While the old saying “there’s a new sheriff in town” foreshadows that goodness and law and order will prevail, it has a new analogical connection with a different promise: “there’s a new kind of Christian in Congress.” They are loud, obnoxious, and proud.
The new Christians in Congress are shouting: “Forget the teachings of Jesus, they aren’t working. Collude with white supremacists. Ignore loving your enemies and lump them all together as ‘communists.’” In the 1990s, conservative Christian members of Congress were obsessed with apocalyptic visions of a rapture and the end of the world. Now, the new kind of Christian unleashes apocalyptic terrors on democracy. Instead of a rapture, these new Christians pray and work for a rupture in deliberative democracy.
These are not Christians cut from the cloth of suffering servants or the bearing of daily crosses. These are violent zealots, intent on the destruction of democracy and an authoritarian replacement government. Many are rabidly anti-gay, anti-transgender, and anti-immigrant. This brings us to the politician who epitomizes the new Christian in Congress: Marjorie Taylor Greene.
Greene recently spoke at the America First Political Action Committee’s conference, an event organized by white supremacist Nick Fuentes. In her denial, she said she had no idea that Fuentes was a white supremacist. Playing dumb seems to match Greene’s even dumber rhetoric. She’s willing to do almost anything for the publicity. The new Christian in Congress has embraced the “bloody heirloom” of white supremacy rather than the blood-soaked cross of Christ. Greene would probably miss the connection between the lynching tree and the cross drawn so wisely by James Cone.
The media has insisted that the Republicans now have a Marjorie Taylor Greene problem. She appears at white supremacy meetings. She mocks the president during the State of the Union address. She’s a bus loaded with conspiracy and propaganda, lurching from side to side, desperately trying to stay out of the ditch. Republicans don’t have a Greene problem – America has a Greene problem, and so does Christianity.
In Republican eyes, and the eyes of the new Christians, Greene is good when she is bad. Greene defended her remarks by invoking her Christian faith, claiming she was following Jesus’s example and tweeting that the point of the racist gathering was to “declare that Christ is king.” Greene also attacked her critics as “godless” and promised to keep focusing “on proudly proclaiming the greatness of our God.”
Marjorie Taylor Greene has been performing right-wing extremism and political trash-talking for her friends, neighbors, and fellow church members for years, and now turned it into a fundraising cash cow. Focusing on her rhetoric and performance, I argue that Greene’s political position allows her to play the new Christian zealot. She seamlessly mixes evangelical faith with white nationalism, nativism, and conspiracy theories.
Greene came to Washington, saw “red” everywhere, and painted Democrats as communists. “They have been running this plan for decades now, because the same people running this country – Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi – oh, let’s not forget Hillary and Bill Clinton, because they’re not out of the picture. Barack Obama,” Greene said. “All of these people swore themselves to the communist agenda back when they were in college.” She added, “Democrats are actually communist. Every single elected Republican should say no to every single thing they want and never give them a damn thing because they’re ruining our country.”
Greene tore into Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in a speech: “She’s not an American. She really doesn’t embrace our American ways,” Greene said about Ocasio-Cortez, who was born in the Bronx. Greene claimed the “Green New Deal” is being pushed by “the little communist from New York City.”
Marjorie took the sizzle, the razzle-dazzle, and the humbug along with the glaring lights of the performance motif. All she had to do was be herself and say whatever was on her mind – a perverse reality show where the actor has no lines to memorize. All that is required is wallowing in the gutters, the murky underworld of disgust and delirium, and think of the worst accusations that can be made. Such a role was “tailor” made for Marjorie Taylor Greene, because the highest-rated currency in politics now is saying whatever is on your mind, and Green has no restraints in this venue. No one seems to notice that “saying what’s on her mind” is like dumping a batch of $100 counterfeit bills in town as if they were real.
Greene addresses an audience that merely wants to feel good that someone is tearing into the liberals. Supporters of Green don’t care about her lying, her conspiracy theories, or her false accusations. Greene’s supporters like her rhetoric. No one notices that this moves us into a kind of public that actively despises the truth, mocks the truth, and ignores the truth. Greene’s audience exudes passivity, inaction, not caring, sloth as the ancient church fathers insisted.
Dismantling Greene’s lapses of logic, her shameless unoriginality, her torturing of evidence, her half-truths, her ugly barbarisms, her crazy conspiracy theories, and her unforgivable uncouthness is not difficult, and that should be the end of it. But Greene has the support of the new breed of Christians who are out for blood. Greene is a performer in an age that lusts for the spectacular, the illusion, the fantastic, the trickery, the sleaziness of the modern media. There’s a sense in which much media has all become The Enquirer. But instead of “inquiring minds want to know,” the slogan has become, “sleazy minds want to know.” The deliciousness, the jouissance of Greene’s performance, plays well in the media.
Greene uses rhetoric for no purpose with no regard for ethos to get what she wants – publicity and notoriety for her cause. Her entertainment consists of mocking and her audience finds this hilarious. Her entertainment intimidates and threatens because her audience likes intimidation and threats. Her rhetoric means to demean and degrade because her audience revels in demeaning and degrading, especially evangelical preachers who made this rhetoric an art form long before Greene started her first year in the school of insult.
Does this leave us with anything to say about the Greene ethos? She is guided by no self-evident truths, no sacred canon. She never suffers the burden of her lies and insults but reaps the personal rewards for her message – notoriety, money, and political power. Greene has lost all her committee assignments in Congress, but she doesn’t need to be a public servant because she is a performing siren.
Marjorie Taylor Greene proves that a person may go a long way in politics without much in the way of convictions. Green proves a person can talk her way to power with nothing worth saying. She only needs the strength to maintain her own sense of righteousness. When there’s a moment of silence, Greene fills it with something trashy. She’s a tragic figure, a cipher in the gutter that has become national politics, a bit player in the fantastic, the spectacular, the sizzling. She participates in the epistemic crisis of our time – the denial of truth – to the point of psychosis. Her shallow responses possess no content, no reason, no humanity. Her hyperbole produces nothing, grows nothing, helps no one, heals no wounds. She is sound and fury, a new sheriff in town who is all talk and no action.
Marjorie Taylor Greene is nothing more than the role she plays – that’s all there is, there ain’t no more. She embarrasses not only herself but the Savior she drags along to her dismal performances. The writer of II Timothy offers a description that I apply to Ms. Greene with no hesitation: “For people will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, inhuman, implacable, slanderers, profligates, brutes, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to the outward form of godliness but denying its power.”
Rodney Kennedy has his M.Div. from New Orleans Theological Seminary and his Ph.D. in Rhetoric from Louisiana State University. The pastor of 7 Southern Baptist churches over the course of 20 years, he pastored the First Baptist Church of Dayton, Ohio – which is an American Baptist Church – for 13 years. He is currently professor of homiletics at Palmer Theological Seminary, and interim pastor of Emmanuel Friedens Federated Church, Schenectady, New York. His sixth book – The Immaculate Mistake: How Evangelicals Gave Birth to Donald Trump – is now out from Wipf and Stock (Cascades).