Earlier today, the Southern Baptist Convention adopted a resolution condemning the movement known as the “alt-right.”
The language of the resolution reads, in part,
WHEREAS, Racism and white supremacy are, sadly, not extinct but present all over the world in various white supremacist movements, sometimes known as “white nationalism” or “alt-right”; now, therefore, be it RESOLVED, That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention, meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, June 13–14, 2017, decry every form of racism, including alt-right white supremacy, as antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ; and be it further RESOLVED, That we denounce and repudiate white supremacy and every form of racial and ethnic hatred as of the devil; and be it further RESOLVED, That we acknowledge that we still must make progress in rooting out any remaining forms of intentional or unintentional racism in our midst; and be it further RESOLVED, That we earnestly pray, both for those who advocate racist ideologies and those who are thereby deceived, that they may see their error through the light of the Gospel, repent of these hatreds, and come to know the peace and love of Christ through redeemed fellowship in the Kingdom of God, which is established from every nation, tribe, people, and language.
The resolution initially caused confusion because many Baptists—like most other Americans—are not familiar with the movement. A majority of U.S. adults (54 percent) say they have heard “nothing at all” about the “alt-right” movement, and another 28 percent have heard only “a little” about it, according to a Pew Research Center survey taken last year.
“There were a lot of people [at the SBC annual meeting] who just weren’t familiar with what the alt-right is,” said Russell Moore, a TGC Council member and president of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. “And then there were others who assumed the alt-right was just a fringy group of people that they didn’t want to dignify by even mentioning them.”
“What I point out is just how dangerous and present the alt-right is. . . . When people recognize what it is that the alt-right believes,” Moore added, “I haven’t talked to anyone who doesn’t immediately reject that.”
Here is what every Christian should know about the alt-right:
What is the alt-right?
The alt-right—short for “alternative right”—is an umbrella term for a host of disparate nationalist and populist groups associated with the white identity cause/movement. The term brings together white supremacists (e.g., neo-Nazis), religious racialists (e.g., Kinists), neo-pagans (e.g., Heathenry), internet trolls (e.g., 4chan’s /pol/), and others enamored with white identity and racialism.
Where did the term “alt-right” come from?
In December 2008, Paul Gottfried wrote an article for Taki’s Magazine titled, “The Decline and Rise of the Alternative Right.” (The article itself does not use the phrase “alternative right,” and the editor of the magazine at that time, Richard Spencer, claims to have added the title.)
At the time, the “alternative right” was loosely associated with “paleoconservatives” (another term created by Gottfried). Paleocons were self-identified conservatives who rejected the neo-conservatism of the George W. Bush-era. While the group tended to be anti-globalist and anti-war (especially opposed to the Iraq War) it was not necessarily associated with white identity politics. But in his article Gottfried identified “postpaleos” as a “growing communion “that now includes Takimag, VDARE.com, and other websites that are willing to engage sensitive, timely subjects.”
The “sensitive, timely subjects” Gottfried refers to are topics that had previously been the main concern of white identity groups, issues such as non-white immigration (“being physically displaced by the entire Third World”) and “human cognitive capacities” (i.e., the belief that certain racial groups are, in general, intellectually inferior to others).
In 2010, Richard Spencer launched a website, AlternativeRight.com, to promote these views. Since then, the term has been associated with the white identity movement.
Who is Richard Spencer?
Richard Spencer is a white nationalist who has become the public face of the alt-right.
Spencer, who comes from a wealthy family (his mother is a cotton heiress, and his father is an ophthalmologist), went to a Catholic parochial school before graduating from the University of Virginia (BA) and University of Chicago (MA). He pursued doctoral studies at Duke before, as he says, “dropping out to pursue a life of thought-crime.”
In the mid-2000s, Spencer worked for the paleoconservative publication The American Conservative. Spencer was fired for his extreme views and went to work for the online publication Taki’s Magazine. With funding from Taki Theodoracopulos and other wealthy donors, Spencer was able to create a career centered on his white identity politics.
Prior to 2016, few people—even white nationalists—knew who he was. But Spencer is a gifted political opportunist. During the election season of 2016 various populists, nationalists, white supremacists, and anti-PC (political correctness) groups started coalescing around the candidacy of Donald Trump. Because the alt-right existed mostly online and was populated by people too cowardly to use their own names, Spencer was able to seize the opportunity to become the public face of the alt-right.
Spencer gained a boost in recognition when Breitbart News began to openly champion the alt-right cause. In March 2016, Breitbart wrote a fawning article of the alt-right titled, “An Establishment Conservative’s Guide to the Alt-Right.” In the article Spencer is listed as an alt-right “intellectual.” A few months later, Steve Bannon, who ran Breitbart before becoming CEO of the Trump campaign, bragged that Breitbart News was the “the platform for the alt-right.”
What is “white identity”?
White identity is the defining concept that unites the alt-right.
