In this episode of “News With Nicola,” we look at residential boarding schools and cultural genocide of Indigenous communities, Hillsong Church’s “culture of chaos” getting the documentary treatment, and father-and-son pastors arrested for the Capitol siege. Plus, hear an excerpt of our interview with Dr. Anthea Butler, author of White Evangelical Racism. You can also read show notes and the full transcript below (premium feature).
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This is not a history that is a spiritual history. This is history. And I think people, especially Evangelicals, want to write God into a history. But I’m like, what if this history isn’t just about God? What if this history is about the evil stuff y’all did? And won’t see and won’t talk about? – Dr. Anthea Butler, author of “White Evangelical Racism”
Transcript and Show Notes
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[Excerpt of Anthea Butler’s interview…]
Welcome to another episode of “News With Nicola,” a Faithfully Magazine podcast brought to you by Faithfully Media. I’m your host, Nicola A. Menzie, managing editor of faithfullymagazine.com.
Ahead in this episode, we look at three news items that have emerged in recent weeks and cap things off with an excerpt from a recent interview with Dr. Anthea Butler, author of White Evangelical Racism.
As usual, we provide detailed show notes for this episode along with transcripts of the interview at faithfullymagazine.com as a premium feature for Faithfully Magazine Partner subscribers. If you’re not a member yet, just head to faithfullymagazine.com and click “subscribe.” The same goes for this podcast: if you haven’t subscribed yet, please do… and if you’ve been enjoying these episodes make sure to leave a review on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts.
News Item #1: Over 600 Bodies Found at an Indigenous School in Canada
The Associated Press reports that: “Leaders of Indigenous groups in Canada said … investigators have found more than 600 unmarked graves at the site of a former residential school for Indigenous children — a discovery that follows last month’s report of 215 bodies found at another school.
The discovered graves reportedly “were marked at one time, but …. the Roman Catholic Church that operated the school had removed the markers.” …
Eighty-year-old Florence Sparvier, who attended the Marieval Indian Residential School, told The Associated Press that the nuns at this school were “very mean to us” and “condemning about our people.”
“We learned how to not like who we were,” she said. “That has gone on and it’s still going on.″
Ms. Sparvier’s comments speak to the fact that many of these Catholic-run schools were actually forced-assimilation camps…or, as a federal truth and reconciliation commission in Canada declared, sites of “cultural genocide against Canada’s indigenous people.”
This 2015 report found “that children were malnourished, beaten and abused…” In addition, children were given European names, forbidden from speaking their native languages, and used for manual labor.
According to Reuters: The residential school system operated between 1831 and 1996. During this time, about 150,000 children were taken from their homes and placed in these Christian residential schools that were run on behalf of the federal government.
The majority of these schools in Canada were run by the Catholic Church, however the church has never made a formal apology for the abuse and violence done to these Indigenous children and their communities in the name of religion.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau revealed that he has personally called on Pope Francis to come to Canada to apologize to Indigenous communities for the Catholic Church’s role in this gruesome history. Trudeau issued his own apology for the government’s role.
On the one hand, you have survivors like 67-year-old Lorraine Daniels who says: “I don’t blame the Church, I blame the people that ran the Church, that robbed us of our people, our culture, our beliefs.”
On the other, you have groups such as representatives from Unity Health Toronto’s Indigenous advisory panel insisting:
“These institutions were legalized, designed and built on a philosophical framework of Indigenous inferiority in a time of colonization. We must walk together on a path of true reconciliation to see this framework undone. This requires the Catholic Church to be forthcoming, honest, reflective and accountable.”
Not surprisingly, the gruesome discoveries in Canada have prompted U.S. lawmakers to call for our own reckoning with this part of our history.
“The department shall undertake an investigation of the loss of human life and the lasting consequences of residential Indian boarding schools. Only by acknowledging the past can we work toward a future we are all proud to embrace.”
In the U.S., these Indian boarding schools were operational from 1860 to 1978. They numbered about 367 across at least 29 states — and a handful are still operational today, according to the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition. And these forced-assimilation camps were not only operated by Catholics, but you had Presbyterian, Quaker, Methodist, and Baptist-led boarding schools, among many others.
