Southern Baptist Leaders Called Kamala Harris a ‘Jezebel.’ That’s not just Insulting, it’s Dangerous, Experts SayHistorians in the News
tags: racism, evangelicals, sexism, Kamala Harris, Southern Baptist Convention
Two days after Vice President Harris was sworn in as the nation’s first female vice president, Tom Buck let it out.
“I can’t imagine any truly God-fearing Israelite who would’ve wanted their daughters to view Jezebel as an inspirational role model because she was a woman in power,” tweeted Buck, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Lindale, Tex. In the days leading up the inauguration, Buck had quoted scripture about “evildoers” alongside criticism of President Biden’s stance on abortion rights.
But it was his comments about Harris that drew the most attention.
Despite criticism, including from fellow pastors, Buck doubled down in a follow-up tweet the next day.
“For those torn up over my tweet, I stand by it 100%,” Buck wrote. “My problem is her godless character. She not only is the most radical pro-abortion VP ever, but also most radical LGBT advocate.”
Buck wasn’t the only Southern Baptist preacher to refer to Harris as a Jezebel, a biblical character who has become shorthand for an amoral, wantonly sexual woman. Weeks earlier, before the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, Steve Swofford, head of the First Baptist Church of Rockwall near Dallas, made a similar statement. Delivering a videotaped sermon, Swofford called Biden “cognitively dysfunctional.”
“What if something happens to [Biden] and Jezebel has to take over?” Swofford asked in the sermon. “Jezebel Harris, isn’t that her name?”
While it may be easy to dismiss these Texas pastors as isolated examples, experts warn that these messages are far more prevalent in congregations across America — particularly in White evangelical churches — than many may realize. The “Jezebel” reference is also highly specific, a trope that speaks to deeply entrenched views about power and what is “normal” or “traditional” in American culture, especially when it comes to racial and gender hierarchies.
Both Swofford and Buck are members of the Southern Baptist Convention, a network comprising 50,000 cooperating churches and religious institutions, according to its website. According to the Pew Research Center, it is the biggest Protestant denomination in the United States, counting 14.8 million members in 2018. Swofford serves on the SBC’s executive committee.
Calling Harris a Jezebel accomplishes multiple things: It delegitimizes her power and dehumanizes her. Jessica Johnson, an assistant professor of religious studies at the College of William & Mary, said the term has historically been used as a justification for racial violence against Black women. But the pastors’ rhetoric had an additional level of danger.
Johnson has been researching Christian nationalism, an ideology rooted in the belief that the United States is a Christian nation and that Christians must both maintain and advance their privileged status. The Christian nationalist movement shares many of the same beliefs as the white nationalists, including an attachment to an “authoritarian father figure” running the country, Johnson explained. Calling Harris a Jezebel foments their worst fears: that they will be replaced; that their fate is in the hands of a godless, amoral Black woman.
“It’s not just un-PC. It’s far beyond that,” Johnson said. “It’s an incitement to violence.”
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