On Saturday, May 14, an 18-year-old white man wearing body armor and a military grade helmet stormed a grocery store with an assault rifle in a predominantly Black neighborhood in Buffalo, New York, opening fire on unsuspecting citizens.
When he was done, 10 people were dead with three more injured. 11 of the 13 victims were Black.
The names of those who died were Roberta A. Drury (32), Margus D. Morrison (52), Andre Mackneil (53), Aaron Salter (55), Geraldine Talley (62), Celestine Chaney (65), Heyward Patterson (67), Katherine Massey (72), Pearl Young (77), and Ruth Whitfield (86). Those injured are named Zaire Goodman (20), Jennifer Warrington (50), and Christopher Braden (55).
In a 180-page diatribe, the shooter referred to himself as a white supremacist and voiced support for “The Great Replacement” conspiracy theory, which claims that Jews and the world’s elite are colluding against whites, through mass immigration and disproportionate birth rates among races, to marginalize and eventually wipe out the white population.
The shooter’s solution was to eliminate as many non-whites as he could.
While some would call this shooting “a random act of violence,” the gunman himself admits in his diatribe that he was radicalized after spending a great deal of time on the internet “doing research” during the early days of the pandemic.
I would love to believe that the demented ideology expressed in the assailant’s personal journals and online posts is fringe. But it isn’t. In recent years, “The Great Replacement” theory, in one form or another, has become a mainstream aspect of the Republican Party platform.
Leveraging things like 2018 Census data, which indicated that a majority of America’s youth ages 15 and under are non-white, Republican politicians, candidates, and pundits have often stoked fear among white voters, urging them to act decisively in closing the nation’s borders to immigrants and (non-white) refugees, lest they become a marginalized group.
“This will be the last election that the Republicans have a chance of winning,” former president Donald Trump said in 2016. “You’re going to have people flowing across the border, you’re going to have illegal immigrants coming in and they’re going to be legalized and they’re going to be able to vote and once that all happens you can forget it.”
This belief is not fringe. It’s not new. And it is spilling out into the streets in the form of physical violence and mass murder, not only in this shooting but in others like it.
It goes without saying that “The Great Replacement” theory, along with the fears and impulses it creates, is patently antithetical to any form of biblical Christianity. The bible describes all people as being created in the image of God, endowed with intrinsic value and worth. And the Law and Prophets speak often about defending the cause of immigrants and refugees.
“Cursed is anyone who withholds justice from the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow.” Then all the people shall say, “Amen!” (Deuteronomy 27:19)
In you they have treated father and mother with contempt; in you they have oppressed the foreigner and mistreated the fatherless and the widow. (Ezekiel 22:7)
“You are to have the same law for the foreigner and the native-born. I am the LORD your God.” (Leviticus 24:22)
The New Testament picks up this theme, speaking often about the reconciliation that Christ has brought through his death and resurrection. The Holy Spirit resides in and among all who call upon Jesus’ name, regardless of their ethnicity, political status, or relative position of privilege in society.
There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)
Regardless of one’s policy stances surrounding immigration, rhetoric that stokes fear and hatred against racial and ethnic diversity is among the most detestable injustices to God.
And yet, because American evangelicalism has too often wedded its theology to the platform of the Republican Party, this type of rhetoric against non-white residents in America has found safe haven in many American churches and Christian homes.
Further, while white evangelicalism’s alliance with the Republican Party has been a reality for decades, the looming possibility that Roe may soon be overturned has animated a fresh wave of rhetoric against any other political affiliation in light of the Republican Party’s ostensibly pro-life platform.
“In light of today’s vote by Democrats to legalize abortion until [the] moment of birth, we are rapidly reaching the point that voting for a Democrat should be a matter of church discipline,” tweeted Texas pastor Tom Buck on May 11.
Similarly, Georgia pastor Mike Stone said in a sermon earlier this year that any Christian who votes Democrat has “a hole in your theology big enough to drive a Mack Truck through it.”
These pastors are prominent leaders in the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest evangelical denomination in America. And their view, while not representative of every individual member or member church, is not fringe within the Convention.
I am as pro-life as anybody. I have said on more than one occasion that overturning Roe would be the most significant victory for the pro-life movement in half a century. I have never voted for a political candidate who openly advocated for increased access to abortion.
And yet, I sense a great danger in rhetoric that spiritualizes Republican Party affiliation.
Because, for as much as many evangelicals see themselves as “one-issue” voters, we are, as a unit, woefully incapable of eating the meat and spitting out the bones. So while we advocate for the most moral, biblical stance on the issue of abortion, we simultaneously adopt other ideologies and rhetoric that are far from.
Some conservatives, including conservative evangelicals, have called foul on connecting the Buffalo shooting to anything the Republican Party has to offer. For instance, “The Great Replacement” theory espouses an explicitly antisemitic claim that the world’s elite Jews are colluding against the white population. For the Republican Party, the main villain of conservative white America is the Radical Left, the evil cabal that wants to indoctrinate your children with LGBTQ ideology and critical race theory.
But this is just mincing words to assuage our uneasy consciences. We are parsing things so finely that we refuse to acknowledge the umbrella of ideologies many evangelicals share with a mass murderer. In so doing, it can hardly be said that we are pro-life in any holistically biblical sense.
I’m under no illusion that this replacement conspiracy was invented by Donald Trump, Tucker Carlson, or any other recent public figure. And I’m not saying that we can pin the blame for the Buffalo shooting on Fox News or Newsmax. But do we not bear some measure of moral culpability if we refuse to denounce the ideology that inspired it, instead doubling down in our support of it and insisting that this isn’t that?
The difference in ideology is one of degree, not kind.
I’m also not arguing that Christians should register with the Democratic Party and vote for their candidates this fall. But we absolutely have to call out the evil intentions and implications of evil leaders, regardless of what party they belong to. We cannot make excuses for them, explain their rhetoric away, or distance ourselves from the consequences of ungodly ideas that we may have endorsed in the past.
Now is a time for repentance, not further entrenchment. With the same fervor that we denounce the idea that abortion is an issue of medical privacy, we must also denounce the idea that right wing rhetoric regarding non-whites in America has nothing to do with what happened in Buffalo on May 14.
If we remain unwilling or unable to do so, then this ancient denunciation is reserved for us:
Woe to those who call evil good
and good evil,
who put darkness for light
and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet
and sweet for bitter!
What happened in Buffalo was evil, dark, and bitter. And it was not an isolated incident. We cannot sweep that fact under the rug.
In his 1947 book The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism, Carl Henry wrote, “A Christianity without a passion to turn the world upside down is not reflective of apostolic Christianity.”
If we are concerned merely with consolidating political power under the guise of one irrefutably moral policy stance, we will never turn the world upside down in the ways that Jesus intended us to. The Church cannot become everything it is meant to be by merely seeking to “win” every election cycle at any cost. We need to be willing to lose. We need to be willing to be powerless, if it means we have stood with Jesus not just on one issue, but on every issue.
There is a power greater than firmly held political coalitions. But in the words of Jesus, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:25).