SOULFORCE X WITCHES AGAINST CHRISTIAN SUPREMACY
Have you thought about the concept of "separation of church and state" lately? Abortion rights are under attack (again) and this administration is overturning the rights of LGBTQI folks—and doesn't that seem a little biased. We can easily see the solid connection between weaponized Christianity and the American government. Evangelical leader, Franklin Graham, goes so far as to call Trump "the most Christian-friendly president in my lifetime" in direct reference to these actions.
To help us find ways we can fight back against this particular kind of structural oppression and its effects on our communities, we sat down with Executive Director of the non-profit Soulforce, Haven Herrin. We're working with Soulforce to raise awareness and funds for their efforts with our Gay Winnie Pin. Read on to learn about how Christian Supremacy influences our world and what we can do to help those most impacted.
HausWitch: What is Soulforce?
Haven Herrin: Soulforce is a 20-year-old, national social justice organization based in the South. We work to end the political and religious oppression of LGBTQI people (and then some) through relentless, nonviolent resistance. "Christian Supremacy" is our operating analysis of the Religious Right, which we challenge through opposition research and direct action. We couple that work of confronting the Right with the more tender side of healing and reclamation for our spirits and traditions. We center Trans/Gender Non-Conforming/Non-Binary People and People of Color because we believe those who are most targeted must lead our liberation movements.
As Queer and Trans folks dedicated to sabotaging Christian Supremacy, we have learned that the moralization of violence is a winning right wing strategy across so many movements, so we also dedicate ourselves to intersectional approaches to justice work. (Gratitude to Kimberlé Crenshaw for the concept of intersectional justice.)
We are not a faith-based organization; we are just very clear that the project of empire-building that formed the United States — and much of the world's political realities — demands that we be sharp and confident in our theological and spiritual skills.
HausWitch: What is Christian Supremacy?
Haven: Let me say first that Christian Supremacy is not Christianity, though many governments and people treat it like a religion. I promise, we are not coming for your Jesus, unless your God is beholden to violence. Christian Supremacy is what happens when political power and violence forms a parasitic relationship with Christianity, creating a moral justification for systemic oppression against LGBTQI people, People of Color, Women, Immigrants, and other marginalized groups.
"I promise, we are not coming for your Jesus, unless your God is beholden to violence."
- HAVEN HERRIN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF SOULFORCE
HausWitch: What is Soulforce currently doing to help defend marginalized folks against the extreme Christian agenda?
Haven: While are are specifically an LGBTQI organization, we don't consider our mandate to be a narrow version of LGBTQI justice. Abortion is our issue. Immigration is our issue. White supremacy is our issue.
We do a lot of training and skill-sharing. For example, last year we worked with Showing Up For Racial Justice (SURJ) to train their cohort of 300+ white religious leaders in how to divest from police systems on moral and theological grounds. We provide online "spiritual strategy sessions" in response to flaming political moments, such as when the administration stoked fear and scored political points on the backs of the caravan of asylum-seekers. In these online workshops, we help people connect to emotion and spirit, de-code the opposition's language and strategies, and generate ideas for response.
We also provide translation of our resources, particularly our theological booklets, and seed grants for printing and campaigns to our kindred in the Global South who are fighting the U.S. Religious Right and its allies in their own countries. For all our folks, regardless of location, we have seed grants for fighting Christian Supremacy where you live and online course like Vacation Bible School for Queer and Trans folks and a course on how to practice nonviolent activism that resists white supremacist tropes.
We also work very one-on-one. A lot of our work is just taking the requests for support as they come and offering our skills in direct action, theological analysis, and spiritual accompaniment as needed. Never be shy to ask us!
HausWitch: Is Christian Supremacy about extremists, or average Christian folks?
Haven: We are all impacted by the subtle and not-so-subtle messaging of Christian Supremacy that incentivizes individual and interpersonal solutions to systemic problems. The reason we use the phrase "Christian Supremacy" to define the problem we are called to work on is because it challenges us to think about the big picture: systems, ideologies, and institutions, rather than individuals who have sipped from this poisonous cup. Someone can be entirely un-religious, or participate in a different religious tradition, but still imbibe and replicate Christian Supremacist messaging. So we have to keep a focus on the system rather than individuals, though both play a part in ending this spiritual and political violence.
