In all seriousness, as if the United States skipped abolition, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, the Civil Rights Era, and the last four decades of Reconstruction Part Deux, American Christians are debating whether White supremacists are the new outsider whom they’re compelled by grace to welcome.
It’s an odd scenario to represent as merely hypothetical when one of the last times Black church folks welcomed an actual White supremacist into their midst, he killed nine of them.
It’s also not hypothetical at all. US White supremacist groups have always included Christians. Some of those members have become police officers and prison guards, and others have graduated into long and quiet careers as pastors and priests.
Within a decade of burning crosses on the private and community property of Black and Jewish people, sending hate mail to Coretta Scott King, threatening to bomb Fort Meade, and getting sentenced to just 150 days in prison, William Aitcherson left the MidAtlantic, turned the page, and began a thirty-year ministerial career.
He served in three states. The diocese knew of his history. And his name and story is only public now because of a column on grace and redemption that he wrote for The Arlington Catholic Herald after Charlottesville’s supremacist mayhem last week (cached copy).
According to the Herald, Aitcherson has volunteered to “step away from public ministry.” Whether he’ll return—he’s just a few years short of retirement age now—isn’t yet clear. But his redemption narrative found a ready audience, as have other “former Neo-Nazis” calling for compassion and kindness this week.
I know called and qualified people across the US and at all stages of adulthood who can’t even be ordained because of their gender; others who’ve been hounded out of ministry or fellowship because their sexuality, their children’s sexuality, or their affirming theology; and still others who’ve had delayed congregational or ministry assignments because of their ethnicity. Welcome and inclusion don’t extend to them.
It’s fascinating. Some kinds of people may have “troubled youths” and write epistles about them later. Others will never touch the common table. I understand the early Christians’ skepticism about Paul in a new way now.
That’s just one uncomfortable pattern of inclusion I’ve dug into over the last week. I’ve also been reading about the White gay men who now have visible advocacy roles among contemporary supremacists. It’s a notable shift, which journalist Minkowitz describes as “outreach,” after several decades in which US White supremacists have smeared, physically attacked, and intentionally excluded non-heterosexual people.
But they’re learning from their European cousins, who’ve reached out to White cisgender gay men there and used them to drag supremacist and xenophobic ideology into the civic mainstream. Now, as under Ernst Röhm during WWII, that outreach has worked in both the United States and in Europe because White cisgender gay men have long harbored anti-Black, anti-Muslim, anti-fem[me], and anti-trans sentiments. You don’t have to trawl apps to find it. Just go to any public LGBTQIA site comment section—at The Advocate, OUT Magazine, even my own Believe Out Loud—and wait. It’s there, and it’s why we need active comment moderation.
So White supremacists haven’t invented anything here. They’re only leveraging the intra-community bigotry that has existed since the LGBTQIA community took its current form in the 1950s. And they’re building on anxieties surfacing now, post-marriage, as the community changes, as people of color and trans and nonbinary people become more visible, and as the donors and foundations that fund the community shift their investments toward equity and justice rather than to just equality and integration.
I’ve noted on Twitter that these dynamics merit a close reading, that it’s not good enough to dismiss all supremacists as racist, or cover the Church’s complicity with buzzwords like reconciliation.
There’s such mythology around the LGBTQIA community’s “inclusion.” It functions just like Christian myths about “unity”: to foreclose conversations about what inclusion and unity actually mean as we try to live them out, and who in each of our communities has to pay for these values with their well-being.
Note: Contemporary White supremacists are discussed or quoted extensively in the articles below. Take care.
- “If you look at the history of law enforcement in the United States, it is a history of white supremacy.” —Dr. Peter Simi in The Intercept (January 31, 2017)
- “If the emergence of out gay white nationalists shows anything, it’s that LGBTQ people truly are everywhere.” —Donna Minkowitz in Slate (June 5, 2017)
- “Remembering and memorializing are two different things.” —Maggie Penman in NPR’s Codeswitch (August 16, 2017)