Reckoning with the Toxicity of Christian Nationalism

By Bill Berkowitz | 8 February 2021
Daily Kos

(Credit: YouTube / screengrab)

For decades, they’ve been stigmatizing and attacking opponents, raising money and building huge flocks based on faith, fear and anger, launching multi-million-dollar media empires, and becoming the face of conservative evangelical Christianity. While a series of sexual and financial scandals have thinned their ranks, for many among them, the only thing they haven’t gotten away with is murder! However, the January 6 invasion of the Capitol, and their touting of Donald Trump’s big lie that the election was a fraud, is shining a blazing spotlight on Christian Nationalism.

David French called January 6th, the day “a violent Christian insurrection invaded and occupied the Capitol.” The attack “occurred days after the so-called Jericho March, an event explicitly filled with Christian-nationalist rhetoric so unhinged that French, Senior editor of The Dispatch, a columnist for Time, and the author of the forthcoming Divided We Fall, “warned that it embodied ‘a form of fanaticism that can lead to deadly violence.’”

On January 6, Christian music blared, Christian symbols were ubiquitous, many in the mob wore Christian-themed t-shirts, and the Proud Boys led a prayer session before storming the Capitol.

During Donald Trump’s term Christian Right leaders bought into his lies, repeated his accusations that the media was the enemy of the people, and most recently, actively promulgated the conspiratorial disinformation that the election was stolen from Trump.

Writing for Reveal, from the Center for Investigative Reporting, and in partnership with Rolling Stone, Sarah Posner reported that the Jan 6 Save America March “opened with a prayer [led by] Trump’s longtime spiritual adviser and White House adviser, the Florida televangelist Paula White, [who] called on God to ‘give us a holy boldness in this hour.’ White implored God to “let every adversary against democracy, against freedom, against life, against liberty, against justice, against peace, against righteousness be overturned right now in the name of Jesus.”

When the Senate chamber was breached, Posner further wrote: “the group paused to pray ‘in Christ’s holy name.’ Men raised their arms in the air as millions of evangelical and charismatic parishioners do every Sunday and thanked God for allowing them ‘to send a message to all the tyrants, the communists and the globalists, that this is our nation, not theirs.’ They thanked God ‘for allowing the United States of America to be reborn.’”

Meanwhile, Donald Trump’s evangelical posse is in pretzel bending mode: While some have condemned the January 6 violence at the Capitol, others refuse to blame Trump for inciting the mob. Sarah Posner, author of Unholy: Why Evangelicals Worship at the Altar of Donald Trump, maintained that evangelical leaders will attempt to minimize “Trump’s role in the Capitol attack… because many see him not just as an elected official but one anointed by God.” Religion Dispatches Chrissy Stroop argues the Capitol invasion “will force a reckoning with the ways in which conservative Christianity upholds white supremacist patriarchy in the United States. Not as a fig leaf, not as window dressing, but substantively, as religion. Christianity comes in many varieties, not all of which are benign, pro-social, or conducive to the embrace of pluralism and democracy among their adherents.”

Franklin Graham, son of the late evangelist Billy Graham and head of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, “said he was sickened to see ‘people attack my Capitol and break down the doors of my Capitol’ and was dismayed to see how President Donald Trump riled up the protesters, USA Today’s Rick Jervis, Marc Ramirez and Romina Ruiz-Goiriena, reported a week after the insurrection. “I don’t think it was the president’s finest moment,” Graham added. “I don’t think he had any understanding in that moment of what was going to take place. None of us did. He regrets it.”

Evangelicals “are so conditioned not to trust the media, it’s going to be really hard to convince them of the truth of what happened on Wednesday,” Posner told USA Today. “Because it’s the leaders who are again churning the same conspiracy theories, I don’t see a lot of progress in changing anybody’s minds,” Posner noted.

Robert Jeffress, senior pastor of the 14,000-member First Baptist Church of Dallas, Jeffress called the storming of the Capitol “not only a crime” but “a sin against God,” however, he expressed “absolutely no regrets” over his “enthusiastic support” of Trump over the past four years. “He is without doubt the most pro-life and pro-religious president in history,” Jeffress said in an e-mail to USA Today reporters. “The president has every right to hold the view that the election was fraudulent and to invite those who share that belief to peacefully protest. He neither called for nor condoned the despicable actions of those who invaded our Capitol and assaulted the police.”

“If the church plays whack-a-mole against Q[Anon] and Stop the Steal while it tolerates and spreads enabling lies, expect to see the insurrection continue,” David French wrote. “Expect to see it grow.”

Chrissy Stroop in Religion Dispatches criticizes the mainstream media’s giving longtime Trump-supporting evangelicals a pass when it comes to “foster[ing] fascism in the pews.” Chrissy Stroop wrote:

that the fact that books like Posner’s — along with Whitehead and Perry’s Taking America Back for God: Christian Nationalism in the United States, Public Religion Research Institute CEO Robert P. Jones’ White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacism in American Christianity, and Kristin Kobes Du Mez’s Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation — are increasingly shaping discussion of evangelicalism in print media is reason to hope that our elite public sphere is at last lurching toward a genuine reckoning with white evangelical authoritarianism.

And that is cause for some hope, because without squarely and honestly facing the role of white Christianity in fostering American society’s worst impulses, there’s no way to heal and move forward.

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The Power Worshippers: The Rise of Religious Nationalism (with Katherine Stewart)

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