News Item #2: Hillsong Church’s ‘Culture of Chaos’ in New Docuseries
It’s been reported that Discovery+ is pursuing a docuseries on 150,000-member Hillsong Church, which has been in the media of late for not-good news.
The new series, titled “Breaking Hillsong,” will — according to Yahoo! News — “take a closer look at the controversies surrounding the Australian-based church known for its celebrity attendees.”
A primary focus will be former pastor Carl Lentz, who has admitted to cheating on his wife and was eventually dismissed by Hillsong Church founder Brian Houston for alleged “leadership issues and breaches of trust … [and] moral failures.”
According to Deadline, “Breaking Hillsong” will feature members who’ve alleged misconduct, exploitation, abuse, and even racism in the megachurch. And a new interview Ranin Karim, the woman alleged to have had an affair with Carl Lentz, will also be featured.
Is it strange that a major network is producing a docuseries on a church? — That’s just one of the questions I ask myself when looking at this story. And, no, the answer is no, it’s not weird. In fact, it makes perfect sense.
Hillsong NYC and specifically Carl Lentz’s affiliation with super-celebrities like Justin Bieber, Kevin Durant, Selena Gomez, Christ Pratt, and many other high-profile people…. Along with all the drama and allegations surrounding Lentz and other leaders affiliated with the church kind of make this project a no-brainer.
Plus, according to the press release, “BREAKING HILLSONG will examine the greater phenomenon of corruption within megachurches.” … I wonder what other megachurches they plan to examine.
Well, I guess this is another cautionary tale about celebrity Christianity, perhaps narcissism, and the danger of centering an organization, church, or what have you, on a single person’s shoulders or authority — it just never seems to work out.
But I do want to offer you some hopefully good news about Hillsong…. After nearly 40 years of being in operation, Hillsong has launched a church under the senior leadership of an African American pastor.
Hillsong Atlanta is led by husband and wife duo Sam and Toni Collier, who seem to be incorporating Christian hip-hop as a major part of their mission in Hotlanta, according to a report published by Christianity Today.
As usual for Hillsong, lots of big names were linked to the Atlanta church’s pre-launch events leading up to its first Sunday service in early June, including Lecrae, Natalie Grant, and Dr. Bernice A. King.
Well, they say a big part of evangelism and attracting new believers to Christ is by planting churches. So it’s great that Atlanta is home to another, hopefully healthy, church doing its part for the Great Commission.
News Item #3: Father and Son Pastors Charged for Participating in Capitol Riot
Have you heard about these father and son pastors out of Florida who participated in the insurrection at the Capitol on January 6?
Well, it’s been reported that James “Jim” Varnell Cusick, 72, and his son Casey Cusick, 35, were arrested on June 24 for their roles in the Capitol insurrection. They have been charged with “knowingly entering or remaining in any restricted building or grounds without lawful authority, disorderly or disruptive conduct in a restricted building and violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds,” according to floridatoday.com.
The Cusicks were arrested along with a member of their congregation, identified as David Lesperance, who faces similar charges.
Both father and son are pastors at Global Outreach Church of Melbourne (or Go Ministries, as I think it used to be called), a registered nonprofit, in Melbourne, Florida.
According to Florida Today: “The listed address for the ministry is in an upscale residential neighborhood in Melbourne. The location appears to be a home nestled at the end of a gated driveway in wooded surroundings and does not have the outward appearance of being a church.” The publication reported that the church’s Facebook page had about 200 “likes.”
In public web postings, the church seems to describe itself as “a life-giving, Spirit-led church” focused on “restoring Hope to a Hopeless Generation…” The church seems to have been operational since at least 1995, albeit under various other names.
Reportedly, the FBI received two separate tips about these men traveling from Florida to the Jan. 6 Trump rally in Washington, D.C. Apparently, all three men’s cellphones indicated that they were at or near the Capitol at the time. Also, photos they took that day correlate with body-cam and security footage “from around and inside the Capitol,” according to Business Insider.
James and Casey Cusick were among the more than 500 individuals arrested for participating in the January 6 insurrection, which left at least five people dead. About 140 police officers were injured, according to The New York Times.
