BlacKkKlansman: a reflection on faith, race & nationalism

Presentation of the film ‘BlacKkKlansman’ at the Cannes film festival 2018. Courtesy of Georges Biard / Wikimedia Commons
Presentation of the film ‘BlacKkKlansman’ at the Cannes film festival 2018. Courtesy of Georges Biard / Wikimedia Commons

In a guest post, evangelical Christian and author Chris Flux offers his view on the unhappy alliance between Christianity and nationalism, and why this alliance should be of grave concern to Christians.

Recently I went to see BlacKkKlansman at the cinema and despite it not being a Christian film, it prompted me to think about faith and its connections to nationalism. This blog post is a reflection on how nationalism has become part of the Christian narrative, especially in America, and to what extent that is problematic.

The Film

The film BlacKkKlansman was directed by prolific African American filmmaker Spike Lee and starred John David Washington (son of Denzil Washington) and Adam Driver (Kylo Ren from Star Wars).

The premise of the movie, which is loosely based on a true story, is that black cop Ron Stillworth (John David Washington) teams up with a Jewish colleague Philip (Adam Driver) to go undercover in the Ku Klux Klan during the 1970s. The central joke of the film is how an organisation as vile as the KKK managed to get duped and infiltrated by two of the people they hate the most, a black guy and a Jew. This comedy is contrasted with the vile nature of racism of 1970s America. BlacKkKlansman does a good job of connecting 1970s issues to modern day concerns. The film also reflects on black radicalism as well as white nationalism.

The Ku Klux Kult

“One thing that drew my attention about the movie, is how the KKK claimed (and still claim) to be a ‘Christian’ organisation. Religion is discussed by several of the KKK characters and forms the central part of a speech by a character on a Klan propaganda film seen within the movie.”

One thing that drew my attention about the movie, is how the KKK claimed (and still claim) to be a ‘Christian’ organisation. Religion is discussed by several of the KKK characters and forms the central part of a speech by a character on a Klan propaganda film seen within the movie. It struck me as not only bigoted, but deeply heretical. Whilst it’s true that their official numbers are less than 10,000 and virtually every Christian denomination denounces them, I still think it’s interesting to see how they twist Christianity for their own ends and sound like a cult rather than a church.

The KKK (or ‘the organisation’ as they like to call themselves) are an organisation who don’t hold public meetings, who wear robes covering their faces, greet each other with secret handshakes and their leader is called a ‘Wizard’! According to Christian activist Shane Claiborne, the cross burnings the KKK are famous for are supposed to symbolise Jesus cleansing the land of sin. Yet their understanding of purity includes separation from other races, not just ungodly behaviour. The Klan literally believe in the ‘God-given supremacy of white people’ and ‘strive’ to maintain white supremacy. Their loyalty, within their own pledges, is to white Protestant America, rather than Christ alone.

Modern Concerns About Nationalism

“Of course, the Klan today are rightfully seen as a fringe group who have very little influence over Government or mainstream churches. But I am concerned that a more ‘moderate’-appearing white nationalism is creeping into American churches (and to a lesser extent British churches).”

Of course, the Klan today are rightfully seen as a fringe group who have very little influence over Government or mainstream churches. But I am concerned that a more ‘moderate’-appearing white nationalism is creeping into American churches (and to a lesser extent British churches). By focusing on white nationalism, I’m not denying the existence of other forms of nationalism (e.g., black nationalism) or that those forms of nationalism are problematic. I’m only saying that it’s more prominent and therefore I have a better understanding of it. There’s also a lot of complex nuance around the word ‘nationalism’. For example the ‘nationalism’ of the Scottish National Party is very different to the nationalism of the (now defunct) British National Party. The former actively encourages the inclusion of ethnic minorities (even English people!) whilst the latter tried to exclude non-whites from membership. America seems to have both these forms of nationalism; ethnic (i.e., white) nationalism and an American nationalism based on national identity rather than race. (Therefore an African American can be an American nationalist.) Often the line between the two can be blurred and there are concerns nationalists sometimes use minorities merely to as a means to deflect criticism (e.g., finding a token black supporter to ‘prove’ that a group is legit).

