The sin of silence

The epidemic of denial about sexual abuse in the evangelical church

Rachael Denhollander’s college-aged abuser began grooming her when she was 7. Each week, as Denhollander left Sunday school at Westwood Baptist Church in Kalamazoo, Mich., he was there to walk her to her parents’ Bible-study classroom on the other side of the building. He brought Denhollander gifts and asked her parents for her clothing size so he could buy her dresses. He was always a little too eager with a hug. The Denhollanders led one of the church’s ministries out of their home, which meant the man would visit their house regularly, often encouraging Rachael to sit on his lap, they recalled.

The man’s behavior caught the attention of a fellow congregant, who informed Sandy Burdick, a licensed counselor who led the church’s sexual-abuse support group. Burdick says she warned Denhollander’s parents that the man was showing classic signs of grooming behavior.

.. And so when Larry Nassar used his prestige as a doctor for the USA Gymnastics program to sexually assault Denhollander, she held to her vow. She wouldn’t put her family through something like that again. Her church had made it clear: No one believes victims.

.. Tchividjian says sexual abuse in evangelicalism rivals the Catholic Church scandal of the early 2000s.

.. The sex advice columnist and LGBT rights advocate Dan Savage, tired of what he called the hypocrisy of conservatives who believe that gays molest children, compiled his own list that documents more than 100 instances of youth pastors around the country who, between 2008 and 2016, were accused of, arrested for or convicted of sexually abusing minors in a religious setting.

.. Over 2016 and 2017, Mullen found 192 instances of a leader from an influential church or evangelical institution being publicly charged with sexual crimes involving a minor, including rape, molestation, battery and child pornography. (This data did not include sexual crimes against an adult or crimes committed by someone other than a leader.)

.. a 2014 GRACE report on Bob Jones University ..

56 percent of the 381 respondents who reported having knowledge of the school’s handling of abuse (a group that included current and former students, as well as employees) believed that BJU conveyed a “blaming and disparaging” attitude toward victims.

.. half said school officials had actively discouraged them from going to the police. According to one anonymous respondent, after he finally told the police about years of sexual abuse by his grandfather, a BJU official admonished him that “[you] tore your family apart, and that’s your fault,” and “you love yourself more than you love God.”

.. she was told that her husband “was not attracted to his 11-year-old daughter but rather to the ‘woman’ she ‘was becoming.’ ”

.. Franklin Graham, CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, said President Trump’s “grab them by the p—y” comments and other crude language didn’t matter because “all of us are sinners.” 

.. 39 percent of evangelicals were more likely to vote for Moore after multiple accusations that he’d initiated sexual contact with teenagers when he was in his 30s. “It comes down to a question [of] who is more credible in the eyes of the voters — the candidate or the accuser,” Jerry Falwell Jr., president of the evangelical Liberty University, said at the time. “. . . And I believe [Moore] is telling the truth.”

.. It was the same message 7-year-old Denhollander heard: Stay silent, because the church won’t believe you.

.. Why are so many evangelicals (who also devote resources to fighting sex trafficking or funding shelters for battered women) so dismissive of the women in their own pews?

.. many worshipers he encountered felt persecuted by the secular culture around them — and disinclined to reach out to their persecutors for help in solving problems. This is the same dynamic that drove a cover-up culture among ultra-Orthodox communities in New York, where rabbis insisted on dealing with child abusers internally

.. 41 percent of Americans believe that the end times will occur before 2050.

.. In some evangelical teachings, a severe moral decay among unbelievers precedes the rapture of the faithful. Because of this, many evangelicals see the outside world as both a place in need of God’s love and a corrupt, fallen place at odds with the church.

.. “His interest was in protecting the church and its reputation more than protecting his daughter.”

.. forced to reconcile a cognitive dissonance: How can the church — often called “the hope of the world” in evangelical circles — also be an incubator for such evil?

.. SGC president C.J. Mahaney’s return to ministry. Mahaney had been asked to step down from his role in 2011 because of “various expressions of pride, unentreatability, deceit, sinful judgment and hypocrisy.” In 2012, a class-action lawsuit held that eight SGC pastors, including Mahaney, had covered up sexual abuse in the church. Mahaney and the SGC claimed vindication when a judge dismissed the lawsuit for eclipsing the statute of limitations.

