Christianity in the Era of Alternative Facts – Rev. Ronald Bonner

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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.”


 

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Chief White House council, Kellyanne Conway, in the interview where she created the term “alternative facts.”

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.

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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.

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Anti-Obama protest in 2010 – accusing President Obama of not having been born in the US, the same line of attack that started Donald Trumps political career.

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.

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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.

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Former Trump National Security adviser, Michael Flint – before his recent firing after having been caught giving “incomplete” information about conversations with representatives of the Russian government while working on Trump’s presidential campaign.

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!


pastorfoto.jpgRonald 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

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15 thoughts on “Christianity in the Era of Alternative Facts – Rev. Ronald Bonner

  1. Merry Stardust

    I agree with you 100%. It is difficult to see other Christians who do not know how to check for lies. A pastor’s wife I know passed on a story about people visiting Planned Parenthoods and finding nothing but abortion resources. She is from rural Wisconsin. I’ll bet she never went into a Planned Parenthood.

    Like

  2. Kolloh Nimley

    I’m blessed to be in the midst of brothers and sisters who are committed to living out their faith in a weary world. We are not fighting against fresh and blood. We must put on the whole armor of God with the belt as truth. This iS the first piece of the whole armor of God.

    Like

  3. fatima bass thomas

    well I believe that God will deliver the people of color, just how he did to the people of Israelites, we need to trust on him in our situation because he is always with us in our difficult moment in life.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Kolloh Nimley

      His grace is sufficient for when we are weak then He is strong. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses. Praise God now and always.

      Like

  4. Pingback: Christianity in the Era of Alternative Facts - KineticsLive.com

  5. Jess Peacock

    This is a very powerful piece! I recently had an online interaction with an acquaintance of mine (I hesitate to call him a friend) where he referred to Donald Trump as the Ezra figure America needs. The implication was obvious: Ezra, worried that the Israelites were becoming at risk of extinction after the exilic period and their miscegenation with the Babylonian people, forced returning Jewish men to leave their non-Jewish wives and children. Similar to what we’re seeing played out with Trump’s attempted Muslim ban, my acquaintance, focused on his fear of the loosening grip of white supremacy, like Ezra, could not see the terrible damage done to very real people and very real families as a result of that fear. No doubt, Ezra had some choice things to say about the Babylonian women and children in his midst, perhaps that they were a drain on the economy and stole jobs that Jewish people needs, or that they were criminals, or maybe that they might be terrorists seeking to end the Jewish people. I’m being facetious, of course, but my point is clear, I think.

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  6. Smitha Das Gunthoti

    The thought is good and beautifully articulated. The norms are created by power. Anyone who wants to make changes in the created norms, becomes an enemy. It is important to remember at this time to be vigilant and wait for a time, because God has God’s own time.

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  7. John Kiltinen

    The “We listen.” part of the name might be challenged by this reply because it comes from outside the echo chamber.

    At church last Sunday, we heard a sermon that gave an example of what it means to “turn the other cheek” as the Gospel lesson said we should do. The sermon told about a pastor who was going to have 26 candles at the service after the Sandy Hook shooting a few years ago–one for each of the 20 pupils killed and one for each of the six adult staff members killed. A pastoral intern said there should be 27 candles, including one for Adam Lanza, the shooter who killed himself after his killing spree.

    The pastor at first said “no way” but came around to seeing the wisdom of this.

    I do not see any Gospel in language like “homophobia, queerphobia, transphobia, Islamaphobia.” Words such as these reflect that we have let ourselves be divided, and are seeking a boogieman to blame for it.

    John Kiltinen
    Member, LSTC Board of Directors

    PS: How does this expression of hatred for our current President mesh with what Luther’s Small Catechism says about the Eighth Commandment, to whit:

    The Eighth Commandment
    You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.
    What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way.

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    1. Hello Mr. Kiltinen. There is so much to respond to in your comment but I will try to be brief.

      – I do not find LSTC to be an echo chamber. I frequently disagree with other students, my professors, the administration, and now obviously even a member of the board of directors.

      – I am saddened by the way that forgiveness has been weaponized as a tool to silence marginalized people.

      – If you do not see a Gospel message in ministerial leaders naming “homophobia, queerphobia, transphobia, Islamaphobia” then perhaps you should examine your social location. For a lot of us, naming these systemic sins IS Good News because it is the first step in dismantling them.

      – Pointing out the way that we are already divided isn’t divisive. Telling people to stop talking about the ways that rifts already exist doesn’t make those rifts go away.

      – It is not hateful to point out the way that these systemic sins are hurting God’s children. In fact, it is hurtful *both to the President and to marginalized people* to allow it continue without challenging them. Like James Baldwin says, “If I love you, I have to make you conscious of the things you don’t see.”

      – Using Luther’s understanding of the 8th commandment here without a power analysis is using it inaccurately and serves as a silencing tool.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Mr. Kittlemen,

      I don’t quite understand your comment:

      “I do not see any Gospel in language like “homophobia, queerphobia, transphobia, Islamaphobia.” Words such as these reflect that we have let ourselves be divided, and are seeking a boogieman to blame for it.”

