Provoking them to wrath

Little Known Fact: Out of all the things in the wide green world to study, out of all the phenomenon worthy of expending words, I studied the rhetoric of extremist organizations, namely, the Ku Klux Klan. There have been several waves of Klan activity, but I was mostly interested in the Klan from 1915-1927, or, the 2nd wave.

Maybe there’s something wrong with me, but I wanted to understand how a movement based on hate could take such hold in a country that claimed to be a Christian nation. The Klan at this time was mostly Baptist and Methodist churchgoers, aligning against hyphenated Americans, blacks, Jews, Catholics and even Episcopalians (because bigots can’t be bothered to tell the difference).

I have written no fewer than three academic papers on the 2nd wave Klan and I keep studying, because I still don’t get it and because I see how it could happen again.

Anti-immigrant sentiment, anti-Catholicism, anti-Semitism — all on the rise since 2008- has led to an increase in hate groups and hate group membership of 54% over 2000. Recently, Kansas State Rep Virgil Peck went so far as to suggest that we shoot illegal immigrants, likening them to feral hogs.

In the 1920s, there were auxiliary Klan organizations for women and children. They literally baptized new converts and babies into a family of hate.

And, you fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord. – Ephesians 6:4


Where do children learn to hate? I’m afraid my children learn wrath from me. I have taught them by example how to react to those who persecute me – regrettably. I have shown them anger up close and personally. I have hated those who hate, and expressed aloud my discontent – illustrating that it is okay, even acceptable, to rail against those who despise us.

They imbibed abhorrence through the umbilical cord. Once born, they drank the milk of enmity through me. I have been too often quick to take umbrage, thought and spoken violence.

It’s still the sin I encounter most in the darkest places of my heart. I might as well dress them as klanswomen and recite accursed orthodoxy for all the good my pique has produced.

Maybe I’m so interested in the Klan, not because I fear it could happen again, but because I fear I could be capable of just that much hate myself.

What historical phenomenon do you have trouble understanding? Why does it bother you?


33 responses to “Provoking them to wrath

  1. My BA is in History and I minored in Poly Science. I concentrated in The American Civil War because it was fascinating. I guess I have a hard time understanding the reasons behind the war. I know that slavery is the reason that everyone says, but I think that there is a lot more to it. Any rate. That’s the thing that I have tried to understand much better.

    • The Civil War is another era I could see repeating itself – not over slavery, but politics/class/economics. It’s a scary thought, and maybe just because I spend too much time reading political sites. I hope we learn from history, though, well before it gets that ugly.

  2. I don’t know if there is one that I have trouble understanding. Not because I know it all (because I don’t), but because I haven’t really studied any of them much. I think I’m like you though…scared that I could have that much hate in me to do those things too. I don’t consider myself prejudiced or anything like that, but there is that fear of “what if I am” that creeps in from time to time…

    • I have this nagging worry that I am capable of really awful things. The only thing that keeps me in check is the Holy Spirit – I wonder if I wear the Holy Spirit out, ever?

  3. I’ve lived in Louisiana my whole life; the longest time living outside of the state was 4 1/2 months of basic training and tech school. Having been to Civil War reenactments and museums, I was pro-South for the longest time. Then, only a few years ago, I realized just how much of a wedge that even nostalgic non-racist pro-South sentiments could drive between black and white Christians.

    For once in my life, I realized how important it was to lay it all down. I tried explaining it to someone else expressing the same sentiments, but naturally he didn’t want to hear it. That’s what baffles me: how well-meaning white Christians (myself included) can want the Confederacy back so strongly, in spite of what that nation permitted.

    And to think, I was right in the middle of all of it.

    • I understand that, Zechariah – I’ve been a fan of Gone with the Wind most of my life, and being a Mississippi girl at heart, know well how the idyllic South can be so enchanting, but the reality for most everyone in the antebellum South wasn’t so rosy.

  4. Probably because it’s personal to me, but racial prejudices get me fired up. I’m fascinated that my father in law was at The March on Washington for MLK’s I Have a Dream speech. It also bothers me so much what he (and his side of the family) had to go through growing up.

    • Dustin – What an amazing legacy to pass on to your children. I have such a difficult time understanding how Jim Crow lasted so long in the US. I just don’t get it how Christians can claim to support “separate but equal” especially when equality didn’t mean what they wanted it to mean.

  5. To me war is one of those things that rocks my world. Killing another human being in the name of government is something I don’t take lightly.

    Granted, I understand the significance of war and perhaps the (gulp) need for it, but I still think it’s a terrible thing.

    • Agreed. I’m kind of crazy-impressed by Reinhold Niebuhr and his “just war” theory and its longevity in political thought. I have to believe it was inspired and that its necessity is quite sad.

