Tag Archives: Christian nationalism

The Nature Of Our Divisions

I was among those who breathed a big sigh of relief at the results of the French election, and the defeat (once again) of far-right candidate, Marine Le Pen. (I also worried, along with many others, about the fact that–despite the very comfortable margin of Macron’s win–  Le Pen increased her vote from former match-ups.)

Among the various news reports and opinion pieces describing the French election results was a column in the Washington Post that got to the essence of the challenge faced not just by the French, but by all Western democracies. 

A center-left leader can be a champion of tolerance, a force to fight climate change and an advocate for an agenda that a majority of voters favor. But they must do so while facing deep divisions between urban and rural populations, between religious and secular voters and between the well-educated and less-educated. That makes it virtually impossible for competent, well-intentioned leaders to fend off constant criticism from a 24/7 media or to withstand fierce opposing factions and cynical voters.

And there it is.

Commenters to this blog will point out–accurately–that not every rural voters is a bigot or a MAGA fanatic, and that is absolutely true.  It’s also true that not every urban resident is a progressive voter. Overall, however, it is undeniably the case that rural America is Red and urban America is Blue.

It is patently unfair to accuse all religious voters of being Christian Nationalists; I have several good friends among the Christian Clergy who are liberal–or, as we might once have labeled them, advocates of the Social Gospel. That said, they aren’t the ones leading the charge to discriminate against gay and transgender youth. They aren’t looking askance (or worse) at Muslim or Jewish Americans. My friends’ churches aren’t among the concerning numbers of Evangelical congregations encouraging acceptance of the “Big Lie,” and insisting that only White Christians are “real Americans.”

I’d also be one of the first people to argue that education and intellect are not the same thing. (Education and job training aren’t the same thing either.) I think of my mother, who bitterly regretted not having been able to go to college; like many others who lacked that experience, she was widely-read, well-informed and highly intelligent. But again, when we look at the population at large, we find statistically-significant differences between people who have and have not been introduced to logic, to respect for evidence (and an understanding of what does and does not constitute evidence), and to the intellectual inheritance of humankind. Educated people are–on average– more likely to recognize complexity and connection, more likely to understand the role of culture and the consequences of systemic forms of discrimination.

If these are the fault-lines of today’s political environment–and I think they are–what are the challenges that situation poses for political leadership? What is the result when more than a third of a country comes from the ranks of those who see governance in terms of culture war and personal loss, rather than an exercise in effective management of the infrastructure of the state?

First, a politician who considers it their job to solve problems, as opposed to channeling anger and fanning cultural resentment, will rarely receive credit for achieving half or even three-quarters of a loaf. No matter how well the president helps the country recover from the recession, how many jobs are created on their watch or how effective an international leader they become, anything less than perfect will be met with unforgiving criticism. The temptation to paint a president as a loser is overwhelming for allies who are disappointed with the results. This is made worse in a media environment that thrives on conflict and a political environment in which the opposition party is unwilling to give credit for any achievement. Therefore, one can expect few, if any constructive problem-solvers on the center left enjoying high approval ratings.

In France, center-left Macron won, despite polling in the low 40s.  He did that by making the case that the alternative was a rightwing, unhinged, grievance-mongering opponent. As the linked column noted, the French were not particularly enamored with Macron– but given the “binary choice between him and Le Pen,” most French voters opted for competence and sanity.

The key to escaping fascism in the U.S. is to ensure that enough educated, urban, secular voters understand that the election is between democracy and authoritarianism; between free markets and crony capitalism, and between genuine religious freedom and Christian nationalism–and then getting enough of those voters to the polls.

Moral Clarity

At breakfast the other day, my husband asked me what I thought today’s Republicans really believe.

I should mention that he and I met when we were members of Mayor Bill Hudnut’s very Republican Indianapolis city administration, so our dismay with and disapproval of what the GOP has become has built over a period of years.  After giving his question some thought, I said today’s Republicans think the world should be run by White Christian men.

In a recent column, Jennifer Rubin made a similar point: The GOP, she wrote, is no longer a party. It’s a movement to impose White Christian nationalism.

People might be confused about how a Republican Party that once worried about government overreach now seeks to control medical care for transgender children and retaliate against a corporation for objecting to a bill targeting LGBTQ students. And why is it that the most ambitious Republicans are spending more time battling nonexistent critical race theory in schools than on health care or inflation?

To explain this, one must acknowledge that the GOP is not a political party anymore. It is a movement dedicated to imposing White Christian nationalism.

