Is Christian nationalism “heresy”?

Rev. William J. Barber III calls it heresy. He tells people he is “a conservative, liberal, evangelical Christian.” I know, I know. Conservatives and liberals alike generally think you can’t be both, but he claims that he is both. You may have seen his 10-minute speech at the 2016 Democratic National Convention, where people were on their feet in celebration of his call to “national moral revival.”  Or you may be aware of what he calls “Moral Mondays” in North Carolina, which have gone national and merged with a new Poor People’s Campaign.

This excellent CNN report by John Blake on his interview with Rev. Barber highlights Barber’s use of the term “fusion politics,” with historical roots in North Carolina politics and in the new conservative movement. He reclaims it for his own movement, saying it can create “political coalitions that often transcend the conservative vs. progressive binary.”

In his 2016 speech, he claimed that some things are not just being conservative/liberal or left/right, but right or wrong. Rev. Barber sometimes uses similar language to what we hear in the new conservative and Christian nationalism movement – like moral and right – and gives them meaning that creates a foundation for his work. For instance, his fusion politics looks like this:

“A coalition of the ‘rejected stones’ of America—the poor, immigrants, working-class whites, religious minorities, people of color and members of the LGBTQ community can transform the country because they share a common enemy. … There is a sleeping giant in America. Poor and low-wealth folks now make up 30% of the electorate in every state and over 40% of the electorate in every state where the margin of victory for the presidency was less than 3%. If you could just get that many poor and low-wealth people to vote, they could fundamentally shift every election in the country.”

When Barber describes himself as a conservative, liberal, evangelical, biblicist Christian, he undermines the political and religious divide we experience and challenges us all to rethink the meanings of language we use. This may be one reason Yale Divinity School made him the director of their new Center for Public Theology and Public Policy.

In the Christian nationalism movement, people boldly claim they are following their moral and religious values. So does Rev. Barber. In addressing the question of economic inequality in our nation, for instance, he says:

“To have this level of inequality existing is a violation of our deepest moral, constitutional and religious values. It’s morally inconsistent, morally indefensible, and economically insane. Why would you not want to lift 55 to 60 million people out of poverty if you could by paying them a basic living wage? Why would you not want that amount of resources coming to people and then coming back into the economy?”

When discussing Christian nationalism, here’s how he answers this question: “What’s wrong with saying God loves America and that the country should be built on Christian values?”

“God doesn’t say it. That’s what’s wrong with it. The scriptures say God loves all people and that if a nation is going to embrace Christian values, then we got to know what those values are. And those values certainly aren’t anti-gay, against people who may have had an abortion, pro-tax cut, pro one party and pro-gun. There’s nowhere in the scriptures where you see Jesus lifting that up.

Jesus said the Gospel is about good news to the poor, healing to the brokenhearted, welcoming all people, caring for the least of these: the immigrant, the hungry, the sick, the imprisoned. Christian nationalism attempts to sanctify oppression and not liberation. It attempts to sanctify lies and not truth. At best, it’s a form of theological malpractice. At worst, it’s a form of heresy.”

In this interview, Rev. Barber indirectly highlights what I consider to be at the heart of challenging this new conservative, Christian nationalism movement. What are our values and where do our values lead us? Do we imagine the world to be about authority and power, rules and laws and enforcing them on everyone, discipline and punishment based on retribution? Or do we imagine the world to be about compassion and empathy, equality and freedom for all, nurture and restorative, healing justice?

We need to name and define what we value, what we believe is most important in this world. For people like Rev. Barber, as a Christian pastor and theologian, as well as a social activist, his values come from what Jesus said about “caring for the least of these: the immigrant, the hungry, the sick, the imprisoned.” Whatever our faith – whether religious or secular, perhaps we can agree that we want to live in a world built on values of empathy, compassion, nurture, equality, freedom, and healing justice. Then we can work together to build that kind of world.

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You may have read some of my posts in the fall about the Reawaken America Tour in Batavia, NY last August. You can read all of them now in a free eBook, “Inside the Reawaken America Tour.” Click here and download your copy today.

https://mailchi.mp/c0ceca0553ef/reawaken-america

Rude and Crude

At the Reawaken American Tour in Batavia, “rude and crude” characterized the language and demeanor of some speakers. The program described one Saturday morning speaker, Doug Billings, as “the man who Glenn Beck and General Flynn have referred to as the next Rush Limbaugh.” For 37 years, Limbaugh set the tone for this radical right movement on his radio show, and he seemed to revel in being rude and crude day after day.

Rush Limbaugh

Doug Billings, host of The Right Side Show, was not as rude and crude as the two speakers who followed him, but he was dismissive of people who created “the nightmare” we live in. America right now, he claimed, has a “communist, socialist government…. and “we the people of God must take it back. – If we take it back, we win,” he shouted. “We are the party of life, liberty, and happiness.” This dismissive rhetoric dominated the whole event.

