An Open Letter On Anti-Asian Racism & Christian Nationalism

Former Senator Martha McSally (R-AZ)

Sen. McSally, recently unseated by Mark Kelly, is a self-identified Protestant; her current church membership is not publicly available. She has talked repeatedly about her Christian faith on the campaign trail. Sen. McSally stated on April 10, 2020, “[China has] been lying to their own people and they’ve been lying to the world about this pandemic that started, allegedly, with their disgusting and inhumane and deadly practices in these wet markets, where they have live and dead animals gutted and it’s just disgusting, their practices.” In this statement, Sen. McSally conflates government officials and participants in “wet markets” (perhaps confusing the latter with "wildlife markets"), treating politicians, vendors, and market customers as a monolithically "disgusting" group. On July 20, 2020, Sen. McSally introduced the “Civil Justice for Victims of COVID Act" (see Senator Marsha Blackburn). Throughout the pandemic, Sen. McSally has accused China of "unleashing" COVID-19 on the world.

As of 2019, Arizona’s population included 241,721 Asians. Between March 19 and August 5, 2020, 33 hate crime incidents in Arizona were reported to Stop AAPI Hate (8).

12.23.20 update:

While McSally's church membership is not publicly known, she did speak at Trinity Church on October 18, 2020. Introducing McSally to the church, Driscoll noted that McSally has a few friends in the church (00:22 of the video) who proposed the guest appearance. Driscoll framed the talk as an opportunity for McSally to talk about "her faith journey and her relationship with Jesus." During the appearance, McSally's comments about "disgusting" Chinese dietary practices do not come up. However, she does discuss suing the Pentagon for making her wear Muslim garb during her military service in Saudi Arabia (05:43), omitting the Islamophobic jokes that she has previously offered when telling the story. At the end of the clip, McSally notes that she is heading back to Washington, saying, "We're not leaving until Judge [Amy Coney] Barrett is on the Supreme Court" (12:19). Amidst applause, Driscoll responds, "We're fine with that."

Mark Driscoll is best known for his almost 20-year stint as the head pastor of Seattle's Mars Hill Church, which closed in 2014 amidst accusations of misogyny, bullying, plagiarism, and mismanagement of church funds. Driscoll issued an apology for "anger," for "shortcomings," and for a what he called a misunderstanding of a marketing firm "manipulating a book sales reporting system." Ex-Mars Hill Church members deemed his apologies insufficient. His launch of Trinity Church in 2016 received skepticism, given the relatively brief period between his leaving one church and starting another. His uncritical interview with McSally, in which support for a Republican-appointed Supreme Court justice is passed off as a discussion of McSally's "relationship with Jesus," exemplifies the ethos of Christian nationalism: having a relationship with Christ means supporting right wing politics. One wonders how much he has learned about speaking to the entire body of Christ, not just a part of it.

Furthermore, while Driscoll is not McSally's pastor, his public comments on anti-Black police brutality this very year cast his celebration of her politics into sharp relief. In an article called "God's Fatherly Heart on the George Floyd Horror," Driscoll laments "a person in power harming and killing a powerless person who is not fighting back, but simply cannot breathe." Curiously, though, Driscoll never calls George Floyd's murder racist in itself, but does use the article to decry the "racism" of abortion and evolutionary theory. Juxtaposed with his indifference to McSally's Sinophobia (and Islamophobia), his article illustrates the way that pastors enmeshed in Christian nationalism carefully craft an appearance of caring about racism, while refusing to use their own power to confront influential purveyors of prejudice. Insofar as Trinity Church apparently has friends of McSally's within its ranks, Driscoll has an opening to challenge her and change her mind. Instead, he allowed her to use her appearance to launder her reputation and cast herself as "fighting for others who don't have a voice."

That Driscoll would ignore, or demonstrate incuriosity about, McSally's Sinophobia is consistent with his own history of ignorant or dismissive comments about China and Asian culture in general. In 2008, he quipped that church attendance in Seattle was "about the same as in Communist China," apparently not caring to learn that as many as 70 million Chinese nationals may have been practicing some form of Christianity that very year. Combining sexism and Orientalism, Driscoll in 2009 complained that the mainstream perception of Jesus was of a "very effeminate guy . . . always smiling, [making] pithy Zen statements that read like fortune cookies in a Chinese restaurant." In 2010, Driscoll condemned "Easternism," linking it with "yoga" and "meditation" and warning that it led to "demonism." Driscoll never clarified what he meant by this term.

Technically, Driscoll is not included in the demands made by this letter's signatories, which specifically address pastors of politicians' home churches. However, I personally believe that the law of love requires him, too, to answer for his silence.

For more analysis of Sen. McSally and her ties to Pastor Mark Driscoll's Trinity Church, written subsequent to this letter's publication, see Updates.