Initially, when I read the reports on these so-called Christian leaders’ arrests, I was a little taken aback…but then I remembered the heavy Christian presence at the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol.
These people waved Christian flags, prayed around a wooden cross, and hoisted “Jesus saves” signs…and then physically attacked police officers; destroyed government property; and threatened to hang lawmakers. This was Christian nationalism on full display. These were people convinced that the presidential election had been stolen and that Trump, an openly racist, misogynist, philandering deceiver, should be their president.
This ugly moment in U.S. history, the consequences of which we’re still dealing with, was the perfect illustration for what observers had been pointing to all along — how White Evangelical support for a person like Trump wasn’t an aberration, but part of a long, historical trend that places the fears and concerns of whiteness above all else — above and in direct conflict with Christianity even.
That brings us to our interview for this episode of “News With Nicola.”
In this case, you’ll hear Faithfully Magazine’s Associate Editor Timothy Isaiah Cho in conversation with Dr. Anthea Butler.
Butler is Chair of Religious Studies and Associate Professor of Religious Studies and Africana Studies at the University of Pennsylvania.
She is also the author of White Evangelical Racism, which is the topic of discussion in this clip you are about to hear.
[Transitions to interview excerpt…]
Timothy Isaiah Cho: Alright, well, Anthea Butler, you are the Associate Professor of religious studies and Africana Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. And you’ve been asked to speak and write in tons of outlets, not gonna list them all tons of them. Can you just tell me a bit about your professional journey? Just how you got to where you are today the interests that you have?
Dr. Anthea Butler: Yeah, I mean, I think it’s really interesting. I did not start off, like what normal people think I went to Fuller Seminary for my grad program. And I thought I wanted to be a Christian counselor. But I immediately realized, after two weeks of the first semester that I was probably too blunt to be a counselor.
So I had really good professors when I was there, and two of the professors that had a really big effect on me, were Russ Spittler and Cecil Robeck or Mel Robeck as some people don’t know him. And they were encouraging me to take a class from then Walter Hollenweger who was the premier scholar of Pentecostalism. And to make a long story short, he was the one that encouraged me to do a Ph.D. And that’s how I ended up going for my Ph.D. at Vanderbilt. And I’ve been teaching now since 1999. It’s gonna make everybody go, ‘How old is she?’ — That’s none of your business.
And anyway, so I think, you know, for me, it started off like a regular academic. But what changed me was writing about Katrina, and writing for the Revealer about what happened back in 2005. And the way in which George Bush kind of just landed and did this whole Disney World sort of thing. And that started my writing career. And basically, I’ve held those two things in tandem being an academic, but also being a public scholar, writing first for Religion Dispatches, and then for a ton of other outlets, and so right now, I’m a contributor to MSNBC, when I write a couple of columns a month for them. So that’s been really good. And I’ve had this, you know, wonderful opportunity to be able to speak to the public and at the same time teach my students. So I think I have the best of both worlds.
Timothy Isaiah Cho: That’s awesome. And you know, this recent book that’s come out of yours, White Evangelical Racism, definitely a hot-button issue. Very, I guess in some circles, controversial issue as well, I just you know. It definitely comes out of years of your own study and reflection, just on I think, personal experience, too, within White Evangelical circles. How did you first get interested in studying this topic?
Dr. Anthea Butler: It was Fuller. Because for a number of years after I left and graduated with my Ph.D., I came back to teach at Fuller, and they have never had, and they’re going to die when I say this, but it’s true, they never had a “history of evangelicalism” course. And I would teach that course in the summertime. And by thinking about the stuff I was dealing with with evangelicals, especially writing about Black evangelicals, what I realized was that people were telling me stories about racism, and the racism that I experienced, you know, in an evangelical church.
This has been a long journey, in a way, but it’s intersected with my interest in religion and politics, too. And so one of the things I think, that I want people to understand about this book is that it’s not an op-ed. I think, for a lot of people, you look at the title, you think, ‘Oh, she’s gonna write something that’s an op-ed.’ But this is history. And I’m a historian. And I really wanted to think about this in a way in which I could challenge the narratives that Evangelicals have about themselves, and about their history, and especially about racism.
