Anyone seeking to understand the status of Christian nationalism post-election needs to read two important articles that shed light on where we are – and where we might end up.
In a New York Times column, Katherine Stewart explains that President Donald Trump’s defeat isn’t likely to slow down the forces that yearn to compel all of us to live under a narrow, fundamentalist definition of Christianity wedded to hyper-nationalism.
Stewart deftly analyzes the election results and lists several reasons why the Religious Right will remain a force in American politics. Among them is that the federal judiciary, which has been reshaped under Trump, is likely to keep handing them victories.
“Republicans have long known that the judiciary is one of the most effective instruments of minority rule,” Stewart writes. “Mr. Trump’s success in packing the federal judiciary – as of this writing, 220 federal judges, including three Supreme Court justices – will be one of his most devastating legacies. The prospect of further entrenching minority rule in the coming years will keep the alliance between Republicans and the religious right alive.”
Stewart, author of the recent book The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism, offers a sober analysis that is key to understanding the battles that lie ahead.
The second article you should read is by longtime Americans United ally Frederick Clarkson. Clarkson focuses on Paula White, Trump’s spiritual adviser and a proponent of the “prosperity gospel.”
It can be difficult to understand people who have turned Jesus, who, according to the Gospels, owned nothing and frequently rebuked the rich, into a bootstrap capitalist. But as Clarkson points out in his article for Religion Dispatches, White’s style of evangelism has made her one of the wealthiest and best-known religious leaders in America. Millions of Americans follow her teachings, and it’s not hard to understand their appeal to Trump.
Since the election, White has been hosting nightly prayer meetings during which she calls on God to strike down Trump’s enemies while insisting that he will have a second term.
“If this had happened on the stage of a fringe-y evangelist somewhere, it might have been enough to keep Right watchers, scholars, and journalists up at night,” Clarkson writes. “But Paula White is now one of the most prominent female religious leaders in the U.S. All the world is her stage, and she’s likely to play a growing role in American religious and public life. As an author, and as the spiritual advisor to the former president of the United States, she’s as high profile a figure as exists in all of evangelicalism.”
Stewart and Clarkson are two of the nation’s most astute observers of Christian nationalism. What they have to say isn’t necessarily comforting – the Religious Right as a political force remains entrenched in American public life – but it’s vital that we hear them out and, more importantly, learn from them so we can be prepared to counteract the Religious Right's influence on our secular government.
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Photo: President Donald Trump addresses the Family Research Council's Values Voter Summit in 2017