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

Why Antisemitism Should be Everyone’s Concern

Joyce Herman and I met in Washington, D.C. in 2005 at a national conference for religious progressives, but we live in the same town. Over the years, we would connect at some public gathering. In recent months, however, we began active conversation about the rise of antisemitism in the U.S. Joyce wrote a recent blog post that deserves a wider audience than I could give it, but please take time to read her entire post. It’s worth the time.

As a young Jewish child in the 1940’s learning about the horrors happening in Germany, I would lie awake at night and ask myself over and over, “How can they (those who are in charge of the world) be letting these horrendous things happen??”

Now, when autocratic, anti-democratic forces are burgeoning all over the world, including the U.S, that little child’s question is unfortunately still in play. My hope is that a brief exploration of antisemitism and why it should matter to everyone will shed some light on the bigger question of what role individuals can take in not letting bad things happen.

Antisemitism is complicated. I’ve used the acronym H.A.T.E. (It’s HERE, it’s ANCIENT, it’s a TOOL FOR TYRANTS, it affects EVERYONE) to help explain what it is and how it works.

H. It’s HERE and it’s real.

Simply stated, antisemitism is prejudice or hatred of Jews. A detailed history can be found in Holocaust Encyclopedia. Antisemitism occurs in cycles, surfacing when the society is stressed. Until recently antisemitism was in a less visible phase. However, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) reported over 2700 incidents of antisemitism in 2021, the largest increase since they began reporting them 70 years ago. Antisemitism on the Right, led by a strong and organized White Nationalist Supremacy movement has instigated and inspired murderous attacks on synagogues, grocery stores, schools, and malls.

The last few years have seen:

A. IT’S ANCIENT:

It didn’t start in Nazi Germany. Antisemitism has been called “the oldest hate.” A Jewish Black woman recently lamented that the Jews’ 6000 year history is characterized by a global search for safety.

Antisemitism began well before Christianity when the Israelites refused to bow down to Greek and Roman emperors. Over the millenia, Jews’ commitment to their interpretation of God and God’s commandments kept them separate and made them subject to torture, forced conversions (“you can’t live among us as Jews”) expulsions, (“you can’t live among us”) and periodic pogroms and genocide (“you can’t live”).

For centuries, state and church laws disallowed Jews from owning land, holding public office, or pursuing most occupations. Jews were living as a minority without a homeland and had to rely on the good will of rulers in the country where they were allowed to settle. In exchange for a promise of protection for the Jewish community, a few Jews would serve as money lenders (usury was deemed a sin for Christians), tax collectors, or other public officials. The majority of Jews there remained as impoverished as the general population.

T. IT’S A TOOL FOR TYRANTS

When those being taxed would resist the oppressive conditions of their lives, ruling royalty directed the people’s hatred and resentment to the Jewish community. Jews were used by those with the real power as “middle agents” to absorb the hatred and resentment and keep the real oppressors from coming to account. Blame and scapegoating became a regular device to divert oppressed people’s animosity and gather people to the rulers’ agenda. Dog whistles and veiled or open use of antisemitic tropes often preceded outright attacks and ultimately pogroms. In the digital age, antisemitism takes different forms but with the same destructive effect.

In a related pattern autocratic rulers developed a “divide and conquer” strategy—keeping the oppressed groups in conflict with each other. We see that operating again today in the U.S.

E. IT’S EVERYONE’S CONCERN

The recent dramatic and visible rise of antisemitism — a poison that runs in cycles and has resurfaced at many points in history — is but one example of how our world gets divided. Moreover, antisemitism plays a pivotal role in disrupting the entire society and in particular any progressive trends that have the potential to bring about longed for justice and wholeness.

Eric Ward, Executive Vice-President of Race Forward, and Senior Advisor to the Western States Center and former senior consultant to the Southern Poverty Law Center, has made a powerful case that antisemitism fuels White nationalism. Amazingly, he briefly infiltrated the Oath Keepers (of January 6 infamy), and learned that antisemitism formed the core credo of these White Christian Nationalists. They teach that Jews form “a monstrous, all-powerful cabal,” a concept that comes from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a forged document that a group of Russian police fabricated in the 19th century. They further spuriously claim that Jews use what the Oath Keepers call “subhuman others,” including Blacks and immigrants, as pawns in the Jews’ plan to destroy White nationhood. This is known as The Great Replacement Theory. See also, The “Great Replacement Theory”, Explained by the National Immigration Forum. Be sure to check the end of the document for a list of effective forms of allyship.

