Tag Archives: separation of church and state

Christian Nationalism

I frequently inveigh against Christian Nationalism without explaining exactly what it is. In the wake of Marjorie Taylor Green’s recent declaration identifying herself as a Christian Nationalist, I decided I should be more explicit about what that label means–because it doesn’t simply indicate a religious identity.

As the Executive Director of the Baptist Joint Committee on Religious Liberty recently wrote,

Christian nationalism is a political ideology and cultural framework that merges Christian and American identities, distorting both the Christian faith and America’s promise of religious freedom. It relies heavily on a false narrative of America as a “Christian nation,” founded by Christians in order to privilege Christianity. This mythical history betrays the work of the framers to create a federal government that would remain neutral when it comes to religion, neither promoting nor denigrating it — a deliberate break with the state-established religions of the colonies.

Though not new, Christian nationalism has been exploited in recent years by politicians like former President Donald Trump to further an “us vs. them” mentality and send a message that only Christians can be “real” Americans.

An article in The Week pointed to the substantial role played by Christian Nationalists in the insurrection on January 6th. As one observer reported  “Crosses were everywhere that day in D.C., on flags and flagpoles, on signs and clothes, around necks, and erected above the crowd,”  Bible verses were plentiful in the crowd, and a number of rioters actually paused for prayer during the attack. One rioter recorded herself justifying her participation by saying  “We are a godly country, and we are founded on godly principles. And if we do not have our country, nothing else matters.”

A 2021 survey by the Pew Research Center identified 77 percent of Republican respondents as “church-state integrationists” who hold a variety of views “consistent” with Christian nationalism. That might be overstating things somewhat. A 2017 survey found that one-in-five Americans hold such views. The scholars at Political Behavior found that “support for the Capitol attacks is a minority position among any slice of the American religious landscape.” But they also noted that 17.7 percent “of white weekly churchgoers fall into the joint top quartile of justification of violence, Christian nationalist beliefs, perceived victimhood, white identity, and support for QAnon.” That percentage — while relatively small — “would represent millions of individuals.”

The article noted that Christian Nationalism is gaining an “increasing foothold ” in Republican politics. Greene and  Boebert are two of the more explicit proponents of Christian nationalism, but less well known members of the party are also adherents. “Doug Mastriano — a former Army officer who chartered buses to ferry protesters to Washington D.C. on Jan. 6, and who has declared the separation of church and state a “myth” —  is the GOP nominee for governor in Pennsylvania, and is now running a close race with his Democratic opponent.”

What is truly terrifying is that Christian Nationalism is being normalized. Republicans who shared the ideology  but previously denied the label are increasingly willing to admit to it: as the linked article notes, ” Marjorie Taylor Greene might have made news by openly embracing the term, but she might not be that unusual.”

As the Executive Director of the Baptist Joint Committee on Religious Liberty wrote,

I care about dismantling Christian nationalism both because I’m a practicing Christian and because I’m a patriotic American — and no, those identities are not the same. As Christians, we can’t allow Greene, Boebert or Trump to distort our faith without a fight.

We must speak loudly when our faith is used as a political tool, we must uproot it from our own churches and communities and we must form alliances with religious minorities and the nonreligious — who suffer the impact of Christian nationalism the most.

Religion, and Christianity in particular, has flourished in America not because of government aid or favoritism, but for the opposite reason: religion’s freedom from government control. Government involvement in religious affairs doesn’t aid the free exercise of religion. And as Christians, we are called to love our neighbors rather than make them feel unwelcome in their own country…

Christian lawmakers don’t need to erase their faith from politics. My fellow Baptist, Georgia Democrat Sen. Rev. Raphael Warnock, has modeled what it looks like for a pastor to serve in Congress without insisting on a privileged place for Christianity in law and society….

It’s not just Christian political leaders that need to do better, it’s all of us. Earlier this summer, I joined a group of prominent Christian leaders in launching the Christians Against Christian Nationalism campaign. More than 25,000 Christians have joined the campaign as we seek to elevate an alternative Christian public witness.

The Christian Nationalist takeover of one of America’s major political parties poses an enormous threat to us all.