      There is no boogieman. The real cause of such things are complex and I’d invite you to read “Orientalism” by Edward Saïd as a starting point for the historical conditions surrounding Islamaphobia. With regard to homophobia, queerphobia, and transphobia, I’d invite you to talk with members of the LGBTQ community about the discrimination we face – myself identifying as bisexual (for bisexuality you could explore the site bisexual.org). Regardless of their orgins and effects, one cannot deny that they are forces influencing the policies of the Trump Administration.

      Moreover, Rev. Bonner wrote about the problem of the administration falsely testifying against its neighbors (marginalized groups within the US). In fact, this entry is addressing your post script regarding the eighth commandment.

      Donald Trump’s administration, and Donald Trump in particular cast muslim immigrants as terrorists, lie about terror threats, demonize the transgender community, and even lie about their margin of victory.

      I find it especially and tragically ironic Donald Trump once bragged about “grabbing pussies,” yet is not protecting transgender students’ right to use the bathroom which conforms most to their gender identity because (and without statistical evidence) transgender people might commit sexual assault. Again, this claim has never been verified, and as such, and again the Administration is falsely testifying against a group disproportionately at risk for suicide.

      I hope to continue to engage in dialogue. Please know I pray for God to enter the hardened hearts of all who oppress is God’s name.

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    3. Mr. Kiltinen,

      I believe I hear in your comment a concern that we are not “speaking the truth in love” (Eph 4:15). Reverend Bonner’s post was concerned with the lack of truth coming out of President Trump’s administration. I hear it as a call to uphold the eighth commandment not a contradiction of it. Your characterization of the post as an “expression of hatred” does not seem fair. The lies the administration has told (and used to justify their actions) are well documented. The “truths” have, in many cases, been based on false or no facts at all.

      I am also very concerned about the way we have “let ourselves be divided” but these divisions are only consolidated when there is no accountability to actual facts and, thus, truth becomes entirely relative. Too often throughout history Christians have used “love” as an excuse for not “speaking truth”. Allowing people to lead and be misled by falsehood while the lies are used to justify violence against marginalized groups cannot be loving and is certainly not obedience to the eighth commandment.

      If we are to speak “in love” we need to be conscious of the charged language we use (e.g. “racism”, “homophobia”, etc.) and to whom we are talking. As ddowd88 notes, this language can proclaim good news, but, as you imply, it can also shut down dialogue and be an impediment to the transformative work of the Gospel. We should be attentive to the effect of our rhetoric, but this attentiveness must not diminish or dilute our speaking of truth. Right now, the truth about the lies coming from the Trump administration and their violent impact on vulnerable communities must be spoken.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Nash Shaffer

    On this pass Sunday I had the honor of hear Dr. Cornal West at St. Sabina Catholic Church. His message was How to Maintain a Christian witness in the age of Trump? The answer to this profound question was with the weapon of godly love. This answer reflects the love ethic that Dr. King preached about. There is no lies in love. President Trump is a result of a sick society that lives in hate. Truth must spoken in love and then demonstrated. The black church has always been a protest church but greater still it has been a praying church. The Trump problem requires us to pull on the best qualities that says we don’t like what Trump says or does, but in the words of our former first lady when they go low we go high

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Megan Clausen

    Thank you for your thought-provoking and powerful words Reverend Bonner. I was particularly struck by this sentence, “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.” I know this is my calling as a Christian and yet, I fail at the taking a stand part daily. But it is so helpful and to think of doing this (speaking truth to power, shining light on all the alternative facts, and keeping integrity) as the body of Christ- the big, beautiful, diverse body of Christ.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Thank you so much. This is a very powerful writing. I was confused that how do I understand Trump’s election and (so called) evangelical Christians’ supports. In the prophetic biblical and Christian ethical perspectives, this article well explained a Donal Trump phenomenon. Trump is not just one individual, but the racist, homophobic and sexist icon. This article provides the key to understand the meaning of his election and encourage to become a prophetic Christian who resist against the evil.

    In this article, I was so impressed by this sentence “For 60 million Americans Donald Trump is the new messiah.” I am not a Barthian, but I’ve taken Karl Barth class. An instructor told us that the reason why Barth emphasized a Jesus-centered theology and God as a wholly other has a political context. In political contexts, Barth criticized Nazi and Hitler messiah and highlight “Jesus is the only revelation of God. We can be saved by only Jesus (not Hitler).”

    I believe that we need to accept this political Barthian perspective. Furthermore, womanist perspective, which resist multiple discriminations (racism, sexism, classism, and heterosexism), would be the most important to resist the Trump problem. The author describes this womanist critical points in this article.

    We need theological imaginations to resist evil and restore God’s justice. This article inspires and provides the imaginations.

    Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Karl Anliker

    I am very grateful to this article for naming white supremacy at the core of the Trump campaign.

    I often name the misogyny, racism, and homophobia, for instance, but do not come to terms with the white supremacy.

    Much as Jesus called his followers to understand the commandment against adultery to more broadly include lust in your heart, this article calls us to much more broadly understand commandments against bearing false witness and lying.

    I am continually wrestling with the lies which make up white supremacy and others systemic forms of misinformation, hatred, and bigotry. I am continually unpacking the ways in which these systems benefit me.

    Like

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