Saturday, August 19, 2017

Hate, History and the Need for a Politics of Reconciliation

   By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

            Hate and history took center stage this past week.  Violence erupted in Charlottesville after white supremacists marched to protest the removal of a monument to General Robert E. Lee, and activists in Durham, N.C. toppled a monument to Confederate soldiers.  Historic conflicts in culture, politics and religion have generated hatred that threatens the very fabric of American democracy, and it will take a politics of reconciliation to expunge that hate.

            There was no moral equivalence between the two sides in Charlottesville.  The white supremacists, including the KKK and Neo-Nazis, are the most dangerous hate groups in America today.  Their torchlight march on Friday night set the stage for the violent confrontations that erupted the next day.  They were fueled by a palpable and unrestrained hatred on both sides.                

            Confederate monuments inspire outpourings of hate in some and reverence in others.  For most white Southerners those monuments are familiar reminders of the dark days of their history.  Few consider how the unique culture of the Ante-Bellum South shaped the racist standards of legitimacy that persisted in the Jim Crow South.  They are reflected in the evolution of the American civil religion, which is at the calamitous crossroads of American religion and politics.

            White supremacy and racism pervaded U.S. politics until the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  It signaled a cultural change in U.S. political and religious values.  But a militant remnant of white supremacists continued to oppose the civil rights and political equality of non-whites, and they found a home among Christian evangelicals.  Donald Trump has stoked the coals of hatred by unabashedly seeking the support of white supremacists and sympathetic Christian evangelicals.

            The doctrine of white supremacy was pervasive in the Ante-Bellum South, but all who fought for the Confederacy should not be condemned.  They should instead be judged by their actions in their cultural context—even the church was split on the morality of slavery since it was not condemned in the Bible.  In that context, General Robert E. Lee was an honorable man, while General Nathan Bedford Forrest was not.  We should never try to change history, but we can alter or remove monuments to change how we remember history—but never by mob rule.

            State sovereignty was still an issue in American politics when Abraham Lincoln asserted that the Civil War was fought to preserve the Union, not to abolish slavery.  The American colonies had slavery when they seceded from the British Empire; and Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation was a strategic move in 1863 to undermine the legitimacy of the Confederacy.

            Today slavery and racism are universally condemned, and demographic projections indicate that whites will become a minority in America within 20 years (white births are already a minority of U.S. births).  White supremacists fear their loss of political power, and Trump, like other populist politicians, has exploited their fear and hate for political gain.

            Hate is the common enemy that is polarizing us from one another.  There is disagreement over whether hate is a learned or innate characteristic of human nature, but it is at the root of racist and religious polarization and violence.  The antidote for the hatred for others is love for others, as taught by Jesus in the greatest commandment to love God and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.  It can mitigate polarization and promote a politics of reconciliation.

            President Trump was elected with 81% of the white evangelical vote, and he has retained their support with the mythical ideal to Make America Great Again.  Trump’s conservative Christian supporters have subordinated the teachings of Jesus to distorted and exclusivist religious beliefs that were once marginal, but now seem mainstream in American civil religion.        

            Now more than ever, a polarized America needs a politics of reconciliation.  Those who cause violence or destroy property must be held accountable for their actions, but America’s real enemy is the hatred that divides us.  Christians should seek to reconcile our polarized politics by emphasizing the moral imperative to love others as we love ourselves—even those we hate.


On recounting a day of rage, hate, violence and death in Charlottesville, see

On Trump’s view of the moral equivalence of the Alt-Left in the Charlottesville violence, see

On two contrasting views of whether hate is learned or a characteristic of human nature:
A tweet from Obama quoted South Africa’s Nelson Mandela that “…People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love...For love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” (see  For an opposing view that hate doesn’t have to be taught and that love “is an attitude that must be cultivated through storms of adversity and droughts of trust.”  See

On why Trump’s Charlottesville response won’t hurt him with a key chunk of his base (Christian evangelicals), see

On how historians question Trump’s comments on Con federate monuments, see

On the view that the whole point of Confederate monuments is to celebrate white supremacy, see

On why Lawrence Kuznar detests Confederate monuments but thinks they should remain, see

On Oxford University’s denial of black students’ demands to remove a statute of Cecil Rhodes, see  

In 1967 Robert N. Bellah defined [American] civil religion as “a collection of beliefs, symbols, and rituals,” drawn from American history and “institutionalized in a collectivity” that function “not as a form of national self-worship but as the subordination of the nation to ethical principles that transcend it in terms of which it should be judged.”  It reflects how Trump is reshaping American civil religion.  See

Related Commentary:

(12/15/14): Faith and Freedom
(1/11/15): The Greatest Commandment: A Common Word of Faith
(1/18/15): Love over Law: A Principle at the Heart of Legitimacy
(4/12/15): Faith as a Source of Morality and Law: The Heart of Legitimacy
(1/23/16): Who Is My Neighbor?
(1/30/16): The Politics of Loving Our Neighbors as Ourselves
(2/27/16): Conflicting Concepts of Legitimacy in Faith, Freedom and Politics
(6/18/16): A Politics of Reconciliation with Liberty and Justice for All
(6/28/15): Confronting the Evil Among Us
(7/5/15): Reconciliation as a Remedy for Racism and Religious Exclusivism
(4/23/16): Standards of Legitimacy in Morality, Manners and Political Correctness
(7/9/16): Back to the Future: Race, Religion, Rights and a Politics of Reconciliation
(7/19/15): Religion, Heritage and the Confederate Flag
(1/23/16): Who Is My Neighbor?
(1/30/16): The Politics of Loving Our Neighbors as Ourselves
(4/30/16): The Relevance of Religion to Politics
(5/7/16): Religion and a Politics of Reconciliation
(8/5/16): How Religion Can Bridge Our Political and Cultural Divide
(9/17/16): A Moral Revival to Restore Legitimacy to Our Politics
(11/19/16): Religion and a Politics of Reconciliation Based on Shared Values
(11/26/16): Irreconcilable Differences and the Demise of Democracy
(2/18/17): Gerrymandering, Race and Polarized Partisan Politics
(3/4/17): Ignorance and Reason in Religion and Politics
(3/18/17): Moral Ambiguity in Religion and Politics
(4/22/17): The Relevance of Jesus and the Irrelevance of the Church in Today’s World
(6/24/17): The Evolution of Religion, Politics and Law: Back to the Future?
(7/1/17): Religion, Moral Authority and Conflicting Concepts of Legitimacy
(7/15/17) Religion and Progressive Politics
(8/5/17): Does Religion Seek to Reconcile and Redeem or to Divide and Conquer?

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