Ward believes fighting antisemitism cuts off that fuel for the sake of all marginalized communities under siege and that racism will not be eliminated until antisemitism is addressed. For more information see Ward’s Congressional testimony 12/13/22.

It’s often said that “Jews are the canaries in the coal mine.” It may start relatively innocuously, and people feel “it’s not a big deal, and it doesn’t affect me.”

Pastor Martin Niemoller, a German Lutheran Pastor,  was a Nazi sympathizer and an anti-semite but dramatically changed when he was targeted and imprisoned by the Nazis. When he was liberated from prison after the war, he famously said:

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

ISRAEL

Although many American Jews want a homeland for Jews — and a homeland for Palestinians — the majority oppose the Israeli government’s repressive policies, a fact which is not widely known. A survey “found that Jewish Americans – much like the U.S. public overallhold widely differing views on Israel and its political leadership. It’s worth noting that Christian Zionists have been a major factor in supporting U.S. policies vis a vis Palestinians. They have also backed the settlement movement. Progressive Movements Cannot Afford to Ignore the Role of Christian Zionism in the Dispossession of Palestinians

Progressive causes have suffered when groups have singled out Israel, and by extension Jews, for attack or exclusion. This is part of the old pattern of scapegoating. The World Conference on Racism in Durban, South Africa in 2001 got sidetracked from considering reparations for slavery in the U.S. because of polarization around the slogan “Zionism is racism” which caused the U.S and Israel to pull out of the conference. Likewise the Women’s March in 2017 began with great energy and high hopes for inclusivity and supporting women of color in leadership, but Jewish women’s groups who had been very active in Civil Rights and feminist causes for decades were excluded because they supported the existence of the State of Israel.

Moreover, just as it is not un-American to criticize U.S. policies and behaviors, it is not antisemitism to call out egregious policies by the State of Israel. In other words, one can support the right of the State of Israel to exist while condemning governmental policies. However, when supporters of Palestine fail to distinguish between the policies of Israel, the State of Israel, and Jews, criticism of Israel can turn to hatred for Israel, and from there to attacks on Jews and Jewish groups. It is counterproductive to attack or exclude Jews in order to lift up Palestinians.

FROM ALLYSHIP TO SOLIDARITY

The Pachamama Alliance is committed to bringing about a very different world than the separation our current economic/political/social systems have brought us. In community, we can grieve the disconnections, the insidious splits of humans from one another, from other living beings, from the earth, and even from oneself. Together we can find the way back to wholeness.

Becoming allies to any targeted group is an empowering way to make rewarding connections. Jews’ history of not being supported when conditions become threatening means they don’t always trust that people care. (My Jewish friends’ faces light up when I tell them about the many ways allies from the Pachamama Alliance and elsewhere have supported me.)

The 2022 Chanukah celebration in the White House was a powerful and thoughtful response to the upsurge in antisemitism . While mixing church and state can be problematic, President Biden’s speech and the whole tenor of the event provided much needed healing.

Another compelling statement came from Imam Abdullah Antepli, formerly from Turkey, who gave the Shabbat sermon at Central Synagogue in Manhattan on December 16. Having been taught that Jews and Judaism were irredeemably evil, he grew up a rabid antisemite, burning Israeli flags. Now, despite death threats, he spends his life not only in prayer, but in calling on people of all faiths to take action.

Imam Abdullah Antepli believes the reason hate and antisemitism are on the rise is lack of action, quoting, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Amplifying what kind of action he believed was necessary, he cautioned against being “anti” something, rather than “pro,” and asked, “What ethical light do we want to show? A rightful response to the darkness will take grace, educational opportunities, and sometimes giving people a second, third, and fourth chance.”

Imam Antepli’s other plea, one that resonates deeply with the Pachamama vision, is if we respond from our silos, each group addressing only their own pain, the problems will not be solved.

