A few weeks ago, Diana Carillo, her sister, and some friends, all of them American citizens, decided to treat themselves to lunch at Saint Marc, an “upscale spot” in Huntington Beach, California. Their festive mood evaporated when the waiter asked them for proof of residency. He told them, “I need to make sure you’re from here.”
Now by “residency” and “here,” he didn’t mean Southern California—he meant the United States.
Carillo complained about her experience on Facebook—she was so flabbergasted when it happened that she initially complied with his request—and shortly thereafter the restaurant fired the waiter, and tried to make it up to her by offering the group a “VIP experience at the restaurant and [pledging] to donate 10 percent of the weekend’s proceeds to a nonprofit organization of the group’s choice.”
Around the same time that Carillo and company were learning how unwelcoming some of their fellow citizens can be, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) was tweeting in support of Geert Wilders, the controversial Dutch politician whose platform includes, among other things, “a five-year moratorium on the immigration of non-Western foreigners who intend to stay in the Netherlands.”
By way of support, King wrote that “Wilders understands that culture and demographics are our destiny,” and that “we can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.”
While King claims that “My colleagues have generally been coming by and patting me on the back,” none of them are willing to go on the record. On the contrary, some of his fellow Republicans have condemned his remarks. For example, Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Florida) pointedly asked King, “What exactly do you mean? Do I qualify as ‘somebody else’s baby?’” (Yes, Mr. Curbelo, you do.)
What bothers me most about these stories is not the bigotry on display or even the impunity with which that bigotry is displayed. It’s the silence of the sheep, i.e, my fellow Christians.
I am going to assume (hope?) that we all agree that what the waiter did was bigotry, as were the actions of the fine people who, instead of leaving a tip for their Latina waitress, left a note reading “We only tip citizens.” (As it turns out, the waitress was a citizen, but that only goes to prove that, as blogger/flamethrower Mark Shea says, “Sin makes you stupid.”)
That leaves King’s comments. The sound you are about to hear is my back snapping in two as I bend over backwards to be fair. It is possible, if you hold the paper up to the light at just the correct angle, cross your eyes, and tilt your head precisely 13.6 degrees off-axis, to read the words King wrote as something less-than-reprehensible: an inartful comment on low European birthrates and the challenges posed by mass immigration from the Islamic world.
But not in this case. Simply stated, the gentleman from Iowa lost the benefit of the doubt on matters such as this one a long, long time ago. This is the same Steve King who (in)famously said that “for every child of an undocumented immigrant who becomes a valedictorian, there’s another 100 out there who weigh 130 pounds and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.”
This is the same Steve King who, in response to an admittedly provocative question by Charlie Pierce of Esquire, replied, “I’d ask you to go back through history and figure out, where are these contributions that have been made by these other categories of people that you’re talking about, where did any other subgroup of people contribute more to civilization?”
To clarify of what King meant by “subgroup of people,” host Chris Hayes asked, “Than white people?” to which King answered, “Than, than Western civilization itself,” by which he meant “Western Europe, Eastern Europe and the United States of America and every place where the footprint of Christianity settled the world.”
If you find yourself nodding in agreement, I have four names for you: Augustine of Hippo (modern-day Algeria), Athanasius of Alexandria (Egypt), Saul of Tarsus (Turkey), and, of course, Jesus of Nazareth. Not a European or North American in the bunch.
So no, I’m not giving King the benefit of the doubt, because it’s obvious to anyone who cares to look that what he meant by “restoring civilization” was making it more white.
But, again, that’s not what bothers me the most. After all, as Chris Rock might put it, it was simply a case of Steve King going Steve King.
What bothers me the most is that, in the aftermath of last November’s elections, in which the president received a record percentage of the white evangelical vote, I have constantly heard an exculpatory narrative that goes as follows: It’s unfair to criticize these folks for voting the way they did, because many of them were motivated by issues such as the right to life and religious freedom, and not by support for Mr. Trump himself, much less his more troubling statements and policy proposals.
This narrative is often followed by a renewed commitment to “speak truth to power.”
The problem is that the narrative doesn’t fit the facts, and there’s no evidence of a willingness to speak truth to power unless the truth being spoken is in furtherance of something we really care about, and even then there are those who counsel not rocking the boat.
I have no doubt that there were some (many?) evangelicals who voted for the president because of issues like abortion and religious freedom. But, as a Lifeway Research poll indicates, they were a distinct minority, at least among lay evangelicals.
Nearly half of those polled cited the economy and national security as the most important reasons for voting the way they did. In contrast, only 4 percent cited abortion, and only 7 percent cited religious freedom. Simply put, these folks cast their ballots for much the same reasons other Americans did. Whatever you think of this, it’s difficult to square this with the exculpatory “Somebody please think of the (unborn) children!” narrative.
As for speaking truth to power, call me skeptical. It’s difficult to imagine Christians, who have historically feared losing “access” to the seats of power, risking losing that “access” by criticizing those in power, at least not when their own interests and concerns aren’t involved.
That’s because, we are already, in many respects, what David French warns us against becoming: “just another interest group . . . narrowly seeking its own perceived political interests.” It’s telling that one of the first salvos aimed at Russell Moore for his criticism of Trump and those who enthusiastically supported him went “He’s going to have no access, basically, to President Trump.”
In light of this, I’m not surprised that King’s remarks haven’t drawn a peep of protest. But I am disappointed. If something half as bigoted as “other people’s babies” were said about Christians, Christian social media would be one collective paroxysm of rage. (People are still citing the Washington Post’s 1993 comment about Evangelicals being “largely poor, uneducated, and easy to command.”)
Whenever what sociologist George Yancey calls “Christianophobia” rears its head, the response is seldom rejoicing and being glad, in accordance with Dominical command, or counting all it joy, as per the apostolic instruction, but denunciation of our critics, and, increasingly, insisting that we are victims of discrimination.
And, of course, we are outraged when we are accused of bigotry.
Perhaps we are the victims of discrimination and are wrongly accused of bigotry. You know what would make both assertions more credible? Demonstrating that we know what bigotry looks like and not hesitating to denounce it, even (especially?) when it comes from an erstwhile politically ally.
At this point, I would be pleasantly surprised if people took notice and asked some questions. Instead, all I hear is the silence of the sheep.
Until that changes, we shouldn’t be surprised when other people don’t give us the benefit of the doubt.
Image copyright Orion Pictures/20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.