I do think folks who identify as Christian, especially white folks, have some specific responsibilities with respect to reckoning with the history of Empire and the blood that is on the hands of the Christian Church. They have a particular standing within the Christian framework to challenge their institutions and ideologies to be more radical and work on atonement. It is a solid strategy for Christians and Christianity-competent folks to disrupt the moralization of violence and be out there advocating for a reckoning: ending modern slavery/incarceration, healthcare for all, reparations for slavery, transforming capitalism, policies that put us back into right relationship with the earth.
HausWitch: Religious oppression seems like something that wouldn't happen in the US. Where can we see this in our communities?
Haven: I got disinvited from my parents' 25th anniversary after I shared more in-depth with them about my trans/non-binary identity. They aren't religious in the least, but they are still a part of the religiously oppressive messaging that says my body and my identity aren't real or good.
I share that story to say that religious oppression crops up in the most intimate and everyday kinds of way. But it's also happening on a grand scale. Abortion bans are based on a gendered violence and concepts of "life" defined in Christian sectarian terms. People of varying religious traditions, for example, have very different ideas about what constitutes life and how to treat life with dignity. What we are seeing in Georgia, Alabaman, Missouri and other places is religious imposition and oppression.
Sex and gender stuff typically comes to the fore when we think about "religious oppression." It is evident in facts like the astronomical rates of LGBTQI youth suicide, Trans homelessness and homicide, and lack of comprehensive sex education. But, with our understanding of Christian Supremacy in mind, I would also say that religious oppression is driving the criminalization of poverty, mass incarceration, and the criminalization of immigrants because we, as a country, have allowed for the moralization of violence and the notion that some people are more inherently good/bad to shape our public policies.
HausWitch: If someone doesn't practice organized religion then what does this have to do with them? How is this relevant to say, witches or atheists?
Haven: I have such a heart for this question as someone who does not identify as Christian. We work really hard to be an organization that divests from dominant Christian themes and frameworks so that the spiritual work can come through and be useful to everyone in our organization. We all need a little healing and tenderness and care in order to stay in the work of liberation.
But to answer the political or strategic question you're posing, we welcome folks to plug in at whatever theory of change feels right for them. If they are here for the healing and the reclaiming of their Christian traditions and seeking skills on how to challenge from within, that's great. If you are here on political-but-not-religious terms, because you are also convinced that Christianity is a language and architecture of power in the U.S. and we are not going to get free without these skills, then you are also in the right place.
Christian fundamentalists might be small in number, but damn if they don't have allies and satellites in powerful places. Some fundamentalist ideas might be a bit on the political fringe, but the language of Christian Supremacy is everywhere and does a great job of weaving together various right wing agendas. We dismiss the moralization, and specifically Christian moralization, of systems of violence at our own peril. Every activist I know, regardless of issue or movement, runs headlong into arguments, money, and institutions that draw their strength from these claims to morality–"religious liberty," "freedom," and "individual merit"–that will not be beat with facts or sensible policy recommendations alone.
HausWitch: On the same note, some witches are Christian, and many folks in our community identify as Christian: How can the average Christian help create a safer community for all people?
Haven: One of the most winning strategies from the Religious Right is fear. There's lot of studies on what fear does to our brains: making us less connected to our bodies, less able to imagine compassion, more likely to see people as a threat, more likely to be complicit with harsher policing and laws. We need Christians to bring in generosity, hopefulness, and a sense of abundance to drown out the fear-mongering and scarcity mindset that is allowing for all this trauma at the border, in healthcare, in our environment, and elsewhere. Capitalism succeeding in getting us to a place of thinking that real solutions will be too painful, too harmful, and too costly. It's just not true. Christians can help widen our imagination, speaking from their theological vocabulary and cultural frames. [But so can everyone! This is good heart/body/soul/political work that we can all practice.]
"We need Christians to bring in generosity, hopefulness, and a sense of abundance to drown out the fear-mongering and scarcity mindset that is allowing for all this trauma at the border, in healthcare, in our environment, and elsewhere."