Paying attention to acts of antisemitism and speaking out about them are antidotes to the isolation that is part of anti-semitism and all oppressions.When people find the courage to stand up and speak out in ways that others can hear, an important piece of healing happens in our world.

Beyond that, learning about the meaning and rich practices of Judaism, including Shabbat and the holidays, especially the High Holidays in the fall, can lead to deep connections between Jews and non-Jews.

A team of Jews of Color who lead the progressive Jewish organization Bend the Arc, recently offered this wisdom: We must take steps beyond allyship to build a movement based on solidarity.

I think that is the answer I’ve been waiting for.

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.

What will we do about antisemitism?

Tonight in Brighton, New York, I will join a rabbi and an imam – as a Baptist minister – to speak briefly at a community gathering sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Rochester to publicly declare our opposition to all forms of antisemitism. It is happening again, and it is growing in intensity in the United States. What will we do? Not just if we are Jewish and targets of the hatred and violence, but simply because we are human beings.

Pittsburgh Synagogue

One article by the Associated Press told several stories of how “Jewish Americans Confront Antisemitism with Resolve and Worry.” Just two of those stories – from December 2023 – call all of us to do what we can.

Jewish Americans are closely following the recent upsurge in antisemitic rhetoric and actions with a mix of anxiety and resolve — along with a yearning that a broader swath of Americans, including leaders across the political spectrum, speak out against anti-Jewish hatred. New Yorker Rizy Horowitz said: “It’s a very frightening moment. There is no other word. We’re all frightened because we’ve seen the past and we don’t want to relive it.”

Texas author Anna Salton Eisen, the daughter of Holocaust survivors, has been sharing her late parents’ stories for years. “When I started speaking in schools more than 20 years ago, the Holocaust was a history lesson. Now it has become a lesson in current events,” she said. “Students who used to ask me questions about Hitler now want me to address the statements by Kanye that put Hitler in a positive light.”

This is why I will be there tonight. Today’s threat of antisemitism demands from all of us much more than giving a few remarks at a small evening gathering, but it’s one thing I can do. And I can keep writing about it – creating awareness, educating, giving alternatives for action. This is what I will say tonight – “3 reasons why I am here”:

First, I am here because of my faith. As a Baptist minister for 50 years, I remain firmly committed to two foundational principles – the separation of church and state and the freedom of religion for all. You may hear some radical right Christians denying separation of church and state and calling for a Christian nation, but that has never been our faith as Baptists. I am also a follower of Jesus, who affirmed the Hebrew scriptures when he said the two greatest commandments were to love God with our whole being and to love our neighbor as ourself. As a Christian, but also simply as a human being, I am here because of love. Our scriptures also say that “love does no harm” to another, so my faith compels me to here because of a love that will do no harm to another and will prevent that harm wherever possible.

Second, I am here because of history. Some of us do know actual history, and we do know the hatred and persecution of Jewish people through the centuries. We know the horrific realities of the 20th century and all that happened to Jews. We know that it happened not just because of the direct actions of a few, but because of the silence and complicity of so many others. Like most people of my generation, we learned and accepted the deep commitments of the words: “never forget” and “never again.” – A commitment not just of Jewish people, but of all people, and I am here because of that history.

Third, I am here because of the present threat … because it IS happening again. Some people choose to be ignorant of the past or willfully deny that it could happen again, and so they are once again complicit. Some choose hatred and violence – all the evils of antisemitism – and are a direct threat to the well-being, to the very lives, of Jewish people. Some would deny their right to exist, if they could. So I am here because I am compelled by conscience and love to join with you to stop it now.

The question I am asked most often about the threat to democracy of Christian nationalism is “what can I do?” Many of us are now asking the same question about the threat of antisemitism, which is related but not confined to religion. This runs deep in human history.

What experience, abilities, or gifts can you bring to this? I can write, speak, talk to people, teach about it. I can participate in community gatherings or demonstrations. I am looking for more alternative actions I can take. What about you? What will you do?

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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.

This is why

Why did members of Congress get “a Sunday School lesson … on the history of Baptists and religious freedom” this week? Amanda Tyler, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty (BJC), spoke at a congressional hearing on the rise of anti-democratic extremism. When the chairman, Jamie Raskin, asked Tyler why BJC decided to actively oppose white Christian nationalism, she said:

“The problem of white Christian nationalism exactly fits with our mission of defending and extending religious freedom for all people. That’s because Christian nationalism strikes at the heart of the foundational ideas of what religious freedom means and how it’s protected in this country, and that is with the institution of separation of church and state.”

