About a year ago, I was in a book club where we read discussed White Jesus: The Architecture of Racism in Religion and Education. During our conversations, we learned about The American Patriot’s Bible, edited by Dr. Richard G. Lee. The Patriot’s Bible, as the subtitle says, shows “The Word of God and the Shaping of America,” clearly marrying the United States to a divine project ordained by God to succeed and exist. Before even opening the book, we know that the Patriot’s Bible serves to foster and promote Christian Nationalism, “an ideology,” as Samuel Perry and Andrew Whitehead define it, “that idealizes a fusion of Christianity with American civic belonging and participation.”
Someone in our book club, a religion professor, ordered the book to see what it contains and to use examples from it in courses. In his office one day, I pulled it down from the shelf and started looking through it. This is no commentary on scriptures. Rather, there are entries that highlight historical figures’ faith and historical events in the United States, connecting them all with God and the Bible. It contains selections from George Washington Carver, Frederick Douglass, and Martin Luther King, Jr, alongside prayers from Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and more. It is white supremacist ideology, coded as color blind Christian belief in the equality of all. I haven’t looked at the entire Patriot’s Bible yet, but I did read through a four-page insert section on the Civil War. This section, devoid of any scriptural references, epitomizes the white supremacist rhetoric, couched in Christianity, that populates the Patriot’s Bible.
Today, I want to break down some of the rhetoric and imagery that the Patriot’s Bible uses when relating the events of the Civil War. The section begins, not with any mention of slavery. Rather, it opens with a paragraph discussing that many people thought it “would be over in three months but lasted four horrible years,” pitting brother against brother and resulting in the deaths of over 620,000 soldiers. The section then moves on to state, “While the reasons for the Revolutionary War were abundantly clear, the reasons for the Civil War are still being debated.” Again, no mention of slavery. Instead, we see a discussion of “political disagreements” arising between the South and the North following the Revolution in 1782.
The next page begins with an image of Abraham Lincoln on the left side of the page, pointing upwards towards the top of the page where the author(s) lists the reasons for the growing and expanding tensions. These included everything from taxes and the government’s favoring of “the Northern and Midwestern states,” all of which caused the South to call for a move “away from the central federal authority” to their state’s rights. The framing, to this point, presents the South, specifically, not as a region that wanted to maintain slavery and seceded and fought to do so, but rather as a region that felt victimized by the supposed mistreatment it endured at the hands of the federal government and the North. This framing, no matter what comes afterwards, places the narrative of faulty ground and reinforces, within the mind of the reader, the Lost Cause myths of states right’s and Northern aggression.
Shifting from this, the sections begins the third paragraph by flatly stating, “However, slavery was the defining issue that drive the Southern resolve to make war on the Union rather than accept Abraham Lincoln’s election as president in 1860.” Buried three paragraphs into the section, this sentence loses its impact because the set up doesn’t even mention enslaved individuals and the horrors they endured. No mention of abolitionists. No mention of Dredd Scott. No mention of the Fugitive Slave Act. No mention of . . .
The section primes the reader to place slavery low on the list of the supposed causes of the Civil War, even though it says that it “drove” the war. In this manner, the section buries the lead. Adding to this, the section undercuts the above statement in the next sentence: “Slavery had been a part of life for well over 200 years of America’s history and was protected by state and federal laws regarding unlawful seizure of property.” Essentially, “our laws must be upheld” and the Civil War was fought because enslavers felt the need to uphold their Constitutional and state’s rights to own individuals as “property.” Added to this, none of the section mentions enslaved individuals. Instead, the institution, “slavery,” gets mentioned and enslaved men, women, and children get presented as “property,” a clear example of the rhetoric dehumanizing individuals and upholding a white supremacist ideology.
The paragraph continues by briefly mentioning the abolitionist movement and the “extensive theological debate” over slavery; however, it pivots from this by claiming that “Scripture never expressly denounces” slavery. Again, we see white supremacy at work, especially when we look at the ways enslavers used scripture to justify the enslavement of men, women, and children. The rhetoric here gives lip service to “slavery bad” and “slavery caused the war,” but at each turn it undercuts that rhetoric by saying, “Well, both sides had their points,” all while eliminating the individuals who suffered from the narrative.
The paragraph concludes its four sentences with another blatant Lost Cause ideology that “the bottom line was that if the South lost her slaves, her socioeconomic system would collapse.” Here, we see the fear mongering, demagoguery of the carpet bagger, Damnyankee, and scalawag who plundered the South after its defeat during the Civil War. We also see echoes of Adolf Hitler and his thoughts on the war when he said, “The beginnings of a great new social order based on the principle of slavery and inequality were destroyed by that war, and with them also the embryo of a future truly great America that would not have been ruled by a corrupt class of tradesmen, but by a real Herren-class that would have swept away all falsities of liberty and equality.”
