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White supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia were secularists

One thing is notable by its absence in the rhetoric of the Charlottesville White Supremacists: any mention of God.

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OpEd: White supremacist secularists

In the long immersive video by Elle Reeve of Vice News, one thing is notable by its absence: any mention of God. Perhaps, Vice edited the references out. But if the the hours and hours that Reeve was with the White supremacists is representative, then they are secularists. Of course, there are plenty of "Christian identity" types and esoteric racialist forms of religion floating around among White extremists. However, when asked for their motivations, the Charlottesville White supremacists never invoked God, Christianity, or other religion. Their disdain for the Jews was made in racial terms, not about their Judaism. In their every day language, they speak in a secular idiom.

The White supremacists on view in Charlottesville seem to be from one of the major groups of Nones: the White blue-collar workers. Even if they would say that they believe in God when asked directly, they don't go to church much at all. One reason for this weak religious interest is that the religious seminaries and colleges have not focused on the working-class.

In all of the leadership courses in the various seminaries and high profile churches, the blue-collar leadership is ignored. Instead, we get lots of books, training, courses, and acclaim given to the professional and corporate leadership styles. In the United States, as far as I know, the only specifically working class training program is done by a pastor with the AFL-CIO. There are other exceptions too, and we will highlight them from time to time. But we have done woefully little. For shame!

The next time there is a "work and faith" or "leadership training" conference push for the inclusion of training working-class leadership. That would be a realistic response to Charlottesville. Too much of what we hear will just alienate the White working-class more. Let's not let the White supremacists win again. In pre-Nazi Germany, there was an intense competition for the working class support. The Nazis and the Communists were often the main competitors. What a terrible choice!

The elites were somewhat clueless or drifted into one of the extremist parties. In pre-Nazi Germany, the great sociologist Max Weber, who wrote the classic The  Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, supported a nationalistic but democratic politics while his maid was drifting into the Nazi party. His friend Reverend Frederick Naumann wanted to preserve Christian values as the basis for industrialists and workers to learn to work together. He drifted from an anti-Semitic party to democratic nationalism to imperialism and back to nationalistic social democracy. He founded the German Democratic Party. He was probably not very successful. His efforts show that the road of genuine rapprochement with alienated blue-collar workers will take a lot of work and making of allies.

There are many working-class congregations, but they receive little attention for the lessons to be learned from their leaders. At A Journey through NYC religions, we have immersed ourselves into the working class milieus of New York City. We now to commit ourselves to codifying the successful working class leadership styles and lessons for all of us. What kind of leadership do blue-collar workers respond to? What do they teach us about real leadership of all of society?

In the meantime, if you haven't seen it, take a look at the terrific Journey-style reporting that Reeve did with the White supremacists. (Note a semantic debate: many of the Charlotesville White identity demonstrators would say that they are not White supremacists but White separatists. And secular people are not necessarily secularist racists.)


Video from The frontlines of Charlotesville: Race and Terror

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