I caused a bit of a dust up back home with my piece “Why I Can Never Go Home Again.” A range of people reached out to me via Facebook, email, and text. The overwhelming majority were positive, saying I had captured the essence of their experience (white and black) and the sense of disappointment and loss they feel towards our home. I feel extremely humbled by those responses. While positive reviews made up the bulk of my correspondence (I’d estimate it around 90%), the longest and loudest responses came from people who had a bone to pick with my account.
Several local law enforcement officers personally wrote to express their displeasure with me, suggesting that I was a “suburban white boy” who’s attitude towards blacks must have been the result of not knowing the depths of their depravity firsthand (absurd, false, and racist), accusing me of profiting off racial tension like the rest of the leftist media (note: I am not a media member and this blog is completely non-commercial– I do this for fun), and claiming that I was “part of the problem” that creates racial tension in the area. Right, it is me pointing out that you don’t hire blacks, that the majority of the black community lives in poverty, or that there is disproportionate violence and incarceration in the black community that creates stress, and not the fact that you do those things to them. Got it.
A number of supposed local Tea Party members scolded me for my obvious “liberal brainwashing” and reminded me that Lima’s real problems were the result of decades of liberal government. Sure. Nothing says liberal government like repeatedly electing Jim “Freedom Caucus” Jordan to Congress. In fact, the area has elected a Republican to Congress every year since 1937. If we leaned anymore to the right we would tip over.
For my money, the strangest responses (the racist stuff and Rush Limbaugh talking points were to be expected and I suggest ignoring them as the unhinged rantings of the lowest class of Americans) were those seething angrily over the notion that there was anything wrong with the Lima area being more interested in “God, guns, and glory” than in education, jobs, and justice.
Pros: The phrase is alliterative, and therefore quite catchy.
Cons: Everything it stands for.
I put this away for a few days, intending to come back to the subject with some direct comments and suggestions for the area. And I still may. But when scrolling through social media this weekend I ran across multiple videos from an evangelical pastor named Greg Locke that so clearly illustrated the insanity of the “God, Guns, and Glory” mantra that I felt compelled to comment on it. Take for example this charming rant he filmed while being driven around his rural Tennessean community:
Somehow, 5.6 million people have chosen to watch this. Once you get past the boilerplate conservative rhetoric on Hillary Clinton being a criminal and Bernie Sanders being full of “BS” the real fun begins. Let’s allow Pastor Greg to take us on a whirlwind tour of “God, Guns, and Glory.”
Lets start where Locke does, with the alpha of this holy trinity, God. You can’t simply worship any god. You have to believe in the same god that the good reverend does. Catholics, Anglicans, Methodists, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims and the like are lost. Especially Muslims. You see, Muslims are a mortal threat to our very existence. I’ll let Locke explain this in his own words. “Um, no. Islam is not a peaceful religion. And I’m sorry we’ve been taught this foolishness.”
Listening to Locke, you might be convinced he knows what he is talking about. After all, he has a large social media following and echoes the sorts of things you hear from other right-wing figures. Plus, he leads church. Surely a man of God wouldn’t present his own uninformed opinions as facts that you should motivate you towards hate and animus towards other humans, right? He must be well schooled in the history of Islam as a religion, how the Islamic faith and her communities fit into world history, and the development of contemporary political issues in the region from a historical perspective…
Nope. Greg Locke’s formal education includes no such information. The general education curriculum at his alma mater doesn’t include anything of the sort. Like most evangelical religious leaders, his education is so narrow as to be useless outside of this insular community. Students at Ambassador Baptist College take a host of Gen Ed courses that most community colleges would blush at. No science. No history. No literature. No philosophy. No math. No foreign language. But they have “Keyboarding”!!! These are not rigorous survey courses that provide context for future learning, foundational skills needed to succeed in your education, or a breadth of knowledge necessary to make you a well-rounded thinker. They are professional prep for the sort of office tasks you’ll be expected to perform as a junior pastor or leader of a small church.
