An Open Letter On Anti-Asian Racism & Christian Nationalism
The below timeline outlines my efforts to obtain a response from the pastors, churches, and denominations of Christian nationalist politicians from Dec. 2020 onward. It also documents my efforts to obtain support from potential signatories. Finally, it places the letter's concerns in broader context, detailing the ongoing efforts of the named politicians to promote Christian nationalism and its attendant strains of white supremacy.
The responses (or lack of responses) testify to a widespread culture of indifference and shifting of responsibility concerning the question of disciplining extremely influential members of these institutions.
To date, none of the churches or pastors have officially conceded the validity of any of the letter's demands.
December: Christ Presbyterian (Blackburn)
Marsha Blackburn tweets that China has a "5,000 year history of cheating and stealing" on Dec. 3.
Prior to launching the open letter, I sent a DM to Pastor Scott Sauls on Dec. 7, lamenting Marsha Blackburn's racism and urging him to speak up. I received no response.
I begin amassing signatures in late December in advance of its publication in early January.
January: 1.6 Insurrection and involvement of Blackburn, Hagerty, Gosar, Taylor-Greene, Boebert
On Jan 2, Marsha Blackburn and Bill Hagerty announce their support for Ted Cruz's efforts to deny certifying Joe Biden's winning the presidential election.
I officially launch the open letter on Jan. 3.
On Jan. 4, Chuck Blackburn, an ordained deacon at Christ Presbyterian Nashville and husband of Sen. Marsha Blackburn, tweets, "Vice President Pence and Members of Congress, we will never forget what you do on January 6th so please make us proud!"
On Jan. 6, insurrectionists storm the Capitol in an effort to force Congress to deny Biden the presidency and appoint Trump president instead. Five people are killed. The insurrectionists wave "Jesus Saves" signs and tear up a Chinese scroll in Sen. Jeff Merkley's office, declaring, "We don't want Chinese bullshit." Rioters are also glimpsed bearing signs saying "Say No to CCP Chinese Communist Party," indicating the prevalent conspiracy theory that the CCP helped Biden fraudulently attain the presidency.
The riots bring to fruition an event that Reps. Paul Gosar, Marjorie Taylor-Greene, and Lauren Boebert had been involved in planning. Josh Hawley is photographed pumping his fist in solidarity with the insurrectionists. Backtracking on her support for the sentiments that led to the insurrection, Blackburn and Hagerty decide to vote to certify the electoral college votes.
February: "I wonder who you really work for?"
In an email correspondence with a Chinese Christian congregation, an elder responds by insinuating that I am operating at the behest of an unknown power: "I wonder who you really work for?" The exchange reflects the extent to which, even within Asian American circles, paranoia about the Chinese Communist Party outstrips concerns about how such paranoia translates into anti-Asian racism.
March: Atlanta Spa Shootings; Southern Baptists (McCarthy, Cruz, Cawthorn, Graham); Northpoint (Taylor-Greene)
On March 16, Stop AAPI Hate releases its National 2020-2021 report, covering "a fraction of the hate incidents that actually occur." The report notes that "Women report hate incidents 2.3 times more than men" and that physical harassment comprises the third largest category of discrimination.
Also on March 16, a shooter murders eight people, including six women of Asian descent, at three different spas across the Atlanta area. Chosun Ilbo, a top South Korean newspaper, reports that the gunman screamed "I'm going to kill all the Asians" at one point in the shooting. The shooter, a devout Southern Baptist, later claimed that he was motivated by the need to rid himself of a "sex addiction." The Christian "sex addiction" center he had previously visited, HopeQuest, is partially supported by Marjorie Taylor Greene's church, Northpoint. Notably, the shooter had only visited two of the three spas targeted; the unvisited spa, named "Young's Asian Massage," seems to have attracted his attention because he assumed it was a brothel on the basis of its name and pervasive stereotypes about the association between Asian spas and sex work.
