By Chuck Ardo
There has been too little attention given to the unsettling role Christian nationalism played in the attack on the U.S. Capitol. A recent Religion News Service report quotes Amanda Tyler, who heads the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, saying Christian nationalism was used to “bolster, justify and intensify the January 6 attack on the Capitol.” The report noted that at least one person carried a banner that read, “Proud American Christian.”
The violence and mayhem of the Donald Trump-inspired insurrection was front-page news for weeks. But less portrayed, wrote Matthew D. Taylor of the Institute for Islamic, Christian, and Jewish Studies in a Nov. 4, 2021, Baltimore Sun op-ed, was “the Christian hue of it all: the Capitol-focused Christian prayer rallies in December that propagated post-election lies; the Christian flags unfurled as rioters mounted the Capitol steps; the pastors and self-proclaimed apostles who exhorted the D.C. crowds of Trump supporters; the rioters speaking in tongues; the Proud Boys kneeling to pray before they went off to stomp some heads.”
Although they describe themselves as “patriots,” Christian nationalists reflect an un-American view that only their conservative interpretation of Christianity and its role in the political and social life of the country is valid. They maintain that this country was built by and for white Christians. They fear that their way of life is under threat as the country diversifies, and they insist that natural-born, white Christians must control the political process.
Another installment in the Religion News Service series reported that, a year ago, America First podcaster Nick Fuentes warned at an America First conference that “America will cease to be America if it loses its white demographic core, and if it loses its faith in Jesus Christ.’”
Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser, told a Christian gathering last November, “If we are going to have one nation under God, which we must, we have to have one religion. One nation under God and one religion under God.”
A reviewer of the 2020 book, Taking America Back for God: Christian Nationalism in the United States by Andrew Whitehead and Samuel Perry, writes that, “At its heart, Christian nationalism demands that we must preserve a particular kind of social order, an order in which everyone – Christians and non-Christians, native-born and immigrants, whites and minorities, men and women – recognizes their ‘proper’ place in society.”
Whitehead and Perry cite statistics collected over the last decade that they say show that about 20% of Americans strongly embrace Christian nationalism.
The National Council of Churches warns that Christian nationalism “encourages its adherents to believe they are battling the forces of darkness on all fronts. … This mindset of embattled righteousness is applied to the perceived enemies of the state (e.g., liberals, humanists, pluralists, atheists, and various minoritized communities), and true believers are directed to employ any and all means, even undemocratic and violent ones, in order to win political contests.”
Having strong religious beliefs is a fundamental right all Americans cherish. But, the rise of a movement that believes the separation of church and state is a myth and advocates for a government shaped by conservative Christian values as a political force is a threat to a democratic, multicultural America. Having Christian nationalists imposing their beliefs on the rest of us is counter to everything America has championed throughout its history.
In It Can’t Happen Here, novelist Sinclair Lewis wrote about an American government elected by promoting a return to patriotism and “traditional” values, leading to fascism in the United States. A quote often attributed to Lewis, although there’s no proof he said it – “When Fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross” – should serve as fair warning.
Chuck Ardo, a retired political consultant in Lancaster, Ohio, previously served as press secretary to former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell and as communications director for the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General. This column originally appeared in the Pennsylvania Capital-Star, a nonprofit online news site.