Later in the hearing, she added:

“Christian nationalism is a political ideology and cultural framework that seeks to fuse American and Christian identities. It suggests that ‘real’ Americans are Christians and that ‘true’ Christians hold a particular set of political beliefs, but the Christianity presented by the movement is more of an ‘ethno-identity’ than a religion. Opposition to Christian nationalism is not opposition to Christianity, and a growing number of Christians feel a religious imperative to stand against Christian nationalism. Christian nationalism uses the language, symbols and imagery of Christianity — in fact, it may look and sound like Christianity to the casual observer. However, closer examination reveals that it uses the veneer of Christianity to point not to Jesus the Christ but to a political figure, party or ideology.”

This is why we need to pay attention to another story from Texas. A state representative, Tony Tinderholt, R-Arlington, hired as his legislative director a man named Jake Neidert who advocates extremist, violent views and calls himself a Christian nationalist. In a Facebook post earlier this year, he wrote:

“Please understand that we’re not TRYING to turn America into a Christian theocracy. We’re going to do it.” (emphasis mine)

State Rep. Tinderholt has pushed for legislation that proposed the death penalty for Texans who get and perform abortions and supports dozens of bills against any form of LGBTQ gender identity and sexual expression. Neidert, however, is publicly far more extreme and is now the man to develop legislation for Tinderholt.

In a June 2022 tweet, he wrote: “You want to force kids to see drag shows, I want to ‘drag’ you to the town square to be publicly executed for grooming kids. We are not the same.” As a Baylor University student leading the chapter of Young Conservatives for Texas, “Neidert compared LGBTQ allies to child rapists and serial killers, saying that homosexuality was equally sinful,” then “defended the post by saying he was a Southern Baptist, and that ‘many congregations and denominations of Christianity still believe that homosexuality is a sin. I would not say [the tweet] is a stretch.’”

People often react to such stories by labeling them “extreme” and saying these views represent only a small minority. Yet Texas Gov. Greg Abbott “directed Child Protective Services agents to investigate families who provide gender-affirming care to transgender children.” And “Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office sought information on Texans who requested gender changes on their driver’s licenses — raising concerns among transgender Texans that they were being monitored. Meanwhile, ahead of Texas’ next legislative session that begins early next year, lawmakers have already filed dozens of bills targeting LGTBQ rights, including bills that would criminalize gender-affirming care for minors.”

The laws of the United States, or any of the individual states, must not be written based on the moral views of a specific version of any religion, including Christianity. As Amanda Tyler affirmed at this congressional hearing, many Christians oppose Christian nationalist views because we disagree that their views represent our faith and all it teaches about such concerns as abortion and LGBTQ rights.

When people like Neider and powerful groups like the Texas legislature, as well as the state’s governor and attorney general, want to criminalize human behavior that many of us support, this is why we speak up and take action. What many people still see as extreme views held only by a small group are being written into state laws governing the lives and restricting human freedoms of millions of citizens. This cannot continue.

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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.

Interview with Jennifer Butler

Jennifer Butler founded Faith in Public Life in Washington, D.C. A Presbyterian minister and global justice activist, she leads this national movement of clergy and faith leaders united in the prophetic pursuit of justice, equality and the common good. They are leading the fight to advance just policies at the local, state, and federal levels. They have a network of 50,000 leaders who engage in bold moral action that affirms just values and the human dignity of all.

Jennifer and I met this past August when the Reawaken America Tour came to Batavia, NY. She joined the public opposition to the event, and I attended the 2-day event. We have both since been writing and speaking to challenge the movement and change the conversation around Christian Nationalism. You can read her article in The Philadelphia Inquirer here.