On March 21, the shooter's church, Crabapple Baptist, announces that it is stripping the shooter of his membership and that Long is no longer "considered a regenerate believer in Christ." The move offers precedent for taking extraordinary disciplinary measures in the event of a congregant's particularly egregious sin, a paradigm for the churches named in the letter. The shooter's church, a Southern Baptist congregation, belongs to the same denomination as Sens. Ted Cruz and Lindsey Graham, as well as Reps. Kevin McCarthy and Madison Cawthorn. Subsequently, it becomes clear that the preachers at Crabapple railed against feminism and discussed Asia and Asian culture in predominantly negative terms.
In a March 18 press conference, Kevin McCarthy refuses to apologize for his using the term "Chinese Coronavirus," denying that such terms may have contributed to the anti-Asian climate in which the shooter carried out his massacre. During the press conference, McCarthy insists, "The virus came from China."
A study in the American Journal of Public Health finds, "When comparing the week before March 16, 2020, to the week after, there was a significantly greater increase in anti-Asian hashtags associated with #chinesevirus compared with #covid19 (P < .001)."
June: SBC convention (Cruz, Cawthorn, Graham, McCarthy); EPC Annual Meeting (Hawley, Pompeo)
Throughout the month of June, I email the pastors at Christ Presbyterian Church (Blackburn), Biltmore Church (Cawthorn), The Crossing Church (Hawley), Houston's First (Cruz), Eastminster (Pompeo), University Avenue Church (Cornyn), Grace Church (Sasse), and Corinth Baptist (Graham). With the exceptions noted below, I receive no response.
In advance of and during the SBC Annual Convention, I email former SBC president J.D. Greear, former SBC Executive Committee CEO Ronnie Floyd, and new SBC president Ed Litton to draw their attention to the open letter's naming of Cruz, Cawthorn, Graham, and McCarthy. I receive no response.
In advance of the 2021 Annual Meeting for the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (the denomination of Hawley's church The Crossing and Mike Pompeo's church Eastminster), I email the Office of the General Assembly and members of the Revelation 7:9 Task Force, a denominational committee, appointed to investigate how the EPC can "become a denomination that faithfully embraces, worships with, and serves our neighbors 'from every nation (ethnicity), tribe, people, and language." In response, only one of the task force's members replies. While privately expressing support for the letter, the task force member states, "I completely agree with you but also don't want any of the denominational leaders or denominational pastors leave the "table" of dialoguing and advocating for these things because we are perceived incorrectly."
In response to a post on his Twitter page asking to clarify the task force's position on Pompeo and Hawley, another Revelation 6:9 task force member responds, "You have been contacted by two of my friends from my denomination. Discuss these issues with them...I will not nor have time and energy to speak on this issue. Respectfully, do not message me again."
On June 19, I also emailed the signatories of the open letter "For Such A Time As This: An Open Letter To The Evangelical Presbyterian Church," published August 2020. In light of that statement's call for the EPC to take seriously the sin of racism, I ask the signatories to consider supporting the effort to hold prominent anti-Asian EPC members accountable. In response, only one signatory responds, writing, "It appears to me that Pompeo's and Hawley's statements are characterizations of the Communist Chinese government's responsibility for the pandemic and not characterizations of the Chinese people...how can Pompeo's and Hawley's statements be a racist slur against Asians and in particular against Asian-Americans?" The question illustrates how, even amongst putatively anti-racist Christians, use of "Wuhan virus" and stigmatization of China is tolerated so long as it occurs under the auspices of combatting CCP influence.
During the livestream of the EPC Annual Meeting on June 22, my chat messages are deleted repeatedly. In response to my using the hashtag associated with the Meeting (see picture to the right), moderators delete the embedded Twitter stream from their official Annual Meeting website.
On June 29, Ted Cruz tweets that "Democrats now claiming that it's Republicans who want to defund the police . . . [are] like the Chinese blaming Americans for the Wuhan virus."
