Leaders should condemn ugly moments like Trump rally violence in Ky.

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by Mariam Williams

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Last week, I saw one of the most frightening series of images I've seen in a long time. About 29 minutes into a viral video recorded in my home town, Louisville, Ky., a young black woman named Shiya Nwanguma is shoved, punched, and yelled at by a mob of white men at a rally on March 1 for GOP frontrunner Donald Trump.

In a shorter, more close-up clip, you can hear the men yelling obscenities at her as Trump's voice, ringing from speakers in the background, bemoans the "the old days, which isn't so long ago, when we were less politically correct." Some of the men appear to be around her age (turns out she's a college student). Some of them are gray-haired. One, Matthew Heimbach, is an avowed white nationalist. Another, Joseph Pryor, was in the U.S. Marine Corps Delayed Entry Program at the time of the incident. He has since been discharged.

White anti-racist and pro-human rights protestors were attacked as well, and some have filed charges in the incident. One protester said on social media that Trump supporters grabbed her breasts. (Due to her privacy settings, I'm unable to share that post.)

Also last week, Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, said he's disassociating himself from the label "evangelical." Unable to understand how evangelical leaders who were appalled by Bill Clinton's moral failures "now minimize the spewing of profanities in campaign speeches, race-baiting and courting white supremacists, boasting of adulterous affairs, debauching public morality and justice through the casino and pornography industries," Moore has started calling himself a "gospel Christian." Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, echoed Moore's concerns in a recent interview with NPR.

As I caught up on news out of Louisville, I kept waiting for Mohler or Moore to say something about the assaults at the Trump rally. They did, after all, happen in the same city where the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary is located, and Moore taught at the school for thirteen years before taking his current position. I checked the websites and blogs of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Moore and Mohler. It's possible no one had time to compose an official statement, but I checked their Twitter timelines, too. Immediate and 140 characters. By noon on Friday, March 4, nothing.

It's possible they didn't hear about it because they didn't watch the one Louisville news station that reported the assaults. Or maybe they thought making a statement specific to the rally in Louisville would be redundant. I haven't written here anything that wasn't already accessible online, but there's something about knowing that racial and gendered violence happened in my home city -- the same place where an influential religious institution stands, an institution that trains ministers who go on to teach people who call themselves evangelicals -- that makes me speak and makes me think they should have, too.

It also makes me wonder how much of a leap it is for evangelicals to be attracted to a candidate who condones gendered violence, and for them to engage in it. Though Moore rightfully decried evangelical support of a candidate who courts white supremacists, Protestant and Catholic Christianity's history of white supremacy and racialized violence isn't news. Less prominent in the conversation about Trump and evangelicals, however, is his supporters' preference for authoritarianism and aggressive leadership.

I can see evangelicals attending church every Sunday, believing the Bible, repenting of their sins, being faithful to their spouses, and still being totally into authoritarianism and aggressive leadership. There are strains within evangelicalism that believe in a supreme being who doesn't negotiate and who drops fire and brimstone on sinful cities. They believe wives submit to their husbands and that Scripture gives the latter more authority in marriage. They believe a husband can discipline his wife.

As Matthew MacWilliams summarized on Politico, "Authoritarians obey. They rally to and follow strong leaders. And they respond aggressively to outsiders, especially when they feel threatened."

Even if none of the men documented abusing women claim to be Christians or evangelicals, they live and vote in a country whose culture has been influenced Christianity and fundamentalism for hundreds of years. Women and people of color asserting their rights at the Trump rally last week threatened white, male, heterosexual supremacy, and Trump supporters responded aggressively.

It's no different from anti-choice protestors attacking women or killing doctors outside of abortion clinics. It's no different from angry white mobs waving confederate flags as they hurled insults and objects and black students bravely integrating schools in the 1950s. And just like those ugly, life-threatening and sometimes life-stealing moments, it requires strong condemnation from leaders who call themselves evangelicals, or who don't.

[Mariam Williams is a Kentucky writer living in Philadelphia and pursuing MFA in creative writing at Rutgers University-Camden. She is a contributor to the anthology Faithfully Feminist and blogs at RedboneAfropuff.com. Follow her on Twitter: @missmariamw.]

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