Christianity has long been used by tyrants to justify oppression, but a new Twitter hashtag highlights the ways so-called followers of Christ use "slaveholder religion" to oppressive ends in the Trump era.
The term "slaveholder religion" has recently been popularized by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, whose book Reconstructing the Gospel: Finding Freedom from Slaveholder Religion hit shelves earlier this year. In an interview with the Religion News Service, Wilson-Hartgrove traced the lineage of the term to Frederick Douglass, who "made this distinction in the 19th century between the Christianity of the slaveholder and the Christianity of Christ."
"Douglass knew that the slavemaster called himself Christian and had a whole way or reading the Bible and understanding God that went along with that," the North Carolinian author and activist told RNS. "Douglass also knew Jesus for himself, and knew that he was a Christian. And that these two ways of living out the faith that go by the name of Christianity were diametrically opposed."
Wilson-Hartgrove likely has inspiration from a more recent African American icon: Dr. William Barber, a North Carolinian reverend whose resurgence of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Poor People Campaign counts the author as one of its members.
While Wilson-Hartgrove has brought "slaveholder religion" into the world of Christian publishing, Rev. Barber has introduced it into the consciousness of his social media followers through the #SlaveholderReligion hashtag.
On Wednesday, Barber called out "Christian nationalist" and Trump spiritual adviser Paula White for insisting that Jesus' status as a refugee is different than people who enter American borders without documents. The president's spiritual adviser argued that people are taking the Bible "out of context" with their comparisons between Christ and Central Americans fleeing violence — a distinction Barber suggested is an example of the slaveholder religion mentality.
"Jesus was a refugee & did break the law," Rev. Barber tweeted. "He was crucified as a felon under Roman law."
He called White a "Christian nationalist" and charged her with "enabling injustice" with her Biblical interpretations that echo the slaveholder religion ethos.
Jesus was a refugee & did break the law. He was crucified as a felon under Roman law. Christian nationalists like… https://t.co/dNAVdFofXe— Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II (@Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II)1531308985.0
"If we don't help people name & condemn #SlaveholderReligion, they are left to believe this is the teaching of the church," the reverend continued. Trump & the GOP have elevated Christian nationalism to a place where many confuse it w/orthodox faith."
Barber then wrote that he is "prayerfully joining" Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, his Poor People's Campaign co-chair, along with Oakland, California's Bishop Yvette Flunder and Wilson-Hartgrove "to challenge Trumpvangelicals to a public conversation about what the Bible really says."
I’m prayerfully joining @liztheo, @holynerd & @wilsonhartgrove to challenge Trumpvangelicals to a public conversati… https://t.co/Veh77NvP2q— Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II (@Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II)1531309516.0
Along with links to the current immigration debate, the #SlaveholderReligion hashtag also took on another Trump target recently when Wilson-Hartgrove identified it as the mentality behind recently-resigned EPA administrator Scott Pruitt's claim that God was with him in his tenure in the administration.
"The most obviously corrupt Cabinet official in recent history resigns in the name of family values, contending that God made his [grift] possible & praying continued blessings on the object of his idolatry," the author tweeted.
The most obviously corrupt Cabinet official in recent history resigns in the name of family values, contending that… https://t.co/vp5eiQDLIx— Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove (@Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove)1530822668.0