To save American democracy, fight the radical Christian Right

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One of Donald Trump’s very first official acts as president was his Muslim Travel Ban (version 1.0), on Jan. 27, 2017.

Trump’s pandering on anti-Muslim bigotry is a sop to his white fundamentalist evangelical Christian Right base in the Republican Party, and their end-times Apocalyptic cult of the Rapture. And it is inextricably linked to the heretical doctrines of Christian Nationalism and Dominionism.

Alex Henderson explains at Alternet, How Trump and the Republicans’ love of Israel is actually about ‘maintaining white Christian dominance’:

The Christian Right, which has been an integral part of the Republican Party since President Ronald Reagan’s 1980 campaign, is known for its strident support of Israel as well as its belief that fundamentalist Christianity is the only way to escape eternal hellfire and damnation. It’s a bizarre contradiction: far-right white Protestant evangelicals believe that Jews will receive a one-way ticket to hell unless they become fundamentalist Christians, yet they profess to be unwavering supporters of Israel — even going so far as to denounce others as anti-Semitic for not being pro-Israel enough. Journalist Peter Beinart takes a close look at the Christian Right’s supposed love affair with Israel in a thought-provoking piece for The Forward, and he concludes that their obsession with Israel is not rooted in a love of Judaism, but in a white nationalist viewpoint.

Beinart opens his article by discussing President Donald Trump’s racist assertion that four congresswomen of color — Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York City and Rep. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts — should leave the United States and return to “the places from which they came” (three of them were born and raised in the U.S., while Omar was born in Somalia but has been a U.S. citizen since 2000). A recurring theme among Republicans, Beinart notes, is that all of the congresswomen are anti-American because they “hate Israel.”

“Republicans no longer talk about Israel like it’s a foreign country,” Beinart asserts. “They conflate love of Israel with love of America because they see Israel as a model for what they want America to be: an ethnic democracy.”

Beinart adds, “Israel is a Jewish state. Trump and many of his allies want America to be a white Judeo-Christian state.”

The “Judeo” part is questionable: fundamentalist Christian Right groups like Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council believe that Christianity is the only true faith, and ultimately, they hope to convert Jews — including those living in Israel. And as Beinart notes, “Evangelical Christians, most of whom vote Republican, see Jewish control of the holy land as necessary to bring about the second coming of Jesus,” [i.e., the Rapture].

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“Republican support for Israel…. isn’t driven by American Christians as a whole,” Beinart explains. “It’s driven by conservative white Christians, whose political identity sits at the intersection of religion and race. In the Trump era, conservative white Christians have grown increasingly obsessed with preserving America’s religious and racial character, and they see Israel as a country that’s doing just that.”

Beinart wraps up his piece by stressing that white fundamentalist Republican Christians are not really concerned about Judaism when they proclaim themselves to be pro-Israel — their motivation is making the U.S. as white as possible.

“Republican attacks on Omar and her colleagues as anti-Israel and anti-Semitic aren’t ultimately about Israel or Jews,” Beinart asserts. “They’re an effort to use Israel and Jews to further the central goal of the Trump-era right: maintaining white Christian dominance in the face of demographic change.”

There is an unholy alliance between the Christian Right “Party of Trump” and the far-right Likud Party conservative coalition of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel. Netanyahu is more than happy to make use of these “useful idiots” to maintain his stranglehold on power for his increasingly racist and anti-democratic policies in Israel. For the Christian Right, Netanyahu can do no wrong, just like their “Dear Leader” Trump, because they see what he is doing as a model for what they would like to do here: make America a theocratic white Judeo-Christian state (light on the Judeo). These are white Christian Nationalists and Dominionists who are all about the control of political power and dominance.

We witnessed this unholy alliance play out today when Israel Blocked a Visit by Omar, Tlaib After Trump Smears Them in a Tweet:

President Donald Trump on Thursday called on the Israeli government to bar Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) from entering the country during a planned visit to the West Bank this weekend, claiming in an incendiary tweet that they “hate Israel” and “all Jews.”

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Less than an hour later, Israel formally announced that the two Democratic congresswomen—the first and only two Muslim women to be elected to Congress—would not be allowed entry. “We won’t allow those who deny our right to exist in this world to enter Israel,” Israel’s deputy foreign minister said on state radio, a likely reference to Omar and Tlaib’s support for the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement. “In principle, this is a very justified decision.”

Trump then tweeted again, seeming to relish the fact that he had once again turned the national conversation toward Tlaib and Omar, whom he has repeatedly targeted.

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Trump’s efforts to block Omar and Tlaib from entering Israel, and thereby punish his perceived political enemies, comes as the latest in his longstanding attacks against the two congresswomen. Those attacks have frequently included racist diatribes and charges of antisemitism.

The White House only hours before denied reports that Trump was pressuring Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for such a move. “The Israeli government can do what they want,” press secretary Stephanie Grisham had said on Saturday. “It’s fake news.”

The president’s tweet on Thursday all but confirmed the behind-the-scenes efforts – [and flatly contradicted and discredited his press secretary Stephanie Grisham.]

The decision to block Omar and Tlaib is all but certain to exacerbate tensions between Netanyahu and Democrats. “Denying entry to members of the United States Congress is a sign of weakness, not strength,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a statement. “It will only hurt the U.S.-Israeli relationship and support for Israel in America.”

