In Citizenship Confusion, Alan Noble discusses how we confuse our heavenly citizenship with citizenship to the state, culture, and the world.

There is a time to unite and a time to purge.

I was reminded of this fact recently when Breitbart, the conservative news and punditry site, ran a story exposing voter registration booths in Ferguson, Missouri, at the site of Michael Brown’s death. In response to the tragedy and violence of that city, some organizations had set up booths to encourage people to vote to create change. The article even quotes Rev. Sharpton who called the black residents of the town to vote, criticizing them for their absurdly low 12% voter turnout. In response to this, Breitbart interviewed Matt Wills, the executive director at Missouri Republican National Convention, who described the voter drives as “disgusting”:

“If that’s not fanning the political flames, I don’t know what is,” Wills said, “I think it’s not only disgusting but completely inappropriate.”

“Disgusting”—that is an actual word a GOP official used to describe efforts to encourage a black community to vote.

And this wasn’t just the opinion of the official. The entire Breitbart article is presented as if they were exposing some secret, malicious attempt to usurp our country through, uh, democracy? The premise is so ludicrous that it would be hysterical if it weren’t incredibly racist and fomenting racism, as can easily be evidenced in the comments.

Of all the responses to Brown’s death and the chaos that has followed, encouraging a community to vote so that they better represent themselves in local government—that has got to be the most helpful civic response possible.

Wills’s argument that voter registration at the crime scene is somehow politicizing Brown’s death and “injecting race” into the issue ignores the fact that for this community it is inherently a local political and racial issue. That’s why there were immediate protests. The concern is with how black Americans are treated by their government.

There are many more things I would like to say about this, but CaPC’s editorial stance against profanity prevents me. So, instead, I’d like to talk about the conservative imagination.

Why was this GOP so afraid of black people voting? Presumably, because they would vote democrat. This is a perfectly logical explanation for his comments, and I’m confident that liberals are not any more enthusiastic about voter drives in conservative communities.

A problem with this line of reasoning is that it is unloving to our neighbors. It assumes that the people of Ferguson would register to vote democrat without giving them a compelling reason not to. I think this reveals a failure of conservatism, one which may doom the movement if it is not addressed: If the poor, oppressed, and minorities won’t vote for conservatives, it must be in part because conservatives haven’t offered a compelling alternative to liberalism. Conservative pundits are too often busy seeing the poor and minorities as a threat to care about their real, serious needs as our neighbors.

Consider the conservative response to the violence in Ferguson. Are we offering an alternative political vision? Is it one which is beautiful, good, and true? Is it one which we articulate to the poor amongst us?

There are good conservative responses too.

-Broad participation in and promotion of strong, local government that is concerned about the needs of its specific community.

-Accountability for police in order to prevent abuses of State power.

-Undoing the militarization of the police.

 -Advocating and supporting local charities, ministries, and churches that can work toward racial reconciliation, help to channel protests into positive and nonviolent methods, protecting the rights of protesters and journalists, creating anti-poverty programs that focus on early childhood education.

And there are many other responses. Regrettably, to my knowledge, the only one which conservative leaders have strongly advocated for is the reduction of police militarization.

Instead of calling voter registration booths “disgusting,” the RNC should have brought in their own booths, encouraging everyone to register, regardless of party affiliation, demonstrating to the black community that we want them to vote, that we believe in local representation through elections as a model for caring for local communities.

In place of an active, compelling, and imaginative conservative response, we have a major conservative publication and conservative official condemning an attempt by a suffering community to improve their community through civic engagement.

Here is where I make the point I’ve made several times in the past (here, here, and here): Conservative politics will not be effective unless it distances itself from radical, racist, conspiratorial, destructive, and deceptive voices.

I understand that there are all kinds of political and economic pressures at work which make it very difficult for politicians to say “no” to an interview on the radio show of some insanely popular but terribly deceptive talk show host. These are the same economic realities that lead political conventions to invite hacks, demagogues, and conspiracy theorists as speakers alongside thoughtful politicians. The fact is that there are many toxic conservative figures that are popular. Ann Coulter, for example, is a terrible and dangerous pundit, but she has an audience. And that audience is just large enough to persuade some politician or otherwise sane conservative figure to get on stage with her at an event, which gives them access to her audience and validates Coulter’s authority. There’s a cycle at work here in which there are distinct and sizable incentives for political movements to tolerate and work with some influential fringe figures or groups.

Here I am at the end of my column, and I haven’t even mentioned Christ, yet. This seems like a lot of conservative navel-gazing, but it’s really not. The dynamic I’ve described here is also true of evangelical movements and other political movements. It involves two parts: First, a failure to try to persuade people of your position, which is really a failure to love your neighbor and to imagine. Second is the reciprocal incentive to perpetuate toxic figures and groups.

The response is to love your neighbor enough to reach out with an imaginative and other-focused vision and to purge toxic elements from our conventions, donations, websites, and newsfeeds. When we are more concerned about defending what we perceive to be our political identity than with honoring God and loving our neighbor, we have gone astray.

