Frederick Clarkson, a longtime researcher of Christian nationalism and an ally of Americans United, has written a powerful exposé for “Religion Dispatches” about a new effort to swamp state legislatures with bills that would undermine church-state separation.
You may be thinking, “Isn’t that Project Blitz?” And yes, that Christian nationalist drive is still going full steam. This new project, in fact, involves some of the same cast of characters, chief among them Arkansas State Sen. Jason Rapert (R-Conway).
“The former Chairman of the Arkansas State Legislative Prayer Caucus, (AKA Project Blitz) Rapert founded an offshoot bill mill in 2019 called the National Association of Christian Lawmakers (NACL). This emerging Christian Right network now has chapter chairs in 23 states, has held two small national conferences, enjoys the backing of some major leaders of the Christian Right, and, in August 2021, launched a weeknight radio talk show, with Rapert as host, on a Little Rock station (part of the Christian Right Salem Media network.) Most of his early guests have been NACL leaders but Rapert plans to expand to national platforms. NACL is currently little known outside the leadership and the farther reaches of the Christian Right but it may be a bellwether of the movement’s evolution as a new generation of leaders emerges and movement strategy continues to mature.”
For those of you unfamiliar with the term, a “bill mill” is an outside organization that drafts model legislation, then hands off to friendly lawmakers in state governments. This explains why certain bills, such as proposals to plaster “In God We Trust” signs in public schools or bills that would sneak creationism into public schools under the guise of “teaching the controversy,” seem to appear in waves – they have a central source.
One of the best-known bill mills out there is the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a far-right organization that focuses mainly on issues like school vouchers, taxes and schemes to shrink the size of the government. Clarkson, citing another writer, notes that ALEC is clearly the model for NACL.
“According to a report by David Armia of the Center for Media and Democracy, the venerable rightwing business-focused bill mill American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) provided a forum to NACL at its annual meeting in Austin, Texas in December 2019,” writes Clarkson. “There, Rapert claims to have secured nine state chairs. He says that NACL is modeled after ALEC and seeks to convene legislators like ALEC does, but ‘to address major policy concerns from a Biblical worldview,’ and to ‘train and elect Christians to serve in public office so that our nation honors God once again.’”
Be wary of the term “Biblical worldview.” The people who use it mean a very specific interpretation of the Bible (theirs) – one that is anti-LGBTQ rights, anti-science, anti-women’s rights and anti-religious freedom and pluralism. They recognize no division between church and state. And when these folks use the word “Christian,” they don’t mean the nice, moderate Episcopalians down the block from you. To them, the only true Christians are extreme religious fundamentalists who are obsessed with using the government to force everyone to believe the same way they do. They yearn for theocracy.
Recent events have underscored the damage the people who hold this mindset can do. Just look at Texas, with its new anti-abortion law that’s so dystopian it sounds like it came from the pages of a Margaret Atwood novel (and – surprise! – it’s already being exported to other states).
Clarkson’s article is a warning. Despite the problems this nation faces with the coronavirus pandemic, the unsettled state of the economy and threats from abroad, Christian nationalists are bound and determined to make the 2022 midterm elections and the 2024 presidential election all about divisive culture war issues.
We know what’s coming. We’d better be prepared to meet it.