  6. The Holocaust is easily the historical phenomena that I have trouble understanding. I don’t get how almost a whole country of people could stand behind not only killing people, but torturing them and treating them like animals. I guess it’s also because I travel to that part of the world on a regular basis and am usually about 2 hours away from Auschwitz (I do plan on visiting it someday, but it’s hard to end an awesome missions trip on a note like that).

    • I worked backward from the Holocaust to 2nd wave Klan, because I had to believe that something like that would be impossible in the US. I was wrong, though. I think, given the popular Eugenics movement and racial tensions and classist tendencies here in the US, a strong organization might have brought about something similar here, and that makes me nervous in the extreme.

      I can understand not wanting to go to Auschwitz, but I still think I’m going to make it a point to visit someday, because shedding light on dark deeds is the only way to ensure they can’t be repeated.

  7. Great post Kristin. It’s easy to look at a group like the KKK, condemn them and move on, but when you really stop to think about it – the hatred we store in our hearts is no different in God’s eyes than what they’ve exhibited.

    I’ve never understood the holocaust either and how one guy could persuade that many people that what he was doing was right. It’s scary. Another one is slavery and how the South was willing to fight and die over it. I live in the South, there a lot of people that still aren’t over it believe it or not. Talk about being baptized into a family of hate…

    • I know that they were fighting for their homes and families, too, but a homeland that is built on the backs of the enslaved hardly seems like a place to call home, either.

  8. For me it is the history of genocide. From Bosnia to Rwanda, from Cambodia to Sudan, we have problems standing against mass murder. the Holocaust too. We let it happen and then worry about the mess later.
    I did a double major in Political Science and Human Rights. and our class did a course on Genocide. It baffles my mind that despite the horrors of history, we can ignore the modern horrors taking place.
    It bothers me that my knowledge doesn’t make me more active in prevention and awareness. It bothers me that I’m content to be comfortable in North America and that I seemingly don’t care.

    • I think it’s because we are insulated from much of this – we’re not killing, so, why should we worry? it’s easier to turn a blind eye. I want to help from afar, too often, and keep myself free from the marring influence of mass death. Thanks, Douglas!

  9. The seeds of it are really in all of us without Christ. How many times have we blamed someone for having an opportunity we didn’t to succeed, at any particular task we can name?

    Actually, the parallels are interesting in many ways. Both the Klan and the Nazis took a people in bad circumstances, after a devastating war, and promised them a return to greatness and suggested they blame someone else for their problems. There are differences of course, not the least in the level of power they achieved, but both preached a message of superiority over an “inferior” people who were responsible for their own superior people not being in the position they deserved. We want to believe we deserve better and it’s other people’s fault if we don’t have it.

    As for the tortures perpetrated in the Holocaust, remember that most of it was carried out away from the eyes of the German public in an environment of carefully controlled propaganda. While there were many who were involved in the horrors and consenting, there were also many common Germans who knew only that the Jews had been arrested and taken away. And those who did know but did not approve were often too terrified for their own lives to risk saying anything. We also must remember that there were a number of Germans who acted to hide and protect Jews, downed Allied fliers, and escaped POWs along the way. There were men like Boenhoffer, who spoke out against the Nazis from the beginning and ended up in prisons, concentration camps, or executed.

    One conception I had regarding the Klan that was recently challenged is that it started off as a white supremacy group. A few months ago, I was watching a historian by the name of David Barton (highly recommended –, and he had original statements from the first black congressmen from the South, and various other sources. Long story short, the Klan originally began as a wing of the Democratic Party meant to intimidate Republican voters. Any black man was an easy target, as he was almost certain to be a Republican, where white voters required more investigation. It moved pretty steadily into a white supremacist group from there, but I had not known about its political roots.

    The ACW start is a difficult thing. David Barton obliged me to admit that slavery was the central issue over which the southern states seceded. He did this by reading from various secession documents in turn that themselves stated that as the reason. At the same time, once the shooting started, the majority in the south joined up not to fight for slavery but to fight for their states. Robert E. Lee in particular joined only because the state of Virginia asked him to defend it, and he was loyal to his state. So you have a rift created over an evil (and we note that slavery was still existant in some of the states that sided with the Union up until the 14th Amendment), yet you have men on both sides fighting valiantly for the homes and countries they loved. It creates a strange division where men who did not agree with slavery, and who opposed secession, still took up arms to defend their states once the secession was an accomplished fact. I think some of the pro-Confederacy movement springs from feeling that everyone who fought and died for the Confederacy is being painted as a racist and evil slaveowner when not all were.

    • It really is in David Barton’s best interest to demonize the Democratic party with this. I don’t put much, if any, stock in what the man has to say. He has a history of skewing facts and obscuring facts to his own ends – and he’s been rewarded for that by the GOP in Texas. As a counter-balance, Chris Rodda is invested in showing where Barton’s histrionics (he’s not a historian) often goes awry. My own research in Klan literature shows that they were mostly interested in devaluing all they saw as a threat, voting black men chiefest among them.

