‘Set Us Free From Fear: Faith, White Supremacy and Electoral Politics’ Kicks Off This Sunday

by Victor Simoes

Valley and Mountain Fellowship’s Center for Faith, Art, and Justice, in partnership with the Innovation Vitality Team of the Pacific Northwest Conference of the United Methodist Church, will host Set Us Free From Fear: Faith, White Supremacy and Electoral Politics, a series of four events, where scholars, clergy, and activists working at the intersection of race and faith will come together to discuss important topics with the broader community. The South Seattle Emerald is a media partner of this event.

The first event of the series, “Opposing White Christian Nationalism and the Midterm Elections,” will take place on Nov. 6, from 4 to 6 p.m., at the Rainier Arts Center. The discussions will include speakers Obery Hendricks, author of Christians Against Christianity: How Right-Wing Evangelicals Are Destroying Our Nation and Our Faith, and Dr. Anthea Butler, author of White Evangelical Racism: The Politics of Morality in America, and they will be moderated by the Rev. Dr. Edward Donalson III, assistant clinical professor and director of doctoral ministry at the Seattle University School of Theology and Ministry. 

The speakers will examine the impact of right-wing evangelical Christian nationalism on politics and society. “Christian nationalism essentially says that America is ordained to be a Christian nation, that it should be governed by Christian principles, which, of course, are defined by right-wing Christian nationalists themselves,” said Hendricks, a professor of religion at Columbia University. “That’s racist in the sense that it talks about making America great again. It looks back to a time in the past when white supremacy was more dominant, when they had the opportunity to, they could be more in control of society and more in control of People of Color.” 

Obery explains that white, evangelical Christianity is not necessarily in tune with the message of Jesus in the Gospel, which makes this ideology also anti-Christian, as it is the antithesis of the inclusive message preached by the gospel. Christian nationalism ignores those who have been excluded, persecuted, and enslaved, and Jesus’ message was about changing society to make it more just; it was about community, not about individualism, he says.

Organizers highlight that even though America has had eugenicist and fascist tendencies since its foun​​dation — given that its founding was based on Native American genocide — Christian nationalism ideals have been on the rise in U.S. political discourse for at least the past two decades, provoking a different kind of political saliency. 

Activist, theologian, and musician Rev. Osagyefo Sekou says that once Donald Trump arrived at the White House in 2016, he became, in a way, the great guarantor of this movement in the U.S. and internationally. As U.S. president, Sekou says, Trump brought this religious right movement along with him, including reclaiming white supremacist movements that were significantly less prevalent throughout some past Republican administrations and during the Barack Obama administration.

Sekou says this movement’s newfound prevalence is visible across the country. “We can see this trend in several elections. Marjorie Taylor is pushing this agenda and being touted as a potential VP candidate under Trump. We see it in the language and then policies of DeSantis of Florida, based on this idea that you must keep heterosexual purity and Christian purity,” he said. “[It’s a] discourse in which Christian masculinity is the dominant force in the United States.”

Despite being known as a liberal state, Washington has also seen growing extremist groups. Right-wing candidate for senator Tiffany Smiley is gathering more support from these groups than in previous years, shifting public discourse to more extremist ideals aligned with Christian nationalism. 

“When you add all that up, places that are bastions of liberalism in Western democracy can quickly become controlled by conservative forces,” said Rev. Sekou. “And then, in the course of human history, a decade and a half is a blink of an eye. So I would want to caution us in Seattle, in Washington State, as we think about all those possibilities here, [to] not engage in any forms of hubris and arrogance that those possibilities couldn’t land here in the city.”

Hendricks says the rise of these ideas is a threat to democracy. “[The] Christian nationalist movement is very dangerous, because ethics and morality are thrown out the window. There’s nothing too ugly for them to advocate if it serves their purposes. We’re faced with an evil onslaught, which has very violent tendencies that are getting worse every day,” he said. “We have to fight back. We must fight back, or we’re gonna lose our democratic society.”

The Set Us Free From Fear series will continue on Jan. 22, 2023, with a talk about “White Supremacy and Islamophobia”; April 2, 2023, addressing “The Prophetic Tradition in the face of Neofascism, with Cornel West”; and the final event, whose date is yet to be arranged, and that will discuss “Opposing White Supremacist Organizing in Rural Areas.” The events will be livestreamed on the Valley and Mountain YouTube page. Visit the Valley and Mountain Fellowship’s Center website for more information.

Victor Simoes is an international student at the University of Washington pursuing a double degree in journalism and photo/media. Originally from Florianópolis, Brazil, they enjoy radical organizing, hyper pop, and their beloved cats. Their writing focuses on community, arts, and culture. You can find them on Instagram or Twitter at @victorhaysser.

📸 Featured Image: Some of the theologians and pastors who will be speaking at the ‘Set Us Free From Fear’ series. Left to right: Dr. Anthea Butler and Rev. Dr. Obery Hendricks. (Images courtesy of Anthea Butler and Obery Hendricks; editing by Emerald team)

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