The Evidence of Things Not Seen

Ah, if only it were so

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.

3 thoughts on “The Evidence of Things Not Seen

  1. H. Jay Eshelman

    John, this commentary is misleading by any standard.

    If anyone is interested in viewing the actual Essex Town Hall meeting referenced here and featuring Essex school board member, Liz Cate, here it is.
    https://vermontdailychronicle.com/2021/06/01/new-video-covers-fridays-crt-town-hall-in-essex/

    Again, as Nietzsche said: ‘Be careful when fighting monsters that you don’t become a monster, for when you stare long into the abyss, the abyss stares back into you.’

    I welcome this discussion and hope that it’s not censored.

    Reply
  2. Zim

    First and foremost, the origin of racism in the context of this country is that it was specifically designed as system of social control and the primary weapon of class domination. It still is to this day and liberals are just as racist as conservatives in this regard. MLK’s view of liberals is as valid today as it was 50 yrs ago…that is how little has changed. Racism is not rooted in individual volition – which does not exist – its rooted in the very structure of our being, which of course is a construct since the ‘self’ is always a group project. As long as liberals share the same fervent belief in ‘America’ as conservatives, they are just as complicit in its racism.

    Vermont is one of the most racist states I have ever lived in and I am not talking about bumpkinvilles outside the Burl/Mont axis. The worst of it is hidden behind its white classism and it’s white culture (which deliberately alienates anyone one is not white and wealthy). Its easy for the affluent liberals in Middlebury, Vergennes, Schelburne or Burlington to put BLM signs on their lawn and pretend that they are anti-racist knowing full well that there is next to zero chance they will ever have to deal directly with the front lines of poor and working class people of color who are systematic excluded from white society by design….as are poor and working class white people. The social order in Vermont is a microcosm of the nation and is specifically designed to channel all the wealth of society to the top 10 percent of population – which of course is nearly 85% white. Sure, they are fine with anyone of color who does not threaten their status quo and affirms their white values and aesthetics. They are certainly not calling for the wholesale confiscation of their ill gotten wealth and joining in razing their own million dollar houses and neighborhoods — they will be the first to pull out all stops to make sure that the wealth divide remains stark since that maintains the invisible fence that protects their world.

    For liberals, the poor and the working class are little more than props in their middle class white morality play – that is all. When they talk about racism, its mainly an attempt to use their imaginary moral superiority as a cudgel to beat their enemies with and to stir up divisions within the lower classes – keeping them at each other’s throat, fighting over the measly crumbs that fall from their lily white tables.

    Currently the VLT is engage in an ugly racist eviction of the a highly traumatized Rwandan farmer and their family trying to scratch out an existence simply because they are unable/unwilling to conform to white norms and serve as a poster child for the land trust. They have no where to go and can you tell me what Vermont journalist is covering this? The Vermont Land Trust’s motto should ‘keeping Vermont for the white and wealthy’.

    I have heard of similar experiences out on the Intervale with the various uvm -based ag projects with its hipster white newbie farmers and the open racism and hostility directed to African refugees careful masked behind words like values, aesthetics, professionalism. In these cases, the dominate mode of thinking is befuddlement:white people can’t figure out why there is not a liberal middle-class white person inside every person of color trying to get out.

    The latest expression of Vermont liberal’s deeply racist character is their obsession with solar panels, electric cars and energy efficiency. The obsession is not with saving the planet as there is lots of data supporting the contention that the mindless pursuit of these thing will only accelerate the destruction of the planet. Much of materials and energy to build out this white power fantasy is going come at the expense of the world poor and indigenous.

    Reply

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