Charles Sumner was caned on the Senate floor in 1856. Sumner, an abolitionist senator from Massachusetts, had delivered a speech against slavery and its proponents two days prior. He was attacked by South Carolina Congressman Preston Brooks, whose relative had been in the line of Sumner’s verbal fire. When I first learned of this incident in a junior high school history class in the 1980s, my teacher mentioned that Brooks’s office was soon flooded with canes from his supporters. As I recall, he delivered that coda with something of a chuckle, as if to say, “Can you believe it! Glad we aren’t like that anymore.”
Belief in the perpetual progress of humanity leads only to disappointment, though. In our day, the rap song “Let’s Go Brandon” recently reached the number one spot on the iTunes chart. The same chart had a separate, if more grammatically challenged, little ditty called “Lets Go Brandon” sitting at number three. (The world’s top song, Adele’s “Easy On Me,” sat between them at number two.)
The phrase is code for “F*** Joe Biden,” which has reverberated through sports venues in recent weeks. The origin of the phrase is a video in which a reporter interviews a winning race car driver named Brandon. In the clip, spectators at the racetrack begin cursing Biden. The reporter—either because of poor hearing or in a clumsy attempt at deflection—interprets this as “Let's Go Brandon.” Some on the Trumpist right have run with the gaffe as a cheeky way to give the president of the United States the finger without triggering filters. Even the governor of Texas has joined in with the coded cursing on Twitter and a Florida congressman has uttered it on the House floor. The conservative site RedState has called the phenomenon “perfect.” It is not.
Sadly, Christians are often at the forefront of efforts to demean. The song's music video opens with verses from Revelation regarding the mark of the beast splashed across the screen. A recent documentary highlights Tennessee pastor Greg Locke calling Joe Biden a “sex-trafficking, demon-possessed mongrel.” At the beginning of a recent show on the network Real America’s Voice, the host prayed the Lord’s Prayer moments before launching into a tirade about “rat face Fauci.” The show’s online store features “Armor of God” shirts next to those proclaiming “MAGA LIKE A MOFO.” St. Paul instructed Timothy saying,
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. . . . I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling.
Cursing the leader of our nation is far from “godly and dignified in every way.” In the New Testament, Jesus, Peter, Paul, and James all entreat believers to bless our enemies rather than curse them. This clear biblical theme now seems an optional doctrine for those practicing the syncretism of the hour; however, James summarizes the seriousness of the matter:
With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God's likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.
The matter of cursing is not just some milquetoast request to “be nice.” Attacking our political opponents is not in keeping with the heart of Christian anthropology—the revolutionary idea that everyone bears the image of God. We do not bear it well when we do not see it in others with whom we disagree. That is true even when our political opponents do not see the true worth of vulnerable others, be they slaves or the unborn.
Charles Sumner could not see the image of God in those across the aisle, including his Senate colleague Andrew Butler. Sumner mocked not just Butler's position on slavery, but also his slurred speech following a stroke. Sen. Stephen Douglas, whom Sumner also insulted, remarked, “That damn fool will get himself killed by some other damn fool.” Douglas almost proved prophetic. Yet Sumner survived the vicious beating, and “Bleeding Sumner” would become a successful rallying cry for Republicans and another link in the chain of resentment. The cycle of fighting words leading to violence would, of course, eventually culminate in a brutal civil war.
We are not there yet in this current cycle of demonization and division, but red and blue America seems ever intent on escalation. Each side gives the other reasons for disdain, and neither seems capable of a civility rooted in the imago Dei.
How different would our political climate be if sports stadiums and churches echoed with “Bless Joe Biden”? Who among us is brave enough to start the chant?
John Murdock is an attorney who writes from Boise. He hosts the Brass Spittoon podcast at frontporchrepublic.com.