The next speaker brought the crowd to its feet with applause at his appearance on stage. I had not heard of most of the speakers at this event, but the audience had. On Charlie Ward’s website, his story gives no real clues to who he really is and what he does, but if you read his May 5, 2022 newsletter, you know why he was at this event:  

“Good day Patriot: This a very exciting week, the Quantum team are working extremely hard behind the scenes, nothing is in plain sight. This is a military operation, there will be NO telegraphing of information but also no reason to worry. Everything is under control, it’s important that the masses wake up to the truth. This is not an easy journey, people have been conditioned not to question what they see, hear and read. Hard for those who seek the truth to convince them they have been conned by people they believed they should trust.”

During Charlie Ward’s presentation, he was intense, loud, crude at times, building the crowd into a frenzy. Good thing it was only 15 minutes! To get a better sense of the experience, watch his TV segments – or just read the headlines and see the images from links on his website to his TV shows:

The third speaker reveled in being rude and crude. Scot McKay calls himself the Patriot Street Fighter and says he is “giving his voice to ‘we the people’, dedicating his time, effort, heart & soul to maintaining, through his platforms, the undeniable RIGHTS provided by our Lord & Savior- In other words, the beautiful freedoms all Americans enjoy! – Christian Nationalism in all its glory.

McKay came on stage with bodyguards, with video and sound like a wrestling event. In coarse language, he launched into the rhetoric of the “battle of our lifetime [against] the Satanic force out there circling this planet.” He talked about how his family opposed what he is doing and then said to the crowd: “Look around, this is your family.” He talked fast, moving from one idea to another:

  • School boards voting in policies allowing kids to identify as furries
  • Calling George H.W. Bush as a rapist and drug trafficker
  • Urging people to bring Christ consciousness into this world
  • Talking about the World Economic Forum, Klaus Schwab, and “government at every level doing what they want” – and how in Europe “they’re stand up by the millions” against it all
  • Talk of the military and Trump taking over, using survivalist language to urge people to get ready and saying “this is Christ’s call”

Christian Nationalism and the radical right movement it is part of seems caught in a web of conspiracies and lies, unsubstantiated accusations, and demonizing of “the other.” The mixing of Capitalism, Christianity, and Nationalism combines with aggressive militancy and toxic masculinity to create not only a rude and crude, but a dangerous, culture.

How Strange

How strange could it get? I did sometimes wonder that during the Reawaken America Tour in Batavia. I have been in Christian circles for decades where people used the language of “spiritual warfare” and prayed against evil and the demonic. There was a lot of that, but it did not seem strange – not even mixed in with the language of political enemies. I knew that was coming.

Bo Polny (https://bopolny.com/), however, surprised me. Unknown to me – he has millions of views on YouTube and more than one website promoting his work as an “analyst” in the Gold, Silver, and Cryptocurrency markets. What does that have to do with a spiritual and political “Reawakening” in America? Then it got stranger.

Bo Polny

He packed a lot into 15 minutes, beginning with a video which included scriptures about vengeance and destruction of enemies and about the wealth of sinners being stored up for the righteous. This was the language of the video, not just my interpretation. There were dark images about war and judgment – and about Babylon – apocalyptic, end-times imagery and language wrapped up in a presentation by someone who works in the Gold, Silver, and Cryptocurrency markets. He portrayed Babylon (understood by many as the world economic power of “the last days”) as the Vatican and Washington controlling us “through a system of corruption and mind control.” Then he spoke like a prophet telling the future saying that “Babylon is coming down this year – the day of vengeance of our God.” That brought applause from the crowd.

The Fall of Babylon

From there it got stranger and stranger. He used bits and pieces of his “research,” abused isolated phrases and ideas from the book of Haggai, for instance, and drew on the language of “end times prophecy” to announce “September 24 as the day when everything, including the economy, will be overturned.” I guess we’ll see what happens in two weeks.

We could dismiss someone like Bo Polny as simply ignorant, maybe deluded, but he represents a part of Christian Nationalism which cannot be ignored. Books like Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America,” by historian Nancy MacLean, tell the 60-year story of how a radical view of Capitalism captivated radical conservative Christianity. What appear to be disparate political and religious streams merged into one movement with the force of a river at flood stage. That’s what we are seeing now. Why would a gold and cryptocurrency marketer use the language and imagery of end-times prophecy to announce the fall of Babylon in the fall of 2022? Seems so strange.

Nancy MacLean

Christian Nationalism merges a specific “biblical worldview” with right-wing politics and claims that America is a Christian nation, with laws to be based in that worldview, and that only people who agree with this are “true Americans” and “patriots.” It also claims that the scriptures of both Jews and Christians – what they call the Old and New Testaments –  teach “capitalism” as a God-given economic system. Anything else – like “socialism” and “wealth redistribution” – are therefore evil. That’s why the movement puts people like Bo Polny on stage.

Their “biblical worldview” believes that God gives wealth to the righteous, therefore the wealthy are “righteous.” This is an ancient idea, and there are scriptures which could be used to support that. Not in the gospels, though. Not in the prophets. Not in the words of Jesus. Still, this unassailable “truth” (for them) is at the heart of their movement. That’s why people like preachers of the “prosperity gospel” and billionaire Donald J. Trump are heralded as prophets and leaders. And it’s why people like Charles Koch have funded this movement since the 1960s. And it’s why people like Bo Polny are speakers on the Reawaken America Tour.