“The American people and people of every faith in this country can be confident. They have a champion and a defender of faith and religious liberty in President Donald Trump. It’s true. From early in this administration, President Trump has taken steps to ensure that the federal government will never ever penalize anyone for their religious beliefs ever again!”
Vice President Mike Pence stated this earnestly and emphatically as part of his prepared remarks outside the White House on May 2, the official U.S. National Day of Prayer for 2019.
In 1988, the Congress passed Public Law 100-307 calling on the President to issue a proclamation each year designating the first Thursday in May as a “National Day of Prayer.”
As per usual for this Stepford V.P. However, we all can see beyond his hypocrisy and the lies he exposes every time he moves his lips. Does he not realize that we live in an age of mass communications with easy access to information? This information includes what Donald Trump, this “defender of faith and religious liberty,” has stated and enacted during his election campaign and ever since he crashed into the Oval Office.
“I, Donald J. Trump, am calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on.”
Trump’s proclamation was no mere threat. Soon after taking office, he signed an executive order suspending immigration from seven Muslim-majority nations and our country’s refugee program.
Following suits from numerous states, they alleged his order violated constitutional religious liberties and amounted to a virtual Muslim ban. Trump then signed two further executive orders, which were mere revisions of the first.
More lawsuits challenged their constitutionality, while Trump justified his actions on grounds of “national security.”
The U.S. Supreme Court finally upheld the administration’s third version of its travel ban by restricting entry to nationals of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Yemen, North Korea and Venezuela.
Christian privilege and its assumptions
The White House released a declaration a few days before the National Day of Prayer, which read:
“I, DONALD J. TRUMP, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim May 2, 2019, as a National Day of Prayer….I have hereunto set my hand this thirtieth day of April, in the year of our Lord two thousand nineteen, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and forty-third.”
Trump not-so-subtly tipped his “hand this thirtieth day of April, in the year of our Lord two thousand nineteen,” since the “our Lord” to whom Trump refers is Jesus of Nazareth allegedly born that year when Christian time seemed to begin.
As the Republican presidential candidate, Trump chose Indiana Governor Mike Pence who became an infamously-known political commodity by firing the first salvo in the war known as the “Religious Freedom Restoration” movement. He signed into law an act passed by his state legislature permitting businesses to refuse service to LGBTQ people, and members of all other groups that owners consider heretical to their beliefs, judgments and precepts.
Since then, this expanding movement has gained support in state houses across the country as exemplified in Mississippi’s “religious freedom” law patterned after Indiana’s. And in 2016, North Carolina passed its HB 2, the Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act, which included a section prohibiting trans people from entering a restroom facility that differed from the sex officially assigned to them on their birth certificate.
Donald Trump, by choosing Mike Pence, added LGBTQ people to his already long list of “others,” which includes Mexicans and all Central and South American-heritage people, Muslims, people with disabilities, all women, plus anyone who supports the “Black Lives Matter” movement. By choosing Mike Pence, Trump double-downed on his attempts to divide and conquer the electorate by instilling fear in promising the bigoted the “freedom” to discriminate to the fullest extent of the law without the threat of prosecution.
Social theorist, Gunnar Myrdal, traveled throughout the United States during the late 1940s examining U.S. society following World War II, and he discovered a grave contradiction or inconsistency, which he termed “an American dilemma.”
He found a country, founded on an overriding commitment to democracy, liberty, freedom, human dignity and egalitarian values, coexisting alongside deep-seated patterns of racial discrimination, privileging white people and subordinating people of color. While racism most certainly remains, this contradiction has been powerfully reframed for contemporary consideration by religious scholar, Diana Eck,
“The new American dilemma is real religious pluralism, and it poses challenges to America’s Christian churches that are as difficult and divisive as those of race. Today, the invocation of a Christian America takes on a new set of tensions as our population of Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, and Buddhist neighbors grows. The ideal of a Christian America stands in contradiction to the spirit, if not the letter, of America’s foundational principle of religious freedom.”
In terms of how this privilege is maintained and strengthened, “hegemony” according to Antonio Gramsci, describes the ways in which the dominant ruling group successfully disseminates its particular form of social reality and social vision in such a manner as to be accepted as common sense, as “normal,” as universal and as representing part of the natural order, even at times by those who are marginalized, disempowered or rendered invisible by it.
This is the case with Christians in general and predominantly mainline Protestants in a U.S. context, even though only an estimated 30% of the world’s inhabitants define as Christian.
According to Weinbaum, “[H]egemony is a means for social control, not through overt force, but rather through covert tactics, dictating society’s norms.” This religious hegemony maintains the marginality of already marginalized religions, faiths and spiritual communities.
A form of hegemony is “Christian hegemony,” which I define as the overarching system of advantages bestowed on Christians. It is the institutionalization of a Christian norm or standard, which establishes and perpetuates the notion that all people are or should be Christian, thereby privileging Christians and Christianity, excluding the needs, concerns, ethnic and religious cultural practices and life experiences of people who are not Christian. Often overt, though at times subtle, Christian hegemony is oppression by intent and design, but also it comes in the form of neglect, omission, erasure and distortion.
In the service of hegemony is what is termed “discourse,” which includes the ideas, written expressions, theoretical foundations and language of the dominant culture. These are implanted within networks of social and political control, described by Michel Foucault as “regimes of truth,” which function to legitimize what can be said, who has the authority to speak and be heard and what is authorized as true or as the truth.
The concept of oppression, then, constitutes more than just the cruel and repressive actions of individuals upon others. It often involves an overarching system of differentials of social power and privilege by dominant groups over subordinated groups based on ascribed social identities or social group status. And this is not merely the case in societies ruled by coercive or tyrannical leaders, but also occurs even within the day-to-day practices of contemporary democratic societies.
Based on Peggy McIntosh’s pioneering investigations of white and male privilege, we can, by analogy, understand Christian privilege as constituting a seemingly invisible, unearned and largely unacknowledged array of benefits accorded to Christians, with which they often unconsciously walk through life, as if effortlessly carrying a knapsack tossed over their shoulders.
This system of benefits confers dominance on Christians while subordinating members of other faith communities as well as non-believers. These systemic inequities are pervasive throughout the society. They are encoded into the individual’s consciousness and woven into the very fabric of our social institutions, resulting in a stratified, social order privileging dominant groups while restricting and disempowering subordinate groups.
By “unpacking” the knapsack of privilege (whether it be the Christian, white, male, heterosexual, cisgender, property-owning class, temporarily able-bodied, English as first-language speakers and native-born U.S. citizens, adults and others) is to become aware and to develop critical consciousness of its existence and how it impacts the daily lives of both those with and without this privilege.
We can begin to unpack the knapsack of Christian privilege by lobbying the United States government to eliminate the tax-supported positions of Congressional Chaplains, and to terminate the National Day of Prayer, government involvement in the National Prayer Breakfast, religious invocations at government ceremonies such as presidential inaugurations, and the deletion of the words “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance and from our coins and paper money.
Let us truly separate religion from government and government from religion.