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United We Stand
by Sheila Keller
"They came for what they called WHITE Supremacists and WHITE Separatists and I didn't speak up because I wasn't one. Then they came for what they called radicals, right wingers and constitutionalists and I didn't speak up because I wasn't one of those either.... Then the New World Order came for me and by that time there was no one left to speak up ... Now guess who is coming for who?" - Pete Peters at his "Special Gathering of Christian Men" in Estes Park in 1992
IntroductionI chose to visit La Porte Church of Christ, a part of the self-entitled "Restoration Movement," or otherwise part of what is known as the "Christian Identity Movement." This church, pastured by Pete Peters and located in rural La Porte Colorado, is known for its white supremacist ideologies and hatred towards Jews and homosexuals in particular (though the church has varying levels of little to intolerance for almost any group that is not exactly like 'they are').
I chose to visit a white supremacist and sexist church organization for two reasons. One, because one of my greatest triggers is to sexist males. Two, because I know little to nothing about the white supremacist movement, have never met an actual person with these views, and am very uncomfortable with them. While I believe that white supremacy is unjust and a great sickness, I also believe that the act of hating a hate group, or dedicating my time to passing judgments about any group, is unproductive. I see real change as being made through getting to know "my enemy." Through coming to see the humanity and shared qualities that any person or group may share, and by coming to understand how a person can come to be in a particular place in their lives (certainly, this group was among the hardest for me to do so with). And hopefully, through this process, coming to heal what is sick in both of us. In many ways this visit has only added logs to my fire so to speak, in my dislike of the group I have encountered. But at least I feel like my argument has gone deeper and my understanding of the dynamics that play into our current religious and political climate in the United States is more textured by far.
To learn about this group, I visited the church one time (for safety reasons, though I really wish it was possible to have visited at least two or three times. I feel that it is somewhat unfair for me to be analyzing and judging this group after just one visit, but at the same time, I learned a world's worth of information that was new to me in just that one visit). I also researched Peters and his church through various articles and websites (internal and external sources). Lastly, I listened to Peters' online webcasts of two other sermons aside from the one I visited.
Background on the La Porte Church of Christ and Pete PetersPete Peters began preaching at the La Port Church of Christ in 1977, and started preaching Identity in 1983. The church was formerly a traditional but not radical Christian Church. Many of its original members left when Peters began to preach Christian Identity at that time, but it was built back up to what is on average a group of 50 listeners any given Sunday today.
Peters is famous for his anti-gay, anti-Jewish rhetoric, claiming stake in the relatively new movement that is called "Christian Identity." While Peters calls 'Christian Identity' a label applied to his movement used to demonize and de-legitimize it , most sources outside of Peters and his church themselves refer to the actions and beliefs of the La Porte Church of Christ as part of this movement.
Christian Identity consists of a melding together of various marginal, radical "Christian" groups who believe that white people are actually the Israelites of God. Self-identified, the La Porte Church of Christ is simply "Christian." But, the main premise upon which the La Porte Church of Christ rests is the core ideal of Christian Identity movement: The idea that the "Twelve Tribes of Israel" mentioned in the bible, interpreted to be Jewish people otherwise, are actually "Anglo-Saxon, Germanic, Celtic, Scandinavian, and kindred peoples--the peoples who comprise the white race which settled the North American continent, forming the bedrock population of the United States of America." Pete preaches for the need to eliminate all groups not belonging to these twelve tribes (any people not white or Christian). The Identity movement says that this is necessary in order for Christ to come back to earth.
Peters is known among the hate watch groups tracking his actions as a "rising star" among the Christian Identity Movement. In 1992 he organized a gathering of 160 white supremacists in Estes Park. This group united various extremist groups and "set the course for much of the current antigovernment movement."
The church is located in rural La Porte, a small town about an hour and a half north of Denver. It is surrounded by great stretches of rural land, and is located just outside of the town of Fort Collins. The people this church is known for attracting are undoubtedly white, rural, and "from the same farming stock. They have endured nearly a decade of the economic crisis that has driven thousands of farmers out of business. At the church they have found a reason to hope for the future and scapegoats to blame for hard times and bewildering social changes," says Michael D'Antonio in his article The Identity Movement and its "Real Jew" Claim.
