A little white boy, a cherub with an impish grin, earnestly clutches a microphone before a church congregation in a blurry video of the Apostolic Truth Tabernacle in Greensburg, Indiana. He begins to belt out a ditty, “I know the Bible is right, somebody’s wrong…Ain’t no homos going to make it to heaven,” in a playful schoolboy lilt. The crowd erupts, rising to its feet, fists pumping, high fives extended, roof raised. The pastor beams proudly from the pulpit, deliciously pleased by this home team display of American Idol precocity.
The video generated thousands of hits and comments online, some praising, many condemning. Christians were slammed as hypocritical and un-Christian; detractors were piously directed to Bible verses smearing homosexuality. The mantra from tolerant Christians was that God doesn’t endorse hate, especially from the mouths of babes. Biblical condemnation of homosexuality was a remnant of antiquity, inapplicable to the complexities of the modern world, a distortion of God’s unconditional love.
Eavesdropping on the red-blooded zeal of the Tabernacle’s come-to-Jesus audience, it’s clear that the cherub has renewed its wilting faith. The straight backs of dark-suited men frame the furtive glances of silent little girls in frilly dresses peaking around the camera as whistles and applause ripple through the sanctuary. With the womenfolk tucked away, giving praise to Jesus is just another alpha male sporting event. The wisdom of heterosexual solidarity will not be lost on more tolerant corrupted generations. The cherub is no more than five years old. Soon, he will be new to elementary school, new to the savage dance of peer pressure and the playground rituals of gender. He is “innocent,” yet fully initiated into the culture of violence, permissiveness, and patriarchy that says “boys will be boys.” Western civilization revolves around this unbreakable sacrament. From the nameless, faceless American military drone victims of the Middle East to the expendable Jezebels of American inner cities, to be American is to always be innocent against the global backdrop of otherness. It is to accept as gospel that “they” hate us because of our freedoms while “we” are free to pillage the globe with American war machines and pipeline youth of color into prisons. Historically, conquering and “democratizing” savage foreign lands has been part of the U.S.’ foreordained Christian mission as an “exceptional” civilization. American exceptionalism was a key theme for the GOP and Religious Right in the 2012 presidential race. Former Republican congressman and presidential candidate Newt Gingrich amplified this theme in his book A Nation Like No Other: Why American Exceptionalism Matters:
The ideals expressed in the Declaration of Independence and the unique American identity that rose from an American civilization that honored them form what we call today “American Exceptionalism”…President Obama, for example, simply does not understand this concept. In the past he was outright contemptuous of American Exceptionalism, deriding Americans as “bitter” people who “cling” to guns and religion…If the ideas in the Declaration were not new or particularly radical, then why did this single document fundamentally alter world history? The answer is this: no nation had ever before embraced human equality and God-given individual rights as its fundamental organizing principle.
Caricatured by the right as a socialist revolutionary, Obama sought to burnish his Americana credentials by trotting out the rhetoric of exceptionalism. In 2009 he maintained that it’s a “core set of values that are enshrined in our Constitution, in our body of law, in our democratic practices, in our belief in free speech and equality, that, though imperfect, are exceptional.” Yet, Obama’s identification with exceptionalism was not enough for GOP ideologues like Gingrich, who insist that Judeo-Christian might and right makes the U.S. superior to other nations. Predictably, Gingrich’s summary of the U.S.’ exceptionalist path contains only passing reference to slavery. For Gingrich, slavery was only a minor deviation from this “nation like no other’s” ascent to global leadership. If the Declaration of Independence invokes “unalienable rights” of liberty and equality granted by God, then the U.S.’ unique righteousness lies in this contract. According to this view, American civilization, as the most religious superpower on the planet, means God—white, Christian, straight, and pure. And even though the U.S. is the fount of freedom and individual liberty, God cannot be expected to bend to the whims and cultural relativisms of modernity. To do so would be a betrayal of his will, as manifest in “natural” law.
The little white boy of Apostolic Truth Tabernacle is the unofficial face of Americana, the spiritual inheritor of God, mom, and apple pie. This holy trinity was sorely tested by President Obama’s landslide victory in the 2012 presidential campaign. The GOP’s anti-government message of lower taxes and shiftless welfare queens, coupled with its attacks against birth control, abortion, gay rights and undocumented immigrants, was repugnant to many voters. Yet, although a majority of the electorate rejected the party’s Christian fascist rhetoric, those that would write the political and cultural obituary of fundamentalist Americana are premature. God has always been one of the U.S.’ primary afflictions. The performance of American national identity is steeped in this cancer. The right-wing backlash against democratic citizenship is fueled by it. Unleashed from its YouTube moment, the cherub’s folksy performance deep in the heart of this small Midwestern church reverberates in hundreds of so-called gay conversion therapy sessions throughout the nation. It provides the backdrop for the monster popularity of alpha male toys that give little boys license to prey and pillage. It fuels the suicides that claim the lives of hundreds of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth every year. It drives the she-asked-for-it rape culture that says women’s bodies are dirty, shameful, sinful, and always there for the taking.