Tag Archives: Christian nationalism

Cautionary Tales

A reader recently shared an article from Politico, titled, “Gun Violence is Actually Worse in Red States. It’s Not Even Close.” It began by quoting the rhetoric of various ambitious Republicans on the subject: 

In October, Florida’s Republican governor Ron DeSantis proclaimed crime in New York City was “out of control” and blamed it on George Soros. Another Sunshine State politico, former president Donald Trump, offered his native city up as a Democrat-run dystopia, one of those places “where the middle class used to flock to live the American dream are now war zones, literal war zones.” In May 2022, hours after 19 children were murdered at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott swatted back suggestions that the state could save lives by implementing tougher gun laws by proclaiming“Chicago and L.A. and New York disprove that thesis.”

As the article points out, this is pure propaganda.

In reality, the region the Big Apple comprises most of is far and away the safest part of the U.S. mainland when it comes to gun violence, while the regions Florida and Texas belong to have per capita firearm death rates (homicides and suicides) three to four times higher than New York’s. On a regional basis it’s the southern swath of the country — in cities and rural areas alike — where the rate of deadly gun violence is most acute, regions where Republicans have dominated state governments for decades.

There are a number of reasons beyond policy for these disparities, including the differing cultures of those who originally colonized various areas of the country. But the current assaults on even minimal efforts to reduce gun violence employ outright lies to play on deep-seated, mostly rural fears of urban life.

There are mounting, disquieting “cautionary tales” about America’s deepening divisions into rural and urban, Red and Blue. A week or so ago, the Washington Post ran a truly terrifying story about the radical Right takeover of a small Michigan county. It deserves to be read in its entirety, but the introductory paragraphs are instructive. 

The eight new members of the Ottawa County Board of Commissioners had run for office promising to “thwart tyranny” in their lakeside Michigan community of 300,000 people.

In this case the oppressive force they aimed to thwart was the county government they now ran…. 
 
The new commissioners, all Republicans, swore their oaths of office on family Bibles. And then the firings began. Gone was the lawyer who had represented Ottawa County for 40 years. Gone was the county administrator who oversaw a staff of 1,800. To run the health department, they voted to install a service manager from a local HVAC company who had gained prominence as a critic of mask mandates.

As the session entered its fourth hour, Sylvia Rhodea, the board’s new vice chair, put forward a motion to change the motto that sat atop the county’s website and graced its official stationery. “Whereas the vision statement of ‘Where You Belong’ has been used to promote the divisive Marxist ideology of the race, equity movement”… 

Rhodea proposed to unite the county around America’s “true history” as a “land of systemic opportunity built on the Constitution, Christianity and capitalism.’”

County Commission meetings everywhere tend to be lightly attended, but the article reports that ensuing meetings of this particular board were “packed with so many angry people calling each other “fascists,” “communists,” “Christian nationalists” and “racists” that the county would have to open an overflow room down the hall.”

The Guardian reports a similar takeover in Blue California.

In a seemingly long gone era – before the Trump presidency, and Covid, and the 2020 election – Doni Chamberlain would get the occasional call from a displeased reader who had taken issue with one of her columns. They would sometimes call her stupid and use profanities.

Today, when people don’t like her pieces, Chamberlain said, they tell her she’s a communist who doesn’t deserve to live. One local conservative radio host said she should be hanged.

The escalation of America’s culture wars isn’t only visible in small, rural counties. Consider a recent report out of Alabama.

The state of Alabama’s top early education official was forced out Friday by Gov. Kay Ivey over a teacher resource guide—one that promotes inclusion of various kinds of families and acknowledges the reality of racism in the nation’s history—the Republican leader denounced as too “woke.”

After an apparent refusal to denounce the book or accept its removal, Barbara Cooper, head of the Alabama Department of Early Education, was compelled to tender her resignation, which Ivey accepted.

And speaking of gun culture, the Guardian also reported on an event held by Idaho Republicans that “honored” Kyle Rittenhouse, the teen who shot and killed two people at an anti-racism protest.

There really are two (very different) Americas.