The Visit'This Church helped to defeat a ballot initiative of civil rights protection for homosexuals in Fort Collins,' reads the plaque on the front door of the La Porte Church of Christ (an indirect quote). It's the first thing you see before you enter the church. The church is a small, one or two room building with about two rows of 10 wooden benches, a small stage at the front of the room, and a pulpit in the center of the stage. There are no images of Christ on the walls, just two stained glass windows at the back of the stage. The blinds and curtains are drawn over the few windows lining the sides of the church walls during service. Church starts at 10:30am on Sunday morning, with Sunday school for children immediately preceding it.
You can take in the entire room of the church with one glance: about 30 people in total, all white, many heterosexual family couples and a dozen children of varying ages (ranging from infants to about 14 years in age). There were single men there, but not any single women. It was a good thing that I came to La Porte Church of Christ with a friend of mine: a tall, white male with blond hair and blue eyes.
A band was arranged in the front of the church, which plays service on Sundays. It consisted of a male banjo player, a female keyboardist, a female pianist, and a male guitarist. Luckily, the service started with a series of hymns, which the congregation sings and the band plays along to. Singing along allowed my friend and I to calm our nervous giggling down and get into character. These songs were directly from the bible, word for word, and set a much milder tone for the service than would soon be to follow. Once the band was done playing, Pete Peters got up and walked to the podium with his bible and a long, gnarly, wooden staff (I believe he thinks of it as the staff of Moses and sees himself as some sort of profit, but this is just speculation). He held this staff throughout his sermon, not out of need for something to lean on, but rather using it as what seemed to be a prop. It is said that Pete often used to preach from his pulpit on homosexuality with a loaded gun across his podium or in his hand. I was grateful that it was just a staff this time.
Pete started off slowly, with a sermon that seemed more fundamentalist than I was accustomed to, but nowhere near to extreme. Again, this would soon change. The sermon this particular day was entitled "Every Dog Has it's Day; A Dog's Day is Like Any Other Day. It Comes to and End." The word dog usually refers to Jewish people in Pete's sermons, but this particular sermon focused not on Jews, but on Jezebel's (ie/ evil women, or witches).
There were no bibles in the church (it seemed to be a 'bring your own' kind of a deal) so I couldn't follow along. But Pete based his sermon off of the story of Jezebel and Elijah. Jezebel was the wife or lover of Elijah, a strong and powerful man. But she was evil, and managed to outwit and deceive Elijah regardless. Elijah was an outlaw, and a just man. The king of the land kept sending armies of fifty down from the mountain to kill him, but he smote them down with a ball of fire every time and escaped. Regardless, he could not outmatch Jezebel.
Pete drew a parallel between Jezebel and the evil spirit of Jezebel in people today, and Elijah and those who may be outlaws, but are righteous and good today. The picture Pete painted of the Jezebel of today was of a woman who disobeyed her husband, therefore disobeyed God. Or of the spirit of Jezebel today, which can be manifested almost anywhere, including in your children or partners. (They are included in the "aliens among us," a phrase often used by Peters to refer to Jewish people.) The Jezebel seemed to be found in government, lawyers, and "the establishment" as well, which Pete encouraged his congregation to keep up the 'good fight' against. Jezebels indeed are witches, too. They live among us, said Pete. And he let it be known that he was cursing the witches with a special vigor this month (October/ Halloween month). Pete told a firsthand account of a 'witch' from a fellow Christian, to illustrate the 'reality' and 'immediacy' of witches in the world;
The man in this story was 'sitting on an airplane next to a woman who was praying as the flight began,' said Peters. 'Being a Christian man and respectful, this man waited until she was done, and then asked her; 'Are you Christian?' 'No, I'm a witch,' she said. 'And witches always pray when we fly that the women below us in the towns we pass be discontent with their husbands and their homes.'
For Peters, this story was obviously inflammatory, and a call to war. "I'm more powerful than those bitches," yelled Peters, his voice shaking and loud (he used the word bitch repeatedly throughout his sermon). "Bring them on." (Regardless, he seemed a little defensive and paranoid at various points during his sermon. At one point, he broke his story line to shout into the pews; 'Any person who is here that is not of Christ, not baptized…. Not with us… Leave! May you be cursed!! I curse you! You will burn! You are of the evil spirit! Get out!' I suppose he might have been trying to intimidate my friend and myself. But it was also shouted as a vague warning into the air.)