The media blandly describes the GOP’s obsessions as “culture wars,” but that suggests there is another side seeking to impose its views on others. In reality, only one side is repudiating pluralistic democracy — White, Christian and mainly rural Americans who are becoming a minority group and want to maintain their political power.

Rubin says that the MAGA movement is essentially an effort to “conserve power and to counteract the sense of a shared fate with Americans who historically have been marginalized.”

The hysteria on the right has led to the virtual abandonment of policy positions, or for that matter, anything remotely resembling adult argumentation. Rather than focusing on governance, the cult that was once a political party has substituted what Rubin accurately calls “malicious labeling and insults (e.g., “groomer,” “woke”), and the targeting of LGBTQ youths and dehumanization of immigrants.” Today’s Republican candidates characterize their opponents in terms that in our time would have made them outcasts in the party–they label Democrats (and rational Republicans, to the extent those still exist) “as sick, dangerous and — above all — not real Americans.”

No one should be surprised that the “big lie” has become gospel in White evangelical churches. The New York Times reports: “In the 17 months since the presidential election, pastors at these churches have preached about fraudulent votes and vague claims of election meddling. … For these church leaders, Mr. Trump’s narrative of the 2020 election has become a prominent strain in an apocalyptic vision of the left running amok.”

If anti-critical-race-theory crusades are the response to racial empathy, then laws designed to make voting harder or to subvert elections are the answer to the GOP’s defeat in 2020, which the right still refuses to concede. The election has been transformed into a plot against right-wingers that must be rectified by further marginalizing those outside their movement.

Rubin is correct when she says that America’s very real  political problems are minor when compared with what she calls  “the moral confusion” exhibited by millions of White Christian Americans. My only quibble with that observation is that White Supremacy isn’t really “moral confusion.” It is immorality.

What I find depressingly ironic is the fact that the “morality” preached in so many Christian churches is focused exclusively on individual (primarily sexual) behavior–as though “morality” is exclusively a matter of what happens below the waist and in the uterus, and has little or nothing to do with how we treat our fellow humans.

A morality that avoids grappling with people’s social behaviors–a theology that ignores questions of basic social justice–is no morality at all.

America may avoid a replay of our “hot” civil war, but make no mistake: we are in the middle of an existential battle for the soul of this country–and those fighting to retain their dominance are unrestrained by morality, by fidelity to the rule of law, or by allegiance to the (yet-to-be-achieved) principles of the Declaration, Constitution or Bill of Rights.

I firmly believe that a majority of Americans support pluralism, democracy and fundamental fairness. But I also know that people fight harder–and dirtier– when they feel cornered.

We live in a very scary time.

 

The March of Those Christian “Soldiers”

Marching backwards…

Last Tuesday, the Indianapolis Star reported on the explosion of anti-Semitic incidents on IU’s Bloomington campus. National headlines trumpet passage of anti-LGBTQ legislation (“Don’t say gay!”) and mean-spirited attacks on transgender youth. The Ted Cruz’s of the GOP and the Tucker Carlsons of rightwing media warn against the “feminization” of American men and the “dire threat” posed by (nonwhite) immigrants.

The fears and hatreds that feed these behaviors are exploited by the Christian Nationalists who have come to exercise disproportionate influence in American life by turning  a political ideology into a version of Christianity, and insisting that only adherents of that version are authentically American.

In a recent column, Jennifer Rubin considered that influence–and confluence. In a column about the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson, she wrote:

.Democracy functions only with restraint, good-faith application of procedural rules and devotion to the principle that the other side gets to govern when it wins. That concept is now an anathema to the GOP. As Thomas Zimmer has written for the Guardian, “Many Republicans agree that the Democratic Party is a fundamentally illegitimate political faction — and that any election outcome that would lead to Democratic governance must be rejected as illegitimate as well.”

That view of illegitimacy often stems from Christian nationalism. As Robert P. Jones, chief executive of the Public Religion Research Institute, explains, “A worldview that claims God as a political partisan and dehumanizes one’s political opponents as evil is fundamentally antidemocratic.” He tells me, “A mind-set that believes that our nation was divinely ordained to be a promised land for Christians of European descent is incompatible with the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of freedom of religion and equality of all.”

The New Republic–among others–has also looked at what it called “The Shock Troops” of Christian Nationalism, and the wealthy theocrats funding them. 