.. Denhollander says she told her church’s leaders this was inappropriate, as Mahaney had never acknowledged a failure to properly handle allegations of sexual abuse under his leadership.

.. when Denhollander went public with accusations against Larry Nassar in the Indianapolis Star, a pastor accused her of projecting her story onto Mahaney’s. When she persisted, he told her she should consider finding a new church.

..  in 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 1 in 4 women (women make upapproximately 55 percent of evangelicals) and 1 in 9 men have been sexually abused.

.. Denhollander was there; she spoke at length in the courtroom, reminding Nassar that the Christian concept of forgiveness comes from “repentance, which requires facing and acknowledging the truth about what you have done in all of its utter depravity and horror, without mitigation, without excuse, without acting as if good deeds can erase” it.

Pastors, Not Politicians, Turned Dixie Republican

“White Democrats will desert their party in droves the minute it becomes a black party.”

Kevin Phillips, The Emerging Republican Majority, 1969

Thirty years ago, archconservative Rick Perry was a Democrat and liberal icon Elizabeth Warren was a Republican. Back then there were a few Republican Congressmen and Senators from Southern states, but state and local politics in the South was still dominated by Democrats. By 2014 that had changed entirely as the last of the Deep South states completed their transition from single-party Democratic rule to single party rule under Republicans.

.. Analysts often explain the great exodus of Southern conservatives from the Democratic Party by referencing the Southern Strategy, a cynical campaign ploy supposedly executed by Richard Nixon in his ’68 and ’72 Presidential campaigns, but that explanation falls flat. Though the Southern backlash against the Civil Rights Acts showed up immediately at the top of the ticket, Republicans farther down the ballot gained very little ground in the South between ’68 and ’84. Democrats there occasionally chose Republican candidates for positions in Washington, but they stuck with Democrats for local offices.

.. Crediting the Nixon campaign with the flight of Southern conservatives from the Democratic Party dismisses the role Southerners themselves played in that transformation. In fact, Republicans had very little organizational infrastructure on the ground in the South before 1980

.. The flight of the Dixiecrats was ultimately conceived, planned, and executed by Southerners themselves, largely independent of, and sometimes at odds with, existing Republican leadership. It was a move that had less to do with politicos than with pastors.

.. Southern churches, warped by generations of theological evolution necessary to accommodate slavery and segregation, were all too willing to offer their political assistance to a white nationalist program.

.. Forget about Goldwater, Nixon or Reagan. No one played as much of a role in turning the South red as the leaders of the Southern Baptist Church.

.. When you’ve lost the ability to mobilize supporters based on race, religion will serve as a capable proxy.

.. What was lost under the banner of “segregation forever” has been tenuously preserved through a continuing “culture war.”

.. Religion is endlessly pliable. So long as pastors or priests (or in this case, televangelists) are willing to apply their theological creativity to serve political demands, religious institutions can be bent to advance any policy goal.

.. The Southern Baptist Church was organized specifically to protect slavery and white supremacy from the influence of their brethren in the North, a role that has never ceased to distort its identity, beliefs and practices.

.. In a passage that managed to avoid explicit racism, he described what would become the primary political weapon of the culture wars:

Don’t force me by law, by statute, by Supreme Court decision…to cross over in those intimate things where I don’t want to go. Let me build my life. Let me have my church. Let me have my school. Let me have my friends. Let me have my home. Let me have my family. And what you give to me, give to every man in America and keep it like our glorious forefathers made – a land of the free and the home of the brave.

.. Long after the battle over whites’ only bathrooms had been lost, evangelical communities in Houston or Charlotte can continue the war over a “bathroom bill” using a rhetorical structure Criswell and others built.

.. He had constructed a strangely circular, quasi-libertarian argument in which a right to oppress others becomes a fundamental right born of a religious imperative, protected by the First Amendment.