Elijah, on the other hand, was compared to those people today who are willing to fight for good (like Pete and his followers of the La Porte Church of Christ), even though they may be and often are cast out by society for their beliefs. 'Don't forget that Elijah was an outlaw,' said Pete. 'He was a righteous man who fought for good yet the powers that be cast him out.' Peters spoke extensively about the Jezebels in power who might try to keep those good people from following the word of Christ (as interpreted by Peters), and how good Christians must resist and fight for what they know is right. As Peters said; 'If anyone thinks being Christian doesn't mean fighting, they are wrong. Christians are soldiers. We should have enemies to fight.'
While this statement by Peters may seem provocative, it is actually less radical than similar statements Peters has made. For example, Peters is quoted as saying "This is WAR! I hate Edom [Jews]... call in the artillery. The gooks are in the wire! Don't pray to make them Christian. Kill 'em all! Let God sort 'em out! They want to kill all of you! We must DECAPITATE them!"
As illustrated here and throughout this paper, Peters proved his ideologies and his church to be an intolerant group. Many other Christians, in his opinion, are worthless as well. A portion of Peters sermon that I attended focused on Christians who are not really good enough to be called "Christians;" "This evil society has been taken over by non-believers," spat Peters (by the middle of his sermon he was getting animated. He began to move around more, imitate those people and groups he disliked with high pitched, disgusting voices, wrinkle his face up in glaring disgust, and stare down the listeners with looks of hatred, his eyes dilated and wide). '"All these lovey- dovey Christians" who think Christianity is just about lo-oove (he says with a voice of disgust) are dead wrong. We must fight for Christ. Not just love.' ("Hallelujah. That's right," a few men in the front echoed throughout.)
According to one of Peters online sermons, "The Bible, the Doctor, and You" (in which he proves his disgust and hatred for the medical profession today), his belief is that tolerance is a useless trend of today. In his analyzation of Jesus' statement that "the way is narrow," Peters twists this quote to 'prove' that tolerance, diversity, and acceptance... are not the Christian way. Instead, the way is very 'narrow.' "Tolerance and broadminded are catch phrases of today," says Peters with disgust. "Narrow is the road."
This final quote summarizes my experience with and research on the La Porte church of Christ well. The Christian Identity movement openly advocates intolerance and hegemony. In their ideology, there is no room for anyone other than the white, "Christian" man. As Peters former wife is quoted as saying; "God never intended for anyone other than a white, Christian male to make decisions."
ConclusionWhen I left the La Port church of Christ, I began to immerse myself in literature, movies, and websites about Pete Peters, his church, the Christian Right in general, the white supremacist movement throughout the recent history of our country, and hate groups as a whole. I was obsessed with finding out what turns people to such hatred (what economic, social, historical, political, and personal forces). But I also think that I was awed at the information I was receiving on a group so foreign and extreme to me.
I have put a lot of thought into my "fascination" with white supremacy and the Christian Right. I recognize this fascination is a form of Pluralist Multiculturalism (Kincheloe & Steinberg). I recognize that I have been a "cultural tourist" in a group that is much more complex and historically contexted that I know or understand (though I am not sure that this applies because, once again, the Christian Identity Movement is not an oppressed group). And I am simply looking at this group on the surface level in many ways. Turning it into a token group of fascination.
In my being able to visit the La Porte Church of Christ , I have reflected a lot on my ability to "pass" as someone who might have been "one of them." I entered that church hanging onto and only through hanging onto a string of my privileges. White privilege, indeed, lies at the top of this list. But included are also my abilities to pass as a straight woman (especially by showing up with my male friend, but also in the way I look, the way my hair is cut, the clothes I put on...) and my ability to pass as Christian. This phenomena of "passing" and of privilege relate to the parts of my cultural identity that I identified and talked about in my Personal Paradigm Paper. As Lorde would say, these parts of my personality that were not oppressed are not more or less important than those parts of myself which are/ were oppressed at Peters church (my being a woman for sure), but I certainly find myself reacting strongly to my privilege in being able to feel relatively safe visiting the church.