The main nationalism I am concerned about regarding the church at this point, is the nationalism of Donald Trump and his America First agenda. To clarify: I do not think everyone who voted for him or his party is a racist. I understand that people voted for him because of genuine concerns over immigration, abortion, radical Islam and the character of his opponent Hillary Clinton. Given that 81% of white evangelicals voted for him (as did some evangelicals of colour), then I have to accept that millions of my brothers and sisters in Christ have or still support him.

This blog post isn’t a plea to get people to switch party allegiance or bashing Trump for the sake of it. It’s about encouraging people to consider how Trump and some of his hardcore supporters are using both faith and national identity (often combing the two) in a way I believe is unhealthy and unbiblical.

Some might say because I’m British I should mind my own business and focus on problems in the UK. Yet I respectfully disagree. When something is happening that could affect human rights, I don’t think Christians should keep silent just because it’s happening in another country. Also this is about possible deception in the church. As part of the Body of Christ internationally I don’t think we should refrain from rebuking the church outside of our own country. St Paul certainly didn’t do that when he rebuked Corinth. Finally, this association between evangelicals and extreme nationalists is hugely damaging to our witness. Even in the UK I’ve heard non-Christians say that they are put off Christianity because of the US evangelical support for Trump. This is not an excuse for rejecting Jesus, but it is a hindrance for the Gospel.

There are four examples of concern I’d like to examine of where I think there’s been an unhealthy mixing of faith and nationalism in America. They relate to how Trump speaks about minorities, the NFL protests, the separation of immigrant children from their parents and something called the Trump Prophecy. But before we address these; we need to look more broadly at what the Bible says about race, nationalism and immigration.

The Bible on Racial Equality

“The scriptures, especially the New Testament, strongly affirm racial equality.”

The scriptures, especially the New Testament, strongly affirm racial equality. God made all humans from Adam (Acts 17:26) and made Adam in His own image (Genesis 1:26–28).

Furthermore Greek and Jew are ‘one in Christ’ (Galatians 3:28) and God doesn’t accept people on the basis of their race, but welcomes people from ‘all nations who fear Him’ (Acts 10:34-35).

The long-held theory that the mark of Cain (Genesis 4:15) or the curse of Ham (Genesis 9:25-27) referred to a curse on black people is easily debunked by anyone with a basic understanding of scripture.

The Bible on Nationhood & Nationalism

“Throughout scripture, especially the Old Testament, God deals with nations as individual nations. He does this when He is blessing them, punishing them or using them for His purpose. This is especially true with Israel, which God describes as a ‘holy nation’.”

In his song ‘Imagine’, John Lennon might have wanted to do away with countries as well as religion, but this version of internationalism isn’t at all biblical. Throughout scripture, especially the Old Testament, God deals with nations as individual nations. He does this when He is blessing them (Deuteronomy 7:13-14), punishing them (Isaiah 34:2 & Psalm 110:6) or using them for His purpose (Jeremiah 27:6). This is especially true with Israel, which God describes as a ‘holy nation’ (Exodus 19:5-6). The Book of Revelation (19:15) strongly implies that nations will exist when Jesus returns and that He will judge those nations.

Interestingly the Book of Acts (17:26) says that God determines nations ‘boundaries of habitation’, so it appears that God recognises and even implements international borders.

The story of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9) shows God intervening when nations collaborate against Him. Some Christians have used this story as a theological argument against the United Nations and European Union. I don’t know God’s will regarding those two organisations, but I’m confident that God doesn’t want nations to be isolationist. There are many scriptures about nations being united around their worship of God (Isaiah 49:6; Galatians 3:28).

Having a passion for your own country, which could be said to be a form of patriotism, appears to be okay biblically. In Romans (9:1-3) St Paul talks about being passionate about his own nation and his own people, Israel. Coupled with examples from the Old Testament (e.g., David and many others showing a love toward Israel), it seems that it’s okay to have a loyalty and affection for your own country as long as this doesn’t come before God and His justice. The most important commandment is essentially to Love God and Love People (Matthew 22:36-39). When this is contravened because of the love of nation, then such patriotism becomes idolatry. A better approach to patriotism is for your love your country and its people to flow from your love of God, rather than love God because you love your country.