Jennifer Butler, Founder of Faith in Public Life

Rev. Butler also wrote Who Stole My Bible? Reclaiming Scripture as a Handbook for Resisting Tyranny. I hope you will read it. In the introduction, she wrote:

The usurping of moral norms, like human dignity and loving your neighbor, is at the root of so much chaos. These beliefs are being undermined in favor of unbridled greed, ethnic nationalism, and xenophobia. A large percentage of white Christians is marching to the drumbeat of white nationalism and leading the way in the corruption of our values. Given all of this, nothing could be more important than reclaiming this radical book called the Bible and acting to make its vision for radical justice, equality, and liberation a reality.

After today you will find this interview – along with interviews of other people challenging this movement and changing the conversation – at Imagine, a learning community working for a better world. Sign up for free (for 30 days). Then for $10/month, you will have access to resources, interviews, and updates – and an Introduction to Christian Nationalism – all of which can help you learn and work for the kind of world you want to live in.

I don’t want to live in the authoritarian, power and fear-driven world this movement works to build. Rather, I want to live in a compassionate, just world, filled with hope. I can imagine it, and I am learning and working for that better world. Will you join me?

Freedom – mine or ours?

Binary thinking – all or nothing, black or white, right or wrong – undergirds the worldview of a global authoritarian movement which includes Christian Nationalism. We’ve all heard the language:

  • My way or the highway.
  • You can’t have it both ways.
  • We can’t both be right.
  • Those are the rules.
  • It’s the principle of the thing that matters.
  • Love it or leave it.

    This way of understanding the world leaves little room for complexity or nuance. It’s about following the rules, and there is little room for empathy. It’s about principles, not people. Justice means people getting what they deserve, not setting people free who don’t deserve what they are getting in life.

    George Lakoff’s family model for understanding the morality of politics – all of life, really – makes sense of the deep divisions we experience. You can find more research than you want on his website or by just searching for Strict Father and Nurturant Parent, which are his terms for describing two foundational worldviews at the heart of our divisions, one based on Authority and one on Compassion.

    At first glance, this seems binary in itself, as if each one of us sees the world as “strict fathers” or as “nurturant parents.” Lakoff, however, reminds us that life is a continuum. It’s not either/or. Sometimes we act more as strict fathers and sometimes more as nurturant parents, depending on the context. Still, he insists – and I agree – most of us strongly favor one more than the other in how we view the world – how the world “should” be.

    One primary difference is whether we see responsibility as primarily individual or systemic. For instance, if I don’t feel that I’m better than someone of another race, does that mean I’m not racist? Or do I – as a white man – acknowledge the privileges and freedoms I have simply because of the color of my skin? Is racism only a matter of individual responsibility or is it a systemic reality in which we all participate, either having or being denied those privileges? And so I share responsibility for changing it?

    Or consider poverty. Are people poor primarily because they don’t individually take the initiative and work hard enough? So they don’t deserve any help from the government? Charity from a religious or nonprofit agency is okay, but not any publicly-funded programs? … Or does poverty have multiple, interrelated causes – including racism, poor education, sexism, low wages, and a system designed to keep people poor? Does government (at all levels) share responsibility for such a system, and do we as citizens in a democracy also share responsibility to change it?

    For people with a Strict Father view of the world, individual freedom is most important. Freedom from “the burden” of paying taxes. Freedom from “government control” of just about anything, such as education, guns, business. However, an exception to government control is made if it’s a matter of what they consider to be moral issues, such as reproductive freedom or LGBTQ rights, because those are matters of individual responsibility that must be limited for the sake of the nation. Or so the reasoning goes.

    For people with a Nurturant Parent view of the world, a desire for everyone to enjoy freedom is tied to justice – and all of it is systemic. What’s good for the greatest number of people – the common good – requires a democratic government (of the people, by the people, for the people) to use its resources to help people who have been denied freedom and justice by the system. We pay our taxes and pool our resources to provide education, enhance infrastructure, build better neighborhoods and housing, improve healthcare, and regulate corporations for the well-being of our communities. As many have said, no one is free until all are free. Individual responsibility ties directly to systemic responsibilities. One without the other reinforces injustice and denial of freedoms for many people.

    Lakoff’s paradigm helps make sense of our divisions. Christian Nationalism, more political than religious, can best be understood in this way as well. Does it seem at times like we live in different “worlds”? We do – and this is why. If we can understand both “worlds” better – though we might disagree vociferously – we can learn to “tell the story” of the kind of world we want to live in so it makes sense to more people.