 

 

The Roots Of Our Polarization

There is an analytical rule–really, a problem-solving principle– called Occam’s Razor. It is sometimes called the principle of parsimony, and is basically a reminder that the simplest explanation is usually the best explanation.

A recent poll has confirmed my belief that there is a simple, albeit terrifying, explanation for America’s current deep polarization: White Christian Nationalism.

Although I have long believed that worldview to be the source of a lot of our current unrest, before this particular poll, I really had no clue just how deeply entrenched and widespread that worldview is.

A new survey finds that fewer than a third of Americans, or 29%, qualify as Christian nationalists, and of those, two-thirds define themselves as white evangelicals.

The survey of 6,212 Americans by the Public Religion Research Institute and the Brookings Institution is the largest yet to gauge the size and scope of Christian nationalist beliefs.

The study found–unsurprisingly–that Christian nationalists tend to be older (some two-thirds are over the age of 50). They are also far less educated than other Americans. At most,  20% of Christian nationalism supporters have a four-year college degree, far fewer than the 79% of respondents who were labeled “skeptics” because they rejected the principles of Christian nationalism.

Christian nationalism as a worldview is not new but the term is. Indeed, a third of respondents said they had not heard of the term. For that reason, it’s impossible to say whether the ranks of Christian nationalists have grown over time.

In their book “Taking America Back for God: Christian Nationalism in the United States,” sociologists Andrew Whitehead and Sam Perry found that about 20% of Americans strongly embrace Christian nationalist ideas. The PRRI survey is more in line with a 2021 Pew Research survey that found that 10% of Americans are what Pew identified as hard-core “faith and flag” conservatives.

The survey did confirm that Americans overall reject a Christian nationalist worldview by a ratio of 2 to 1.

In an essay for the Washington Post, Jennifer Rubin considered the implications of the survey. As she noted, most of us have only a vague understanding of the term.

When you hear the phrase “Christian nationalists,” you might think of antiabortion conservatives who are upset about the phrase “Happy Holidays” and embrace a vaguely “America First” way of thinking. But according to a Public Religion Research Institute-Brookings Institution poll released Wednesday, Christian nationalists in fact harbor a set of extreme beliefs at odds with pluralistic democracy. The findings will alarm you.

Rubin enumerated the beliefs held by these adherents:

“The U.S. government should declare America a Christian nation.”
“U.S. laws should be based on Christian values.”
“If the U.S. moves away from our Christian foundations, we will not have a country anymore.”
“Being Christian is an important part of being truly American.”
“God has called Christians to exercise dominion over all areas of American society.”

PRRI found that 10 percent (“adherents”) of American adults believe in these ideas overwhelmingly or completely; 19 percent agree but not completely (“sympathizers”); 39 percent disagree (“skeptics”) but not completely; and 29 percent disagree completely (“rejecters”).

Nearly two-thirds of white evangelical Protestants are Christian Nationalists–either sympathizers (35%) or adherents (29%).” More troubling, the poll found that thirty-five percent of all Whites are adherents. 

Those percentages mean that tens of millions of Americans hold these views. And as the poll confirmed, those Americans are overwhelmingly Republican.  Republicans (21%) were found to be about four times as likely as Democrats (5%) or independents (6%) to be Christian nationalists.

Fortunately, the news isn’t all bad.

 There are fewer adherents and sympathizers among younger Americans. “More than seven in ten Americans ages 18-29 (37% skeptics, 42% rejecters) and ages 30-49 (37% skeptics, 35% rejecters) lean toward opposing Christian nationalism.” Support is also inversely related to educational attainment.

You will not be surprised to discover the depths of racism and racial grievance among these adherents. A stunning 83 percent of them think Whites are being discriminated against, and that “God intended America to be a new promised land where European Christians could create a society that could be an example to the rest of the world.”

More than 70 percent embrace replacement theory, and nearly one-quarter say that Jews hold too many positions of power; 44 percent believe Jews are more loyal to Israel than America. More than 65 percent agree that Muslims from some countries should be banned. Almost 70 percent believe “the husband is the head of the household in ‘a truly Christian family’ and his wife submits to his leadership.”

If you think this sounds like MAGA tripe, you’re right. This is the hardcore MAGA base. More alarming: “Nearly six in ten QAnon believers are also either Christian nationalism sympathizers (29%) or adherents (29%).”

