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Culturally respectable racism

Why aren’t pundits who bashed evangelicals as racists more vocal about rampant anti-Semitism on the left?

Students protest against Israel at the University of California, Berkeley's Sather Gate on Oct. 16, 2023. Associated Press/Photo by Michael Liedtke

Culturally respectable racism
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The scenes that have been playing out on elite American campuses—scenes of the most explicit racism—are a national disgrace. Of course, in the United States, people have a right to public protest. And while I am pro-Israel in the current conflict, it does not seem irrational to me that others might wish to support the Palestinians and criticize aspects of the Israeli war strategy. But the protests are not merely supportive of Palestinians. They are supportive of Hamas. And they are targeted not at Israelis in particular but at the Jewish population in general. Such protests are racist, at least according to the traditional definition before folks like Ibram Kendi and the BLM activists of this world managed to twist the term to suit their own interests.

Some may wish to argue that support for Hamas is not anti-Semitic but rather anti-Zionist. They will likely claim that the 2017 Hamas charter identified the problem as “Zionists” rather than “Jews” for this reason. But that is a specious dodge. When you think that the state of Israel is the result of a Jewish conspiracy, the terms become basically interchangeable. And when events on elite college campuses in the USA have created an environment where Jewish students are under threat simply because of their Jewishness, Israeli military action would seem only to be the pretext and not the true cause of the hatred.

I recently had the pleasure of chairing a discussion on anti-Semitism at Grove City College with two leading Jewish intellectuals, Rabbi Meir Soloveichik of Yeshiva University and Devorah Goldman of the Tikvah Fund. Both described growing up in an America where they experienced no anti-Semitism. Both also reflected on the immediate exultant response on campuses in the United States to the Oct. 7 attacks. These responses could not be interpreted as criticism of Israeli military action since none had yet taken place. They were celebrations of the kidnapping, rape, and murder of Jewish civilians. No doubt many of the celebrants would regard any American who deadnames a man presenting as a woman, or who refuses to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple, or who believes in any limits on abortion as opposing basic human rights and meriting severe punishment. Those who kidnap, rape, and murder Jewish women and children, not so much.

What is so disappointing is that the evangelical commentariat that were so quick and pointed in their attacks on their own co-religionists for racism in the early 2020s and so swift to anathematize any who raised concerns about critical race theory have, on the whole, remained silent on this. Well, friends, behold the fruits of post-colonial theory on Ivy League campuses: Classrooms closed because those of a certain race are no longer safe.

No students have had to go online at Ivy League schools because the local Southern Baptist church has made it too dangerous for them to attend class.

At the time, I suggested that evangelical pundits’ practice of talking about racism and Trump was a useful way of not talking about the threats coming from more culturally respectable forms of revolutionary radicalism. Bashing evangelicals for being racists (and remember, mere expression of concern about critical race theory was enough to earn you that label) was a good way of not offending friends in the media establishment by having to address challenges raised by the LGBTQ lobby. Now, it seems that gloating over evangelical disarray in the wake of Trump’s recent statements on abortion and continuing to present evangelicalism as the most pressing threat to America fulfills a similar function with regard to not having to talk about anti-Semitism.

Yes, there are some sad fantasists on the evangelical right, enamored of much the same anti-Semitic conspiracy theories as the hard left. Devorah Goldman has herself pointed that out. And yes, there are a few risible online falangists who don the evangelical label in an attempt to hoodwink concerned Christian conservatives. But the vast majority of evangelicals are slandered by these pundits when the term “evangelicalism” is used to demean them all. Most are law-abiding citizens, the people who volunteer to staff the church nurseries and give of their time at crisis pregnancy centers, who help carpool to get the kids to the church softball game.

More importantly, no students have had to go online at Ivy League schools because the local Southern Baptist church has made it too dangerous for them to attend class. And I doubt that any Jew in New York lives in fear of evangelical Mennonites roaming the streets, looking for fresh meat. It is therefore strange that those so concerned about racism when it was cool to be so and when it gave them a stick to beat up their co-religionists seem so quiet in the face of the current anti-Semitic mayhem. One cannot join the “silence is violence” crowd when it suits you but then keep quiet when events reveal that your “evangelicalism is the most pressing and dangerous threat to America” is arrant, self-serving nonsense.

Carl R. Trueman

Carl R. Trueman taught on the faculties of the Universities of Nottingham and Aberdeen before moving to the United States in 2001 to teach at Westminster Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania. In 2017-18 he was the William E. Simon Visiting Fellow in Religion and Public Life in the James Madison Program at Princeton University.  Since 2018, he has served as a professor at Grove City College. He is also a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and a contributing editor at First Things. Trueman’s latest book is the bestselling The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self. He is married with two adult children and is ordained in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

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