June and early July: PCA General Assembly (Sasse, Blackburn); Platte Valley Presbytery (Sasse)
In advance of the Presbyterian Church in America's Annual Meeting, I email the members of the PCA Administrative Committee on June 23, informing them of the open letter, its hundreds of signatories, and its demands pertaining to Marsha Blackburn's and Ben Sasse's churches. In response, PCA Moderator Bryan Chappell affirms the denomination's official opposition to racism while also misconstruing the demand for solidarity: "I want to affirm with you that...All forms of racism, ethnic hatred, and xenophobia are condemned by Scripture...Your correspondence seems to indicate that you may think that the national Administrative Committee of the PCA is the place to lodge complaints against members of individual churches. However, the PCA does not have a hierarchical form of church government. The General Assembly’s Administrative Committee has no authority to issue judgements against specific individuals." Chappell does not address the points in my follow up clarifying that the letter calls for leaders to simply issue a statement expressing disapproval, not issue a formal judgment.
During this period, I also email pastors and elders in the PCA who are leading seminars during the Annual Meeting, urging them to consider using their platform to condemn the actions of Blackburn and Sasse, as well as pointing out the power of a statement urging their churches to take action. All of the seminar leaders decline to do so, citing either lack of time, lack of knowledge about the issue, or a perceived lack of racism in the senators' comments. One PCA minister, holding a seminar discussion on religion and politics, initially charges me with "bearing false witness" on the grounds that I have dishonestly construed Tom Cotton's espousal of the Wuhan lab theory. When I point out that scientific consensus overwhelmingly points to natural origins and that Cotton's use of "China Virus" is inexcusable in any context, the minister responds, "I do not doubt what the senators have said. What would need to be validated is their motives . . . You claim their motives is (sic) rooted in racism . . . The senators might have another point of view." The minister does not apologize for accusing me of bearing false witness.
During the PCA General Assembly in St. Louis, (June 29-July 2), I use the #pcaga hashtag to draw attention to Marsha Blackburn's and Ben Sasse's PCA affiliation and their bigotry (see video to the left). In response, I receive overwhelmingly negative responses and a handful of positive ones. One PCA member writes, "I reject the idea that 'China Virus' is racist...so try something else." Another writes, 'I commend every rebuke of the CCP quoted here from Ben Sasse," once again failing to recognize that the scope of Christian nationalists' rhetoric reaches beyond critiques of the Communist Party in China. The official account of the PCA's publication ByFaith Online, @pcabyfaith, also blocks me.
During the conference, a proposal recommending that the denomination issue a condemnation of anti-Asian racism is rejected. Eventually, an amended resolution using softer language and skirting the question of the role that prominent PCA members may have played in inciting hatred. (See this NBC News article for more information.) During the discussion of whether to pass the amended resolution, a Korean pastor describes his experiences of racism in the PCA, including disparaging comments about Korean style prayer (see clip to the left). The next day, several PCA members accuse him of faking his outrage, with one tweeting out his physical location in realtime.
On June 28, Rev. Jacob Gerber, Stated Clerk for the presbytery governing Ben Sasse's PCA church, agrees to forward the letter to the "Shepherding Team" of the presbytery. As of Dec. 8, 2021, I have received no further update from this presbytery.
July: Christ Presbyterian (Blackburn), New Creation Church of Glenwood Springs (Boebert), Biltmore (Cawthorn), Houston's First Baptist (Cruz), Diocese of Phoenix (Gosar), Presbyterian Church in Bowling Green (Paul), Eastminster (Pompeo)
In response to an email concerning Paul Gosar's affiliation with the Roman Catholic diocese of Phoenix, Fr. Kevin Grimditch, assistant to Phoenix bishop Thomas Olmsted, promises to forward the open letter to the "Racial Healing and Reconciliation Commission": "I pray that we are arriving at an important time in our culture where we can begin to take these problems seriously."
Upon calling Houston's First, Ted Cruz's church, on July 9, I receive word that my message concerning the open letter will be forwarded to Steven Murray, the Public Relations director for Houston's First.
On July 11, Christ Presbyterian pastor Scott Sauls, who regularly interacts with Twitter followers, notes, "There is no reason why CPC shouldn't play a leading role" with respect to combatting systemic racism. My suggestion that CPC start by opposing Marsha Blackburn goes without comment.
In a phone call with Pastor Michael Goolsby of Eastminster Presbyterian, Mike Pompeo's church, Goolsby flatly rejects the premise that Pompeo's words--including his propagation of the term "Wuhan virus"--could be construed as anti-Asian: "I deny that Mike Pompeo is anti-Asian . . . I think it's best to end the call here."
