We begin this episode with a land acknowledgement.
In this episode of the Mapping the Doctrine of Discovery podcast, hosts Phil Arnold and Sandy Bigtree interview Anthea Butler, The Geraldine R. Segal Professor in American Social Thought and Chair of Religious Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. They discuss the role of evangelical Christians in manipulating voting structures and policies, as well as the connection between evangelicalism and racism. Butler explains that evangelicals often use morality as a shield to impose their own beliefs on others, rather than living by those beliefs themselves. She also discusses the evangelical desire to bring about the Kingdom of God on Earth and their opposition to government intervention. The conversation touches on the history of evangelicalism, the influence of whiteness, and the need to challenge dominant narratives through civic engagement and education.
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In our latest podcast episode, we explore the complex and controversial intersection of faith and politics, focusing particularly on the role and influence of Evangelical Christianity on American politics. With the help of Anthea Butler, The Geraldine R. Segal Professor in American Social Thought and Chair of Religious Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, we interrogate the long-standing manipulation of American voting structures and policies by Evangelical Christians.
From the onset, it’s important to clarify that this isn’t just about religion. As Butler underscores one has to understand the, the political project that Evangelicals endorse as well. In order to understand evangelical cultural influence, one must understand how their religious, political, and cultural projects are intertwined. Our episode begins by highlighting some pivotal moments in history, from the first great awakening to the current day, that have shaped the evangelical landscape.
One of the central figures that emerged in our discussion was Billy Graham, a renowned evangelist who brought together U.S. presidents and evangelical leadership, instigating a blend of religion and politics that has endured till today. Graham’s influence, as well as the legacy of his work, has contributed significantly to the recent incidents like the Capitol building violence.
Our conversation also delved into contemporary issues like the racialization of various aspects of life in the U.S., such as slavery, missions work, education, and the political system. The conversation revealed the pervasive racial undertones within the evangelical movement and highlighted the difficulty of recognizing this insidious form of racism masked by whiteness and Christianity.
We also compared and contrasted Evangelical beliefs with Haudenosaunee values like the Great Law Of Peace which highlights how all living beings are intertwined with our relationship with the natural world, a concept vastly different from the evangelical worldview.
The discussion wasn’t just about uncovering the distortions and manipulations; it was also about finding ways to challenge and change the dominant narratives. This is where the importance of civic engagement and education came to the forefront. As we engage more actively in our local communities and challenge historical inaccuracies, we can start to reshape the narrative.
In the end, our exploration of Evangelical Christianity’s impact on American politics served to shine a light on the darker facets of history that many evangelicals prefer to ignore. By bringing these themes into the open and encouraging active civic engagement, we can start to push back against the distortion of history. It’s a long road ahead, but as our discussion showed, it’s a journey worth taking.
Philip P. Arnold and Sandra Bigtree, “S03E02: White Evangelical Racism and its Influence on American Politics an Interview with Anthea Butler,” Mapping the Doctrine of Discovery (Podcast), October 25, 2023. https://podcast.doctrineofdiscovery.org/season3/episode-02/.