Biblical patriotism also doesn’t mean approving everything your nation does. Many Old Testament prophets such as Jeremiah criticised their own Governments and even had condemning words for their own rulers (Jeremiah 7:22, 27, 34). Jesus Christ Himself rebuked Jerusalem for the way prophets critical of the leadership were treated (Luke 13:34). So obedience to God comes before loyalty to any nation or empire.

The Bible on Multiculturalism

“Despite the Klan’s desire to create a white state, multiethnic societies are not condemned in scripture. Israel was a multiethnic state and whilst Israel didn’t actively encourage immigration, the Law of God demanded that migrants were treated like citizens and forbade mistreatment.”

America and Britain are multiethnic societies. Despite the Klan’s desire to create a white state, multiethnic societies are not condemned in scripture. Israel was a multiethnic state and whilst Israel didn’t actively encourage immigration, the Law of God demanded that migrants were treated like citizens and forbade mistreatment (Leviticus 19:33-34; 24:22).

Rahab wasn’t a Hebrew, but she’s found in the lineage of Christ (Matthew 1:5-16). Moses didn’t just marry a woman with a different skin tone, but God punished people for criticising him for it (Numbers 12:1-5). Some people claim that the Bible forbids interracial marriage in verses like Deuteronomy 7:3. But Exodus 34:16 explains that this is about marrying someone of a different religion, not a different race or nationality.

So given this reflection of what scripture says about these issues, let’s apply these to the concerns I have about the nationalism of Donald Trump.

Concern #1: Child Separation

“I believe in immigration controls as common sense and that God ordains national borders. But the policy of separating children from their parents is cruel, unnecessary and surely flies in the face of the biblical command not to mistreat immigrants.”

When child immigrants were separated from their parents at the US-Mexico border in 2018 (following the enactment of Donald Trump’s immigration policy), US Attorney General Jeff Sessions justified the harsh policy by saying that as illegal immigrants they were disobeying God’s law by breaking US law, thus child separation was a consequence. I too believe in immigration controls as common sense and that God ordains national borders. But the policy of separating children from their parents is cruel, unnecessary and surely flies in the face of the biblical command not to mistreat immigrants (Leviticus 19:33-34; 24:22). And whilst America has the right to choose the number of refugees it accepts, the Trump administration’s hostile attitude to refugees seems to ignore that Jesus Christ Himself was a child refugee in Egypt (Matthew 2:13-15) as well as the ‘welcome the stranger’ commandments of scripture (Hebrews 13:2; Leviticus 19:33-34).

The rhetoric around immigration from Donald Trump and many of his supporters is often dehumanising and demonises people made in the image of God which may even include some of our brothers and sisters in Christ. Working on practical solutions which are both pragmatic and compassionate seems to be the right Christian response, yet it doesn’t seem to be the one chosen by the White House.

Concern #2: Racial Slurs and Dogwhistles

“Society has come a long way from the overt racism of the pre-1960s era. It is rightfully become something frowned upon and condemned. However that doesn’t mean racism has gone away, it just raises its ugly head in more subtle ways. The same is true in politics.”

Society has come a long way from the overt racism of the pre-1960s era. It is rightfully become something frowned upon and condemned. However that doesn’t mean racism has gone away, it just raises its ugly head in more subtle ways. The same is true in politics. Few running for office will admit to being a racist. It costs the support of minority voters and white voters who don’t want to be associated with those views. So many extremists have mastered the art of appearing moderate and hiding their bigotry; sometimes so successfully that they manage to deceive decent people.

In some ways Donald Trump is one of these people, although I’d argue that he is not always that subtle. Constantly calling an opposition Senator Elizabeth Warren ‘Pocahontas’ because of her native American ancestry seems pretty much an open racial slur; yet Trump’s defenders will say he’s just joking and argue that Pocahontas is not an insult as she’s a positive character. I’ve noticed a similar pattern over the last few years, that goes like this:—

Donald Trump will say something and the media will call him racist. Then Trump’s defenders will respond by either claiming it’s ‘fake news’ or a comment has been ‘taken out of context’. Then if you look at it you’ll discover that his defenders are technically right about his words being taken out of context.