.. A generation later you might hear Southern Baptists mention that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was a Baptist minister. They are less likely to explain that King was not permitted to worship in a Southern Baptist Church. African-American Baptists had their own parallel institutions, a structure that continues today.

.. However, in public Graham was careful to keep a safe distance and avoided the kind of open displays of sympathy for civil rights that might have complicated his career.

.. King was once invited to speak at a Southern Baptist seminary in Louisville in 1961. Churches responded with a powerful backlash, slashing the seminary’s donations so steeply that it was forced to apologize for the move. Henlee Barnette, the Baptist professor responsible for King’s invitation at the seminary, nearly lost his job and became something of an outcast, a status he would retain until he was finally pressured to retire from teaching in 1977.

.. In 1967, Mississippi began offering tuition grants to white students allowing them to attend private segregated schools.

.. Battles over the status of these institutions reached a climax when the Carter Administration in 1978 signaled its intention to press for their desegregation.

.. Televangelist Jerry Falwell would unite with a broader group of politically connected conservatives to form the Moral Majority in 1979. His partner in the effort, Paul Weyrich, made clear that it was the schools issue that launched the organization, an emphasis reflected in chain events across the 1980 Presidential campaign.

.. The Southern Baptist Convention expressed support for laws liberalizing abortion access in 1971. Criswell himself expressed support for the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe, taking the traditional theological position that life began at birth, not conception. The denomination did not adopt a firm pro-life stance until 1980.

.. In August of 1980, Criswell and other Southern Baptist leaders hosted Republican Presidential candidate Ronald Reagan for a rally in Dallas. Reagan in his speech never used the word “abortion,” but he enthusiastically and explicitly supported the ministers’ position on protecting private religious schools. That was what they needed to hear.

.. The new President would not forget their support. Less than a year into his Administration, Reagan officials pressed the IRS to drop its campaign to desegregate private schools.

.. in 1981, Reagan advisor Lee Atwater let down his guard, laying bare the racial logic behind the Republican campaigns in the South:

You start out in 1954 by saying, “N…r, n…r, n…r.” By 1968 you can’t say “n…r”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “N…r, n…r.”

For decades, men like Atwater had been searching for the perfect “abstract” phrasing, a magic political dog whistle that could communicate that “N…r, n…r” message behind a veneer of respectable language.

.. It was religious leaders in the South who solved the puzzle on Republicans’ behalf, converting white angst over lost cultural supremacy into a fresh language of piety and “religious liberty.”

.. By the late 80’s religious activists like Stephen Hotze in Houston were beginning to cut out the middleman, going around pastors to recruit political warriors in the pews. Hotze circulated a professionally rendered video in 1990, called “Restoring America,”that included step-by-step instructions for taking control of Republican precinct and county organizations. Religious nationalists began to purge traditional Republicans from the region’s few GOP institutions.

.. A young Texas legislator, Rick Perry, spent much of 1988 campaigning for his fellow Southern Democrat, Al Gore.

.. Moore criticized those who stirred up hatred against refugees and ignored matters of racial justice. He drew sharp criticism when he denounced the Confederate Flag, explaining, “The cross and the Confederate flag cannot co-exist without one setting the other on fire.”

.. Moore drew the obvious comparison last year between Trump and Bill Clinton

..  As religious leaders lined up solidly behind Trump last fall, Moore commented, “The religious right turns out to be the people the religious right warned us about.”

.. In the end, evangelical voters backed Donald Trump by a steeper margin than their support for Romney in ‘12.

.. Today, W.A. Criswell’s Dallas megachurch is pastored by Robert Jeffress

.. Billy Graham’s son, Franklin, retooled the ministry he inherited, turning it into something a civil rights era segregationist could love without reservation. Graham, who earns more than $800,000 a year as the head of his inherited charity, has made anti-Muslim rhetoric a centerpiece of his public profile and ministry.

.. Graham explained that black people can solve the problem of police violence if they teach their children “respect for authority and obedience.”

..  For Jeffress, the heir to W.A. Criswell’s pulpit, to champion an effort to silence Moore, reflects the powerful persistence of an unacknowledged past. After being pressed into an apology for his “unnecessarily harsh” criticisms, Moore has been allowed to keep his job – for now.

