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

Christian faith or political ideology?

Amanda Tyler names Christian nationalism as “a political ideology and cultural framework that merges our identity as Americans and Christians … and relies on a false narrative of our founding as a Christian nation.” Whether that challenges you or sounds right to you, I hope you will watch this interview today and hear more of her thoughts.

Amanda Tyler is executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, widely known as BJC.  For 87 years, this organization has been upholding the historic Baptist principle of religious liberty: defending the free exercise of religion and protecting against its establishment by government. She is also the lead organizer of BJC’s Christians Against Christian Nationalism campaign and recently spoke at a congressional hearing about the threat of Christian Nationalism.

“We’ve known about the dangers of Christian nationalism for many years even if we didn’t call it by that name,” Amanda said. A common theme of the story they tell is that “one must be a Christian to be an American.” – Starting three years ago, many leaders saw the growing influence and threat to democracy of the movement and started the Christians Against Christian Nationalism (CACN) project. Please listen to the interview, and then read on to the end.

Amanda Tyler grew up in Texas Baptist churches, back when Baptists still agreed on her statement that they have “for centuries found a theological calling to stand up for religious freedom for all.” As a Baptist minister for 50 years, I learned it early and stood firm on our commitment to the separation of church and state, guaranteeing religious freedom for all. The Baptist Joint Committee, which Amanda leads, has worked for almost 90 years to keep this commitment strong in this country. And now Christian nationalism denies that history and claims the founders never said that.

What can you do? Amanda recommends starting with the CACN statement of principles, which says in part:

“Christian nationalism demands Christianity be privileged by the State and implies that to be a good American, one must be Christian. It often overlaps with and provides cover for white supremacy and racial subjugation. We reject this damaging political ideology.”

The eight principles in their statement can give you the language and ideas essential for engaging in conversation and challenging this movement. For example:

“People of all faiths and none have the right and responsibility to engage constructively in the public square.”

“Conflating religious authority with political authority is idolatrous and often leads to oppression of minority and other marginalized groups as well as the spiritual impoverishment of religion.”

This project speaks directly to Christians, often in the specific language of our faith, because it is a call and challenge to other Christians to stand up to this movement. “Our religion,” she says, “has been co-opted by political actors to further their aims.” The movement uses symbols and language of Christianity, and often looks like the same thing, but it is not. It is “political ideology and cultural framework” and not true Christianity. What can we do? Amanda names three things:

  • Name and recognize Christian nationalism for what it is.
  • Take a stand against it.
  • Share what we’ve learned with others.

I found her words at the end of the interview to be encouraging and hope you will too:

There is “no religious test to be an American … The idea of multi-ethnic and multi-racial democracy that we aspire to is made better by our diversity. … Christian nationalism is deeply entrenched in American society, and it may take a generational project to dismantle it….The fight may be hard and long, but we can do it.”

Anyone can view this interview for free at the Imagine Learning Community, where you will find many other resources and interviews as well.

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.

Faith-based bullying and bigotry

In today’s interview, Katherine Stewart uses a striking phrase about the Christian nationalist movement – “faith-based bullying and bigotry.” Her journey of researching it began in 2009 when her children encountered the “Good News Club” organization which she describes as “confusing little kids into believing clubs endorsed by the school.” As a journalist, she dug deep into the broader movement which she sees as “an attack on modern constitutional democracy.”

Her latest book, The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism, documents this global movement which she says is “not Christianity and not religion, but an exploitation of religion for political purposes” seeking political and legal power to decide “who gets to belong as an American and who does not.”

Meet Katherine Stewart in my interview with her, listen to all that she says, and then continue below the video for more highlights.

Many people see Christian nationalism only through the lens of individuals they know, or events they hear about like the Reawaken America Tour, or sound bites on the news. As Katherine says here, it is driven not just by individual leaders but through multiple organizations. The movement has “deep roots in our history,” as she points out, but “the new right in the 1970s gave it new impetus, creating organizations still active today” – like the Heritage Foundation and the Council for National Policy.

What can we do? That’s the question most people ask. This is a huge network of churches and organizations with 50 years of experience in educating, training, and crafting their narrative of what it means to be an American and a Christian. Katherine acknowledges that people concerned about its growing power are only now organizing to address the dangers, but we have to engage now.  “Vote,” she says, and “hold elected officials accountable.” Get involved in local and state elections where this movement has been organizing even for who gets elected to school boards. Find the groups engaged in challenging the movement, and get involved. She returned in the interview several times to says that “political engagement is essential.”

I love what she said toward the end about challenging the narrative of the movement. She said, “great and better stories which have the virtue of being true are out there, published over time.”  She urges us to “extend our vision back a few centuries,” listen to the stories, and “recognize the progress over time, not without struggle” but true progress. Let us be “humbled and inspired” by that” and go out and repeat it in our time.  

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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.