 

 

 

A Sword Or A Shield?

Religion has been in the news a lot lately, which probably shouldn’t surprise us. When the times we live in are tumultuous–and I certainly think this era qualifies–people cling to and defend their “eternal verities.”

Of course, that raises an interesting question: what, exactly, qualifies as religion? I think the “eternal verity” descriptor gets at something (excuse the phrase) fundamental: an unshakable belief system based largely on faith in matters that are not susceptible to scientific verification. Political ideologies–including tribal bigotries–fall within that definition.

Unshakable and unprovable beliefs, of course, are the source of a great deal of mischief–and often, tragedy. I’ve posted previously about the tensions within evangelical circles, about some Christians’ insistence that Muslims and Jews cannot be “real Americans,” about the ongoing religious debates over reproductive rights, and (more frequently) about the concerns of America’s founders that led to the religion clauses of the First Amendment. 

With respect to those concerns, an observation by Barney Frank during a recent interview comes to mind.(I’ve loved Barney Frank ever since he held a Town Hall during the fight over the Affordable Care Act, and responded to a looney-tune woman comparing Obama to Hitler and the ACA to Nazism by asking her “On what planet do you spend most of your time?”)

In the interview, Frank was asked the following question: “Some on the left have expressed concern that the 6-3 conservative supermajority on the Supreme Court could erode LGBTQ rights in the name of religious liberty. Are you concerned at all about this?”

Frank responded with his trademark rhetorical acuity. “Yes I am. They’re not going to undo marriage. But I do worry about entities that get public tax money to perform services—they should not in my judgment be allowed to exclude people because of some religious disapproval of their sexual practices. It’s the sword versus the shield. The shield, in legal terms, is a doctrine that prevents other people from intruding on you. A sword is used to intrude on others. And while religious liberty should be a shield, there are concerns that people might make it a sword.”

That verbal picture–a sword or a shield–is an excellent way to approach the First Amendment, and not simply the religion clauses. 

The Amendment was intended to protect an individual’s right to believe pretty much anything (not necessarily to act on those beliefs, however) and to try to convince others to believe those things too. It was also intended to prevent government from getting involved by putting a thumb on the scale, so to speak, or imposing the beliefs of some Americans on others. It was–in Frank’s felicitous phrase–intended to provide individual citizens with a shield and to prevent majorities from using government as a sword.

The problem is, we have millions of people who have “religion” in the sense I defined it above. We have cults, traditional religious affiliations, conspiracy theories, political ideologies of both the Left and Right…in short, we have veritable armies of people convinced of the superior righteousness of their own belief systems. If you need evidence, examine what has been called “cancel culture,” the effort to ostracize people who hold opposing views–not to enter into debate with them, but to shut them down, eject them from the public conversation. (That effort is most definitely not limited to the Left, despite Rightwing efforts to claim otherwise.) 

For numerous reasons, the law cannot classify all these systems as religions for purposes of the First Amendment. That practical reality means that the label “religious” does confer a considerable advantage on beliefs that define themselves in that more limited fashion.

When it comes to traditional religion, Pew recently shared a bit of positive news about the sword and shield finding a significant majority of Americans want government to enforce separation of Church and State. I wonder what a similar study would find about our current commitment to Free Speech–especially in light of recent revelations about Facebook and other social media platforms.

What’s that Chinese curse? “May you live in interesting times…” 

No, Public Officials Aren’t “Ministers of God”

Oh Alabama…Are you trying to out-Texas Texas?

For years, we’ve watched the antics of crazy Judge Roy Moore–he of the 5-ton Ten Commandments fiasco– who somehow managed to get himself re-elected to the Alabama Supreme Court a couple of years ago. (Moore is a poster child for the proposition that Judges ought not be popularly elected.)

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage, Moore has (predictably) gone over the edge. Far, far over. So has the lawyer representing him, who is apparently as delusional about the American legal system and the settled meaning of the First Amendment as his client.

In a letter to Alabama’s Governor urging defiance of the Supreme Court’s decision, the lawyer–Win Johnson–wrote:

Public officials are ministers of God assigned the duty of punishing the wicked and protecting the righteous. If the public officials decide to officially approve of the acts of the wicked, they must logically not protect the righteous from the wicked. In fact, they must become protectors of the wicked. You cannot serve two masters; you must pick — God or Satan.