.. Public perception that a “Southern strategy” conceived and initiated by clever Republicans turned the South red is worse than false. By deflecting responsibility onto some shadowy “other” it blocks us from reckoning with the past or changing our future.

.. A refusal to honestly confront our past leaves us to repeat our mistakes over and over again.

.. Texas House member Rick Perry was taking a chance in 1989, when he decided to leave the Democratic Party to become a Republican. He leaned heavily on the emerging religious right and their campaign to convert the state’s Democratic majority. His efforts were richly rewarded. Baptist mega-pastor Robert Jeffress was a major supporter along with other evangelical leaders. Now Perry, after becoming the longest-serving governor in Texas history, sits in Donald Trump’s cabinet as the Secretary of Energy.

 

The Anti-Christian Alt-Right

The Perverse Thought of Right-Wing Identity Politics

.. “The Church has become the number one enemy of Western Civilization. Soon the only people left in Christianity will be third-world immigrants and a handful of self-hating whites.”

..Hillary Clinton devoted a speech in Nevada to deploring its influence on the election. “These are race-baiting ideas. Anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant ideas, anti-woman—all key tenets making up an emerging racist ideology known as the ‘alt-right,’” she charged.

.. Clinton could not name a single member of a movement that, she warned, imperiled American democracy

.. The movement exists almost entirely among anonymous users of the Internet. It has no institutions, no money, no political representation, and no traditional media.

.. It enjoys the close attention of the liberal establishment it seeks to discredit and the conservative movement it intends to displace.

.. “Everything we have seen over the past year suggests that the alt-right will be around for the foreseeable future.”

.. The alt-right purports to defend the identity and interests of white people, who it believes are the compliant victims of a century-long swindle by liberal morality. Its goals are not conventionally conservative.

It does not so much question as mock standard conservative positions on free trade, abortion, and foreign policy, regarding them as principles that currently abet white dispossession.

.. Its creed, in the words of Richard Spencer, is “Race is real. Race matters. Race is the foundation of identity.”

.. the alt-right represents something more nefarious, and frankly more interesting, than white identity politics.

.. The alt-right is anti-Christian.

.. Its leading thinkers flaunt their rejection of Christianity and their desire to convert believers away from it.

.. Greg Johnson, an influential theorist with a doctorate in philosophy from Catholic University of America, argues that “Christianity is one of the main causes of white decline” and a “necessary condition of white racial suicide.”

.. it argues that Christian teachings have become socially and morally poisonous to the West.

.. Its intellectual birth is marked by the 1918 publication of the first volume of Oswald Spengler’s The Decline of the West.

.. While the movement is often accused of advocating racial supremacy, its appeal is more often to cultural difference. A generation tired of multicultural pieties

.. A cultural relativist, Spengler rejects as a “ridiculous distortion” any view that privileges European thought or history.

.. “Each culture possesses its own standards, the validity of which begins and ends with it.

.. Spengler therefore sees the world as divided into fundamentally different cultures, whose identities he interprets in morphological terms. Cultures are like plants

.. They live through a determined cycle of birth, growth, maturity, and death. During its lifespan, a culture gives expression to the animating “form”

.. Spengler had no scholarly expertise in non-Western cultures (his advanced studies were in mathematics), and Decline of the West is frequently nonsense as both history and sociology. But its interpretations of cultural artifacts and their hidden symbolic meanings are often brilliant and have enchanted readers for a century.

.. All cultures are unique, but some are more unique than others. “We men of the Western culture are an exception,” Spengler claims. At the heart of his book is an interpretation of the culture he namedFaustian,” a term widely used in the intellectual circles of the alt-right.

.. a single idea permeates the arts and sciences of the West. Its distinctive mark is an intense striving for “infinity.”

.. our culture has uniquely sought to see all things in relation to the highest or most distant horizons, which, in turn, it seeks to surpass and extend.

  • The vaults of medieval cathedrals, the
  • discovery of perspective in painting, the
  • exploration of the New World, the
  • development of orchestral music, the
  • invention of the telescope and
  • calculus

—in Spengler’s story, all express the Faustian drive toward transcendence.