HausWitch: How are capitalism and Christian Supremacy linked? What does this do to our communities?
Haven: Capitalism and Christian Supremacy are linked in two ways. First, the dominant ideologies and institutions of early Christianity in Europe chose to collaborate with early capitalism in the effort to create a gendered division of labor and an international division of labor. Most of this falls under the heading of "European Global Colonization." Missionaries were often the first emissaries as State interests sought to plant a flag and steal land, resources, and people in the colonized territories. In the late 1400s, the Catholic Church developed the Doctrine of Discovery that gave moral cover to the project of Empire and all its violence, and also gave the Church a cut of the pie as that exploitation of land and people sent wealth back to Europe.
In a more modern sense (though colonial systems are still at play today...just adapted), capitalism and Christian Supremacy continue to work together to moralize the reality of capitalism and incentivize our obedience to this economic system. "Bootstraps" mythology, the idea that "some people deserve to be poor," the concept of "working hard means getting what you deserve," and the prosperity gospel–these are all examples of how Christian Supremacy is coded into the moral language we use to talk about resources, "deservingness," and the relationship between work and survival.
"Welfare state" is a dirty word in the United States because of Christian Supremacy. If a "work ethic" and "upstanding, contributing citizen" are the moral imperatives for a righteous economic system, then alternative economic systems that stress the community over the individual and the right to shelter, food, clothing, etc. are cast as immoral and ungodly. In the U.S., where the shorthand of godliness is so overwhelming, the easiest way to demean something is to deny its morality.
The irony, of course, is that the "welfare state" is much closer to the principles demonstrated in the Bible. So instead of free healthcare and food and living wages, we get the isolation and fear of radical individualism, the breakdown in communal networks, the destruction of unions, poverty (especially among elders, those with disabilities, and Trans people), and rampant child hunger. And the Right has convinced many of us that to operate otherwise would be a moral hazard.
HausWitch: What can witches do to help those affected by Christian supremacy?
Haven: I love this question. Witches were killed and persecuted in order to facilitate the imposition of Christian capitalism in Europe before global colonization. The trope of the "evil witch" was manufactured at the same time to lend additional moral credence to the way that Christian capitalism wanted things done with respect to labor, bodies, procreation, healing work, and land. So, to me, witches are the guideposts to this history of Christian Supremacy and Empire, and they point the way back toward reckoning and healing.
We need witches to grasp why our ancestors were persecuted and reclaim that power. Christian Supremacy, capitalism, patriarchy, ableism, and white supremacy all required the witch to die in order to maximize their collective, interwoven political agenda. Because we were and are a living obstruction to these systems of violence.
Today, if we are doing healing work on a cosmic level, we need to work on breaking open those systems of violence and healing the people who are both harmed by and promoting them. I get why people want to put a hex on Donald. Maybe that's useful, but I also think he needs a blessing, something to help him reconnect his heart to his emotional body and his brain and his higher self. I am not overly concerned with his woundedness for his own sake, but I am very concerned about what his woundedness and inability to feel shame or compassion is making possible–structurally, ideologically, and politically.
"...witches are the guideposts to this history of Christian Supremacy and Empire, and they point the way back toward reckoning and healing."
So much of the potency of our magick is the belief in our own power and the powers that we ally ourselves with. If we truly believe in that potential for transformation, then I think we have an ethical, sacred, and political duty to use it not only for healing and access on the individual and communal levels but also to shift these systems. I think that calling is double for anyone who holds privilege within any of those systems of oppression.
It is my understanding that a lot of people in the U.S. have had their ancestral (spirit or blood) lineages broken. Some through forced migration, some through colonization, some through slavery, some through becoming white, and other stories as well. The nature and impact of that loss is different for each person, but that lost-ness is something that must be addressed in order for us to heal our trauma, be more courageous or clear about how and when to work in solidarity across differences in power and identity, and fully embody our power in healthy, just ways. Everyone needs this work, but I think witches are especially equipped to help knit together the gossamer and shreds of our pasts so that we can all be more grounded in what we came here to do.
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