Christian nationalism is thriving: Where is the religious left?

A demonstrator holding a cross protests outside the U.S. Supreme Court
Associated Press/Jose Luis Magana
A demonstrator holding a cross protests outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday, May 5, 2022, in Washington.

On the day of the horrific Uvalde, Texas school shooting, ultraconservative congresswoman Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) tweeted: “It’s time for an American Revival. A revival of our country, church, and our mindset. The hard-working people of America have been abused for too long by our corrupt government, told what to think by our arrogant media, and led astray by our evil culture. It’s time.”

A few hours later in the day, she tweeted, “Our nation needs to take a serious look at the state of mental health today. Sometimes meds can be the problem. America is failing our youngest generations from decades of rejecting good moral values and teachings. We don’t need more gun control. We need to return to God.”

When the National Rifle Association held its conference in Houston the week after the school shooting, miles away from Uvalde, many invoked thoughts and prayers, and minister Tim Lee and North Carolina Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson were among the featured speakers.

A story published in the blog A Public Witness notes the following: “Lee, who serves as chair of the board of trustees at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., describes himself on Twitter as ‘Christian, Husband, Father, Papaw, Evangelist, Marine, NRA, ProLife, Patriot, VietVet, #PurpleHeart.’ After the deadly shooting, he tweeted that the ‘heartbreaking’ shooting occurred because our society allows abortion: ‘When kids hear adults say that it’s ok to kill babies (abortion), then all respect for human lives is gone. #PrayersForUvalde.'” 

A Public Witness also noted that Robinson, who is already running for governor in 2024, has listed “2nd Amendment” and “Pro-Life” as his top two campaign priorities.”

The U.S. Capitol insurrection, the Supreme Court’s unprecedented draft leak potentially reversing the 1973 case of Roe v. Wade, and the lack of comprehensive gun reform may be linked to Christian nationalism. Christian nationalism is the belief that God has destined America, like biblical Israel, for a pivotal role in the destiny of human history and that the nation will receive divine healing and blessing — or judgment — depending upon the measure of Americans’ obedience to what they perceive as God’s biblical laws and mandates.

Paul Weyrich, the late political activist and co-founder of the conservative Heritage Foundation, wrote in the 1970s, “The new political philosophy must be defined by us [conservatives] in moral terms, packaged in non-religious language, and propagated throughout the country by our new coalition. When political power is achieved, the moral majority will have the opportunity to re-create this great nation.” 

In the late 1990s, the young, charismatic Ralph Reed, the once executive director of the Christian Coalition, and others mobilized the Republican Party for a more Christian nation — with the notion that the devout, predominantly Christian morals are under attack in America in the face of a cluster of so-called cultural issues — gays, abortion, gambling, lack of school prayer — and that these deviations are destroying America from the inside out. They banked that these issues would rile up specific aspects of the Republican Party’s base, conflating them with other non-cultural topics such as tax cuts, deregulation, school vouchers, anti-immigration, and a fully rigid embrace of the Second Amendment’s perceived rights.

Today, these Christians — mainly white evangelicals with a swath of Catholics and other Protestants — have seemingly achieved their political-religious goal. They overwhelmingly supported Trump and helped elect politicians like Taylor Greene. Christian nationalism is perhaps the most potent religious-political movement in the country today. It has been a two-decade effort overlapping with other right-wing movements, — conspiratorial QAnonTea Party, and denialism over COVID-19.

Thus, this “Christian” political agenda has worked to ensure that conservative judges are appointed to the federal judiciary, especially the U.S. Supreme Court. It also advocated for the resurrection of state’s rights to justify opposition to abortion, same-sex and transgender rights, the mistrust of immigrants (especially those who are nonwhite) and the exclusion of insufficiently religious Christians, Jews, Muslims, people of color and even those with no professed faith tradition from honest discussions. Trump was the champion of these causes and helped to achieve them. 

As a result, according to a recent Associated Press article, Christian nationalists have had success in this year’s Republican primaries.

As these vast cultural issues — guns, abortion, and transgender rights — dominate the national conversation just five months away from the 2022 midterm elections, religious progressives have struggled to sustain public outrage and engagement to counter Christian nationalism. However, despite more recent conventional thinking, the religious left has always had deep roots in American history, from the abolitionists to the Civil Rights Movement. 

Christopher H. Evans, a professor of the History of Christianity at Boston University, says social gospel’s U.S history is typically “traced to the rise of late 19th-century urban industrialization immediately following the Civil War.” He continues: “Largely, but not exclusively, rooted in Protestant churches, the social gospel emphasized how Jesus’ ethical teachings could remedy the problems caused by the “Gilded Age” capitalism.” The philosophy led to hospitals serving the poor for decades.

But now is the time for liberal denominations, churches and religious communities en masse to educate, train and morally wrestle with Christian nationalism. The religious left, which is also an interreligious and nonfaith reality, must insist that Christian nationalism is less about faith or religion and more about a social conservatism revolving around race, identity politics, immigration and revisionist teachings of American history.

As the country and the world increasingly become more secular, it begs the question: Is this brand of Christianity partly responsible for the groundswell of repudiation pushing people away from the Christian community and Christian convictions? How many people leaving the church are doing so because of Christian nationalism? Where is the voice of the religious left?

The Christian nationalistic movement is also arming itself. Guns sales are booming, armed militias are becoming more active and voting rights are increasingly restricted. How much of this can be traced to this white religious cohort is yet to be determined. Still, too many angry citizens are taking small and insignificant provocations as justification for a gunfight. All of this is stitched into a cultural quilt of discontent where people go from God to anger, to organization, to being armed.

And dangerous.

We need a bombastic counternarrative from the religious left — not simply the Christian religious left, but a religious left that includes people from different religions and spiritual people who may not have a specific tradition — to grow and turn into an equally active politically engaged movement harkening back to the glory days of social gospel.

Quardricos Bernard Driskell is an adjunct professor of legislative politics, where he teaches religion, race, public policy, and politics at the George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management. Follow him on Twitter @q_driskell4

Editor’s note: This column was updated on June 17 at 1:36 p.m. ET to provide clear attribution of some of the material to a post by Brian Kaylor and Beau Underwood on the blog, A Public Witness.

Tags Christian nationalism Marjorie Taylor Greene Mark Robinson Moral Majority Politics of the United States religious right white evangelicals

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