On July 20, I added Lauren Boebert to the letter, having identified her church as New Creation Church of Glenwood Springs.
On July 26, I added Rand Paul to the letter, having identified his church as a PCUSA church, the Presbyterian Church in Bowling Green.
In order to draw church members' attention to the conduct of their most powerful co-congregants, I begin posting in the livestream of churches such as Houston's First.
August: Christ Presbyterian (Blackburn), St. Andrew's Episcopal (Carlson), Houston's First (Cruz), Gosar, Holy Trinity Church (Hawley)
In following up with the Nashville Presbytery's promise to discuss CPC's ties to Marsha Blackburn at their August meeting, I find that the open letter was merely "forwarded to the session (elders) of Christ Presbyterian Church." Chuck Blackburn, Marsha's husband, is an ordained deacon at the church.
In the chat of Valley Baptist's livestream on August 8, I try to draw attention to the church's association with Kevin McCarthy. The only response comes from a volunteer who says, "Thank you Lord that it is not my job to judge but Yours!"
Upon finding that Josh Hawley and his family now attend Holy Trinity Church in McLean, VA, I add this church to the open letter. Holy Trinity Church is a non-denominational church with Anglican roots, founded by current VA Republican governor Glenn Youngkin.
In an apparent expression of pride, Paul Gosar retweets a clip of his brother noting that Paul coined the phrase "Wuhan virus," adding the phrase: "Fact check: 100."
In a phone conversation on August 12, HTC pastor Derek Rust refuses to comment on whether Josh Hawley attends the church. Responding to my informing him of the open letter's contents, Rust accuses me of "having an axe to grind," insists that it's not his job to "act as some kind of moral police," and claims that "anyone who works on the Hill" is merely following the lead of his party.
During a livestream of a sermon at Houston's First, Ted Cruz's church, I join the "prayer request" virtual room and ask for prayers for Ted Cruz to repent of racism. The response from the prayer volunteer (screenshot to the left) demonstrates a trend I observed in my various interactions with prayer volunteers in similar chatrooms: all claimed either "unfamiliarity" with specific instances of racism or offered, at the most, general prayers for "conviction."
On August 18, I add Tucker Carlson to the open letter, in light of his lifelong ties to the Episcopal Church. A former attendee of Georgetown's Christ Church, Tucker retains his membership there but now intermittently attends the parish near his new home in Boca Grande, FL, St. Andrew's Episcopal. Responding to an email informing him of the open letter's contents and demands, Rector Tim Cole of Christ Church Georgetown informs me that Tucker Carlson no longer attends services at the church and includes Tucker's Fox News email, saying that Tucker "asked that he be engaged directly in such circumstances."
In an effort to pressure CPC into taking action, I email various organizations listed on the church's "missional partnerships" page, explaining the open letter's contents and asking them to voice support for a public statement from CPC condemning Marsha Blackburn. In response, one such partner, Neal Creech of Christian Leadership Concepts, dismisses the open letter: "I deeply care about all of God ‘s children. I would hate for any Asian person to feel less than anyone. However, these statements still seem to be against the Chinese government and not Chinese people. Have you written any Chinese officials to ask why they are burning churches? That’s definitely hate." In a follow up email, Neal amends his initial response while still insisting that the open letter, not the racist rhetoric of the named politicians, is to blame for victimizing Asians: "While I still believe the Senators were plainly speaking about the current Chinese Government, I’m concerned that if the words are conflated to be against all Asian people, the outcome will be victimization by certain Asian people. I’m sure you would agree that Jesus didn’t encourage people to see themselves as victims, but as conquerors in Him." The exchange demonstrates the extent to which resistance to unqualified acknowledgement of anti-Asian racism continues to pervade the church.
September: Christ Presbyterian (Blackburn), St. Andrew's Episcopal (Carlson), Biltmore (Cawthorn), Galloway UMC (Reeves)
On Sept. 8, NBC Asian America publishes a profile of various Asian American Christian efforts to combat racism in religious institutions, citing the open letter and its particular focus on Marsha Blackburn and Christ Presbyterian Church as an example.