Timothy Isaiah Cho: Speaking of that too, just being history and not an op-ed, who did you have in mind when you wrote this book, like as your ideal person who would pick this up? You know, there’s at the end of the book, there’s definitely an appeal to White Evangelicals themselves. Who was the person you had in mind, but you’re writing this book?
Dr. Anthea Butler: The friends I had to give up because they were too racist and too mad at Democrats all the time, honestly. I mean, I thought about the people who I sat in pews with for years, before going back to the Catholic Church. And I thought about, you know, these are nice people, they think they’re wonderful, but the ways in which they believe and they vote, and the kinds of things that they promote, were racist at their core. And I just had heard so many people say, ‘I don’t see color.’ But when you say that you you are saying basically, you see White. And that’s it, if you see a White cultural evangelicalism.
And I wanted to write to them to say, ‘No, no, no, no. This thing that you think is happening to you right now, that people are criticizing you because you followed up with Trump or whatever, this has been going on for a long time.’ This is over 200-plus years of, you know, racism, and neglect and treating people differently, and using morality as a shield. And I thought that that was really important to say. And it was important for them to see themselves in that book. And so the way I like to say it in Twitter shorthand is, I’d like to hold the book up to them and say, ‘Is this you? Is this you?’ And I think that that’s really the point of the book. If you see yourself in this book, if you feel, you know, uneasy when you read this book, if it makes you feel uncomfortable, then I’ve done my job.
Timothy Isaiah Cho: You know, reading through this book, it’s actually not a very long book, you know. On the one hand, it’s short enough to read, but also it’s very heavy and content, because that’s like you said, it’s history. These are facts. And if this describes the reader, you have to really deal with that. They really have to wrestle with that.
I want to kind of swing back a little bit to an answer you gave to one of the earlier questions. You know, you said you started getting interested in this through your time at Fuller, you know, an evangelical seminary, evangelical school. I’d love to hear you talk a little bit just about your experience there or even just your experience as a professor of Christians of color entering into White evangelical schools and how that might actually, that discussion kind of plays into your book as well about White Evangelical racism?
Dr. Anthea Butler: Yeah, I think this is really important, key. One of the people that I dedicated the book to, William Pannell, Bill Pannell as you know him, was an evangelist and came to Fuller in the 1970s. Very early on, right after when he was working with Tom Skinner and, you know, Skinner’s be speech at Urbana in 1970. And he always told me, you know, ‘You need to milk this cow for all its worth.’ And so I was there at an interesting time when, you know, the riots or the uprising, whatever you want to call it, in 1992 had happened in Los Angeles.. And Fuller was really trying to think about its stance about racism and things. So that was a good experience.
But what I found from other schools, especially Evangelical schools, was that the ways in which they tried to deal with race is to sweep it under the rug and make everybody culturally Evangelical, which is also culturally White. Okay. And so there’s no, you know, if you are considered to be, you know, a cultural minority in their words, whether you’re Asian American, African American, African, you know, from another country, the ways in which you are dealt with are like, ‘Oh, there’s a day and we should have mariachi singers. And we should have, you know, this kind of food for Black History Month,’ right?
But there’s no consideration about where your religious roots are, how that might connect to who you are ethnically. And then sometimes it’s just downright, ‘We’re not going to talk about race because we’re not racist.’ And so I think what that does is it’s sort of squelches down that the ways in which evangelicalism deal with racism, the way they teach people how to deal with racism. And — let me let me just hurt a couple of people’s feelings here — when you uplift, you know, Reformed or German theologies over and against African American, you know, Asian American who [unintelligible] theologies, all of these things, then you’re setting up a way in which White theology and white supremacy of Christianity is the way that everybody should think and all the rest of these theologies are not valid or not worthwhile.
Timothy Isaiah Cho: Yeah. You know, just talking from my own experience, I went to seminary, got an M.Div., I do not… For all the history courses, we took, mot a single touch on the Black church, not a single instance talking about the immigrant Asian American churches, right. And anytime that we did discuss these authors, it was always as a, you know, against a German Reformed theologian, saying, ‘Hey, how are these people so bad compared to, you know, these great theologians and their traditions?’ So very, very interesting.
You know, in your book, I think probably one of the main theses of your book is that racism is a feature and not a bug of American Evangelicalism. So can you explain that a little bit more? And why is that so important for us to understand, that it’s a feature, not a bug of evangelicalism?