And you know whose side that crafty Satan is on….

I’m not sure what law school Mr. Johnson attended, but the fact that he actually matriculated should be cause for considerable concern.

This isn’t just a misunderstanding of separation of church and state;  it’s civil law as understood by the Taliban.

 

 

 

Speaking of Religion…

We’re seeing multiple tantrums from self-styled religious folks these days, and it isn’t likely to abate in the coming new year.

Huffington Post recently reported on a lawsuit brought against the Kansas State Board of Education.

An anti-evolution group is suing the Kansas State Board of Education for instituting a science curriculum that teaches evolution.

The nonprofit Citizens for Objective Public Education filed a lawsuit Thursday to block the board, education commissioner and Department of Education from teaching science classes consistent with new educational benchmarks developed by 26 states to align school systems across the U.S. These Next Generation Science Standards, which Kansas adopted in June, have seen fierce opposition from critics opposed to the teaching of climate change and evolution.

Citizens for Objective Public Education argues in its lawsuit that the standards promote atheism and therefore violate the separation of church and state.

I wish the theocrats would make up their minds! Texas textbook reviewers insist that there isn’t any separation of church and state. Marco Rubio agrees with them (which tells you that denying separation is a litmus test for the GOP base). Something called the Jeremiah Project says the theory of Church-State separation is  a nefarious plot by those who deny that America is a “Christian Nation.”

Apparently, interpretation of the First Amendment is a matter of convenience, to be changed when a different understanding is required in order to reach one’s desired outcome.

I must have missed that part of scripture where it teaches us that “the ends justify the means.”

Welcome to 2015.

 

 

Privileging “Faith”

Sometime today, the House of Representatives will vote on an Act exempting anyone with “sincerely held religious beliefs” from the ACA’s mandate to buy health insurance. The measure didn’t go through the usual legislative procedures; it suddenly appeared—like magic!– a product of the increasingly hysterical opposition to healthcare reform.

And of course, it’s framed as “respect for religion.”

Religions began because humans attributed things they couldn’t explain to mysterious gods and their mysterious ways. Did lightning strike the village? Someone angered the deity. Was drought starving the tribe? Sacrifice a virgin. When smallpox vaccinations first became available, clergy warned that God–who sent the disease to those who “deserved” it–would disapprove of the vaccine’s use to evade His purposes.

We may laugh at these examples, but a significant percentage of the American population—never mind “natives” residing elsewhere—still harbor similar beliefs. Pat Robertson has famously attributed hurricanes to toleration of GLBT folks, and James Inhofe (who inexplicably serves on Congressional climate committees) believes climate change is blasphemy–denial of the Truth that God will protect the planet.

A not insignificant number of Americans are Freethinkers—agnostics or atheists–but very few of us are comfortable “coming out” as nontheistic in a society that pays so much homage to even the most farfetched “sincere” religious belief.

American culture privileges protestations of religion in innumerable ways.

Deference to dogma routinely distorts public policy. It explains institutionalized homophobia and sexism, the conflation of “sin” with “crime,” opposition to stem cell research…the list is extensive. Most recently, employers outraged at the prospect of providing basic birth control as part of comprehensive health coverage—even though they need not pay for the coverage and even though those workers have their own, very different religious commitments—have had their arguments received with (unmerited) respect. Because, you know, they’re “religious.”

And now, a bill that says “Hey—if you’re religious (or say you are), the law won’t apply to you.”

Thoughtful religious people understand that genuine faith requires humility.

Faith—religious or otherwise—means belief in something that by its nature cannot be scientifically or logically proven. There’s a reason it is called a “leap of faith.” There’s a reason that generations of religious thinkers have wrestled with the problem of doubt.

There’s also a reason that our legal system separates Church from State. The Constitution protects your right to believe in God, Jesus or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, but it also protects me from the operation of your theocratic impulses.

I don’t think I’m the only person who is very tired of kowtowing to the demands of the Ostentatiously Pious and those who use them for political cover.

 

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