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MAGA, the KKK, and Jesus

Updated: 3 days ago

I recently had the privilege of watching part 1 of the film “Cross of Fire.” It is a 2-part film about the rape and murder of Madge Oberholtzer by D.C. Stephenson. It was one of those gems you find when doing a deep search into the offerings of your streaming service. The film tells the story of the powerful Indiana Ku Klux Klan leader D.C. Stephenson and his rape and murder of the educator Madge Oberholtzer.

David Curtis “Steve” Stephenson was played by John Heard (the dad from Home Alone). We soon learn that Stephenson is a powerful leader within the Ku Klux Klan and is eventually appointed to the position of Grand Dragon in Indiana. Along with experiencing remarkable political power, he also finds himself enthralled with Oberholtzer (portrayed by Mary Ellen "Mel" Harris) who herself was in the process of running a campaign to start an adult literacy program for the state of Indiana. When Stephenson’s advances towards Oberholtzer are not reciprocated, they are too much for the powerful man to endure and the film shows him, with the help of his fellow klan members, forcefully sedate and then rape Oberholtzer. The morning after the rape, Part 1 concludes with showing Stephenson’s accomplices carrying Oberholtzer’s beaten body at which point one asks what should be done with her. Stephenson callously responds that it doesn’t matter. When the same accomplice protests that she looked very injured and could die, Stephenson boldly responds that she does not matter, it is he alone that matters.

I wanted to share a thought regarding Part 1 of this excellent movie. From the film, we find the core tenets of the KKK in a scene in which Stephenson is speaking at a rally. During this rally, Stephenson proclaimed that the KKK were true upholders of Christian morality and the necessary entity to restore “America back to Americans” as one KKK agent proclaimed while handing out flyers at the rally. Beyond being the agents of moral restoration, they also proclaimed themselves to be the defenders of the everyday American against the rich, corrupt magnates (the Carnegies, Rockefellers, etc.), against the job-taking immigrants, and ultimately the organization needed to restore America back to some previous golden age.

While watching the scene, I could not help but compare it to a MAGA rally. While there are differences between what I saw in the film and a Trump rally, there was one similarity that is especially pernicious to me as a Christian - the mixing of Jesus with a political agenda. In Genesis we read that God created man in His own image. But at both rallies, we seem to find man creating God in our image. We fashion political agendas, messages, and movements and then stamp them all with divine approval as though these things were created in the very likeness of God himself.

I hope it is unnecessary to explain to my readers the evils of the KKK as well as the evils that stem from Trump himself and his followers. The problem is that all are led by man and as such are tainted with sin and wickedness. This would be expected and I would be content with such a thing were not the name of the Savior affixed to such movements. The essential problem when seeking to combine a political agenda with Jesus, which the right has been especially keen to do, is that it inevitably distorts the true character and person of God and God’s Son. The true character and person of God is revealed in Scripture. And what we find in Scripture is a portrait of a person who is unlike any other person we’ve ever encountered. If we are to get to know this God, we must get to know him in the ways in which he has chosen to reveal himself and we must learn to test everything by this Word.

I end with this warning: if you know that men are corrupt and prone to wickedness, you may be sure that there is not one man or political party that is not tainted. Therefore, do not be led astray by the “God bless Americas” or “Jesus is my Savior and Trump is my Presidents.” Using Jesus, God, the Bible, etc. does not mean that the God of the universe is backing a particular party, candidate, or political position. If you want to know God’s heart, don’t attend a rally, read your Bible. Ask God to show you who He really is and not just what various people say to meet their political aims. God bless.

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