On Sept. 10, CPC pastor Scott Sauls acknowledges the open letter for the first time. In response to a request for him to not "gaslight" Asian Americans by coupling inaction with verbal affirmations of antiracism, Sauls writes, "I certainly don't want to gaslight anyone. I share your concern for the safety and dignity of AAPI image-bearers and trust that the record of my life, friendships, and ministry testifies to this. But Twitter will never be a forum I use to address congregant concerns." Later, Sauls affirms, "We share a deep concern for the safety and dignity of AAPI image bearers," but does not respond to subsequent queries about whether Marsha Blackburn's public behavior deserves to be classified as a "congregant concern." To date (Dec. 15), Sauls is the only pastor to explicitly acknowledge the open letter in public.
On Sept. 14, in an apparent response to the open letter, Scott Sauls tweets, "It is unwise to embrace one-sided public narratives involving conflict between this and that person or group. The court of public opinion is a cesspool that almost never gets it right. People get hurt more than helped in that space. Matthew 18 is the way." He later deletes the tweet without clarification. The tweet illustrates how Matthew 18, a passage concerning the conditions for bringing a charge against a fellow disciple of Christ, is used to deflect criticism.
In a Sept. 19 exchange in Biltmore Church's virtual prayer room, a volunteer promises to forward concerns about Biltmore member Madison Cawthorn to church leadership, but remains silent when asked to pray for Cawthorn's repentance.
On Sept. 19, I add Gov. Tate Reeves to the open letter, on account of his use of "China Virus" and longtime membership at Galloway United Methodist Church in Jackson, MS. On Sept. 26, I leave a message for Galloway's prayer request line, asking for prayers for Reeves to repent.
As related to me in a subsequent phone call (see October), during the month of September, Rev. Michelle Robertshaw speaks to Bishop Dabney Smith, of the Episcopal Diocese of Southwest Florida, about the open letter. Bishop Smith apparently also speaks to Bishop Curry's national office about the open letter. Additionally, Rev. Robertshaw also speaks to Rector Tim Cole, Tucker's former rector, about the open letter; Cole points to his giving me Tucker's email address as a sufficient response.
Rev. Robertshaw also speaks to Tucker about the open letter around the 27th of September. According to Robertshaw, Tucker Carlson responds to her description of the open letter by saying, "I don't know what you're talking about; some of my best friends are Asian," and also that he "welcomes a phone call" to discuss the open letter's concerns. Robertshaw notes that she was informed that Tucker "talked about his faith" on his Sept. 27 show. On the show in question, Tucker specifically says that American Christianity has been replaced by a "cult of coronavirus," a new "evangelical faith." He says sarcastically, "The especially devout will set out on pilgrimages to Wuhan, China where the very first miracle of pangolin to human transmission occurred. Some believe a visit to the wet market will heal them, and who are we to say that it won't?"
October: Christ Presbyterian Church (Blackburn), St. Andrew's Episcopal (Carlson), Catholic Diocese of Phoenix (Gosar), Holy Trinity Church (Hawley), Galloway UMC (Reeves)
Galloway UMC, Gov. Tate Reeves' church, hosts a conference on racial justice on the weekend of October 15-17. During the Q and A on Oct. 16, my questions about the church's obligation to discipline Reeves for his racism are ignored and some of my comments are deleted (see screenshots, which only feature the undeleted comments). On Sunday, during the livestream, the moderator allows more of my comments to filter through (see video)
On Oct. 18, Father Kevin Grimditch of the Phoenix Diocese updates me. He promises to help me locate Paul Gosar's current local parish. (So far, he has not updated me.) He also clarifies that the Racial Healing and Reconciliation Commission to which he forwarded the letter (see July) is not "taking public responses" at this time. He says that he will follow up with them to highlight the importance of the letter.
An October 24 Rolling Stone report reveals that Lauren Boebert, Paul Gosar, and Marjorie Taylor-Greene participated in "dozens" of planning meetings for the Jan. 6 "Stop the Steal" rally and insurrection.