“Racial Identity,” said Arthur Kemp in March of the Titans: A History of the White Race, “can be defined as the conscious recognition that one belongs to a specific race, ethnicity, and culture and with that comes certain obligations toward their own welfare.” And the alt-right leader Jared Taylor defines “white identity” as “a recognition by whites that they have interests in common that must be defended. All other racial groups take this for granted, that it’s necessary to band together along racial lines to work together for common interests.”
Is the alt-right conservative?
No. As George Hawley, a University of Alabama professor who has studied the movement, told The Washington Post, “the modal alt-right person is a male, white millennial; probably has a college degree or is in college; is secular and perhaps atheist and [is] not interested in the conservative movement at all.”
What puts the movement on the “right” is that it shares, along with conservatism, skepticism of forced egalitarianism. But that’s generally all it shares with mainstream conservatism. In fact, many on the alt-right (such as Spencer) hold views associated with progressivism (e.g., support for abortion and gay rights and opposition to free-market economics).
The confusion about the movement’s politics lies in thinking that extremist groups are on each “end” of the left-right political spectrum. It is more accurate to consider them through the lens of the horseshoe theory, a concept in political science that claims the far left and the far right, rather than being at opposite and opposing ends of a linear political continuum, closely resemble one another, much like the ends of a horseshoe.
Why does the alt-right hate conservative Christians?
As many conservative Christians on social media can attest, the alt-right seems to have a particular disdain for gospel-centered Christianity. (For examples see here, here, here, and here.) Some on the alt-right (such as Vox Day) claim that Christianity is a “foundational pillar” of the movement. But what they mean by Christianity is often a heretical form (Day rejects the Trinity), a racialized version of the faith (e.g., the Kinist movement), or “religion as culture” (Spencer says he is both an atheist and a “culture Christian”). The true religion of the alt-right is white identitarianism, which is why the SBC accurately considers it an “anti-gospel” movement.
Is white identity and white nationalism the same as white supremacy?
No. The terms are often conflated, making it more difficult to challenge these ideologies.
White supremacy is the belief that lighter-skinned or “white” racial groups are superior to all other racial groups. Modern advocates of white supremacy almost always advocate for white identity, though the reverse is not always true. As alt right leader Vox Day says, “The Alt Right does not believe in the general supremacy of any race, nation, people, or sub-species. Every race, nation, people, and human sub-species has its own unique strengths and weaknesses, and possesses the sovereign right to dwell unmolested in the native culture it prefers.”
White nationalism is a political view that merges nationalism with white identity. White nationalists are racial separatists who believe that to preserve the white race, other racial groups must be excluded or marginalized in “white states” (i.e., countries or regions that have historically had majority-white populations). White nationalists are frequently concerned about miscegenation and non-white immigration because it contributes to what they consider to be “white genocide,” i.e., the replacement of the “white race” by other racial groups.
In rebutting these beliefs, Christians must be careful not to reduce them all to mere “white supremacy.” It’s natural to a want to use that term and apply it to the entirety of an evil movement. Because of the long, despicable history of white supremacy in America, that term retains considerable cultural weight. But if we imply that the problem with the movement is only the elements of racial superiority, then those on the alt-right who can effectively avoid that charge will be let off the hook.
White supremacy is certainly rampant in the movement and should be called out when it’s expressed. However, even if those in the alt-right condemn racial superiority—as many claim to do—the white nationalism and white identity aspects are still detestable and should be rejected.
To more effectively argue against the movement we need to clearly reject the racialized worldview that considers racial categories the primary markers of cultural identity. White supremacy, white nationalism, and white identity are not all the same thing, but they are all equally repugnant.
How should Christians respond to the alt-right?
At the core of the alt-right movement is idolatry—the idol of “whiteness.” In building their identity on shared genetic traits the alt-right divides humanity and leads people away from the only source of true identity: Jesus Christ.
The alt-right is anti-gospel because to embrace white identity requires rejecting the Christian identity. The Christian belongs to a “chosen race” (1 Peter 2:9), the elect from every tribe and tongue (Rev. 7:9).
“The chosen race is not black or white or red or yellow or brown,” John Piper says. “The chosen race is a new people from all the peoples—all the colors and cultures—who are now aliens and strangers among in the world.”
This is why it’s impossible to truly follow Christ and be a white supremacist: How can we claim we are superior to people of other races when Jesus has chosen them? This is why it’s impossible to follow Christ and be a white nationalist: How can we claim to be sons and daughters of God while separating ourselves from our brothers and sisters? This is why it’s impossible to serve Jesus and advocate for white identity: How can your identity be found in the finished work of Jesus when you’re rooting your identity in the divisive work of Satan?
“Christians ought to reject racism, and do what they can to expose it and bring the gospel to bear upon it,” Kevin DeYoung says, “not because we love pats on the back for our moral outrage or are desperate for restored moral authority, but because we love God and submit ourselves to the authority of his Word.”