.. He argues that there is no Christianity without Western civilization. He arrives at this conclusion by claiming the West begins not with ancient Greece or Rome, but with the high Middle Ages and the birth of scholasticism, Gothic architecture, and polyphony.

.. Its cultural achievements are not testimonies to faith in God. They are the monuments of Faustian man’s attempt—in speculation, stone, glass, and sound—to propel himself into infinity. Of this aspiration, Spengler maintains, “the Gospels know nothing.”

..  In the minds and hands of Europeans, Christianity became a religion that affirmed the unceasing expansion of human freedom, power, and knowledge.

.. There is no biblical god for Faustian man, but there is high Christian culture, which is a tribute to his identity.

.. To a young man lacking a strong identity he says, “This heroic culture is your inheritance, and yours alone. You stand in a line of men who have attained the highest excellences and freely endured the hardest challenges.

.. Albert the Great, Cortés, Newton, Goethe, the Wright brothers all carry this daring spirit, and so do you.”

.. in his 1933 book Hour of Decision, he foresaw the rise of democratic “Caesars” and growing racial animosity. Who will give birth to the next great culture? Not Europeans

.. Spengler predicted the future would belong to the race that had preserved its “strength” in face of the rising “colored menace.”

  • If Spengler is the alt-right’s cultural critic,
  • Julius Evola is its political mystic.
    • Umberto Eco mockingly called him “the magician,” and the
    • future Pope Paul VI condemned his writings in a Vatican newspaper
    • Evola is the most right-wing thinker possible in the modern world. There is nobody to his right, nor can there be. His influence on the alt-right is detectable in one of its most controversial features: its rejection of human equality.
    • “We don’t belong to the liberal family,” writes popular blogger Hunter Wallace. “Nothing is less self-evident to us than the notion that all men are created equal.” Here is the movement’s clearest dispute with conventional conservatism
    • The alt-right denies that constitutional democracy is worthy of principled veneration. For Evola, its popular acceptance is a sign we are living in a spiritual dark age.

The basic problem with modernity is “desacralization,” the collapse of spiritual meaning in daily life. Work, family, and citizenship are no longer saturated with spiritual importance, but are understood in functionally secular terms.

.. materialism “kills every possibility

.. Spengler’s fundamental flaw was that he “lacked any understanding of metaphysics and transcendence,” which led him to conclude that human cultures are irreducibly different.

.. Evola believed more or less the exact opposite, arguing that there are timeless and universal principles that have provided the foundation for every true civilization. He referred to these perennial truths as “Tradition,” and he traced the disorders of modernity to our loss of contact with it.

.. No, the world had been slouching into spiritual poverty ever since the eighth century b.c., when the world of Tradition began to disappear.

.. Revolt Against the Modern Worldclaimed that these primordial societies—whose existence can be accessed only by way of myth and legend, not critical scholarship—all operated on the same principles.

.. In a traditional culture, every aspect of human life, every social activity, role, and caste, was dedicated to the service of an otherworldly order; indeed, they were ritual pathways into it. “According to Tradition,” Evola imagines, “every authority is fraudulent, every law unjust and barbarous, every institution is vain and ephemeral unless . . . they are derived from above.”

.. His key claim is that traditional societies were hierarchically ordered under an absolute ruler, who embodied the sacral order itself.

..  Men Among the Ruins, he argued that political conservatism is intrinsically impossible in a democratic age. True political order can never come from below; it must always be imposed from above.

.. only a transformative leader could elevate humanity out of its degraded state. Such a leader could not appeal to the masses—this was the mistake of the vulgar fascisms of Mussolini and Hitler—but must inspire submission through lofty contempt for democratic norms and popular tastes.

“The presence of superior individuals bestows on a multitude . . . a meaning and a justification they previously lacked,” Evola wrote. “It is the inferior who needs the superior, and not the other way around.”

Evola was less clear about what this sacred authority looked like than what stood in the way of its realization.

.. The problem is that Catholicism forbids the sacred state. And a state without absolute spiritual unity is no state at all.

