American Christianity has faced theological-political crises before. Repeatedly, visions of what is possible for the nation have fallen short of reality. In the past, periods of change pushed faithful people to reconsider what they believed, not only about the nation but also about the meaning of God’s call to justice. In each critical moment, for good or ill, Americans altered their religious views, and the horizon of what was possible expanded or contracted.
In revolutionary America, disunity resulted from debates over whether faith required obedience to the king or a revolt.
Ammon Bundy’s militia has occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon since January 2. The standoff with authorities continues despite the arrest of Bundy and 11 of his followers and the shooting death of LaVoy Finicum during a traffic stop last week, and despite Bundy’s pleas that the four remaining militia members leave the refuge. They insist that they will not leave until their comrades are released and everyone is pardoned. These conservative Mormons have claimed that God told them to seize the land in defense of ranchers sentenced to jail time for setting fires on federal land.
We are endlessly being misdirected in search of the crude “hate crime.” After centuries of racial oppression and violence, our society eventually became uncomfortable with the overtness of the racism of the past. Slavery is taken for granted as a horrific thing, something that couldn’t be assumed a few generations ago. For mainstream America, to be accused of being racist is to have been labeled something despicable. Few would willingly accept this charge upon themselves, defending themselves adamantly against such accusations. However, even worse than the racist label for those within the dominant culture, is for a person to be accused of a hate crime. Hate crimes have been created to isolate the most heinous of offenses that have been committed because of prejudice.