t a Turning Point USA summit in Florida on June 23, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene declared, “I’m a Christian, and I say it proudly, we should be Christian nationalists.” Whether she is repeating QAnon conspiracies or spreading misinformation about COVID-19, Greene has made a name for herself by defying fact-based journalism and conventional norms to play to the MAGA base. She is simply repeating decades-old religious right narratives about her support for Christian nationalism. Since the late 1970s, a right-wing movement responding to the civil and women’s rights movements has used the language of “biblical values” to recruit people of faith. As a white Christian who grew up in the rural South, I know Rep. Greene is preaching to a crowd that has been prepped to respond with a hearty “amen.” The prevalence of Christian nationalism as an ideology makes it the greatest threat to democracy in America today.
This story is what I learned from my Southern Baptist childhood: America was unique because it was founded by a Christian nation. Our enemies were liberals who did not respect “traditional, biblical values” and threatened the moral order by embracing feminism. By demonizing liberals and trading on fear that their policy decisions would lead us toward cultural collapse, the religious right convinced many in my community that the GOP was God’s Own Party. This narrative is what I felt as a young man and I was able to get involved in Republican politics. I even paged for Senator Strom Thurmond.
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But Christian nationalism wasn’t the only story my people taught me. I also memorized the words of Jesus in Sunday school and knew the Bible’s concern for the poor, the immigrant, the sick, and the downtrodden. Biblical prophets warned of the dangers associated with religious nationalism. They also decried political leaders who eat their people, while the religious leaders smear their wicked deeds. In the late ‘90s, I had a crisis of faith where I realized that I had to choose between the teachings of Jesus and the lies that Christian nationalism had told me. What my Sunday school teachers told me, I decided to follow their lead and choose Jesus.
It took me some time to locate the group of Jesus-followers who had rejected Christian nationalism. It turned out that this was intentional. Her book Shadow NetworkAnne Nelson explained how Paul Weyrich was one of the founding fathers of the Religious Right in the 1970s. He also established the Council for National Policy. It is a group of Republican Party leaders, religious leaders, NRA leaders, church leaders, foundations and religious leaders. The CNP worked with independent media companies and talk radio to coordinate what Nelson calls the “wallpaper effect” in which the Christian nationalist narrative was repeated and reinforced. This narrative was promoted in areas like mine, and hundreds of millions more were spent. For its own political purposes, this network conspired to hijack my people’s faith.
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Forty years later, when people outside of this cultural world ask how fellow Americans can vote for Donald Trump or repeat obvious lies about a global pandemic or the 2020 election, it’s clear to me how wide the web of Christian nationalism has been cast. Rep. Greene isn’t taking any risks when she declares herself a Christian nationalist. She’s playing to the base that turned out more Republican voters for Donald Trump than have ever voted for any Republican candidate in U.S. history.
While I am familiar with the power of Christian nationalism from personal experience, I also recognize that it is an emerging minority movement and has a shrinking base. Greene is one of many politicians who feel the need for louder voices to express their concerns because an increasing number of Americans recognize the perils of religious rights. The so-called “pro-life” movement played on imagined concern for the unborn to empower justices who lied in their confirmation hearings, overturned Roe v. WadeThe Environmental Protection Agency was then stripped of the power it had to protect lives and mitigate the effects of the climate crisis. The very same politicians that claim they care about the lives of all people from conception to death refused to give a child tax credit to children. Nearly 4,000,000 American children were forced to live in poverty following its termination. The majority of Americans oppose theocracy through judicial decree. 6 out 10 Americans are against it. Dobbs decision. What’s more, a recent PRRI poll found that most religious Americans also oppose this crowning achievement of the religious right. White evangelical Protestants (Latter-day Saints) and white evangelical Christians are the only exceptions to this trend.
If they didn’t understand the power of Christianity, then reactionary groups that attacked my faith community 40-years ago wouldn’t have invested as much time or resources to take over Christianity. The faith we have gives us strength and courage, and allows us to believe in what we do. The American base of Christian nationalism is willing and able to undermine the willful intentions of its citizens. Christians of all faiths have an opportunity to share their faith with Americans who are not of the same faith. If we don’t, it’s clear that people like Rep. Greene, who claim to speak for all Christians, will impose their will on all Americans.
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