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.