There's been a perceptible shift of opinion about the Denver demonstrations in the two weeks since they began on May 28. As incidents of vandalism and violence quickly faded away and Denver cops dialed down their most aggressive tactics amid promises of reform (the city even tossed more than 300 curfew violation cases), the peaceful protests have earned grudging respect even from those who might seem most likely to decry them.
A prime example is Jeff Hunt. As the vice president of public policy for Colorado Christian University and the chairman of the Western Conservative Summit, Hunt has been a long-term defender of President Donald Trump, whose approach to rallies asking for justice for George Floyd across the country has largely consisted of all-caps tweets calling for "LAW and ORDER!" But rather than echoing this rhetoric, Hunt penned a column for the rightward-tilting Town Hall website titled "I Raged, Too," in which he reveals that he relates to protesters' fury from personal experience.
"In my middle school years, angry at the injustices of the world and fueled by music from Rage Against the Machine, I vandalized property, spray-painted the sides of houses, and sought to destroy the power structures around me," he writes. "I thought capitalism was evil, the police were fascists, and I hated that my parents were successful. I also hated evangelical Christians and their bigotry. I was pro-choice and pro-LGBTQ. In fact, I got in trouble at a middle school talent show in the mid-90s for singing the Red Hot Chili Pepper’s song “Pea”, which included the lyrics, 'F___ you ___hole. You homophobic, redneck d___.' My anger at the world progressed into a darker place when I embraced goth and began attending Marilyn Manson and GWAR shows. I shaved my head, pierced my ears, and sported black fingernail polish."
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Granted, Hunt stops well short of encouraging disaffected youth to keep setting dumpster fires until the entire Mile High City is ablaze. But neither does he shrug off the notion that prejudice and bias against people of color is alive and well in America. Later today, June 11, he's hosting "The Sin of Racism and America's Promise of Equality," an online event in which he'll facilitate conversations with four prominent African-American conservatives: Antonia Okafor Cover, CJ Pearson, Dr. Biff Gore and Casper Stockham. And Hunt promises that the chat won't be a whitewash.
"Even conservative black colleagues of ours have experienced racism," he points out. "[South Carolina Senator] Tim Scott talked about that at the Western Conservative Summit. He said he's been pulled over for driving a nice car in Washington, D.C. So conservatives can't dismiss that. We have to talk about it and listen to their perspective."
These days, Hunt looks back on some aspects of his youthful rebellion with amusement. "That GWAR was something else," he says with a chuckle. "I wasn't going to church regularly, but sitting there, it was like, 'This is a bit too far.'"
Still, he continues, "what I tried to point out in the column is that a lot of ministry I've been involved with has been with kids who don't go to church. Church is the last thing they want to be a part of. But they've always had an appeal for me — people angry at the way the world is. Folks like me who felt frustrated and angry about injustice are closer to the gospel than someone who has everything: the captain of the football team with the perfect girlfriend. There's not a lot of need for saving there. But if you're frustrated with injustice and inequality and looking at the world and saying, 'That's not right,' well, that's exactly what the gospel is trying to fix — and that's exactly why Jesus came."
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According to Hunt, "I see a lot of conservatives criticizing guys who are vandalizing. But I got in trouble with police when I was fourteen for vandalism — spray painting. There's this notion that you have to be held accountable and the law needs to restrict you from doing that, and I get it. But what these people are crying out for is at the heart of the gospel, and we as conservatives need to recognize that and hopefully steer them toward the church as opposed to dismissing them. And I applaud the peaceful protesters in a lot of ways."
This praise isn't unconditional. Hunt posits, "There's a lot of Marxist ideology that's overlaying things like defunding the police" and casts stones at alleged Antifa participation in the worst excesses, even though there's been little or no substantiation of such claims.
At the same time, though, he acknowledges that "I think the anger we have toward the problems of our world is very natural and is good — and in my opinion, it points to exactly what the Bible teaches: that there is sin and brokenness in the world, and we're in need of a savior. Where I depart from some of the people at the protests is that I think a lot of the challenges we face are the result of personal sin in our lives, and we need to be open to that and recognize we need a savior for the sin we have in our own lives. But that same savior is working toward the reconciliation and the justice they're seeking at the macro level, as well."
"The Sin of Racism and America's Promise of Equality" gets under way at 1 p.m. today, June 11, at the YouTube channel of CCU's Centennial Institute.