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

Toward Authoritarian Rule

The movement toward authoritarian governance in our country, based on a narrative of America as a Christian and conservative nation, goes far beyond the Reawaken America Tour. Today’s post is about CNN and the dismissal of Brian Stelter, who I was only vaguely familiar with until now. His statement in his closing segment has been widely reported: “It’s not partisan to stand up for decency and democracy and dialogue. It’s not partisan to stand up to demagogues. It’s required. It’s patriotic. We must make sure we don’t give platforms to those who are lying to our faces.”

Robert Reich, who I do follow (but whose name you may not know), had a column yesterday about this (https://robertreich.substack.com/p/why-cnn-cancelled-brian-stelter?utm_source=substack&utm_medium=email). Reich is Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and served as Secretary of Labor in the Clinton Administration. He is a prolific writer, author of 17 books, founding editor of the American Prospect magazine, and has created several documentaries. He knows what he’s talking about. (You can see his website at https://robertreich.org/.)

Robert Reich

He writes: “For several years, Brian Stelter’s Sunday CNN show, ‘Reliable Sources,’ has been a reliable source of intelligent criticism of Fox News, rightwing media in general, Trumpism, and the increasingly authoritarian lurch of the Republican Party. [Not all Republicans support today’s leaders of the GOP who are meant in this post.]  Last week, CNN abruptly canceled the show and effectively fired Stelter and his staff. Why?”

One of his common sayings is “follow the money.” CCN’s new chairman and CEO says he wants less criticism of political conservatives and more “straight news reporting” so that CNN can be “for everybody.” The new owner of CNN is Warner Bros. Discovery, Inc., and David Zaslav is the CEO. … If you’re thinking you never heard of these people, neither have I, but we need to know who they are.

Robert Reich poses these questions: “How is it possible to report on Trump or Rudy Giuliani or any number of today’s Republican leaders and not speak of the Big Lie, or say they’ve broken norms if not laws? The anti-democracy movement in America (as elsewhere) is among the biggest issues confronting us today. Is reporting on it considered “straight news” or “opinion?” Wouldn’t failing to report on it in a way that sounded alarms be a gross dereliction of duty?”

What we learn from Reich is that “the leading shareholder in Warner Bros. Discovery is John Malone, a multi-billionaire cable magnate…. [who] describes himself as a ‘libertarian’ although he travels in rightwing Republican circles. In 2005, he held 32 percent of the shares of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation. He is on the board of directors of the Cato Institute. In 2017, he donated $250,000 to Trump’s inauguration. Malone has said he wants CNN to be more like Fox News because, in his view, Fox News has ‘actual journalism.’”

Reich concludes with challenging words for us all: “When you follow the money behind deeply irresponsible decisions at the power centers of America today, the road often leads to rightwing billionaires. Sadly, there are still many in America — and not just billionaires like Malone — who believe that holding Trump accountable for what he has done (and continues to do) to this country is a form of partisanship, and that such partisanship has no place in so-called ‘balanced journalism.’ This view is itself dangerous.”

The Reawaken America Tour, even the larger movement of Christian Nationalism, is but one part of a much larger authoritarian movement, funded by billionaires and spanning the globe. That in itself may sound like a conspiracy theory, but it is not. Search names like Paul Weyrich and Richard Viguerie – key organizers of the movement in the U.S. in the 1970s and ‘80s – and do a quick read of the international movement at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Right. Paul Weyrich was one among many who have opposed the Separation of Church and State and organized Christian conservatives (Catholic and Protestant) for what is now called Christian Nationalism. How do we stop this movement? It won’t be easy, but it is essential.