The article focused on a little-known foundation, the James and Joan Lindsey Family Foundation, and what it characterized as “a vast and steady flow of contributions” to  organizations in that Christian nationalist movement: the Family Research Council, Focus on the Family, WallBuilders, a media company called Mastermedia International, and the Council for National Policy, a networking group for movement leadership.

“We are a Christian country. And the Founders were—definitely—and our founding documents were written under prayer each day of the writing,” Joan Lindsey has said. On the eve of the 2020 election, she announced that “this election will either preserve faith’s sacred place in our country or destroy it.”

The most recent effort backed by the Lindseys is something called “The Church Finds Its Voice,” a new entrant in what the article identifies as “a long-standing pattern in the Christian nationalist movement of backing projects to turn America’s network of tens of thousands of conservative churches into a powerful partisan political machine.”

The article is lengthy, and includes multiple other examples of Christian Nationalist activism.  It’s chilling; one leader of the movement is quoted as saying that “every election is a contest against absolute evil, and the consequences of failure are almost too dire to imagine.” To suggest that these activists are motivated is to understate the situation. Rightwing media has convinced them that Trump was anointed by God to protect Christians from those who would not only dislodge them from their privileged position but would also strip them of their rights and liberties.

Numerous accounts of the January 6th insurrection have focused on the ubiquity of Christian Nationalist symbols, and expressions of belief that God was on their side. As the deeply religious Michael Gerson has observed, transforming opponents into infidels provides an opening for racism and anti-Semitism.

The anti-Semitism being displayed at Indiana University is just one aspect of the Christian Nationalist worldview, but it is a fairly major element of it. An analysis by the Washington Post found that Christian Nationalism, support for QAnon, and anti-Semitism to be tightly linked.

Since Christian nationalism is a worldview holding that the United States was created by and for Christians, it may not be surprising that they dislike non-Christians. On average, the most ardent Christian nationalists subscribed to four of the eight anti-Semitic tropes presented; those most opposed to Christian nationalism subscribed to an average of one. Christian nationalists were more likely to believe each individual trope but showed the strongest support for the mistaken ideas that “Jews are more loyal to Israel than to this country” and “Jews killed Jesus.”

Christian Nationalists who had bought into nutty QAnon conspiracy theories were even more anti-Semitic. QAnon reinforces a number of anti-Semitic tropes: that Jews control the banks, the media and the government, and that Jews are the ones behind the Deep State.

The problem is, those “Christian soldiers” own today’s GOP.

 

 

Twenty Percent Scary

I recently came across an article reporting that twenty percent of Americans are Christian Nationalists. I have no way of evaluating the accuracy of the survey research that led to that number, but even ten percent would be an absolutely chilling number.

Attention to the phenomenon and the threat it poses has spiked recently, thanks to the central role played by Christian Nationalists in the January 6th attack on the Capitol. A Google search for the term returns a large number of articles, academic analyses,  and opinion pieces, most of them highly critical. Thomas Edsall rounded up a subset of the academic articles in a recent column for the New York Times opining that it would be impossible to understand January 6th without investigating the movement’s role in the uprising.

Edsall quoted from a book by Andrew Whitehead and Samuel Perry,“Taking America Back for God,” which described Christian Nationalism as a stew of “nativism, white supremacy, patriarchy and heteronormativity, along with divine sanction for authoritarian control and militarism.” Christian Nationalism, as they analyzed it, is ethnic and political as much–or more–than religious.

Understood in this light, Christian nationalism contends that America has been and should always be distinctively ‘Christian’ from top to bottom — in its self-identity, interpretations of its own history, sacred symbols, cherished values and public policies — and it aims to keep it this way.

Edsall quotes a similar sentiment from the author of another recent book, “The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism,”

It is a political movement, and its ultimate goal is power. It does not seek to add another voice to America’s pluralistic democracy, but to replace our foundational democratic principles and institutions with a state grounded on a particular version of Christianity, answering to what some adherents call a ‘biblical worldview’ that also happens to serve the interests of its plutocratic funders and allied political leaders.

Perry addressed the role of Christian Nationalism on January 6th, noting the use of religious symbols during the insurrection such as the cross, Christian flag, Jesus saves sign, etc.

But also the language of the prayers offered by the insurrectionists both outside and within the Capitol indicates the views of white Americans who obviously thought Jesus not only wanted them to violently storm the Capitol in order to take it back from the socialists, globalists, etc., but also believed God empowered their efforts, giving them victory.