Alan Noble, Ph.D., (Co-Founder and Managing Editor) is an Assistant Professor of English at Oklahoma Baptist University. He received his Ph.D. from Baylor in 2013. He and his family attend City Presbyterian in OKC.

Image: Breitbart


24 Comments

  1. I think an important thing to note is that all republicans are not necessarily conservatives. There is a huge population of us conservatives out there who are very frustrated with the Republican Party, and I think we are getting a bad name because the Republican Party is often mixed up with us. They may be MORE conservative than Democrats, but I wouldn’t consider many of them to be true conservatives.

    I also think you are twisting this a little.

    ““Disgusting”—that is an actual word a GOP official used to describe efforts to encourage a black community to vote.”

    I find it hard to believe that he meant encouraging a black community to vote would be disgusting. I’m pretty sure when he said that he meant that Democrats trying to use a death to get people on their side was disgusting – which would be truth. I agree that encouraging them to vote in general would be a fantastic thing right now, but if you think the people who set up the booths weren’t politicizing the death, you are being a little naive. I think if we’re going to talk about this we need to be fair and honest all around.

    1. Whether or not he meant to discourage black votes, he called “efforts to encourage a black community to vote” “disgusting.”

      As for the “politicizing” of the issue, as I said in the article, it’s not politicizing. The issue is *inherently* political.

    2. Whether or not he meant to discourage black votes, he called “efforts to encourage a black community to vote” “disgusting.”

      As for the “politicizing” of the issue, as I said in the article, it’s not politicizing. The issue is *inherently* political.
      —————————————-
      No, Alan, please go back and read his quote. He called what he saw as “fanning the political frames” disgusting. He never once said that encouraging anyone to vote was disgusting. That was a gross leap, sir. I am very disappointed in you. You were clearly as unfair as you thought the original article was, but refuse to acknowledge it. And political can mean a lot of things. There is a difference between something being political – as in requiring justice and needing political figures to get involved – and the politics of trying to capitalize on a death to gain more supporters for your political party. Just because something is “inherently political”, the former, doesn’t mean you get to politicize it, the latter.

      And, being rude in a reply to a commenter? Your article was posted on a Christian site, lest you forget.

    3. Jamie, I’m sorry there is some confusion here, but I don’t believe there is gross leap. The booth was set up to encourage a predominately black community to vote. That’s just a fact. And Wills called that voter drive “disgusting.” There’s no ambiguity here. Yes, he did call it disgusting because it was using a tragedy to gain voters, but he still chose to call that voter drive disgusting despite its purpose.

      And as for the “politicizing” comment, if local involvement in government would help create a fairer system, getting voters is, again, one of the best strategies to address the problem.

    4. You’re right, there is no ambiguity in his words, but there WAS ambiguity in your article. You finally admit that it was the intentions he found disgusting and not the booths themselves, yet your article doesn’t paint that picture at all. I don’t have a problem necessarily with the voter booths, regardless of their purpose, because I think it’s beneficial regardless of the intentions. But, I also don’t have a problem with someone who thinks its disgusting that the booths are being set up with poor intentions. I understand that for some people, intentions are a big deal and they are unable to get past them. If you disagree with him on that, it certainly wasn’t worth a blast at him or all conservatives.
      Also, you pick on Breitbart. I don’t read them so I don’t know much about them, but this nearly identical story is all over the place – in many liberal news sources as well. Washington Times goes so far as to point out that the people setting up the booths are specifically Jesse Jackson and a George Soros organization, people who have shown time and again that they capitalize on situations for their own agendas. So, maybe that bit of research might give you a little more insight into why Matt Wills would say that.

      So I will forever be skeptical of anything you write on here. I prefer to see truth and hinesty and fairness given to people on all side of a situation, and you stretched this to make it into an issue, and then replying to that guy “you’re excused”? Arrogance and rudeness at it’s finest.

    5. It’s good to be skeptical of anything I, or anyone else for that matter, writes, since I’m human and have been wrong and will be wrong again. I do try to be fair and honest, and I’m sorry that you feel that I was not fair and honest in this piece.

      I believe I was clear that he objected to the *intentions*: “Wills’s argument that voter registration at the crime scene is somehow politicizing Brown’s death and ‘injecting race’ into the issue”

      As for picking on Breitbart, I chose them because of their headline (a headline which does *not* suggest that “intentions” are the objection, by the way). And because of their history of writing like this, and because it was the report that I first saw. I follow many news orgs and I hadn’t seen others reporting on this. But you’re right, I should have done more digging.

      Part of my point is that it’s not appropriate to condemn voter registration to solve a problem with a deep political basis, regardless of what someone *thinks* the intentions are.

  2. Jaime’s final point echoes what I wanted to say.

    I would add that the article’s statement — he quotes it in the third paragraph of his comment — places the worst possible construction on Mr. Wills’ words and the best possible construction on the efforts to register voting. The desires and intentions of those registering people to vote may be the best, but the impact of those efforts and their propriety in the context of events may be discussed by people of good will on both sides. I would have to read more of what Mr. Wills said to determine whether or not he could be numbered among them, but the way this column frames Mr. Wills’ words does not encourage me to take it as part of that discussion.

