are entirely of European Christian ancestry." To be fair, they only say "ancestry," so I suppose technically that if your ancestry is Christian, but you're currently Jewish or Buddhist, they would accept you — right? Waddaya think? Yeah, maybe they wouldn't go for it.
They do seem to favor many of the most popular issues with the Christian Right, though they predictably take things just a bit further:
For decades, contraception and abortions on demand have been crippling the daughters of Europe’s ability to grow our people beyond a mere replacement level. Every means at our disposal must be used to discourage Western women from terminating the life of coming generations of our people. We strongly encourage our people to get married as young as possible so that the best women may remove themselves from the workforce to have and raise children. Employers must be compelled to pay a “family wage” thereby allowing a husband to adequately support a wife and children in relative comfort.
When Southerners wanted to leave the Union and create a slave-holding nation, they managed to find ample support in God’s words for that. Throughout the course of the war, they cited God and the Bible to argue that the South was engaged in a holy and righteous cause. Their attitudes really weren't that far different form the Christian Right today — and it's no coincidence that the modern Christian Right is strongest in precisely the same geographic area that once made up by the Confederacy.
Southern slave owners had little interest in general liberty or maintaining a democratic republic. Their ideals were founded upon patriarchy, timocracy, and authoritarianism — not liberty, democracy, or other values people tend to take for granted today. In effect, Christianity constituted an important basis for anti-democratic movements in the South designed to deny liberty to large numbers of people, primarily (though not solely) slaves. The same is very much true today of the Christian right: their authoritarian theology is far more compatible with authoritarian government than it is with democracy and liberty.
Update: Several George Fox students who commented here didn't like the fact that I assumed that the perpetrator(s) studied at the university or was even necessarily Christian, even though it was implausible that the incident was committed by non-Christian outsiders — and even though these same objections came from people who kept assuming that the incident was committed by just a single person. Well, as it turns out that the virtual lynching was indeed done by George Fox University students. Four of them, to be precise:
A statement from the school said the penalties against the four students were "immediate long-term suspension and public service." The school cited federal privacy rules in not disclosing more about the students or their punishment.
The FBI is investigating whether any civil rights were violated.
"A criminal investigation is much more rigorous than an academic one, obviously," said Beth Anne Steele, an FBI spokeswoman. She couldn't say when the investigation would be complete.
Felton said the university's own investigation led to the four students. "To the best of our knowledge these are the only people involved," he said. "We're not pursuing it any further."
Source: AP News
Auguste, the George Fox University alumnus quoted above, explains that the punishment is awfully light but this may be to make the FBI investigation easier.