Jesse Helms is dead

Years ago, when I was a younger gay man in the deep South and had to deal with Jesse Helms’s racist and gay-hating power and influence, I thought how I would smile and be glad when the menace died. Guess what: I did. Allow me the moment of candor, if not the sentiment.

Yet when I heard the news, I wondered how long it would be before centrist and even liberal persons would “play nice” (as when Reagan died) and apologize for Helms, saying how he was a loyal American and so very police and other nonsense. Or there would be public sympathy for his family or other considerations. I don’t accept a word of it.

  1. As for his public legacy, the better it is fought the better.
  2. As a Southerner, I can tell you good manners are nice but that wicked people can cultivate them just as easily as the good.
  3. As for his family, they can mark their own loss and I won’t meddle, but God knows his political heirs think it is their business to meddle in my family business.

But what about God? How will God deal with Jesse Helms?

I’m still a Universalist and believe that he will be saved effectively and eventually. (I wouldn’t be too sad to know he had a long wait on the platform, though.) I don’t have to look at Helms’s record, but instead rely on God’s character. But Helms and his kith should be glad I’m not the one making the decision. God is. A chastening though, that, and at the heart of Jesus’ injunction of forgiving one’s enemies.

And as a Universalist, I believe — depend on, really — God being better than I am. My thoughts, hopes and plans are not more comprehensive, compassionate or glorious than God’s. I mention this because too much of American religion — Evangelical particularly, and Wesleyan especially; but some New Age thought popular in the Left is guilty too — is based on cultural biases being attributed to God, giving them the power of holiness. I’m enough of a Calvinist to know how dangerous and misleading that is.

It also reminds me that I’m not responsible — manipulated, misused — for forgiving the late senator from North Carolina. And as I have no reason to believe he amended his ways, I have no intention of forgiving him. I can (rather than I must; a valuable distinction for those who have been harmed) put Jesse Helms behind me and work without bitterness to dismantle what he made.

6 Replies to “Jesse Helms is dead”

  1. I’m curious as to whether we’ll indeed see much dishonest regret from centrists, let alone liberals. I rather doubt it. There’ll just be polite silence. Helms was political scum of the worst sort, but unlike Reagan, his Southern ‘good manners’ did not arise to charisma, not was he in a category that automatically requires perfunctory reverence. The worst part of him was that he knew rules and regulations inside out and used this institutional expertise to block a democratic functioning of the legislature.
    As for his grieving family: if they have played along nicely they’ll at least inherit loads and loads of cash, because remember: there may be the one or two odd US senator who is not a millionaire. He certainly wasn’t one of those.

  2. @M.V. To clarify, I don’t think the center-left mourning would be dishonest, just misguided. And I hope not to see it, but that should be clear in the next couple of days. I hope you’re right.

    As for the wealth of senators, I would be remiss not to point out one of the current projects of the Sunlight Foundation — my non-partisan employer — that speaks to this within the current Congress: Fortune 535,

    Be sure to read the caveats in the left-hand column and note that some members of Congress are not rich. (But it usually doesn’t hurt you, either.)

  3. I share your feelings about Helms. As a Southerner, he was an embarrassment. A reminder of the ugliness of the South with none of the wit, joy or friendliness that I also believe is part of the culture of my heritage. When I was younger, he represented everything that made me ashamed to be a Southerner. It is difficult to imagine anyone not inclined to wear white sheets really being sad about his death.

    This brings up a philosophical question that historians love to ask. If Helms did not exist, would someone just as repugnant have risen to power? Was he just representing the reactionary forces in American politics? Or was the man, the special creation, who moved those terrible homophobic, racist, xenophobic policies to the fore?

    It seems that two strands of Universalism need to be considered with Helms. Ultra-Universalists believe that at death everyone goes directly to Heaven. Restorationist Universalists believe that some need to stop somewhere and be punished for their sins and rehabilitated before they are ready for Eternity. I do not know what fate the human spirit faces ultimately after death but I do hope that some sense of justice prevails for those who commit horrendous wrongs even as I hope that God is also eventually merciful.

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  5. That you managed to get an interesting and valuable theological reflection out of JH’s death is a notable example of making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

    May he rot in the Hell I don’ t believe in.
    Or, to put it less snarkily, may he be remembered by good people for his vile legacy, which is Hell enough.

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