January 6 and Christian Nationalism

Today is the 2nd anniversary of the January 6 attack on the Capitol. Many faith leaders have questioned why the report from the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol has only one direct reference to Christian nationalism. Reports indicate Rep. Liz Cheney influenced the decision. Her official statement was that she “won’t sign onto any ‘narrative’” regarding Jan. 6 that “suggests every American who believes God has blessed America is a white supremacist.”

Even though many journalists and writers documenting this movement do connect it to white supremacy, no one I know of suggests what Liz Cheney says.  Yet far too many researchers and experts have thoroughly documented the connection to January 6 to dismiss it or ignore it.

Amanda Tyler, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee on Religious Liberty, organized Christians Against Christian Nationalism to provide resources for anyone who wants to learn more and take action to resist this movement that threatens our democracy and harms Christianity. The full report documenting clear and direct connections between this movement and what happened on January 6, 2021 is available here.

One of the best definitions of what Christian Nationalism is comes from Amanda Tyler’s introduction to that report:

Christian nationalism is a political ideology and cultural framework that seeks to merge American and Christian identities, distorting both the Christian faith and America’s constitutional democracy. Christian nationalism relies on the mythological founding of the United States as a “Christian nation,” singled out for God’s providence in order to fulfill God’s purposes on earth. Christian nationalism demands a privileged place for Christianity in public life, buttressed by the active support of government at all levels.

It is important, she adds, to address not just the actions around January 6 or more “obvious examples” of the movement, but its “more mundane and insidious forms…that often go unnoticed:

This report’s focus on the events leading up to and on January 6 does not suggest that this is the sole example or manifestation of Christian nationalism in the United States today. Concentrating solely on the most violent or obvious examples of Christian nationalism could distract us from addressing the more mundane and yet insidious forms of the ideology that often go unnoticed. The contributors and sponsors of this report are committed to studying and combatting Christian nationalism in its many forms. The scale and severity of the January 6 attack warrant a dedicated report of this kind. Dismantling Christian nationalism will take a broad and diverse response from individuals and organizations committed to effecting change.

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My interview with Amanda Tyler will be available
a week from now on January 13. _____________________________________________________________________________________

Andrew L. Seidel -a constitutional attorney, Director of Strategic Response at the Freedom From Religion Foundation, and author of The Founding Myth: Why Christian Nationalism Is Un-American – documents in this report several rallies prior to January 6 which were explicitly Christian nationalist (see sections 5 and 6 of the report):

One of the first post-election rallies in Washington, D.C., took place on November 14 in Freedom Plaza. It was typical of the pre-January 6 rallies, with many of the same players and speakers. It opened with a prayer infused with Christian nationalism that set the tone for everything that happened later…. They marched with crosses, Images of the Virgin Mary,“Jesus is my Savior, Trump is my President” flags,” “An Appeal to Heaven” flags, and a red flag that proclaimed “JESUS IS LORD.” An RV bedecked in Trump paraphernalia declared, “PRAY FOR 45.” At the Supreme Court, they erected a massive white Christian cross.

On December 12, the Jericho March was held in D.C. with Christian images and themes. And on January 6, “Crosses were everywhere that day in D.C., on flags and flagpoles, on signs and clothes, around necks, and erected above the crowd,” Andrew Seidel reports.

Please read the full report or watch the webinar releasing the report:

Amanda Tyler’s reaction to the events of January 6 deserve to be heard:

January 6 revealed on a national stage just how dire the threat of Christian nationalism is to our constitutional republic. As I wrote in the aftermath of that day, my horror about the violent attack only increased when I saw photos of the rioters holding up signs like “Jesus Saves” and heard reports that the first invaders to enter the Senate chamber carried a Christian flag. As a Christian, seeing signs of my faith on display during such a violent event filled me with anger and frustration. It was a display of textbook Christian nationalism, an ideology that merges American and Christian symbols, narratives and identities.

Whether it was the Reawaken America Tour I reported on here last fall or this detailed report on its influence the events of January 6, Christian nationalism must be resisted and its power stopped. Join us in this continuing work.

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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. … Join us today and get a 30-day free trial subscription.

Organizing the faithful

I met Nathan Empsall this past summer while working together to oppose the Reawaken America Tour scheduled for Rochester NY. That event was cancelled, but then moved to nearby Batavia – and was in the national news spotlight. I’m delighted to share this interview with him.

The Rev. Nathan Empsall, an Episcopal priest and organizer, leads Faithful America as its executive director. It is the largest online community of Christians putting faith into action for social justice. Their 200,000 members — Catholic, Protestant, and more – refuse to sit quietly while Jesus’ message of good news is hijacked by the religious right to serve a hateful political agenda. They are organizing the faithful to challenge Christian nationalism and white supremacy and to renew the church’s prophetic role in building a more free and just society.

