Done turning the other cheek

“I’m a Christian, and I’m done turning the other cheek.” So said Jack Posobiec at the Turning Point USA’s Amfest 2022 conference yesterday. With those words, he dismissed one of Jesus’ most well-known teachings about nonviolence and love as something not for him. Yet he claims to be a Christian, speaking to thousands of people who claim freedom, family, and [Christian] faith as fundamental values for this nation.

Like me, his name may be new to you, but he is well-known in radical right circles. He says his  podcast, Human Events Daily with Jack Posobiec, “brings you unfiltered and factual updates on how current events will impact our country today and in the future.” Yet the Politifact Scorecard rates his “factual updates” as 100% false or mostly false. The Southern Poverty Law Center says that “his disinformation typically focuses on making his political opponents seem dangerous or criminal, while ignoring or downplaying the corruption of authoritarians.” He also “collaborates with white supremacists and neo-nazis.”

Why would this man be invited to speak at a national conference of Turning Point USA (TPUSA) whose mission is “to identify, educate, train, and organize students to promote freedom”? If you watch some of the highlights from America Fest 2022, it makes sense. The founder and president of TPUSA, Charlie Kirk, has his own show where he says ….

“We are lectured all the time about ‘domestic violent extremism’ as if the right has lots of domestic violent extremists, except that’s just not true. The left is full of people that are willing to use force to intimidate and harm conservatives.”

As Doug Pagitt said in last week’s interview, the Christian right often casts itself in the role of victim in the story they tell of America today. Kirk’s statement alludes to that in saying “the left” wants to “intimidate and harm conservatives.” This is why Posobiec claims it’s time to stop turning the other cheek and fight back. They refuse to be victims of “the left” any longer, as they see it, and they are ready to fight.

Charlie Kirk’s opening speech at Amfest presents a dark narrative of the future for this country. As does this whole movement, he uses fear – the fear of what will happen if they don’t fight back. The speech is 30 minutes, but watch just the first three minutes to experience the dark spectacle of what thousands of people saw and heard at the conference opening.

Watch another 10 minutes or so, and you will hear him describe their opponents as….

“the Marxist, totalitarian left filled with venom, hatred, darkness, resentment, arrogance, and despair … and teaching our children this vile garbage of critical race theory and woke nonsense.” He says “they want power, authority, control, and submission.” And that “their vision is one of despair and confusion, destroying the distinction between good and evil.”

TPUSA describes itself as traditionally conservative, committed to “the principles of fiscal responsibility, free markets, and limited government.” The rhetoric of their conferences, speeches, and podcasts expose them as a radical right group similar to the Reawaken America Tours. In my two days there, I heard the same demonizing of “the left,” with hate-filled language and the call to fight back – with the suggestion that militarized violence is coming.

As I listened to both of these men, I heard them projecting onto their opponents some of what many of us see in this movement – a desire for “power, authority, control, and submission” – and a “vision of hatred and darkness … of despair and confusion.” How is it possible to even talk with each other? I’m not sure it is – not with people who demonize their opponents. What we must do, however, is challenge them. Call out their story of being victims of a power-hungry, hateful, “left” and learn to tell our own alternative story of a better future as we live with empathy, compassion, and justice for all.

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Another resource you may want to explore is a free eBook called “One thing YOU can do,” available for download here. Learn the 2 ways to do that one thing and when and how to do it. … Once you’ve downloaded it, please visit Imagine and learn how you can be part of a growing community committed to opposing religious nationalism and building a better world.

How do we engage with Christian nationalists?

How do we engage with people who part of this movement we call Christian nationalism? In this interview, Doug Pagitt helps us understand engagement and empathy, which he urges as our response to the people.

Doug Pagitt is the Executive Director and co-founder of Vote Common Good – an author, pastor, and social activist. A leading voice for progressive Christianity, Doug makes frequent national media and speaking appearances. He has a new book, Outdoing Jesus. Visit his website to learn more –DougPagitt.com.

Doug calls himself a possibility enthusiast. For two decades, he has been leading the conversation on progressive faith and politics. Through creative, entrepreneurial and generative efforts, he works to enlist people to join in the hopes, dreams, and desires God has for a more beautiful world. 

“The threat to democracy,” Doug says, “comes when government begins to do its work in order to fulfill its purposes by Christian means,” but not everyone in the movement is in agreement about how to do that. “There’s a continuum of where people are and the kinds of ideas they hold. There’s not a unified view in the movement, and people are not motivated by the same thing. They fight with one another.”

Watch this interview with Doug, then read more below the video about the kind of response he recommends.

How do we engage with empathy in our personal relationships? Political or governmental engagement is important, but personal engagement remains critical to making a difference. Convinced that people cannot be persuaded to change their minds or their beliefs, most of us do not even try. Here’s what Doug said: “Many people are ready to swap one belief for another, but we all need a meaningful alternative belief before we let go of a harmful belief.” So personal, empathetic engagement may be saying to someone: “I have a different way to look at this. Would you mind looking at it with me?”

Empathy includes understanding why people believe what they do. We need to put ourselves in their place as much as possible to have a sense of why they say or believe what they do. One question to ask, Doug says, is this: “What function does that belief have in your life?” It does something for them. It provides something important in their lives. What is that and why? Once we have a good idea about the answer, we can talk with them about it.

Another fascinating idea in the interview is that most stories have heroes, villains, and victims. None of us sees ourselves as the villains, of course – just a hero or a victim. We sometimes do, however, see other people as villains, which is never helpful.  “We must engage people as heroes or victims,” Doug says, “in whatever role they see themselves. Replace the hero narrative with another hero narrative, not make them villains in a story.”

Toward the end of our interview, Doug focused on what he calls “a sojourner narrative,” – a narrative of shared experience. Rather than heroes, villains, or victims, can we see ourselves as sojourners on a common journey? He suggested looking to migrants for help in this. What is their story as they learn “to live in a new land”?” What could we learn from that story about being sojourners together on a path to a better life, a better future?

If you find this interview helpful for considering an appropriate response to people involved in Christian nationalism, you might want to visit the Vote Common Good website. They offer a free course on “Confronting Christian Nationalism” that you might also benefit from. Thank you for watching this interview.

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Another resource you may want to explore is a free eBook called “One thing YOU can do,” available for download here. Learn the 2 ways to do that one thing and when and how to do it.

You are invited to join our new Imagine Learning Community where you will find interviews and resources from a variety of leaders and groups engaging with people in this movement. Click here to learn more.