June 12, 2014

Racism Under the Guise of Religious Freedom:
Should we be surprised?

A recent survey of by the Public Religion Institute found an interesting anomaly: When asked, 10% of Americans stated that they believed that small-business owners should be allowed to deny service to black.
This was, at least, better than Jews, homosexuals, or atheists, which clocked in at 12%, 15% and 16% respectively.
Among white evangelical Protestants, 8% believed that small-business owners should be able to refuse service to blacks.
Most news reports on this are surprised—they say that it shows that a Jim Crowe-era racism is still alive today. For me, though, all I can say is….figures.
Evangelical Christianity often has a nasty tendency to promote xenophobia, and these xenophobic tendencies do tend to manifest as a type of latent racism. After all, if the peoples of the world are all the same us, capable of what we are capable of, and their religious beliefs are equally valid, why would anyone support missionary work—a major part of the Evangelical community?
Don’t believe it? Let’s consider something that I have talked about before—A Beka books.

And of course, all of the racism within them.

A-Beka was founded in 1977. The curriculum is published by the Pensacola Christian College, in Florida, which is considered an independent Baptist college. The college itself has been plagued recently by accusations that, like many other colleges, it has not responded appropriately to allegations of sexual assaults.
One aspect that A Beka really pushes is the Evangelical missionary aspect. In both world history and literature, in my two years under the curriculum, there were stories peppering sidebars and the main text about missionaries and outreach efforts. There were supplemental readings to be done on various missionaries from around the world.
These stories consistently reinforced cultural stereotypes. For instance, when A Beka teaches of African history, it focuses on how the “false” religions of the continent were detrimental.
“In general, A Beka’s history textbooks emphasize Africa’s need for Christian evangelism. In addition to derogatory comments about the religious beliefs of non-Christian Africans, the textbooks assert that their religious beliefs have been the major cause of the continent’s lack of cultural and material progress and political instability and repression.”
Because obviously centuries of colonial oppression by Christian nations had nothing to do with that. That is beside my point though.
In addition to referring to the “false” religions of the native peoples, A Beka also labelsthem as savages three times during a story about a missionary. They describe witch doctors as using “evil and cruel practices”, and repeatedly emphasize cannibalism by tribes. They praise Chief Khama, a Christian convert, who managed to rule in a “land…ruled by witchcraft” where people were made “lazy and wicked”. For reference…this is form a world history textbook.
Under what circumstances is it appropriate to denigrate the character of a people in a world history textbook?
Well, I would personally say none.
According to A Beka, Africa still has many needs:
The teacher’s edition of a A Beka geography text describes “Modern Africa’s Needs” as follows. “Africa is a continent with many needs. It is still in need of the gospel. Many people have gone there as missionaries but the continent is so vast, and spirit worship and the Muslim religion so strong, that only a small percentage of Africans claim to be Christians. [...] Only about ten percent of Africans can read and write. In some areas the mission schools have been shut down by Communists who have taken over the government....”Islam bears no better treatment—it too is a “false” religion. How do we know it is false? Well, because “over 500 people saw the resurrected Jesus Christ” while “no one witnessed Mohammed’s supposed encounter with the angels.” It’s painted as fanatically anti-Christian and terribly resistant to Protestant missionaries.
Hinduism, in turn, is described as “pagan” and “evil”. Hindus are “incapable of writing history [because] all that happens is dissipated in their minds into confused dreams. What we call historical truth and veracity—intelligent, thoughtful comprehension of events, and fidelity in representing them—nothing of this sort can be looked for among the Hindus.” It cites an unidentified scholar for that quote. Again, this is a world history textbook.
For Buddhism, they say, “we serve a living Savior, not a dead teacher”, which would indicate a fundamental misinterpretation of Buddhist doctrine, the purest form of which—that taught by the “dead teacher”—prescribed for worshipping nothing.
This tracks on into American history, where it is said that God Himself used the Trail of Tears to bring many Native Americans to Christianity. They assert that the Civil War was not due to slavery and that slavery did no actually become an issue until the Emancipation Proclamation…despite tons of quotes from Jefferson Davis that would indicate differently.
Of American politics, it explains conservatism by saying:
“American and other Western conservatives believe there are eternal values that need to be preserved in human thought and action; they also seek to preserve the Judeo-Christian heritage that has made the West great.”
Through such efforts, they are of course also implying that any other heritage is not suitable and would not be successful.
In more recent history, Clarence Thomas garners 22 lines of text and a full color photograph, while Thurgood Marshall, the first African American Supreme Court Justice doesn’t even warrant a mention in the text, a seemingly glaring omission.
One parent who reviewed the curriculum found that it seemed to disconcertingly find fault with nonviolent political movements:
Something else that is alarming to me, and perhaps even more in the forefront of my mind after having just watched the inauguration of Barack Obama, is information that is given as fact in several of the high school textbooks. For example, one of the literature textbooks has a lot of negative things to say about Henry David Thoreau's "Civil Disobedience" and seems to fault this document for influencing the movement of Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi. Do we wish our children to believe that non-violent movements are bad? One thing that is so alarming about this is that it seems to give the message that, even when the government is on the wrong track, citizens should do nothing. That way of thinking enabled people like Hitler to rise to power and commit atrocities and is certainly not a way of thinking I would promote in my children.
As you can see, xenophobia—the fear of what is different, even—underscores so many basic principles among evangelicals. Based on my experiences under their curriculum, I must say, I for one am completely unsurprised to find that so many American—and so many Evangelicals—still believe that religious freedom allows for racism.
As long as people continue to turn to the Bible in a literal fashion, it will continue to be so.
The scariest part to me is that your tax dollars—and mine!—could be funding schools that are using these texts. We could be funding schools that are preaching racist doctrines to children. How is that okay?

And as long as that is okay, how can we be surprised that racism persists?

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