©Wendell Griffen, 2010
Little Rock, Arkansas
I may be the only person in the world who senses a connection between Clint McCance, Tea Party nationalism, and neo-fundamentalist notions about Christianity. Mr. McCance is the Vice-Chair of the Midland School Board in Pleasant Plains, Arkansas who posted hateful comments about gay youth on his personal Facebook page. His were uttered in reaction to people wearing purple in support of recent gay victims who committed suicide after they suffered bullying.
Among other things, McCance stated, “Seriously they want me to wear purple because five queers killed themselves. The only way I’m wearin [sic] it for them is if they all commit suicide. I cant [sic] believe the people of this world have gotten this stupid. We are honoring the fact that they sinned and killed thereselves [sic] because of their sin.”
Since the time those and other hurtful statements were circulated over the Internet and drawn intense reactions ranging from a planned peaceful protest at a local school in his community to a public rebuke by the Arkansas Commissioner of Education, McCance has retreated into a reclusive silence.
I see a similarity between McCance and Tea Party nationalism. Like McCance, Tea Party activists have demonstrated intolerance and hostility. Although they deny being motivated by racial animosity toward President Obama and profess that they are displeased by his policies, many Tea Party activists have publicly challenged his citizenship, his religious faith, and his patriotism in ways that are hateful and racially-biased.
McCance and Tea Party nationalists appear to share one other feature—a neo-fundamentalist notion of Christianity that strikes out against people because they are considered "strangers," meaning different. In McCance's case, the "strangers" are gay people, particularly gay youth. For the Tea Party, President Obama is the "stranger." Ever since Obama won the Democratic Party nomination during the 2008 presidential campaign, people have been showing up at public events bearing signs and wearing clothing depicting him as a Nazi, socialist, witch doctor, and threat to the United States. Some have even worn T-shirts with Biblical references calling for his death.
Somehow McCance, Tea Party nationalists, and neo-fundamental Christians (who in many instances self-identify as "Christian conservatives") have come to believe that people who are different are dangerous. They reject the idea that human diversity is valid. For McCance, Tea Party nationalists, and neo-fundamentalists Christians, safety, security, and salvation require sameness.
This mindset is fundamentally wrong-headed. Reasonably intelligent people understand that human diversity is a fact to be accepted as part of a healthy world, not a harmful condition from which people and a society can or should be cured. A worldview that defines difference as threatening contradicts reality. After all, we are constantly learning about new species of plants and animals. Variety in people is no more ominous than it is in anything else in nature.
McCance, Tea Party nationalists, and neo-fundamental Christians embrace an arrogant and self-glorifying anti-intellectualism. I doubt I am the only person who detects irony in the fact that McCance, a leader (Vice-Chair) of his local public school board, was so arrogant as to demonstrate his incompetence with English grammar and spelling in his Facebook utterances that have prompted such an outcry. McCance brings Sarah Palin (former Alaska governor, 2008 Republican Party nominee for Vice President of the United States, and now leading promoter of Tea Party ideology) to mind. Palin's anti-intellectualism has become her calling card. We should not be surprised that American children are falling behind children in other societies when we deliberately elevate and celebrate people such as McCance and Palin as the exemplary leaders.
McCance, Tea Party nationalists, and neo-fundamentalist Christians aren't merely wrong-headed about human diversity. They're wrong-headed and wrong-hearted about the religion of Jesus. The Gospels present Jesus as someone who embraced people, especially people who were otherwise shunned because they were lepers, women, children, religious, political, and social outcasts, and sick. The Christ of the Gospels did not inspire the "Christianity" proclaimed and lived by McCance, Tea Party nationalists like Sarah Palin, and other neo-fundamentalist Christians who condemn people because of their sexual orientation, religion, language, and ethnicity.
There is as much difference between the religion of Jesus and McCance, Tea Party nationalists, and neo-fundamentalist Christians as there is between noon and midnight. As a follower of Jesus, I intend to show McCance, Palin, and the people they mistreat as "strangers" that I know that difference and am determined to live it.