Scary and terrifying! Common words people use to express their reactions when they learn about Christian Nationalism, but is that what we want? Do we want people to be afraid? I don’t. Fear is what this movement uses to drive people, to get them to do what is necessary to gain power. A global authoritarian movement, of which Christian Nationalism is one part, heightens fear and anger already present in people to gain their loyalty and increase their power.
I oppose Christian Nationalism because I don’t want to live in a world it wants to build. Where they see the world through the lens of authority and rules, I see the world as a place of compassion and empathy. In that world, people with the power make the rules and enforce them with little mercy. In the world I imagine, power is shared, people take priority over rules, and compassion leads toward a healing, restorative justice. [Image below suggested by George Lakoff’s model of Strict Father/Nurturant Parent]
People often say, “It seems like we live in different worlds.” We do. One values authority, rules, and power over the well-being of people. The other values compassion, empathy, and mutual care and working together for “the common good.” They are very different worlds, and I want to live in a compassionate world. That’s why I work against this movement.
Movement leaders deny it, but their anger comes from fear of losing property, privilege, and power from 400 years of white men (mostly nominally protestant Christian in the U.S.) having the authority to make and enforce the laws. This nation will soon be majority non-white and non-Christian, and people are afraid and angry of losing what they had. Women and people of color who benefitted from that historical reality share the fear and anger as movement supporters.
How do we challenge the movement and change the narrative? How do we move from fear to hope? Is it possible to persuade people in this movement to see a different world and to value a world of compassion and empathy over authority and power?
I’m reading a book by Anand Giridharadas, The Persuaders, that stirs a hopeful “yes” in me. An interview with Loretta Ross, a pioneering activist and theorist in the Black radical feminist tradition suggests a path in that direction. One conclusion from the interview says what I’m experiencing:
“In the realm of electoral politics, these are people on the diametrically opposite side from you. They don’t share a vision with you, nor even a basic worldview, nor even necessarily fundamental values or language. They may use the exact same words and mean completely different things by them.”(Giridharadas, Anand. The Persuaders (pp. 49-50). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition)
All of life is a continuum, and some people do share elements of both worldviews of authority or compassion. Too many seem to be on “diametrically opposite sides,” and most do seem to mean different things even when we use the same words. What can we do? How can we challenge and persuade at the same time? Loretta Ross reminds us that most people see themselves as good people, so we can use that:
“…Help them lean into an internal exploration of themselves and show them how to bolster that self-perception of them being good people by walking them through examples: ‘Well, if you saw a Black person that needed a kidney donation and you were a match, would you do it?’ That kind of thing. Make them really question that interior set of values that they think they have and see if they’re willing to actually go down that path of exploring those values.”Giridharadas, Anand. The Persuaders (p. 50). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Then Ms. Ross challenges us to do our own personal work if we hope to persuade others to see the world differently. Here is an excerpt from the interview:
She told them that before they worry about those they were trying to win over, they should look at themselves. “You have to be in a loving, healing space to call anybody in,” Ross told me. “You can’t do it from anger, because it’s just going to end up badly. So you have to assess why you’re doing it. What’s your motivation? Are you trying to help this person learn, or are you actually trying to change them?” It was a striking distinction—helping a person learn versus trying to change them. When we speak of changing someone’s mind, winning someone over, aren’t we attempting both at once? Not for Ross. “You can’t change other people,” she told me. “You can’t even change the person you’re married to. You can help people. You can expose people to different information and help them learn—if you do so with love.”Giridharadas, Anand. The Persuaders (p. 55). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
With over 50 years as an activist, working especially with Black women (one of the most oppressed groups in our nation), Ms. Ross has every reason to be angry and combative in her work, but she speaks of love. She reminds us that we must do our personal work first, assessing our motivations, and then “help the person learn” – not try to change them, but help them to learn.
Back to the two worldviews – ways of seeing the world and imagining that this is how it “works” … This is not either/or, just one or the other. People are at different places in life. Some may be so enmeshed with the movement that they remain “diametrical opposites” to us, but not everyone. Some are tired of living with fear and anger driving them, and there may be an openness to learning – to a new way of seeing the world. This is where we begin.