There is a reason small, conservative, religious schools like Ambassador do not seek accreditation. ABC would tell you that they are honoring 2 Corinthians 6:14–15 (if we take them at their word here then they must reject their American citizenship, since it yokes them together with unbelievers). No, they avoid accreditation because it would require them to develop a real curriculum, increasing the costs of their schools (the difference between hiring me to teach world history and hiring someone to teach “word processing” are real and significant), and most importantly it would force their students to encounter ideas contrary to what they already believe. And that is the fundamental problem with the “God, Guns, and Glory” crowd– they don’t want to think about the how or why.
How can someone with so little formal knowledge of other religions, moral philosophy, ethics, governance, or history speak with such authority on matters like Islam, the path to heaven, the ethics of abortion, gun control, or immigration? Common sense, of course. You see, he doesn’t need some fancy degree to tell you that Islam is a religion of violence– he KNOWS it to be true. This is of course farcical. Any faith that gets tied up with political and military wrangling could be painted in a similar fashion. Christian Americans and Europeans have enslaved, killed, and subjugated hundreds of millions of people globally. We fought World War’s against each other for the right to dominate these colonial empires. Our Christian soldiers continue to march into battle the world over, bringing death and destruction to our (typically non-Christian) enemies. See how easy it is to tell that story?
Nor does he need to know history to tell you that he didn’t own slaves, you were not a slave, therefore racism isn’t a thing and “All lives matter.” The history of Jim Crow, which was only made illegal a decade before his birth, doesn’t matter. No, all discrimination ended with slavery. Everything is equal now. No need to study the issue, I simply know it to be true. Their God isn’t just a deity. He is a gut feeling that allows the faithful to rest assured they are correct, regardless of information to the contrary.
This sort of sloppy thinking is the hallmark of the “God, Guns, and Glory” movement. Claim piety and authority from your religious convictions. Use that to inform your worldview and politics. And justify everything you like or dislike on those grounds. Locke’s take on gun control is a good example. His, and by proxy the lord’s, enemies are liberals who want gun control. He glibly implies that “stupid people kill people.” We can’t legislate against stupid! Good Christian that he is, Locke tells us that he believes in gun control as “using both hands when you defend yourself.” What is his logical argument against gun control? I didn’t notice one, here or elsewhere on his site. What is his theological defense of using violence against others? He gives none. These are not common sense, logical, or Christian appeals to right-wing political positions, they are simply the rantings of an uneducated lunatic that appeal to his followers because they confirm what they already want to believe about the world around them.
I won’t pretend to really understand our obsession with guns, but here is how it appears to me. Some seem to harbor vigilante snuff fantasies, where one day– God willing– they will be able to shoot someone they suspect of committing a crime. This group tends to share a lot in common with the “refresh the tree of liberty” militia types. These folks think that owning firearms will allow them to stand up to the “oppressive” federal government (ask the Bundy clan how that turns out) and that armed rebellion against a democratic state is an honorable pursuit. Others seem to genuinely be suffering from paranoia, wanting to be prepared for the overwhelmingly unlikely chance that they are put in a position where possessing a firearm means the difference between their life and death. Still more tell me that it is a slippery-slope from the government taking our guns to the creation of some sort of Orwellian dystopia. Others simply admit that they like shooting guns. It is fun. Most supporters seem to move fluidly between camps, depending on their audience and whatever the crisis of the day that poses a threat to gun ownership is.
So what is wrong with this pillar of the evangelical Christian political position? For one, it is pretty inconsistent logically, ethically, and theologically with the teachings of Jesus Christ. Being a big fan of Christ and guns simply does not make sense. And putting this issue above things like education, healthcare, jobs, the environment, or any other number of issues that effect both your local community and individual life in numerous and direct ways is beyond stupid.
In the meantime, you keep supporting open access to weapons despite clear and compelling evidence that access to guns is directly correlated with lethality of violence. Preventing this is not important to Christians of the Locke persuasion. In fact, they view it as all the more reason to have more guns.