In this interview, Rev. Empsall clarifies the mission of Faithful America at this time. They are calling out Christian nationalism for its “distortion of our faith,” working with interfaith and secular partners as they work from a Christian perspective. They are “not just against something, but for something … lifting up an alternative vision of love and working together as a community.”

Please watch the interview and then read more about their work below:

Nathan defines Christian nationalism as “a political ideology and distortion of religion” because it “merges Christian identity with a civic identity, specifically their form of Christianity with a conservative political identity. Their message is that we can only be good Christians if we share all of that. And he adds that the movement is about “seizing power just for themselves rather than sharing power” to attain justice and equality for all in our nation.

We want to lift up love, hope, grace, compassion, and dignity, he says, but we also need to “name the problem and take it on, just as Jesus did in his day.” It’s important to distinguish between the movement, which is not Christian, he says, and people in the movement who may be Christian as they claim to be. It’s the people we must love even as we challenge and call out the movement and its leaders.

So what can you do? How can you be involved? Nathan invites you to visit their website and go to “Resisting Christian Nationalism” where you will find a wealth of resources to learn about Christian nationalism and get involved. You will find a variety of curriculum resources for small group studies in your church or community. Use them. Learn from them and talk about them.

Show up! A familiar phrase, and always true. Get involved in your local community – school boards and local elections – and don’t leave your faith at home. Speak up in love with an alternative story about who we can be as a nation and community. For those of you who are Christian by faith and commitment, he says, “Jesus is the center of our narrative” – his words and life of love. [I would add that compassion and justice are the core of every religion – or non-religious worldview – at its best.] Christian nationalism gets its power from claiming to have a monopoly on Christianity. They don’t. Trust your sense of what’s right and speak out now in a way that people “feel loved and empowered.”

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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. … Join us today and get a 30-day free trial subscription.

Making sense of it all

On Christmas morning, the Washington Examiner (a radical right newspaper) ran an unsigned editorial calling for “a return to shared ideals and the possibility of civility in disagreement” in 2023. We all want that, so I read on to hear their ideas for achieving it. What I heard blamed all our national troubles on a decline in church affiliation and attendance – what they termed faith, but which meant traditional Christian religion.

The writer claims that “unbelief…dimming of conscience…toxic ideologies” all come out of “woke ideology, a form of religion itself” which has replaced “traditional religion with a much darker religion — that excludes redemption.” And what are some of the consequences for our nation?

  • Lack of “love, respect, and common ground”
  • A “divisiveness” in our nation
  • Destruction of “a sense of community”
  • “Polarized and caustic national political conversation”

By faith and religion, this writer clearly means Christian faith and religion – and a specific version that comes from a worldview not all Christians share. If that’s not plain early in the editorial, it is clear by the end:

“Christmas is supposed to generate feelings of respect and kindness for others — the impulse to treat others as they would wish to be treated. Indeed, this impulse is one originating in the Golden Rule that Jesus later propounded as an adult. Where the world says to treat friends well and enemies poorly, and to take revenge on those who have wronged you, the child born on this day taught that vengeance belongs only to God. You, on the other hand, are born for something better: to love your enemies, to forgive offenses from the bottom of your heart, to bless those who curse you, and to love others not just as you love yourself but as he loves you.”

The language the writer uses to talk about “the woke” – substituting that for “liberals” which they use in the same way – seems just the opposite of what Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount, which is quoted in this paragraph. The writer even claims that “the woke”:

“Debate whether it is OK to mutilate or sexualize children”
“Exacerbate racial tensions”
“Drive people out of restaurants and give them no peace”

How do we make sense of it all? I grew up learning the teachings of Jesus and have spent more than 50 years as a Christian minister, seeking to follow the teachings and life of Jesus in all I do. My worldview – the way I imagine the world I want to live in – focuses on compassion and justice, empathy and equality, and shared responsibility. Yet this writer, I’m confident, would say that I am “woke” in many ways the editorial condemns.

There is no single definition of the term, but on Facebook today, I found this description of what it means to be “woke”:

“Woke means awakened to the needs of others. To be well informed, thoughtful, compassionate, humble, and kind. Eager to make the world a better place for all people.”

The “shared ideals” this writer refers to seem to come from a different worldview – the one shared by Christian nationalists. They imagine the world as a place where it is good to possess authoritarian power and dominance in family, church, society, and government – where “rugged individualism” (every man for himself) is a core value for the laws and rules in this world. Their “shared ideals” come out of their nostalgic longing for the tradition they inherited – of a white Christian America operating from this worldview.

To make sense of it all, we must acknowledge that the majority of citizens in this nation never enjoyed the privileges and freedoms of that world, nor did the people in power in that world govern it on the basis of the teachings of Jesus. We must understand that authoritarian worldview desires a different world than a compassionate worldview. Therein lies the fundamental differences among us. Can we build bridges between both worlds and be willing to cross over or at least meet in the middle? I don’t know, but I’m willing to try.

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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. … Join us today and get a 30-day free trial subscription.

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.