An Open Letter On Anti-Asian Racism & Christian Nationalism
Subsequent to publishing this letter, I came across more (publicly available) information about various politicians' ties to various churches. Because several signatories have already signed onto the letter, I decided to start a new page rather than alter the letter's text. This page will include evidence and analysis that further corroborates the letter's thesis and demands, as well as a log of updates to other pages on the site.
04.05.21: Added new entry on former AR Gov. Mike Huckabee.
01.23.21: Added updates for Sens. Cotton, Cruz, and Hawley.
01.21.21: Added update to Canadian MP Derek Sloan and new entry on Rep. Madison Cawthorn.
01.18.21: Added video explainer on pastoral accountability to "Videos."
01.04.21: Began subpage on non-American politicians, starting with Canadian MP Derek Sloan.
12.23.20: Included update on former Sen. McSally.
Non American Politicians
Because the letter alludes to the American right's global influence, particularly in Canada, some discussion of non-American Christian nationalists is warranted. To that end, this section offers illustrations of how sanctified Sinophobia has taken root abroad.
Derek Sloan: Member of Parliament, Canada (01.04.21).
The 36-year-old Conservative MP is well known in Canada as an aspiring Trumpist. The Toronto Star's Alex Boutilier points out that Sloan "cribbed policies from U.S. President Trump" during his failed bid for Conservative party leadership. During his leadership bid, Sloan accused federal chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam of harboring loyalties to the Chinese government. On April 21, 2020, Sloan tweeted, "Dr. Tam must go! Canada must remain sovereign over decisions. The UN, the WHO, and Chinese Communist propaganda must never have a say over Canada’s public health!” In the accompanying video, Sloan bases his accusation on the fact that Dr. Tam participated in a WHO panel, asking whether Dr. Tam works "for Canada or for China." In a clear allusion to one of Trump's signature slogans, Sloan also declares that the country must put "Canadians first." Sloan subsequently refused to apologize despite objections from his own party, insisting that the question was merely "rhetorical." Stephen Zhou of Foreign Policy notes that Sloan's accusation echoes emerging Canadian far right theories that frame Tam as a veteran Chinese spy. Zhou goes on to observe that Sloan is part of a wave of Canadian politicians "inspired [by Trump] to try and build their own anti-immigrant base."
Sloan, a Seventh Day Adventist member of College Park Church in Oshawa, ON, has said of his election, "God was leading me, and . . . God had placed me in the riding at an opportune time, and a lot of doors opened for me." In a gesture towards the more muted role that religion plays in Canadian politics, Sloan says in the same interview that his desire to advocate for "people who hold non-mainstream views" encompasses both those "of a religious persuasion" and "others as well." Nonetheless, Sloan's participation in such events as a "God and Government Youth Conference" and meetings of the Canadian Christian Business Federation underscore his affiliation with an American brand of pro-market religious nationalism. In that context, Sloan's accusation parallels the yoking of Christian patriotism and anti-Chinese rhetoric that prevails south of the Canadian border.
01.21.21: MP Derek Sloan was expelled from Canada's Conservative Party on Jan. 20, 2021, owing to the revelation that he had accepted a donation from a notorious white supremacist. Whether Party leader Erin O'Toole's declaration that racism is a "disease of the soul" translates into a purging of anti-Chinese rhetoric from his party remains to be seen.
Sen. Tom Cotton
1.23.21. A Salon report has revealed that Sen. Tom Cotton repeatedly lied about his experience as an Army Ranger in Iraq and Afghanistan. Despite Sen. Cotton's claims that he "served" as a Ranger, the report found that Sen. Cotton merely attended Ranger School and met minimum qualifications to serve as a Ranger, a critical distinction for actual Army Rangers.
Sen. Cotton's dishonesty is part and parcel of his disingenuous attacks on China and Chinese people during the pandemic. In addition to being racist, his claims about the virus' origins in a Wuhan lab, not to mention his attempted legislation that casts suspicion on Chinese graduate students, constitute self-serving fabrications. Just like his lies about serving as an Army Ranger, his lies about China are calculated to win him votes and donations. Coupled with his confession of Christian faith, such flagrant dishonesty warrants the most urgent of responses from the American church.
Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-NC)
24-year-old Madison Cawthorn, who began serving as a U.S. Representative on Jan. 3 of this year, is a member of Biltmore Church's Hendersonville Campus. He has preached at Community Bible Church of Highlands, NC. On April 27, 2020, he posted an entry in his "Town Hall Square" video series in which he claimed that the "Chinese coronavirus" had taught America that "we can no longer trust China," going on to say that Americans should only rely on China to produce "cheap trinkets." By April 27, the harm of terms like "Chinese Coronavirus" had already become clear, particularly after Rep. Kevin McCarthy's use of the same term. Rep. Cawthorn ends the video by reminding the viewer of his Christian faith, signing off with "God bless."
Rep. Cawthorn has also been accused of inciting the Jan. 6 Capitol riots. His candidacy was tainted by speculation about the degree of his interest in Nazism, as evidenced by an Instagram post of his visit to Hitler's Eagle's Nest that included reference to Hitler as "The Fuhrer." His sermon at Community Bible Church included reference to "Jewish blood" to distinguish Jews' from Gentiles' response to Jesus' words in the Gospel of Mark.
Biltmore Church is part of the Southern Baptist Convention, whose controversial stances on race are outlined in the letter's section on Sen. Lindsay Graham. The church, composed of 6 campuses (with 2 more planned) , is headed by Pastor Bruce Frank; his son Tyler pastors the Hendersonville campus. Bruce has touted Benjamin Watson's book on racism, Under Our Skin, on Twitter. Tyler has described as "helpful" Dr. Tim Keller's critique of "secular justice and critical theory," which claims that "postmodern justice theory" (anything other than "Biblical," classically liberal, or libertarian approaches to justice) is "incoherent" and "undermines our common humanity." In June 2020, Biltmore hosted a live panel discussion on race.
North Carolina was home to approximately 309,905 Asian Americans as of 2019. Rep. Cawthorn's district, NC-11, is home to approximately 7700 Asians. In March, during a Zoom webinar, a queer Asian American woman in Ashville was subjected to a "Zoombombing" in which intruders hurled anti-Asian and homophobic epithets at her. Between March 19 and August 5, 2020, 21 anti-Asian incidents in North Carolina were reported to Stop AAPI Hate.
While Rep. Cawthorn is not included in the original list of politicians, it is consistent with the will of this open letter's signatories that he, and Biltmore Church, answer for his unrepentant racism.
Sen. Ted Cruz
1.23.21. Sen. Cruz has come under fire for his role inciting the historic Capitol Riots of Jan. 6, 2021. Congressional colleagues charge him with fueling the rioters' anger by baselessly calling for an audit of the Nov. 2020 election. His Jan. 6 speech calling for that audit immediately precipitated that riot. In footage of the seditionists raiding the Senate Chamber, one rioter says to another, "I think Cruz would want us to do this" (6:10 of video).
Sen. Cruz's incitement of violence merely extends his pattern of endangering Asian American lives. His refusal to apologize displays the same disregard he has shown towards Asian Americans throughout the pandemic. Moreover, his continued popularity with the GOP base illustrates how he and other sanctified Sinophobes will continue to enjoy robust support under the Biden administration, absent concerted and organized challenges to their bigotry.
Sen. Josh Hawley
1.23.21. Sen. Hawley has come under fire for his role inciting the historic Capitol Riots of Jan. 6, 2021. Not only did he lead an effort to oppose (without evidence) Joe Biden's victory in the Nov. 2020 election, he raised his fist in solidarity with rioters and persisted in his unfounded objections after the riot was over. In footage of the seditionists raiding the Senate Chamber, one rioter names Josh Hawley, along with Ted Cruz, as senators who would approve of their actions (6:08 of video).
Sen. Hawley's incitement of violence merely extends his pattern of endangering Asian American lives. His refusal to apologize, even in the face of his mentor's disavowal, displays the same disregard he has shown towards Asian Americans throughout the pandemic. Moreover, his continued popularity with the GOP base illustrates how he and other sanctified Sinophobes will continue to enjoy robust support under the Biden administration, absent concerted and organized challenges to their bigotry.