Dr. Anthea Butler: It’s important to understand that racism is part and parcel, warp and woof of American Evangelicalism because this country was was established as, you know, not just a nation that was coming against, you know, British rule, but it also had slavery, and slavery was justified through Christianity. And if we’re going to talk about Evangelicals, what we have to understand is, is that as much as Evangelicals like to say that they were abolitionists, they were for temperance and everything else, they also were for slavery. We don’t have the Southern Baptist Convention, we don’t have the Methodist Episcopal Church, we don’t have all these churches that split up in the 1800s, unless they were fighting over slavery. They didn’t fight over theology. The theology that they were fighting over was whether they could hold slaves or not.
And so I think for Evangelicals to make…to say, ‘Oh, you know, we have this glorious history.’ You know, people who have been writing about this, you know, deal with this kind of stuff. And they don’t even put, you know, a Black person within that history. They don’t put anything. They don’t put immigrants in that history. They don’t put, you know, Asians who were brought over to work on the continent, intercontinental railroad. Nothing. I mean, it’s just sort of like, ‘This is our happy history.’ And it’s not a happy history. It’s a history of pain. It’s a history of suffering. It’s a history that denigrated Black people and peoples of color. It is a history that was imperialistic and colonialist. I mean, I could go on, but I think you get my drift, right. And we have to really understand what the roots of all of this is. And that’s why I say, you know, racism is a feature and not a bug in American evangelicalism.
Timothy Isaiah Cho: Piggybacking off of that answer too. You know, just the kind of stories we tell ourselves, right, that stories that White Evangelicals tell themselves about this. Can you just talk a little bit about, like, how and why they’ve been telling themselves that kind of glorified Golden Age sort of story? You know, when it’s obviously so falsifiable, right? There are facts. I mean so many historians have talked about, and you are yourself included, like there’s a real clear history of the racism in the Evangelical tradition. Why do they tell these stories about themselves? And how do they keep getting away with telling me sort of stories?
Dr. Anthea Butler: I’m gonna tell you an answer that’s gonna really hurt some people’s feelings. But I’m going to go ahead and say it. When you have history written by White men, then this is the history you get. It’s this great history that’s all noble. A history that valorizes, makes Evangelicals seem like they’re the best people on earth. It makes them the moral actors in the American story, and the people who are upholding morality. So if you all you have are White, you know, theologians and historians writing these stories, and you know, everybody knows who these names are — I don’t have to tell them out loud — then you don’t have a full story. But I think what’s happening now is you have people like me and Kristin Kobes Du Mez, and others who are saying, ‘This is not just the history. There’s other history here, and you have to consider the history of Evangelicals embedded in a larger history of this country.’
And so I think that this sort of narrative, also, I think this will…this is also a way to kind of punch at this. This narrative has been written as though it was scripture, as though it was something that…it was God-given. And this is our story. And God is in the midst of that story. Now, for a lot of people, this is going to be where they have a problem with me, because I’m saying this is not a history that is a spiritual history. This is history. And I think people, especially Evangelicals, want to write God into a history, but I’m like, ‘What if this history isn’t just about God? What if this history is about the evil stuff y’all did? And won’t see and won’t talk about?’ You know, because just as much as you say that there’s God, there’s obviously Satan, right? And if you understand that, then you will understand that not all history is beautiful, not all of it is nice. Some of it is really awful. And I think that Evangelicals continue to give themselves a pass if they don’t look at the awful parts of their history.
Timothy Isaiah Cho: Wow, wow…
[End of interview excerpt…]
Thanks for tuning into this episode of “News With Nicola,” where we aim to keep things real, relevant, and faithful.
Don’t forget: I want to know what you’re reading, watching, or listening to—which means I want you to email me your thoughts on current events and more. Tell me what books, movies, music and shows you’ve recently encountered that you love, or think others should desperately avoid. Drop me a line at [email protected] If you sound like you know what you’re talking about, I just might invite you to join me on the show to discuss your views.
This is Nicola A. Menzie, managing editor of faithfullymagazine.com, hoping I’m leaving you informed and inspired. Till next time.