Members Only | June 8, 2020 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

This Is a Religious Movement

We seem to be experiencing a new Great Awakening.

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The tide is not turning. The tipping point is not here.

And I’m very tired of otherwise very smart white people reducing all American politics to the victory or defeat of Donald Trump. One presidential election is not going to reform our government. One presidential election is not going to heal our wounds.

Staying woke will require seeing politics as being about more than politics. Staying woke will require faith in action.

It’s as if the pundit corps and other elites can’t see with their own eyes what white police officers are doing—right now—to American citizens deemed the enemy. Do they believe electing a Democrat will mend a broken nation? Do they believe legitimate, institutionalized and legal sadism will end with Joe Biden’s presidency? I hope not.

In fact, corrupt police departments nationwide will benefit greatly from a Democratic turn, not in material ways, I hasten to add, but because the nation’s gaze will turn away from local atrocities committed in the name of law and order and instead toward a new administration and its palace intrigues. That will give rotten cop shops all the room they need to carry on, which means fascism as usual for black and brown people while for white people, it amounts to congratulating themselves for a job well done.

Hit the tip jar!

If white allies marching in the streets really believe that black lives matter, their united struggle for liberty and justice for all must not stop in November. Their united struggle must become part of America’s political culture, of the vocabulary we use to talk about national affairs, and central to our moral fiber. Culture, language, morality, black interest and white interest—these must be fused in order to become mainstream, and hence the beating heart of whatever new political regime awaits in the years ahead.

This is, or should be, a movement of morality as much as it is a movement of politics. Without a group effort, the George Floyd protests risk the same fate as the Occupy Wall Street Movement, becoming a political slogan more than a political program. White Americans may be experiencing a “great awokening,” as Matt Yglesias claimed last year. The key, however, will be staying woke long after Donald Trump is gone. And staying woke will require seeing politics as being about more than mere politics.

The Rev. William Barber of North Carolina believes the history of the United States can be broken into three epochs, or three “reconstructions,” in which white Americans and black Americans fused their interests—what he calls “fusion politics”—in order to create a new birth of freedom. The first reconstruction came after the Civil War with the ratification of the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments. The second reconstruction came in the late 1960s with the passage of the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act. The third reconstruction, Barber believes, is currently progressing under the shadow of Barack Obama’s election, and the larger shadow of the white backlash against it. Each of these epochs saw more than fused interests, though. They saw fused destinies.

Religious identity takes a backseat to religious action—to good works, you could say. Faith alone isn’t enough.

The pundit corps might not see it, but I suspect normal people are starting to. There’s something about George Floyd’s murder—under the illegitimate rule of a president who got away with treason before mismanaging a pandemic that has killed more than 112,500 Americans—that touches Americans spiritually, that pokes a throbbing knot of public sin offensive to not only to traditional faith in right and wrong but to God, too. Normal people seem to feel we’ve taken a turn down a winding road toward cruelty and serfdom, and I sense a deep desire for correction, for the straight and the narrow, and for healing but especially redemption on the part of white allies, a yearning they wrongly believed was realized with the election of a black president.

You could say “injustice to one is injustice to all” is a political statement. But you could also say it’s a religious statement. Moreover, demanding equal justice is faith in action. Here’s how the Rev. Michael Bulkley of Kingdom Life Christian Church in Milford, Conn., who spoke recently for a church coalition in New Haven, put it:

Our country is broken. When something is broken and needs fixing you must start someplace. This afternoon is not a protest, [protests] are necessary, but equally necessary is that churches stand together in prayer, unity, and love. We represent churches from diverse backgrounds, culturally, theologically, generationally. But we are bound together by the recognition that we must stand against injustice, we must pray for peace, and we must love as Christ loved (italics are most emphatically mind).

“Prayer, unity and love” are the hallmarks of what might be called a new Great Awakening in which religious identity takes a backseat to religious action. White evangelical Christians, such as Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, of Texas, like to claim that the sin of racism can be cleansed by loving God. Faith alone, however, isn’t enough.

Doing unto others what you would have done unto you, the teachings of Christ and the ancient “Golden Rule” common to all the world’s religions—these seem to be moving from the margins of political culture to the center. The tide is not turning. The tipping point is not here. Politics is about more than elections. It’s more than about politics. When the political and religious meaning of “good works” are fused, change will come.

John Stoehr

John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.

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