Former Gov. Mike Huckabee
4.5.21. Former Arkansas governor and Southern Baptist minister Mike Huckabee, who now hosts the TBN talk show Huckabee, has used the terms "Chinese Virus" and "Wuhan Virus" throughout the pandemic. In fact, Huckabee began using the term "Wuhan virus" in mid-March, before switching over to favor the even more racist "Chinese Virus" starting in April. He first used the term "Wuhan virus" on 3.13.20, the same day he posted another tweet hailing Trump for supposedly "helping to save dogs from Chinese meat markets" at a fundraiser for Big Dog Rescue Ranch. (On its website, BDRR highlights China as just one of several countries where it does its work; the Fox News article Huckabee linked to about the fundraiser included no mention of China.) Huckabee posted these tweets several days after Asian American politicians and activist groups had already condemned the term as racist. A day later, on 3.14.20, the growing national animus against Asians resulted in the stabbings of a 2-year-old, 6-year-old, and their father in a Midland TX Sam's Club. The perpetrator said he did it because they "looked Chinese."
On 3.15.20, as the Cung family recovered from attempted manslaughter, Huckabee tweeted a "joke" inserting the term "Kung Flu" into an impression of Joe Biden.
Huckabee's 4.28.20 tweet, which coupled "Wuhan Virus" with the mildly joking phrase "God bless Waffle House," exemplifies how sanctified Sinophobia often hinges on wrapping anti-Asian prejudice in a combination of piety and humor. Lacking the vehement hostility that sometimes characterizes other uses of the term, Huckabee's folksy affect enables him to incite racism without attracting too much attention.
On 4.4.21, Huckabee tweeted, "I've decided to 'identify' as Chinese. Coke will like me, Delta will agree with my "values" and I'll probably get shoes from Nike & tickets to @MLB games. Ain't America great?" Liked thousands of times, the tweet draws on right wing talking points about Coke and Delta's putative hypocrisy for condemning Georgia voter suppression laws while continuing to do business in China. In addition to transphobic mockery of "identifying" discourse, the tweet relies on slippage between usage of "Chinese" to refer to either ethnicity or nationality. It also reinforces stereotypes about Asians as a favored class in America.
In response to minister Beth Moore criticizing Huckabee for making a statement "antithetical to the gospel," Huckabee again resorted to a coupling of humor and piety, claiming, "I don't take Twitter or myself seriously but I do take gospel seriously . . . May the power of the resurrection lift you to high places this Easter weekend!" Whether Huckabee takes the humanity of Asian people seriously, he did not mention. Huckabee later doubled down, "joking" that Coke would change its name to "Woke-a-Cola" to placate the "Chinese Communist Party."
Huckabee's anti-Asian racism is in keeping with his history of outright support for white supremacist groups and iconography. In 1993, one year after leaving his post at Beech Street First Baptist to become AR's lieutenant governor, Huckabee sent a video message to a conference hosted by white nationalist group Council of Conservative Citizens. According to a CCC newsletter from the same time period, the speech was "extremely well received." In January 2008, during the Republican primary, Huckabee defended the Confederate flag at an event in South Carolina.
Huckabee's current house of worship is not publicly available. However, throughout his career, he has been extremely vocal about his Christian faith. He pastored at AR's Immanuel Baptist Church from 1980 to 1986, and AR's Beech Street First Baptist Church from 1986 to 1992. From 1989 to 1991, he also served as the youngest ever president of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention. His denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, is shared by 3 of the politicians named in the letter: Ted Cruz, Lindsey Graham, and Kevin McCarthy. He presently also serves on the board of an ACA-exempt "Christian health care sharing ministry," OneShare, one of many similar ministries that pool member contributions without guaranteeing health coverage.
While he is no longer a serving politician, Huckabee's influence continues to be considerable, particularly in light of his close relationship with his daughter, Sarah Huckabee-Sanders, currently running for governor of Arkansas. (She has issued no comment on her father's anti-Asian racism.) The spirit of the letter therefore demands repentance, accountability, and transformation from him and his current church.
Former Senator Martha McSally
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.