The La Porte Church of Christ would certainly be categorized as a group that believes in monoculturalism (Kincoele & Steinberg). They believe that their identity is the only one, other cultures are inferior to their own, and they act out a place of white and male privilege to enforce and grow their culture. Interestingly enough, much of the Christian Identity movement does see itself as an oppressed minority though, fighting against the government and the evil powers that rest within those structures. As the quote at the beginning of this paper illustrates, Peters sees his people as an oppressed group that has to fight back in order to preserve their culture. It is a general party line among the Christian identity movement and the Christian Right in general to assert that the government is suppressing their rights by not allowing them to practice their beliefs. Marion Young would say that the Christian Identity Movement is certainly a group with a defined cultural identity, formed in relation to other groups. But would she say that they are oppressed? Certainly, they cannot be oppressed as white people, because they are part of the race that holds power in our country today. But as farmers, as lower economic citizens, as a very counter culture form of Christianity, could they be considered marginalized? I think so. But because their group identity is based on their position as the dominant racial group in our country, they cannot, as a group, be oppressed. Peters claim that they are oppressed is backwards and ignorant.
I think that for me my white privilege has covered over much of the stark realities for which this group stands. While I understand from an intellectual viewpoint that these people advocate for hatred and sometimes violence of and towards many cultural groups, I myself did not feel directly at risk at the church. I was scared, I shook, I thought about what would happen if they tried to harm me. But ultimately, at least this time, I was able to hide behind my shield of privileges. I left without any harm done to me. I can feel guilty for that, I can disregard it, or, my third option, is that I can use that privilege to my advantage in working for change. I feel guilty often. I am trying to get over this. My reaction to this visit and to this research is that I (realistically) do feel less safe (as a woman, as a feminist, as a Jewish person, and as a queer person) in our country. But I also feel woken up. I feel woken up!
Through this research and seeing a movie called Jesus Camp, I now understand how George Bush was elected in 2004. I am aware that there is an organized group of religious right out there that is real, that is fighting for things I feel very strongly against, and who in some cases will stop at almost nothing to achieve their ideals. This information is vital to my survival, commitment to my country and the path it takes, and understanding as the person I am. I feel armed with this information now. Slightly less naïve, and a whole lot more ready to fight.
Going into this project, I recognized that I take a very critical multiculturalism stance on the world and myself (Kinchoel & Steinberg). I believe that we are all products of our environments and work within the systems that we are infused by until we are pushed our push ourselves out of them. I examine these qualities in my own and other people's lives all the time. As "critical theory thus promotes self-reflection that results in changes of perspective," so do I. I also believe that "men and women come to know themselves by bringing to consciousness the process by which their viewpoints were formed." This project for me was a little bit about coming to consiousness. I believe that I can come to know myself by learning about other people and recognizing those things we have in common and those things we have in conflict between each other.
I wanted to know where the kind of hatred displayed by La Porte Church of Christ comes from because I want to be able to arm myself against the vulnerability of all human beings, myself included, to being indoctrinated with such hateful rhetoric. And because I want to fight against those possibilities in myself and people around me for the rest of my Goddamn life. I want to know when to stand up for what is right and how. In the real words of Rev. Martin Niemoller (the quote twisted by Peters cited at the beginning of this paper);"First they came for the Communists,
and I didn't speak up,
because I wasn't a Communist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak up,
because I wasn't a Jew.
Then they came for the Catholics,
and I didn't speak up,
because I was a Protestant.
Then they came for me,
and by that time there was no one
left to speak up for me."
Finding the strength to be that person who gives up her privilege to speak out against injustices is not easy. I can talk about it. I can write this paper about it. But I need to understand what it is that exists inside of myself and my fellow humanity that can drive us to hatred, complacency, and injustice, and develop my will to fight against this. I know that the members of the La Porte Church of Christ have come a lot closer to that part of myself than I have. They hold a key for me, in a way, as to what it is I have to fight against and struggle with in my search for strength to help create justice... for the rest of my life.