For example: he was famously reported as saying that Mexicans were ‘drugdealers’ and ‘rapists’ at a rally. But if you look at the context of his speech you’ll see that he was only saying that ‘some’ Mexican immigrants are those things, which I have to agree with. However I don’t think that means he is an innocent man unfairly having his words twisted by the media. I actually think this is a clever strategy. Trump knows the power of words and knows how the media will report them. He knows that racists will see this as a ‘nudge and a wink’ (sometimes called dogwhistle) that he’s on their side. Some might not even be aware of the context, but it will reinforce their beliefs and stir them up. But if a moderate person calls him out on racism, his defenders will say ‘look at the context’ which will serve as a plausible denial. This has happened so many times that some people say that it’s a strategy Trump has learnt from his former campaign strategist Steve Bannon.

Whether Trump uses such inflammatory language just to garner support or because he hates minorities isn’t that relevant. He might pride himself on being against ‘political correctness’, but his language runs totally counter to Biblical Correctness.

Insulting and inciting hatred against someone made in the Image of God breaks the commandment to ‘Love God, Love People.’ Jesus said how you treat others is how you treat Him (Matthew 25:40). Jesus also said that if something bad comes out of the mouth it defiles that person (Matthew 15:11) and warned that one day we’ll have to ‘give account for every careless word we have spoken’ (Matthew 12:36-37). Brushing off racially provocative comments as harmless, which some of Trump’s defenders do, is wrong too. Proverbs (18:20-21) states that ‘the tongue has power of life and death.’ Christians, especially those who support the Republican Party, should call him out on this.

Concern #3: Take A Knee Protests

“It’s completely okay to disagree with the Colin Kaepernick protest, but some of the reaction has been vile, over the top and based on a (in many cases deliberate) misunderstanding of the protest, which has been further exacerbated by President Trump who wanted to see the protesting athletes fired by their football teams.”

Since August 2016, some NFL (American Football) players led by African American athlete Colin Kaepernick, refused to stand for the national anthem as a protest against police racism. Many people became angry as they saw this protest as disrespect for America, especially the troops. It’s completely okay to disagree with the protest, but some of the reaction has been vile, over the top and based on a (in many cases deliberate) misunderstanding of the protest, which has been further exacerbated by President Trump who wanted to see the protesting athletes fired by their football teams. Kaepernick wasn’t aiming to disrespect the troops (the whole idea of kneeling came from a Marine veteran), but to make a statement about the unjust treatment of black people from law enforcement officers. Even if he’s wrong on that (personally I think he’s not), he’s obviously wanting to ‘improve’ America, not ‘destroy’ it. Yet Kaepernick has been labelled a traitor for essentially rebuking his own country on a matter of justice. This is exactly what Jeremiah and Isaiah did with ancient Israel, except what they did was far harsher than refusing to stand for the national anthem (Jeremiah 7:22, 27, 34). Interestingly those ancient prophets also faced strong opposition from their leaders (including religious leaders) and their countrymen (Jeremiah 36:23; 38:6).

Many Christians have bought into this campaign against the NFL protests, with the slogan ‘Stand for the flag, kneel for the cross’ becoming popular on Christian memes and clothing. I don’t disagree with the statement, but in this context it completely misses the point.

Protesting racism IS patriotism. It can also be a form of worship if done for the Glory of God (for example Martin Luther King’s March on Selma). To ignore injustice for the sake of patriotism is idolatry. ‘Forced patriotism’ is also ‘false patriotism’ (saluting a flag out of fear rather than love, makes that action worthless).

Instead of reacting to the protests in anger and offence, the church should look honestly at the claims of police brutality and think about solutions. After all, it was the refusal of several Kings of Judah and many officials to listen to the Prophet Jeremiah that ultimately led to their downfall (Jeremiah 7:22, 27, 34). To them, Jeremiah was the voice of treason and they tried to silence the prophet by imprisoning him and burning his scrolls (Jeremiah 36:23; 38:6). This is not to claim Kaepernick has the same prophetic authority that Jeremiah had, but when people cry out about injustice the church should at the very least listen to what they have to say.