      You are right in that the downtrodden are a breeding ground for fear appeals like those perpetrated by both the Nazis and the Klan.

      • We can agree on the downtrodden as a breeding ground for fear appeals, at least. 🙂

        I haven’t had time yet for a deeper read of Chris Rodda’s work, but an initial skim of the foreword leaves me very skeptical if she shares the Reverend’s enthusiasm for defending the Separation of Church and state as a valid doctrine. In that one doctrine lies much of the destruction of the country’s moral underpinning over the last 50+ years.

    • I will agree also with your claim that not all Southerners who fought for the South were racist. That’s quite true. Only about 2% owned slaves, however, then, like today, people are convinced to fight for unethical principles by aligning them with ethical ones (family, God, country)

  10. I’ve had the same fascination with the Holocaust. I have NOT written three academic papers on the subject however. Only read a lot of books. I just can’t fathom it – and yet I can. It’s terrifying, what we’re capable of, isn’t it?

  11. Kristin, I really like this post. Interesting how you can see your being drawn to the KKK as something in yourself. That takes a lot of character by the way. Not everyone knows why they do things or can even touch on why they think a certain way, so I think its cool that you did. I’m guilty of passing on those same things to my kids. I have to fight the need to be perfect, yet I still want to honor God, but I fail at it big time. I really get mad at people for how they treat me and I don’t hide that from my kids. I just don’t know how to overcome that. Is there a self help group? LOL. There are 2 things that come to mind about history that bother me – Hitler, who had Jews and gypsies and old people killed for what? I don’t understand that at all. I think along those same lines – slavery of any kind is always horrible. Even in Roman times, the rich Romans had slaves and treated their slave like garbage. But most recently, I don’t understand abortion. It saddens me so much that women out there really think “its not a baby”. Yet, I know we are all capable of evil. It’s only by God’s grace that we don’t become like that. We can be all the more thankful that God saved us from ourselves.

    Awesome post.

    • Ancient Rome is a really interesting time to study, too. Roman rhetoric seems so civilized, but when you see what is masked, it’s unreal! There are appeals to ethos, but then the same speakers would turn around and beat their servants/slaves!

      I want to be the same person in front of my kids as I am away from them, so, the only thing for my anger at being wounded by others is to have the Holy Spirit zip my lip and change my heart!

  12. There is no particular historical event that sticks out, just the general cruelty that people have put other people through in various ways since the beginning. Some of it is so hard to imagine.

  13. I believe the capacity to hate the way these groups do is rooted in extreme self absorption. The individuals are so selfish and self centered they are not able to see, feel or care about how their actions affect others. If you are capable of expressing empathy, you are not capable of the kind of hate these groups espouse. There are some horrible groups out there and teaching our children to rail against the hatred they spread is in my opinion exactly what Jesus did in the temple with the tax collectors, passion and outrage are not the same as hatred, we should be outraged, and angry.

    • you’re so right that hate is self-centered. When I feel hatred (and I do feel hatred at times), it’s because I feel like I am the center of the universe and HOW DARE THEY insult or demean or threaten me?

      I’m not giving up on the hateful to repent, to change their hearts and minds – seeing that we have something in common (the capacity, not necessarily the expression to hate) shows me that I need to pray for them.

    • Caufeetawk wrote: “If you are capable of expressing empathy, you are not capable of the kind of hate these groups espouse.”

      I’m going to agree with your concept on selfishness, but disagree with you on this point. Cruel people, even truly horrific ones, can be kind to those they feel some affinity towards. Some Nazis who thought nothing of the tortured cries of a dying Jew were regarded as tender family men.

      I think the key, whether KKK, Nazis, or abortion, is that you have to make the target of your hate not be a person to you. That’s the main justification component with each group.

  14. Empathy is not kindness, it is the capacity to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, to feel what they are feeling to have such concern for their feelings that what they are experiencing affects you in a profound way. In my opinion, hate and cruelty are oppositional to empathy. Someone with lack of empathy does not see the target of their hatred as a person because they are not acknowledging their humanity.

    • @Caufeetawk: I agree that you can’t be feeling empathy with someone while being cruel to them. However, the capacity for empathy and the exercise of it are not the same thing. Empathy has an off switch. The more times you shut it off, the easier it is to shut off, just like the conscience. I don’t think we’re disagreeing as to the nature of empathy, just the capacity to disengage or engage it with an act of will.

  15. Really interesting, Kristin. And I know exactly what you mean. Sometimes we can be so blinded, that “I could never be like them” and then realize we’re full of the same sin and without grace, we’d be just as messed up or more. I’ve haven’t really delved into any Klan history. Very fascinating. Thanks.

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