Gateway Church apostolic elder and member of Donald Trump’s evangelical advisory board, James Robison, today asked God if Amazing Grace should be removed from the hymnbook because John Newton was a slave trader. Although he doesn’t mention Confederate statues, in a video titled, What Must We Do When All Hell Breaks Loose, Robison appears to signal his views on removing symbols of the past. Watch:
He first asks God to release healing and asks for peace, joy, and wisdom. He quickly goes to preaching and seems to debate God over Confederate symbols. At 3:38, Robison says:
We’ve made many mistakes; we have failed throughout history, but Father to go back and root up and tear down every memory, even of those who failed but perhaps were moved to positive change. Are we going to rip Amazing Grace out of every hymnbook because John Newton was a slave trader? Are we gonna go back and attack Wilberforce because he was a member of a parliament in Great Britain that once encouraged and supported slavery? Are we gonna refuse to recognize what you did in spite of our wrong when your grace moved us to respond to your wisdom and apply it? As it has happened in our country, help us to move away from the horrors of the past and the wickedness of things that were in place far too long. And thank you for the corrections that have come and stand against all hatred, all racial tension and division. Even the sectarian, and political and partisan divide. God would you move us together to be a family.
He then prays for Christians to unite and not use the Bible as a “club.” Finally, he asks his audience to trust God for a miracle.
What Does His Prayer Have to Do with Charlottesville?
While Robison didn’t mention the Charlottesville protests, his words certainly point to that context. His prayer is unusual in that he seems to make a case to God that there is a problem with rooting up symbols from the past. The symbol at issue in Charlottesville was the statue of Robert E. Lee. Although Robison didn’t defend the Lee statue directly, it seems reasonable to think he was referring to efforts to remove the statue.
The problem is that none of what Robison prayed relates directly to the Lee statue in Charlottesville. John Newton was a slave trader but did change his mind late in life and supported Wilberforce’s effort to end the slave trade. Wilberforce and the British parliament is an even further stretch for a comparable situation. Wilberforce helped bring the slave trade to an end in Britain. Despite the Lost Cause myths surrounding Lee, he wasn’t a figure who should be honored with a tribute. In any case, Lee wasn’t a hero and didn’t end up on the right side. Perhaps, Robison has been a victim of bad history.
According to Robert Morris, the pastor at Gateway, Robison has Donald Trump’s personal cell phone number and takes his calls “two or three times per week.” Perhaps Trump’s stance on this issue has been informed by Robison and those who think like him. If so, I hope someone close to Robison can educate him about Lee and the pain those Confederate symbols cause to many African-Americans.
As for me, I continue to believe Christians should get behind the movement to remove Confederate statues and tributes from the public square and place them in museums or other locations where the evils of slavery and racism are described.