James von Brunn made headlines with his shooting of an African-American guard at the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC. Mr. Von Brunn was a lifelong racist, white-supremacist and Jew-hater with a virulent antipathy to President Obama. He had written many antisemitic essays, created an antisemitic website called The Holy Western Empire. He also is the author of a 1999 self-published book, Kill the Best Gentiles, which praises Adolf Hitler.D'Antonio, Michael. (1988). "The Identity Movement and its 'Real Jew' Claim." Newsday. Retrieved on Oct. 11, 2006, from http://www.aliciapatterson.org/APF1101/DAntonio/DAntonio.html Lorde, A. (1983). There is no hierarchy of oppression. Interracial Books for Children Bulletin, 14, 9. Kincheloe, J. & Steinberg, S. (1997). Introduction: What is multiculturalism? In J. Kincheloe and S. Steinberg (Eds.) Changing multiculturalism (pp. 1-26). Philadelphia, PA: Open University Press. Littell, Franklin. (has been called a Christian theologian of towering virtue). The crucifixion of the Jews: The failure of Christians to understand the Jewish experience. New York: Harper. & Row, 1975. Payne, R. J. (1998). "Inventing Race: The Social and Scientific Construction of Reality." pp. 31-52 in Getting Beyond Race: The Changing American Culture. Boulder, CO: Westview Press. (2005). "Peter J. 'Pete' Peters." Anti-Defamation League. Retrieved on Oct. 15, 2006, from http://www.adl.org/Learn/ext_us/Peters.asp?LEARN_Cat=Extremism&LEARN_SubCat=Extremism_in_America&xpicked=2&item=8 Peters, Pastor Peter J. "Scriptures for America Worldwide." Retrieved Oct. 10, 2006 from, http://www.scripturesforamerica.org/ Southern Poverty Law Center(2005). "Identity Cards," "The Voices of Radical Radio," and "Bombs, Bullets, Bodies; The Decade in Review." The Southern Poverty Law Center. Retrived on Oct. 12, 2006, from http://www.splcenter.org/index.jsp Ginger Meyette. Potok, Mark. (2005). "A Hard Rain." Intelligence Report. p.2-3 Kincheloe, J. & Steinberg, S. (1997). Introduction: What is multiculturalism? In J. Kincheloe and S. Steinberg (Eds.) Changing multiculturalism (p. 24). Philadelphia, PA: Open University Press. Young, I. M. (2000). Five faces of oppression. In M. Adams, W. J. Blumenfeld, R. Casteñeda, H. W. Hackman, M. L. Peters, and X. Zuniga (Eds.) Readings for diversity and social justice: An anthology on racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, heterosexism, classism and ableism (pp. 35-49) New York: Routledge.
In a statement, von Brunn's son, Erik, expressed sorrow and horror about the shooting, and said his father's beliefs:
...have been a constant source of verbal and mental abuse my family has had to suffer with for many years. His views consumed him, and in doing so, not only destroyed his life, but destroyed our family and ruined our lives as well ... For the extremists who believe my father is a hero: it is imperative you understand what he did was an act of cowardice. To physically force your beliefs onto others with violence is not brave, but bullying. Doing so only serves to prove how weak those beliefs are ...
Remember.org - Holocaust Cybrary remembering the Stories of the Survivors
The holocaust - its utter, incomprehensible uniqueness, without equal in all human history
The lustre of our country - religious freedom, America's sublime contribution to the world.
America's Hebraic heritage - frontier populism and the Hebrew core of its gospel religion
The Black Jews of Ethiopia - the Abyssinian "Beta Israel" Falashas
Christian Intolerance - dangers of a muscular Christianity
Desiderius Erasmus - History should have listened (but didn't)
Baruch Spinoza - Forerunner of the Bill of Rights
Crusader Zeal and Bigotry - so much hate in the name of "love"
Chasing Evil - shining light on the darkness of hate
Judge Learned Hand - a government that trusts individuals
Noah Feldman helps build a bridge - Secularism and Faith-values oddly need each other!!
"Holy nation, royal priesthood" - forever hovering on the verge of extinction (the Jews)
A call for 'heresy' Anouar Majid tries to smooth differences (between Islam and America)
Rose Keller (nailed) the Marquis de Sade - 120 Days of Sodom (freedom of UN-religion)
A few notable Jewish Links