The Separation of Church and State

SRF speakers don’t hesitate to call out Christian Nationalists for what they are: anti-democracy theocrats

  Rob Boston

The Summit for Religious Freedom (SRF) started yesterday with a bang. Powerful speakers called out Christian Nationalism and didn’t hesitate to call it what it is: an effort to impose theocracy on America.

“I’m here to tell you that I’m not going to make you happy this morning,” declared Dr. Anthea Butler, a professor in American Social Thought and chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Pennsylvania and author of White Evangelical Racism: The Politics of Morality in America, who delivered the first keynote address.

Butler didn’t hold back: Christian Nationalists, she said, are a threat to American democracy. In fact, they want to overturn that core feature of American life and replace it with a theocracy where their narrow interpretation of fundamentalist Christianity becomes the basis for all laws.

‘A moment of crisis’

“I want you to understand that we are at a moment of crisis in this country,” Butler said. Speaking of Christian Nationalists, Butler was blunt: “What they want is a theocracy.”

During a panel discussion after Butler’s speech, AU’s Andrew L. Seidel played a clip from the documentary “God & Country,” during which the filmmakers asked Butler if theocracy is the Christian Nationalists’ end game. She didn’t hesitate: “Yes,” was her succinct answer.

‘Horrifying’ things

The day’s second keynote speaker, journalist Erin Reed, who tracks anti-LGBTQ+ legislation in the states, was similarly plainspoken. Speaking of Alliance Defending Freedom and other Christian Nationalist organizations, Reed said, “The things they are doing are horrifying.” She later added that Christian Nationalists are demonizing transgender people by simultaneously portraying them as weak and confused and an unstoppable force that’s rolling over society.

“We are both strong and weak at the same time,” Reed said. “This is a hallmark of fascism.”

Advocates of separation of church and state sometimes shy away from using the word “theocracy” for fear that employing the “T-word” will make us sound extreme. We shouldn’t worry. The American people need to know what we’re facing; blunt rhetoric is essential.

The world of Christian Nationalism

Think of a world where your right to legal abortion no longer exists because of legislators’ religious beliefs (a world many Americans live in right now). Imagine a world where people can be arrested for helping a friend get an abortion in another state. Picture a world where birth control has been banned.

In this world, books are banned because religious fundamentalists find them offensive, marriage equality and LGBTQ+ rights are a memory. This is a world where you can be discriminated against in health care and in other settings because a stranger’s religion teaches him to have a poor view of how you live your life. It’s a world where public education is under the control of fundamentalist Christians. The teaching of evolution is banned, as is comprehensive sex education. (But this is just a prelude to getting rid of public education entirely; the endgame is a network of taxpayer-funded Christian schools and home schools.)

What does this world sound like to you? Does it have any relationship to our democracy? It doesn’t – and that’s because it’s a theocracy.

This is the world Christian Nationalists are working to force on us. It is the world Americans United is determined to stop. Let’s call it by its name.

P.S. We have a full house of 300 in-person attendees for SRF in Washington, D.C. (And more than 500 folks are watching online.) You can feel the energy in the room, and, yes, it is incredibly inspiring.

Photo: Dr. Anthea Butler addresses the Summit for Religious Freedom/Chris Line

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