On October 29, I have a phone conversation with Rev. Michelle Robertshaw of St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Boca Grande, FL. She informs me of her September discussions with Tucker Carlson and with Bishop Dabney Smith of the Diocese of Southwest Florida (see September). She also says that Tucker has only attended service "once or twice" during the several years he has owned a residence on Boca Grande, but that his "words are revered" on the predominantly white island. Rev. Robertshaw also states that a combination of Episcopal canon law and her own personal convictions about the role of a shepherd prevented her from taking disciplinary action, as Carlson is not officially a member of St. Andrews. She also expressed concern that, were she to withhold communion on the basis of the Book of Common Prayer's disciplinary rubric (p. 409 here), she could face ecclesiastical censure for taking a step beyond her jurisdiction. In a subsequent discussion, another Episcopal priest versed in canon law informs me that no such censure would be possible in such a scenario.
Dr. Christina Edmondson, a scholar in residence at Christ Presbyterian's Koinonia campus, speaks with CPC pastor Scott Sauls about the open letter's contents at the end of October. The discussion touched on the importance of anti-racist discipleship, the significance of how a church represents itself in relationship to its most prominent members, and issues related to the open letter. Dr. Edmondson indicated that she serves with a small team at CPC that organizes to institute formal processes of discipleship intervention, including in cases of racism. It is not clear whether CPC plans to take any action with respect to Marsha Blackburn herself.
In a virtual prayer room exchange, Holy Trinity volunteer "Caroline" promises to pray for Hawley's repentance in an Oct. 31 exchange. Her invitation to send further emails constitutes the most positive response of any prayer room volunteer, although I have not heard anything more from her.
November: Houston's First (Cruz), Holy Trinity Church (Hawley)
Glenn Youngkin, founder and vestry member of Holy Trinity Church Mclean, is elected governor of VA on Nov. 2. One of his campaign planks involves "banning critical race theory" from schools, a promise widely criticized as predicated on an inaccurate understanding of critical race theory. The campaign promise testifies to his ideological affinity with Sen. Josh Hawley, also known to attend Holy Trinity. The church does not issue comment in response to emails and voice mails asking for clarity about their relationship to Hawley and Youngkin.
In a Nov. 28 sermon at Houston's First (Ted Cruz's church), guest preacher Dr. John Tyler of Houston Baptist University compares "the Mayflower generation" and "the Exodus generation." Tyler compares the Hebrew slaves of Exodus with the Mayflower's colonists, ignoring the extent to which the colonists participated in a slave economy whose victims more closely paralleled the plight of the Hebrews. His account of Thanksgiving erases the white pilgrim's aggression towards the indigenous tribes they encountered. Finally, Tyler's contention that the Mayflower generation exhibited a superior faith to that of the Israelites may also illustrate the latently anti-Semitic attitudes that underpin Christian nationalist ideology. My comments drawing attention to the sermon's historical inaccuracies are deleted.
December: Blackburn, Boebert, Calvary-St. George's (Metaxas)
Exactly one year after Marsha Blackburn tweeted that "China has a 5,000 year history of cheating and stealing," Blackburn issues the racist statement to the right. The tweet testifies to the impunity with which major Christian nationalist politicians continue to issue Sinophobic commentary.
Also on Dec. 3, Lauren Boebert warns that "Democrats are quite obviously laying the groundwork for a Chinese-style social credit system in our country." Her tweet reflects how sanctified Sinophobia is mobilized to construe any policy to the left of the far right as implicitly "Chinese-style" authoritarianism. Boebert is a longtime attendee of New Creation Church of Glenwood Springs.
An associate minister at Eric Metaxas' former church, Calvary St. George's, reports that he spoke with senior minister Rev. Jacob Smith concerning Metaxas' relationship with the church. Smith confirmed that he confronted Metaxas in the late 00's about his increasingly right wing rhetoric. Smith is presently weighing whether to offer a public statement.
A newly published Stop AAPI Hate report covering the period from March 2020 to September 2021 finds that nearly 1 in 5 Asian Americans have experienced a hate incident this year. (My own personal contribution to that statistic is to the right.)