  3. “The premise is so ludicrous that it would be hysterical if it weren’t incredibly racist and fomenting racism, as can easily be evidenced in the comments.”

    Come on, Alan, I know you don’t believe that commenting sections are proof of an author’s intentions. That’s an absurd claim, and applied consistently, spells horrible things for many respectable publications/pieces.

    1. The “as can easily be evidenced” refers to “fomenting racism,” not the author’s intentions. I should have made that clearer.

  4. Paul Ryan and Rand Paul are two stand up, Christian conservatives who have responded very decently and reasonably to Ferguson. Why start out by assuming conservatives are racist? Mr. Noble, there are a lot of outlets to follow. It is one thing to snipe Breitbart and Coulter, and it is another thing to extrapolate from there to the conclusion that by and large conservatives are really anti-poor. AEI, Acton Institute, the Michael Medved Show are just a few places where conservatives are making profound points for the common good.

    1. Alan, you said the GOP official was afraid of black people voting. The way you attributed fear to him and made it into an absurdity can be reasonably akin to calling him phobic. Close enough to racist.

      I don’t like a lot of Breitbart articles. They complain about RINOs and “amnesty,” which is misguided. But I think it’s legitimate to point out that the voter registration drivers are politically motivated. I imagine if conservatives took your advice and had a registration drive, they would be called “disgusting” by someone interviewed by DailyKos or The Atlantic. That’s the nature of politics. I wouldn’t call someone that as a Christian engaged in politics. I just don’t think the case has been made that this guy should be purged; there are bigger fish to fry.

    2. Yes, I think his comments were at the very least racially insensitive and absurd. No question. But I did not come close to claiming that conservatives as a whole are racist. That would require me to implicate myself.

  5. Very weak piece. Echo what the other commentators have said. Would also like to add that Al Sharpton is a wicked, opportunistic man who’s been leading people down the pathway to destruction for years. Any opportunity to demonize and foment hatred, regardless of the facts, he will take. That’s one thing, and here’s another: Please explain why we are still assuming that this is about racism and abuse of power, when the facts are piling up DAILY against Brown? I don’t even see how Eric Holder is going to twist this one to his purposes, this is just too cut and dried. It was an unfortunate tragedy, nothing more significant. But to admit that Brown was completely at fault is to go against the narrative that we are desperately being fed.

    One more thing. Alan writes: “It assumes that the people of Ferguson would register to vote democrat without giving them a compelling reason not to.”

    Excuse me sir, but do you have any idea how many black children have been murdered through the evil policies of the very party their parents are following so blindly?

    Pieces like this are part of the problem, not the solution.

  6. Alan, I think you are largely right here. Maybe it is because I am a democrat, but if you ask most anyone which party is trying to help the poor, people will say the Democrats. That is not to say that individual Republican are not helping the poor. The surveys I have seen suggest that Republicans give more to charities than Democrats do.

    But your point is right, Republicans can’t seem to open their mouths without staying something that is (usually) unintentionally offensive when issues of race come up.

    I honestly don’t think Republicans are any more racist than Democrats, but I do think that whites tend to be less aware of the reality of White privilege and because Republicans tend to be more White than Democrats, the ignorance of their privilege tends to come out in policies that either disproportionally effect minorities negatively or unintentionally help Whites. And the reality is that race is a proxy for income in the large scale, so I don’t think that there is a desired racial element, but the result is often racial.

    I have had several comments to me over the last couple days to the effect of, ‘Well if Ben Carson can get out of poverty, why don’t ‘these people’?’ Which is really the problem with republican (and Evangelical) ideology. It is focused on the individual, not the corporate issues. We need help on both individual and corporate.

  7. Dear, Mr. Noble,
    You said:
    “Here I am at the end of my column, and I haven’t even mentioned Christ, yet.”
    Well, there’s your problem…

    This makes me curious about your worldview & your hermeneutics. Because, if you can twist this issue in the ways that you have done, I’m concerned that you may be doing the same with scripture.
    By virtue of your own admission above, you seem to be quick to write an article expressing your opinion without weighing it against scripture.
    – Proverbs:
    18:2
    12:15
    29:11, 20

  8. Alan – criticizing anyone’s response to any event at any time as lacking “an active, compelling, and imaginative” component in comparison to Al Sharpton is either the most brilliant and subtle piece of political satire ever, or it reveals how little you thought about this topic before you hit the publish button.

    Mull it over.

  9. Alan, this is spot on. I would’ve thought you were seeing what most of my friends post on my Facebook newsfeed from reading this. But that’s just it though. It’s everywhere. Everyday. The constant manipulative and deceptive rhetoric that shouldn’t be so commonplace among those who would pride themselves on being lovers of grace and lovers of those who need it, but say otherwise with their words and attitudes when it comes to these issues. And all this before a watching world.

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