There is so much to say about the pair of dueling events that took place in Essex last Friday. The first was a cauldron of conservative outrage concerning Their Latest Bugaboo, critical race theory, about which they know nothing. The second was a counter-event across the road, featuring supporters of the school district’s anti-racism efforts.
There’s what it says about the Vermont Republican Party that its chair attended Hate Night. There’s the ideological connection to recent events in the Mill River school district, where conservative outrage has also reared its unsightly head. There’s how the event was covered: Badly by VTDigger, and with manufactured both-sidesism by Seven Days. There’s the complete unmasking of a prominent conservative “journalist,” and the rise of a new contender for Worst Lawmaker in Montpelier.
But let’s start with Hebrews 11:1. In the King James Version favored by many evangelicals, it says “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” This verse has multiple applications here.
Hebrews 11:1 is one of the most beloved Bible verses among charismatic and evangelical Christians. It’s frequently cited by those who practice “proof texting,” the use of a single verse (or even phrase) to “prove” a universal truth without any attempt at nuance or balance or interpretation. The gist is if you live by faith, you’re not concerned with what the world around you might look like.
Because it’s such an oft-invoked proof text, Hebrews 11:1 has had an outsized effect on the Christian conservative worldview. It allows Christians to deny any facts or science or research. To them, if you’re influenced by what the world says, you’re not a believer. It allows them to fervently support a philandering egomaniacal con man who makes a mockery of Christian faith (upside down Bible, “Two Corinthians”, can’t name a favorite verse). To them, Trump’s evident inadequacies simply confirm that he is The Chosen One. (King David was a philanderer, too.)
“The evidence of things not seen” allows Christians to lie, slander, and attack those who don’t agree with them — and still believe they’re being true to their Savior, the Lamb of God, the Prince of Peace.
The verse also applies to how we see the Evangelical world. They live in a social and cultural bubble, with their own organizations and literature and arts and superstars and leaders who are simply invisible to the rest of us. The original Moral Majority built from the ground up, by mobilizing Christians to run for local office without revealing their extreme conservatism. The same thing is happening, on a small scale as far as we can tell, here in Vermont. (Freshman Rep. Samantha Lefebvre is a great example, as is Essex school board member Liz Cady — a featured speaker at last Friday’s HateFest.) It might be happening more broadly, but if so it wouldn’t be visible outside the evangelical bubble.
It’s something to watch out for. Especially since these True Believers would find a welcome home in the Vermont Republican Party, whose chair, Deb Billado, attended Hateapalooza. Her views are prominent in the party hierarchy, which can be expected to staunchly oppose any effort to remake the party in Phil Scott’s image.
Freshman Sen. Russ Ingalls also attended Hatestock, and revealed himself as perhaps the most conservative member of the Legislature. Well, he already did that when he was the only senator to vote “No” on a measure declaring racism a public health emergency in Vermont. But he’s more than capable of topping himself. Seven Days:
“The Democrats believe that all police are racist, and they also believe that nobody should be in jail and that the vast majority of the ones that are incarcerated are because of no fault of their own,” Ingalls said.
I’m starting to feel nostalgic for his predecessor John Rodgers, who was unpredictable and cantankerous but at least he wasn’t a bigoted liar.
Also on hand was former Vermont Yankee lobbyist turned conservative “journalist” Guy Page, often heard asking ridiculous questions at Gov. Phil Scott’s Covid briefings. He removed all doubt about whether he’s a reporter or advocate by not only attending, but also addressing the crowd, urging them to run for local office. He said of current officeholders, “You’re never going to change their minds, so you have to change them.” Which is a fascinating thing for a Christian to say. After all, isn’t the Gospel supposed to change minds and hearts, and bring unbelievers to salvation?
If only they had more trust in the power of their allegedly supreme God.
Finally, a word or two about the coverage of the Essex events. VTDigger came out first with an article written by someone who apparently didn’t attend the conservative event. It was heavy on generalized descriptions and quotes taken from other sources, and was kind of worthless if you wanted to know what actually happened. (The reporter did attend the anti-racism event across the road.) I can only guess at the circumstances that led to the story being written and published.
Seven Days seems to have had a reporter at each event, which made for much fuller coverage — especially of Hateachella. But the story was marred by the journalistic reflex to provide “balance.” This led to, among other things, a full paragraph of regurgitated conservative talking points about the evils of critical race theory.
Well, I told you I had a lot to say. But if you take away one item from this piece, let it be the thought that we really don’t know the extent of conservative Christian efforts to shape our politics. We shouldn’t feel a sense of complacency because “Vermont isn’t like that.” They may not be able to take over state politics, but they can sure make it noisier and more unpleasant, and they can win a surprising number of low-profile elections by concealing their true intentions.