.. Benoist is the leading theorist of the European New Right, an intellectual movement that began in France in the late 1960s

.. however, no return is necessary if we simply move beyond Christianity altogether. Evola did not believe in a personal deity, but his criticisms of Christianity were political rather than theological. With Benoist, the alt-right becomes explicitly and confessionally anti-Christian.

.. took its inspiration from the failed “conservative revolution” of Weimar Germany.

Carl Schmitt, Ernst Jünger, Arthur Moeller van den Bruck, and Spengler were its chief figures

.. Most of its members, including Spengler, took sides against the Nazi regime, but they also sought a path for the West beyond the twin evils of American democracy and Soviet communism. Benoist comes from this anti-liberal tradition

.. Benoist is the leading theorist of the European New Right, an intellectual movement that began in France in the late 1960s

.. attempt to envision a post-Christian future for people of European descent.

.. his 1981 work On Being a Pagan

.. Paganism’s central claim is simple: that the world is holy and eternal. “Far from desacralizing the world,” Benoist tells us, paganism “sacralizes it in the literal sense of the word, since it regards the world as sacred.”

Paganism is also a humanism. It recognizes man, the highest expression of nature, as the sole measure of the divine.

.. God does not therefore create men; men make gods, which “exist” as ideal models that their creators strive to equal.

.. Benoist’s case against Christianity is that it forbids the expression of this “Faustian” vitality.

.. It does so by placing the ultimate source of truth outside of humanity, in an otherworldly realm to which we must be subservient.

.. He accuses Christianity of crippling our most noble impulses. Christianity makes us strangers in our own skin, conning us into distrusting our strongest intuitions. We naturally respect beauty, health, and power, Benoist observes, but Christianity teaches us to revere the deformed, sick, and weak instead.

.. Benoist’s theology is in the service of a political warning, and it is this, more than his Nietzschean posturing, that attracts the alt-right.

.. Christianity is unable to protect European peoples and their cultures.

.. Christianity is not our religion.

..  Benoist means that Christianity renders Western culture morally lethargic and culturally defenseless.

.. its universalism poisons our attachments to particular loyalties and ties.

.. “If all men are brothers,” Benoist claims, “then no one can truly be a brother.”

.. Politics depends on the recognition of both outsiders and enemies, yet the Christian Church sees all people as potential members, indeed potential saints.

.. Christianity imparted to our culture an ethics that has mutated into what the alt-right calls “pathological altruism.”

.. Its self-distrust, concern for victims, and fear of excluding outsiders—such values swindle Western peoples out of a preferential love for their own.

.. Christianity today is the enemy of the West and the race that created it

.. we ought to see ourselves through the eyes of our pagan critics

.. They distort many truths, through both malice and ignorance, and lead young men into espousing views and defending authors they scarcely understand.

.. “Christianity provides an identity that is above or before racial and ethnic identity,” Richard Spencer complains.

.. invoking race as an emergency replacement for our fraying civic bonds.

.. identity politics on the left is a response to the same erosion of belonging.

.. we lack a compelling civic theology for the twenty-first century—a theology of the nation

.. In its absence the alt-right will continue to grow.

.. A nation will become an idol, however, if its cultural inheritance is not oriented toward, and inwardly transformed by, a divine inheritance.

.. “The inheritance we receive from Christ,” the late pope argued, “orients the patrimony of human native lands and cultures toward an eternal home land.”

.. It speaks of tradition, while transmitting no traditions. It guards a false patrimony, while destroying real ones

..  Race offers no inheritance, and its mere preservation reflects no human achievement.

.. Our stories, art, music, institutions, and religious traditions—unlike race—are transmitted only through special efforts of human intelligence and love. They are a bequest of the spirit, not blood.

.. The alt-right speaks a seductive language. Where liberalism offers security and comfort, the alt-right promises sacrifice and conflict.

.. . For Christians, the problem with Faustian man is not the vaunting heroism of his aims. It is the pitiable smallness of his goals.

We are not meant to merely aspire to the infinite. We are called to participate in it—to be, in a word, deified.

Faust could not overcome death. Through Christ, Christians already have.