Concern #4: The Trump Prophecy

“As a charismatic evangelical I firmly believe in modern day prophetic gifting and would not rule out the possibility of prophetic words regarding national and international events. I do however believe strongly in weighing such words and never giving them the same weight as scripture. Scripture says a lot about false prophecy and false prophets, so caution is always advised. This is the approach I take regarding what has become known as the Trump Prophecy.”

The final thing concern that I have isn’t race related, but instead how religion can be used to demand loyalty to the state.

As a charismatic evangelical I firmly believe in modern day prophetic gifting and would not rule out the possibility of prophetic words regarding national and international events. I do however believe strongly in weighing such words and never giving them the same weight as scripture. Scripture says a lot about false prophecy and false prophets, so caution is always advised. This is the approach I take regarding what has become known as the Trump Prophecy.

The Trump Prophecy is a set of prophetic words from an American retired fireman called Mark Taylor who claims that in 2011 God told him that Donald Trump would one day become President and that it would be God’s Will. Mark was suffering from PTSD at the time and started a journal about other things that God would supposedly do under a Trump Presidency. There are also other people in the evangelical world who also claim that God has spoken to them about Trump. This includes the recently deceased Kim Clement and the self-described prophet Charlie Shamp.

I cannot, for sure, rule out that this is not of God, but my concern is that once we see a political leader as being ‘anointed’ or a particular party being ‘God’s Party’, then that enables that leader or party to manipulate believers into supporting whatever they do and demonise all opposition.  This in my view is dangerous both for nations and for the church. If we silence all criticism of a Government as an attack ‘on the Lord’s Anointed’, then we give control not to God but to (imperfect) man. This also affects the credibility of our witness. Christianity has increasingly become associated with oppression, rather than the Good News of redemption and liberation.

I love the idea of a true theocracy, if that means a Government directly ruled by Jesus Christ. But according the Bible that isn’t going to happen until Jesus returns and His commandment was to spread the Gospel (Matthew 28:16-20), not take over Governments. That does not mean Christians can’t serve in Government or have influence over that sphere, but Dominionism is unbiblical in my view because Israel is the only religious state ever mandated in the Bible.

In some ways I agree that God ‘chose’ Trump to become President, but this is in the same sense that God ‘chose’ Obama before him, and ‘chose’ Brexit to happen (or not happen?) and ‘chose’ Gareth Southgate to manage the England football team (see Acts 17:26-27). Yet I don’t think many of Trump’s evangelical supporters refused to criticise God’s choice of President in 2008 and 2012.

Only God truly knows what He is doing through President Trump. Who knows if this isn’t Satan’s plan to deceive the church? Maybe it’s God’s plan to shake up the Democratic Party; maybe it’s just God’s sense of humour or showing how He is in control. My hunch is that God is doing multiple things at once; some that conservatives will like and some that liberals will like. God is not bound by any political party or ideology.

So by all means listen to and consider prophecy, but only hold to it loosely. There’s no need to speculate because if it’s true then it will come to pass (Deuteronomy 18:21-22). A former Pastor of mine once told me that (modern) prophecy is rarely there to give direction, but instead encourage us and increase our confidence in the sovereignty of God. Scripture supports this claim that prophecy within the church is (primarily at least) about encouragement, comfort and strengthening (1 Corinthians 14:3). So when it comes to elections I’d encourage people to vote according to their convictions and not as a response to the alleged prophetic words or interpretation of a fallible human being.

Churches using prophecy to encourage people is a legitimate aspect of Christian ministry, however using prophecy to control people’s voting behaviour and silence criticism of the Government is more like the actions of a cult.

Conclusion

Fondness towards nation and affirmation of racial identity can be good things. But to place anything before to commandment to ‘Love God, Love People’ is idolatry that often leads to human suffering and sin. Our ultimate identity is in Jesus Christ and our ultimate loyalty is to Him.

 

 

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The political views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the political position of etimasthe. The etimasthe website is not party political.

 

 

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