It won’t take you long to find posts from Locke celebrating our “Glory.” He begins many of his rants discussing his pride in being an American. What exactly does he love about the United States? The answer varies, but it usually has something to do with his religious freedom (but not others). But more than anything, Locke loves an idea of America. An America based on conservative, Christian values. Indeed, it is a necessary rhetorical device for setting up his hellfire and brimstone “sermons” on the dangers facing our nation. You see, our great nation is being destroyed from the inside by liberalism…
Liberals are destroying everything that was great about America. Locke doesn’t really define this greatness, but from his comments here and elsewhere we can glean what he means. America’s glory was in some time where gays didn’t exist, racism was not a problem, we didn’t have clinics where women could have safe abortions and pro-active sexual healthcare, guns were unregulated, and Americans unabashedly supported the vigorous use of our military abroad.
This is pure fantasy. Gay people always existed. That they are beginning to establish de jure access to rights (and de facto acceptance in mainstream society) is new. Instead of thinking about how and why this is happening, Locke prefers to wrap himself in Ol’ Glory, clutch his Bible and gun, and shout loudly that it is wrong. It is the work of evil liberals, doing the devil’s work. Same with race. Liberals are “poking the bear” and making blacks feel like they are the victims of racism that does not exist. People like Locke said the same thing about Dr. King, Abraham Lincoln, and Fredrick Douglass. Instead of trying to understand how and why there are people who see racism in America (seriously, there is an abundance of historical, sociological, and economic scholarship on this subject), they assume that calls for equality and justice are an insidious plot. Against what? Our traditional way of life? Think about what that means…
Lip-service is paid to the traditions the nation was founded on, in particular our Constitution, but the legal processes for change are belittled as perverting our founding documents. Recall Locke’s education. He hasn’t even a rudimentary training in political philosophy, American history, or the legal system. Yet he is very sure he understands these things. He doesn’t quote them or mention the particular ways that they are being perverted, so one is left to assume he simply “feels” them. But these are not prophecies from God, they are written documents outlining the philosophies that our founding generation believed government was rooted in and the rules we agreed to live under. They are designed to change over time. To adapt as the nation grew. The Constitution allowed for racial slavery. Hell, it allowed the south to count three-fifths of their slaves in the population so that they could be given representatives for them. Nothing says individual freedom and representative democracy like giving slave-owners extra voting power. The Constitution was not and is not a perfect document. It has inconsistencies and outdated ideas in it. But it was also designed to change.
Furthermore, we don’t have to divine answers to what the founders thought, what they were trying to establish, or the naked injustices of their actions. They wrote it all down for us. Read the documents. Read their committee minutes. Read their public debates. Read their private correspondence. You won’t find a holy reverence for what they had done. Instead, you’ll see how they built consensus and compromise. You’ll hear them lament that they kicked the can down the road on some important issue (this happens with slavery and racism repeatedly). You’ll hear them express faith, but not in themselves or our past, but in our future. Future generations will make it right. They understood that culture changes slowly. But change they must. And any nation that would be ruled by the consent of the people would have to adapt along with their changes.
In the end, that is the fatal flaw of the “God, Guns, and Glory” mindset. Their thoughtless, uncritical, shallow faith; their contradictory love of Jesus Christ and guns; their devotion to an America that never was and never will be are all rooted in ignorance and fear. Willful ignorance of the forces that created the world they lived in and fear that they are losing (or already lost) that world. There have been many who understood that the siren’s song of the three G’s calls to ruthlessly suppress civil rights and those men capitalized on it– George Wallace and Strom Thurmond; Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan; Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. But for the poor true believers like Greg Locke, the threat and danger are real. The devil is coming for us. And he’s bringing justice for the way we oppressed blacks and gays, vilified and called for violence against Muslims, and ignored the plight of oppressed people like the Syrian refugees. Forcing us to live in peace together– the horror!– is surely a harbinger of our doom. No doubt, you see yourselves as prophets standing against tyranny to warn us of the coming storm. All I see is a foolish and hateful cry echoing Wallace’s “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.”