As discouraging as the Trump years were, they had one benefit: Growing numbers of Americans are waking up to the threat posed by white Christian nationalism.
In the wake of the horrific assault on the U.S. Capitol Jan. 6, several writers and researchers have pointed out that the mob whipped into a frenzy by President Donald Trump included plenty of people carrying crosses and Jesus signs. Christian nationalists were right there alongside (or were one and the same as) the racists, misogynists and other extremists.
Katherine Stewart, Sarah Posner, Thomas B. Edsell and others have recently penned articles about the dominant role Christian nationalism played in the riot. These writers know what they’re talking about. Stewart and Posner have written books about Christian nationalism, along with Michelle Goldberg, Andrew Whitehead and his co-author Samuel L. Perry, Robert Jones and others.
A common thread running through all of these works is white Christian nationalists’ contempt for democracy. It was on full display Jan. 6. Remember what the insurrectionists hoped to achieve: They wanted to stop a normally ceremonial certification process so that Trump, who lost the election to Joe Biden, could seize a second term.
As we’ve noted on this blog, Christian nationalist organizations were happy to spread Trump’s false claims about the election. They circulated wild tales about voting machines that switched votes, votes being hauled away by trucks, dead people voting and so on that proved to have utterly no foundation. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security affirmed that the election was secure.
But the truth no longer matters to white Christian nationalists because they long ago abandoned democracy. Anyone who has been monitoring these groups, as we have at Americans United, has known this for a long time.
In September of 1988, I wrote an article for Church & State about a band of openly theocratic thinkers called Christian Reconstructionists. Reconstructionists seek to merge the government with an ultra-conservative interpretation of Christianity. They believe that the harsh legal code found in the Hebrew Bible, sections of which are now considered antiquated, should be binding on modern-day America, and they advocate the death penalty for having sex outside of marriage, homosexuality, “witchcraft,” worshipping “false gods” and a host of other “offenses.”
Reconstructionists also oppose democracy. Rousas John Rushdoony, the dean of the movement, who died in 2001, once called democracy the “great love of the failures and cowards of life.”
Don’t think that ideas like this are too kooky to have influence. In fact, Reconstructionist thought has profoundly influenced the rise of white Christian nationalism, in part by providing a “biblical” justification for political involvement. Generally speaking, prior to Rushdoony, many evangelicals viewed politics as a “worldly” thing. They believed that Jesus would soon return and emphasized saving souls and focused on winning a place in paradise at Judgment Day.
Reconstructionists argued that fundamentalist Christians had an obligation to “reconstruct” government – that is, fashion a theocratic state – as a condition of Jesus’ return. Jesus, they argued, wasn’t coming back until society was godly enough to welcome him. Thus, taking over the government and rebuilding it along “Christian” lines was required.
As this view spread among Christian nationalists in the 1980s and ’90s, their disdain for democracy grew. Sure, they continue to give lip services to the concept, but recent events have exposed where they really stand: They backed an insurrection designed to keep a man in the nation’s highest office after he was voted out, and when they were called on it, they tried to pin the attack on others. Now, their allies in state government are hard at work trying to pass voter suppression laws.
Fourteen years ago, author Chris Hedges wrote a book called American Fascists: The Christian Right And The War On America. At the time, some people winced at Hedges’ use of the “f-word.” Yet more and more, the events of Jan. 6 and the ongoing fallout from it have exposed exactly where Christian nationalism stands. It’s on the side of a would-be strongman who summoned a mob in a bid to award him power he did not earn. It’s on the side of voter suppression. It is on the side of lies. It is on the side of authoritarianism. It’s on the side of force, control and compulsion.
You can call those ideas many things, but here’s one thing they are not: American values.
People who write about Christian nationalists and their oppressive agenda are sometimes accused of being hysterical. Recent events have proven that in reality, they’ve been positively prescient. We at Americans United have long been sounding the alarm bells about this un-American movement and its threats to church-state separation. Help us protect our constitutional values by joining us today.
Photo: Donald Trump addresses Christian nationalists at the Values Voter Summit.