There’s much, much more. It’s important to recognize that Christian Nationalists aren’t going to be defeated by secular bloggers, critical “elitist” columnists, or worried academics. The movement can only be effectively countered by those I think of as actual Christians, and fortunately, some have risen to the challenge.Their organizational statement begins by describing their concern with “a persistent threat to both our religious communities and our democracy — Christian nationalism.”

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.

Instead, these Christians believe that:

People of all faiths and none have the right and responsibility to engage constructively in the public square.

Patriotism does not require us to minimize our religious convictions.

One’s religious affiliation, or lack thereof, should be irrelevant to one’s standing in the civic community.

Government should not prefer one religion over another or religion over nonreligion.

Religious instruction is best left to our houses of worship, other religious institutions and families.

America’s historic commitment to religious pluralism enables faith communities to live in civic harmony with one another without sacrificing our theological convictions.

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.

I can only hope (and pray!) that these Christians number more than twenty percent…

 

 

 

Vouchers And Christian Nationalism

When historians look back at this time–at Trumpism, the insurrection at the Capitol, America’s extreme polarization, and campaigns of continuing disinformation–they will undoubtedly identify a number of contributors to our civic unrest. (I want to point out here that I am being optimistic–I am assuming humanity survives and produces historians…)

One of those contributors will be the state-level voucher programs sending dollars that should support public education to private, overwhelmingly religious schools. As an article in Huffpost reported,

Christian textbooks used in thousands of schools around the country teach that President Barack Obama helped spur destructive Black Lives Matter protests, that the Democrats’ choice of 2016 nominee Hillary Clinton reflected their focus on identity politics, and that President Donald Trump is the “fighter” Republicans want, a HuffPost analysis has found.

The analysis focused on three textbooks from two major publishers of Christian educational materials ― Abeka and BJU Press–used in a majority of Christian schools, and examined  their coverage of American history and politics. All three 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.

Scholars say textbooks like these, with their alternate versions of history and emphasis on Christian national identity, represent one small part of the conditions that lead to events like last week’s riot at the U.S. Capitol, an episode that was permeated with the symbols of Christian nationalism. Before storming the Capitol, some groups prayed in the name of Jesus and asked for divine protection. They flew Christian and “Jesus 2020” flags and pointed to Trump’s presidency as the will of God. The linkage between Christian beliefs and the violent attack on Congress has since pushed evangelical leaders to confront their own relationship with Trump and their support for the rioters.

Salon published an interview with one of the researchers who conducted the analysis. She found that over 7,000 schools around the country currently participate in a voucher or a tax credit program, and that three quarters of the participating schools were religious. (In Indiana, some 95% of voucher recipients attend a religious school.) At least 30 percent of those schools were using a curriculum provided by Abeka, Accelerated Christian Education, or Bob Jones.

Her description of the Accelerated Christian Education curriculum was hair-raising. You really need to click through and read it. 

She also referenced Indiana, which–as we Hoosiers know– has one of the “more comprehensive voucher programs,” and the millions of taxpayer dollars going to schools that use one of these curricula. She also noted that, In the vast majority of states that have voucher programs, “there is zero oversight over what schools and voucher and tax credit programs are teaching. Quite literally zero.”

These findings are entirely consistent with my own research. When a colleague and I looked to see whether voucher schools are under any state-imposed obligations to teach civics, we found a total lack of any such requirements–and virtually no oversight at all. (A study of religious voucher schools in Louisiana found science classes teaching creationism, along with health and safety violations.)

It’s bad enough that too many legislators–and parents–consider education to be just another consumer good–giving children skills they will need to participate in the marketplace. But even if that were the case, study after study has shown that these programs have failed to improve academic performance.

Private schools, including private religious schools, have a First Amendment right to teach whatever they want–when they are being funded with private dollars. When they are being supported with public dollars taken from public schools, however, as they are in states with voucher programs, the calculus should be different. This is especially the case because public education is also supposed to be a mechanism for instilling Constitutional and democratic values–public schools, as Benjamin Barber memorably wrote, are “constitutive of a public.”

There are fewer and fewer “street corners” in today’s fragmented world, fewer places where people from different cultures, races, religions and perspectives come together in any meaningful way. Economically-separated residential patterns make that ideal hard enough to achieve through public schools–but using tax dollars to create another set of “bubbles” through which rightwing extremists can deny science and transmit a Christian Nationalist worldview is both a betrayal of our public obligations and yet another reason for America’s declining civic cohesion.