Rubin says that believers in American values have our work cut out for us.

No kidding.

 

Christian Grievance

Sometimes, a news article will hit several of my hot buttons. This recent one managed to do so. (Not that it is particularly difficult to piss me off…the older I get, the crankier…)

Here’s the gist of the story: a poll taken by Politico discovered that

about 57 percent of Republicans, and 70 percent of Americans overall, believe the Constitution would not allow America to be declared a “Christian nation.” Respondents were then asked “Would You Favor or Oppose the United States Officially Declaring the United States to be a Christian Nation?”

Sixty-one percent of Republicans were in favor of just that, with 78 percent of Republicans who identify as an evangelical Christian backing the idea. Support was even higher among older Republicans.

Regular readers of this blog know of my preoccupation with America’s low levels of civic and constitutional literacy. These percentages reflect that only 57 percent of Republicans understand–or are prepared to acknowledge– the intended effect of the First Amendment, or the history of America’s constitutional debates.

Then, of course, there’s the little matter of America’s still-pervasive racism. Evidently, there are still a lot of White folks who are dogged believers that the pre-Civil War South should rise again, whether or not it actually will…

Per Politico

Our polling found that white grievance is highly correlated with support for a Christian nation. White respondents who say that members of their race have faced more discrimination than others are most likely to embrace a Christian America. Roughly 59 percent of all Americans who say white people have been discriminated against a lot more in the past five years favor declaring the U.S. a Christian nation, compared to 38 percent of all Americans. White Republicans who said white people have been more discriminated against also favored a Christian nation (65 percent) by a slightly larger percentage than all Republicans (63 percent).

Regular readers are also well aware of my language prejudices; I have this old English-teacher belief that words have meanings, and that communication requires that the people using those words broadly agree upon those meanings.

In any sane world, the assertion that White Americans suffer discrimination would be met with incomprehension. I know that political strategists dislike the contemporary use of the term “privilege”–its users sound elitist, and when one thinks of “privilege,” what comes to mind is unfair advantage. (Actually, White skin does confer advantage, just not the kind of material advantage that this particular word brings to mind.)

The fact remains that, in the good old U.S. of A., what is perceived of as discrimination against White people is a very overdue erosion of the considerably privileged status that skin color has historically  afforded them.

When I express my frequent criticisms of Christian Nationalism (which is, in reality, White Christian Nationalism), I try to be very clear that I am not criticizing Christianity. (To appropriate a phrase, some of my best friends are Christian..) I am happy to report that real Christians agree with me, as the following excerpts from a statement from Christians Against Christian Nationalism makes clear.

Christian nationalism seeks to merge Christian and American identities, distorting both the Christian faith and America’s constitutional democracy. Christian nationalism demands Christianity be privileged by the State and implies that to be a good American, one must be Christian. It often overlaps with and provides cover for white supremacy and racial subjugation. We reject this damaging political ideology and invite our Christian brothers and sisters to join us in opposing this threat to our faith and to our nation.

The statement affirms basic constitutional principles: That “one’s religious affiliation, or lack thereof, should be irrelevant to one’s standing in the civic community,” and that
“government should not prefer one religion over another or religion over nonreligion.” And it affirms others:

Conflating religious authority with political authority is idolatrous and often leads to oppression of minority and other marginalized groups as well as the spiritual impoverishment of religion.

We must stand up to and speak out against Christian nationalism, especially when it inspires acts of violence and intimidation—including vandalism, bomb threats, arson, hate crimes, and attacks on houses of worship—against religious communities at home and abroad.

Whether we worship at a church, mosque, synagogue, or temple, America has no second-class faiths. All are equal under the U.S. Constitution. As Christians, we must speak in one voice condemning Christian nationalism as a distortion of the gospel of Jesus and a threat to American democracy.

So Republicans who want to label America as a “Christian Nation” manage to hit several of my hot buttons: concerns about civic literacy and the normalization of racism, annoyance at the misuse of language, and deep, deep fear of the rise of Christian Nationalism.