Moving into the war itself, the section begins the fifth paragraph by stating that Lincoln’s election “was the last straw for the South” because he supported Northern business interests and abolitionists. As a result, Southern states started to seceed and formed the Confederate States of America, electing Jefferson Davis, “a Democratic senator and champion of states’ rights from Mississippi,” as its president. No mention of Davis being an enslaver. No mention of state secession documents saying that states wanted to protect slavery and that is why they chose to secede. Only that Davis supported states’ rights, thus creating a rhetoric that says, “If I don’t agree with the federal government’s law, I can do what I want to do if my state says it differs.” It’s, again, the embodiment of white supremacy.
While the section says, earlier, that no Biblical scripture “denounces” slavery, it begins the next paragraph by saying that the South saw slavery as “ordained by God and upheld in the Bible.” The section does not explicitly condone or oppose this view, but the rhetoric positions it as superior to the abolitionist line of argument based on scripture. The author(s) continue by rightfully noting that Lincoln sought to protect the Union, not eliminate slavery. We even see this in the Emancipation Proclamation. In fact, “The Emancipation Proclamation did not free all slaves in the United States. Rather, it declared free only those slaves living in states not under Union control.” Here, the section still supports slavery and white supremacy in its language and position that Lincoln’s thoughts didn’t eveolve and that he did not see slavery as an issue.
The icing on the cake of this paragraph is the sentence, which states, “But to save the Union meant to solve the problem of slavery: a constitutional government founded on the principle of equality for all had come to a breaking point.” Ok, let’s break this down. First and foremost, “the problem of slavery,” is an atrocious way to describe an institution that dehumanized, killed, separated, and violently oppressed individuals. While at the core a “problem,” yes, it is much more than that, and the use of “problem” softens the truth about slavery. Second, the final clause gets to the heart of cases such as Ozawa v. United States (1922) which ruled that the framers of the Constitution only meant “free white persons” could become citizens and that they chose who to exclude: everyone else. Again, the section supports white supremacy through the ways that it presents the information, specifically through the wording.
The next two paragraphs focus on both the North and South proclaiming, “God is on our side.” The author(s) even quotes Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address from March 1865 where he says that both sides “read the same Bible, and pray to the same God.” The sections provides a decent sized quote from Lincoln’s address, but the only mention of slavery is when Lincoln says, “It may seem strange that any man should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces.” This moment, though, fades quickly because the rest of the quote says that while both sides pray to God, God could not answer both and has not fully answered either side yet. It is left at that. Essentially, there were “good” people on both sides who loved God and sought His guidance. This sentiment, coupled with prayers from Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson condones white supremacy from slavery to Jim Crow to mass incarceration. It undergirds the whole presentation.
The section concludes with a paragraph about how many Americans fought in the war, how many died, the end of slavery, and the movement towards “a new political and economic order.” With the South’s defeat, “the powers of the federal government expanded, and the days of big industry and business began.” Now, this, coupled with earlier passages, points to a very strong anti-democratic bent with a foundation of white supremacy because, again, it presents the North as aggressors and meddlers in the South’s life. Thus, we see the Lost Cause narrative resurrected amidst the scriptures.
The war, as the section ends, “finally came down to a struggle over the meaning of freedom in America.” With this statement, the section, again, condones the Confederacy and the desire to maintain slavery. There’s no other way to read this, especially given the rest of the section. We know about the ways that Christianity has been used, and has continued to be used, as a means of maintaining power and as a “cover” for white supremacy, patriarchy, sexism, and much more. This section from The American Patriot’s Bible highlights, in four pages with no scriptural references, the white supremacy at the heart of evangelicalism.
One final aspect of this section that bears mentioning is the use of photographs, specifically the use of Stone Mountain, Stonewall Jackson, and Robert E. Lee, mixing Confederate imagery alongside two images of Lincoln, an image of Anson P. Pond’s Her Atonement, and a few more images. This mixture reinforces the “both sides” positioning of the entire section.
The problems with this run deep, especially considering that material such as this placed within the scriptures works to intimately entangle the scriptures with the United States, thus providing “scriptural” justification of immoral positions that oppress individuals and their freedoms. The goal of the Bible, as stated on the cover, is to “Examine the intersection of American historu and the Christian faith.” Instead of doing that, though, it highlights the ways that scripture and evangelical Christianity have taken the Bible to support white supremacy.
I may look at other section of The American Patriot’s Bible. I’m not sure, at this point. Until then, what are your thoughts? As usual, let me know in the comments below, and make sure to follow me on Twitter at @silaslapham