This the face of Christian conservatism in the United States. It is also the face of “white supremacy.” It all goes together in a package.
Cindy Hyde-Smith is the sitting United States Senator Mississippi. Need one say that she is a Republican? The governor appointed her to fill the seat of the retiring Thad Cochran. The winner of the special election that is currently underway will serve the remainder of that term. It is a peculiar election. The candidates did not have their Party identifications listed on the ballots. None of them won more than fifty percent of the vote, so the top two now face a second election later this month.
The other candidate who advanced is Mike Espy, a black man who has served in the House of Representatives from Mississippi, then worked as Secretary of Agriculture for President Clinton.
Hyde-Smith has, in the last week, attracted a lot of attention, most of it negative, for making two statements that reflect very badly on her. She seems not to care. She is a Republican, after all. Statement number one was:
In the context of the state of Mississippi and its ugly history of overt, unrepentant racial discrimination, including lynchings, it is impossible to hear “public hanging” and think anything other than “lynching.”
Soon after this imbroglio erupted, a video emerged of Hyde-Smith saying that making it harder for “liberal folk” to vote is a “great idea.” Her campaign issued a statement soon after claiming that this comment was “obviously a joke,” which would never be very funny, but is even less so given that Mississippi is one of many states that took immediate advantage of a decision eviscerating the Voting Rights Act emanating from neighboring Alabama to enact laws that make voting more difficult for African Americans there.
When Republicans claim to want to “make America great again,” it seems pretty obvious that they have the 1950s in mind — the last decade before major civil rights legislation benefiting African Americans, the emergence of second wave feminism, and the eruption of the militant LGBT civil rights movement. In short, “conservative” paradise.
But the 1950s was also a decade in which the ideological bow that held these disparate features of the culture together remained neatly and firmly tied — Christianity. Given that virtually everyone in the United States was Christian — there was a significant population of Jews, but before the 1965 Immigration Reform Act few people of the many other faiths in the world had yet made it here — it was inevitable that, in the political and policy battles of the 1960s, lots of people on both sides would claim to articulate the properly “Christian” position.
Fifty years on, however, it is obvious that the people who took the more progressive political positions increasingly find Christianity inhospitable to their moral, political, and policy preferences. Some churches have moved with the culture, more or less slowly, but progressive changes in Christian churches is the result of agitation and protest by members, not of any changes within Christianity, where the most loyal defenders of the faith continue to oppose civil rights in general, whether of African Americans, of women, or of queers.
That Cindy Hyde-Smith exhibits such hostility towards the opinions of the large number of African Americans — Mississippi has the highest percentage African American population of any state in the United States — tells us all we need to know about her attitude towards civil rights. There may be a Republican elected official in Mississippi who does not expressly claim to be a good Christian, but it makes little sense to think that Hyde-Smith is one of them.
The Christian component of the type of conservatism Hyde-Smith espouses is so deeply ingrained as not to require articulation. She is the face of Christian conservatism in the United States.