Politico did it all with one statistic…

 

Michael Gerson’s Jeremiad

Students of early American history will recognize the term jeremiad, a favored form of sermon delivered by Puritan pastors of the time. Wikipedia tells us that a jeremiad is “a long literary work lamenting the state of society and its morals in a serious tone of sustained invective.” The term comes from the prophet Jeremiah, who catalogued Israel’s fall from fidelity and warned of the horrible judgments to come.

I wouldn’t apply the term “invective” to the recent, lengthy essay in the Washington Post by Michael Gerson, but I would definitely  call it a jeremiad.

Gerson is best known as a speechwriter for George W. Bush, and as a devout Evangelical Christian. Along with other intellectually-honest Republicans, he has been appalled by Donald Trump, and like other genuine Christians, disheartened by the embrace of Trump by those who claim the Evangelical label. He is especially distressed by the fact that “much of what considers itself Christian America has assumed the symbols and identity of white authoritarian populism.”

Gerson’s essay is long, and it is definitely worth reading in its entirety. This post cannot do it justice. He begins by recognizing that many conservative religious people feel disrespected and defensive, and believe that their values are under assault by government, big business, media and academia.

Leaders in the Republican Party have fed, justified and exploited conservative Christians’ defensiveness in service to an aggressive, reactionary politics. This has included deadly mask and vaccine resistance, the discrediting of fair elections, baseless accusations of gay “grooming” in schools, the silencing of teaching about the United States’ history of racism, and (for some) a patently false belief that Godless conspiracies have taken hold of political institutions…

The political alignment with MAGA activists has given exposure and greater legitimacy to once-fringe ideas, including Confederate nostalgia, white nationalism, antisemitism, replacement theory and QAnon accusations of satanic child sacrifice by liberal politicians.

Gerson acknowledges the influence of population density and the rural/urban divide on patterns of belief– and the political reality that America’s electoral mechanisms skew in favor of geography over population. But his essay is mostly concerned with the damage MAGA Republicanism is doing to Christianity.

Strangely, evangelicals have broadly chosen the company of Trump supporters who deny any role for character in politics and define any useful villainy as virtue. In the place of integrity, the Trump movement has elevated a warped kind of authenticity — the authenticity of unfiltered abuse, imperious ignorance, untamed egotism and reflexive bigotry…

Conservative Christians’ beliefs on the nature of politics, and the content of their cultural nightmares, are directly relevant to the future of our whole society, for a simple reason: The destinies of rural and urban America are inextricably connected. It matters greatly if evangelicals in the wide, scarlet spaces are desensitized to extremism, diminished in decency and badly distorting the meaning of Christianity itself — as I believe many are.

To grasp how, and why, it’s important to begin at the beginning.

Gerson follows that sentence with a lengthy history of Jesus’ background and teachings- his preaching against religious hypocrisy, his welcoming of “social outcasts,” and a “future age in which God’s sovereignty would be directly exercised on Earth.”

What brought me to consider these historical matters is a disturbing realization: In both public perception and evident reality, many White, conservative Christians find themselves on the wrong side of the most cutting indictments delivered by Jesus of Nazareth.

Christ’s revolt against the elites could hardly be more different from the one we see today. Conservative evangelicalism has, in many ways, become the kind of religious tradition against which followers of Jesus were initially called to rebel. And because of the pivotal role of conservative Christians in our politics, this irony is a matter of urgency.

He follows those paragraphs with an indictment of Christian Nationalism, concluding that

Evangelicals broadly confuse the Kingdom of God with a Christian America, preserved by thuggish politicians who promise to prefer their version of Christian rights and enforce Christian values. The political calculation of conservative Christians is simple, and simply wrong.

Gerson goes on to list numerous ways in which that calculation is wrong–and dangerous to democracy.

As I said at the outset of this post, this is a lengthy essay. It is also and obviously a product of considerable distress over the political grievances that have distorted and displaced authentic faith. As he concludes, “It is difficult for me to understand why so many believers have turned down a wedding feast to graze in political dumpsters.”

Gerson’s jeremiad puts him firmly within the camp of those of us who have been warning Americans about the dangers of Christian Nationalism–and reminding them that Christian Nationalism is very different from actual Christianity.

