This week’s author in African American History month, Pastor Ronald Bonner – who published this time last year as well, knows a thing or two about racism, United States society, and the church. However in addition to talking about the evils of racism, he has used the occasion of our country’s political situation to write boldly about how the recent upsurge in white supremacist rhetoric since the election of our new president has heightened not only the racism, but also the homophobia, queerphobia, transphobia, Islamaphobia – all the ways that evil tries to divide and conquer God’s children, intersect. And specifically, he talks about the “alternative facts” of white supremacy continue to divide and enrage. Read, comment, and share!
Rev. Dr. Linda E. Thomas – Professor of Theology and Anthropology, Chair of LSTC’s Diversity Committee, Editor – “We Talk. We Listen.”
Calling “alternative facts” the truth is like calling arsenic “alternative salt.”
The Bible is clear lying breeds contempt and must be avoided yet we allow it from our politicians, pundits and media sources. Much of America’s woes and divisions are due to lies. Racism, sexism, classism, hetero-sexism, are examples of lies or alternative facts that led our culture to accept hate, superiority, and unnatural division as normative. The use of alternative facts by political and religious leaders serves as a superficial surrogate for the depression and hopelessness that many Americans feel. Not knowing who to blame, external enemies are created to serve as scapegoats. Alternative facts and hateful speech creates pundits out of persons who have found this fracture in our society and have rushed to fill this void with the venom of blame.
For 60 million Americans Donald Trump is the new messiah.
For the millions of white Americans and others who have felt displaced or devalued in this society Donald Trump is the personification of their hope. Many average and below average income white Americans and some others have felt that their rights and prestige has been taken away. They feel that they are the ones whose ancestors built this country on a bedrock of gritty determination. Only to now passively witness their privileges and rights being compromised and redistributed to, in their estimation, blacks, immigrants, and other less deserving groups of people.
The obviously coded and racially biased message of “make America great again” resonates with their primal fear of an end to the notion of white supremacy. Donald Trump supporters are fearful of losing their self-esteem in society and the world. Further, these supporters are also fearful of losing their place in history. They have been taught that the “white race” is the superior race. Yet, for eight years they have had that notion of white superiority undermined by the presence of Barak Obama a man of African descent as the President of the United States of America and his Black family living in the White House. What these hurting supporters see in the 45th President that they could not see in Barak Obama the 44th President of the United States is a messianic hope for the restoration of white supremacy and the calming of their fear of its annihilation.
The sad truth is alternative facts are not new, they are recorded in the Hebrew and Christian Bible. The primary form of alternative facts that is admonished in the Bible is lying or bearing false witness against one’s neighbor. The writers of the Hebrew text took this notion of false witness very seriously and devoted scores of references throughout their work to condemn it and those who practiced it. However, for those who use lying as a source for personal gain they know that if they can lie enough, they will find an audience ready to listen by creating false fear and attacking the core emotional values of honest hardworking people.
One cannot honor God by lying and engaging in lying.
In early Judaism one could not proclaim devotion to God while violating God’s rules. To do so would be a violation of God’s Will and declaring that they were in charge and not God. This was seen by the elders during nascent Judaism as a direct assault against God. This assault against God had another name, idolatry.
We see this today with blind right-wing evangelical support for the current presidential administration. It has been reported that one iconic right-wing evangelical leader shamed former First Lady Michelle Obama for having bare-arms while praising the current First Lady for baring it all. In Ephesians 5 the Apostle Paul calls on Christians to be imitators of God. As imitators, we are required to be critical thinkers and repudiate alternative facts and hateful speech. It is what Jesus did and it is what is required of us. The Bible calls on us to heed sound advice and discipline, Proverbs states and restates that requirement of us. The Bible states that we are to dismiss foolishness, empty acts and coarse joking. We are compelled by God not to be deceived by vain or empty words. Lies, which is another name for hate speech and alternative facts, are used in the political arena to distract from the true and important issues facing the general population.
We are commanded by God to dismiss this speech for it is the substance of empty acts and deception. We are not to listen to it and certainly we are not to follow or act on this negative output. Because, it is based on lies or a false witness we are required to keep our wits about us and not join them in their wickedness or oppressions. Their sins will eventually ensnare those involved and hold them tight. Their own evil devices will be their source of ruin. Consider the gallows that Haman built for Mordecai.
As stated before, in the political arena alternative facts creates division because it is designed to exacerbate negative emotions especially the fear of loss and greed. Alternative facts serve as an anemic substitute for useful activity and only serves to divide and distract from the truth. Amid dire circumstances, it inflames human ire until it boils over the top and creates unneeded panic, mistrust, and of course hate. This practice festers because of fear in the unknown based on uneasy current circumstances, creating a sense of instability that only the speaker or their cohorts can resolve. In most cases the profiteers are proven wrong yet they continue to thrive creating hateful divisions between voters and the general population. Jesus stated when he was accused of bearing false witness that a house divided cannot stand.
We cannot allow politicians and those in their administrations to divide the nation by lies, alternative facts, and deception.
During this political climate, the stakes are too high for us to rally around fairy tales from false messiahs. We must hold political figures to a higher standard than in past elections. They must engage in the truth and not political spin that is full of vain and empty promises. We must see clearly and not be fooled by words that are designed to distract from the truth. Beloved, when we live in the illuminating light of Christ we can clearly see the stealth of empty promises and alternative facts as the lies that they are. As the body of Christ, we must take a stand to keep the integrity of and demand the truth. We can no longer accept that politicians bear false witness as par for the course. We need a reformed normal where truth is not diluted or poisoned with the arsenic of alternative facts. Those who want our votes must come to us not spinning the truth to distract us but, speaking the truth to lead us. We as Christians are called to have nothing to do with fruitless deeds or behaviors.
When politicians come to us with alternative facts, to support their malignant words of fruitless endeavors that lead to higher gas and food prices, lack of health insurance for working class people, increased unrest and injustice God requires we reject them.
When Jesus was confronted by the father of lies in the wilderness Jesus dismissed Satan, we in this political season must be imitators of Christ!
Ronald Bonner, is the pastor of Lutheran Church of the Atonement in Atlanta, GA, author of No Bigotry Allow Losing the Spirit of Fear: Towards the Conversation about Race and The Seat. And has recently been called as a Director of Evangelical Mission/ Assistant to the Bishop of the Southeastern Synod of the ELCA