I admire Gerson’s attempt, but somehow I doubt the Christian Nationalists will listen.

 

School Scandal

I recently had a disquieting conversation with a friend of mine about the political perspectives of certain college students. She teaches as an adjunct at my former university, and noted recent conversations with students who were expressing opinions that could only be described as  examples of Christian Nationalism. 

She also noted that these sentiments almost always came from students who had come to the university from private Christian schools–many of them thanks to Indiana’s massive voucher program.

There are plenty of reasons to criticize that program, and I have done so repeatedly–in just 2021, I explained its dangers  here, here and here.

The voucher program in Indiana has not only failed to improve educational outcomes, it has funneled money primarily to religious schools, allowing many of those institutions to produce students who are–at best–unacquainted with democratic diversity and unaccepting of Americans with different values and beliefs. At worst, they teach students to disdain Americans who don’t share their fundamentalist dogmas.

Steve Hinnefeld’s blog, School Matters, recently reported on the massive growth of Indiana’s voucher program, and its staggering costs.

Indiana awarded $241.4 million in the 2021-22 school year to pay tuition and fees for students to attend private schools. That’s 44% more than the state spent on vouchers the previous year.

The increase, detailed in a Department of Education report, isn’t surprising. The Indiana General Assembly in 2021 vastly expanded the voucher program, opening it to families near the top of the state’s income scale and making the vouchers significantly more generous.

Nearly all the 330 private schools that received voucher funding are religious schools. Some discriminate against students, families and employees because of their religion, disability status, sexual orientation or gender identity. Indiana is bankrolling bigotry.

Initially, vouchers were sold to the public as a way to allow poor, primarily minority children to escape failing public schools. Perhaps that was the goal of a few proponents, but it is now evident that the primary goal was to construct a “work-around” of the First Amendment’s prohibition on publicly funding religious institutions–Hinnefeld reports that some 20% of voucher households last year had incomes of $100,000 or more. (Indiana’s median household income is $58,000.)

When the program started, supporters said it wouldn’t cost anything, because, if the students didn’t have vouchers, the state would be paying for them to attend public schools. They don’t even pretend to believe that anymore. In 2021-22, 70% of voucher students had no record of having attended a public school in the state. Most voucher funding is going to families that intended all along to send their kids to private schools — and often had the means to do so.

The program initially served both low- and middle-income families. Last year, the legislature threw the door open to high-income families. Now, a family of five making $172,000 can receive vouchers worth over $5,400 on average per child. For about half of all voucher students, the award covers the full cost of tuition and fees at their private school.

Vouchers also promote racial segregation. Far from being a way for poor Black families to escape inferior “ghetto” schools, Hinnefeld reports that  Indiana’s voucher population has grown whiter and markedly less poor–some 60% of voucher students are white. Considering that vouchers tend to be practical primarily in urban areas, that is an over-representation. Only 10.5% of voucher students are Black, compared to 13.5% of Indiana public and charter school students.

The program might still seem justifiable if Indiana private schools were academically superior. They aren’t. Researchers at the universities of Kentucky and Notre Dame found that students who received vouchers fell behind their peers who remained in public schools.

Hinnefeld quotes Doug Masson, who insists that there were three real reasons Indiana legislators created the voucher program: to reward their friends, to punish the teachers’ unions, and to fund religious education.

And that “religious education” is overwhelmingly fundamentalist and nationalist. A study I referenced in one of my previous posts analyzed textbooks from two major publishers of Christian educational materials ― Abeka and BJU Press–used in a majority of Christian schools. The study examined  the books’ coverage of American history and politics and found that they delivered what you might call a “curated”(i.e. skewed) history, and taught that contemporary America is experiencing “an urgent moral decline that can only be fixed by conservative Christian policies.”

Even more troubling, the analysis found that language used in the books “overlaps with the rhetoric of Christian nationalism, often with overtones of nativism, militarism and racism as well.” One scholar was quoted as saying that, as voucher programs have moved more children into these schools, Christian Nationalism has become more mainstream.

Your tax dollars at work……there’s a reason I call Indiana’s General Assembly the World’s Worst Legislature.