Trump Has Enabled Israel’s Antidemocratic Tendencies at Every Turn:

American groups, including the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the pro-Israel lobbying organization, issued statements calling Netanyahu out for his decision. “We disagree with Reps. Omar and Tlaib’s support for the anti-Israel and anti-peace BDS movement, along with Rep. Tlaib’s calls for a one-state solution,” the group wrote on Twitter. “We also believe every member of Congress should be able to visit and experience our democratic ally Israel firsthand.”

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American Jews voted against Trump in greater numbers than any other U.S. religious group in 2016, according to Pew Research Center, and have been on the front lines of protest against his administration. As Israel’s politics become more right-wing and its government doubles down on its alliance with a deeply unpopular American president, the complicated divide between Israel and American Jews has widened, leaving the country ever more isolated as it feverishly works to keep out its critics.

If you are unfamiliar with the radical Christian Nationalist and Dominionist movement, see Jesse Moss’s miniseries The Family, Netflix’s new five-part documentary series, an adaptation-cum-expansion of The Family (2008) and C Street (2010), two nonfiction books penned by Jeff Sharlet, whose experiences with “the Family”—often also referred to as “the Fellowship”—provide a window onto an invisible world, and movement, hiding in plain sight. ‘The Family’: The Evangelicals Trying to Turn America Into a Theocracy:

Driven by the belief that they’re God’s “chosen,” hand-selected by Him to lead, they spread the gospel far and wide—and, in doing so, shore up political and social influence right beneath the population’s nose.

Their unabashed goal is a global Christian theocracy—no morality, or democracy, required.

This is the reason why white fundamentalist Evangelicals aren’t turned off by Trump’s first term:

Trump enjoyed overwhelming support from white evangelicals in 2016, winning a higher percentage than George W. Bush, John McCain or Mitt Romney. That enthusiasm has scarcely dimmed. Almost 70 percent of white evangelicals approve of Trump’s performance in office, according to a 2019 Pew Research Center poll.

Interviews with 50 evangelical Christians in three battleground states — Florida, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — help explain why. In conversation, evangelical voters paint the portrait of the Trump they see: a president who acts like a bully but is fighting for them. A president who sees America like they do, a menacing place where white Christians feel mocked and threatened for their beliefs. A president who’s against abortion and gay rights…

“You’ve just got to accept the bad with the good,” Halbert said.

It does not matter to them that Donald Trump is a pathological liar who has made 12,019 false or misleading claims over 928 days.

It does not matter to them that Donald Trump has been credibly accused by 24 women of sexual misconduct, including rape, or that he is the unindicted co-conspirator “Individual-1” who directed Michael Cohen to make payments to two women to conceal his sexual relationships with them (while married to Melania).

It does not matter to them that Donald Trump is a grifter, con man and thief who ripped off his contractors, employees, and lenders, and defrauded students – including veterans – who paid for his defunct Trump University. Federal court approves $25 million Trump University settlement.

It does not matter to them that Donald Trump is openly a white nationalist racist and religious bigot who routinely uses the most vile racist rhetoric to attack non-white minorities, and who mistreats migrants and children who are seeking asylum and refuge in the U.S. by locking them in cages like dogs, and fails to provide them with humane care.

The personality cult of Donald Trump arguably violates the first two Commandments, but some fundamentalist Christians are only mildly offended by Trump violating the Third Commandment, ‘Using the Lord’s name in vain’: Evangelicals chafe at Trump’s blasphemy.

Morality and virtue are fungible … it’s all about having the political power to impose their religious tenets on others by force of law, or alternatively, to exempt themselves from having to comply with laws with which they disagree and that everyone else must comply. They will either own America, or opt-out of America in a separatist movement.

While they cheer Trump’s many efforts to chip away at LGBT rights, they are much more concerned with protecting their own right to maintain their opposition.

They want to be able to teach their values without interference — some churchgoers fretted about school textbooks that refer to transgender identities without condemnation and about gay couples showing up in TV commercials every time they try to watch a show with their children.

They want the right to choose how they run their businesses. Members of large churches across the country can rattle off the details of the court cases involving Christian business owners who refused to participate in gay weddings and the bill that Democrats in Congress want to pass to compel service for all customers.

The Trump administration on Wednesday formally proposed a new rule to let businesses with federal contracts cite religious objections as a valid reason to discriminate against their workers on the basis of LGBTQ status, sex, race, ethnicity, national origin, and other characteristics — thereby skirting worker protections under federal law. Trump’s Latest Proposal Would Let Businesses Discriminate Based On LGBTQ Status, Race, Religion, And More:

The move marks President Donald Trump’s latest effort to weaken the civil rights of minorities with ambiguous rules that grant agencies wide discretion to let companies off the hook when accused of discrimination.

The 46-page draft rule from the Labor Department would apply to a range of so-called religious organizations — including corporations, schools, and societies — provided that they claim a “religious purpose.”

In other words, a “license to discriminate” or “get out of jail free” card based upon one’s religious tenets. Everyone else must comply with the law. This is fundamentally a separatist movement.

To be perfectly clear, not all evangelical Christians are adherents of the heretical doctrines of Christian Nationalism or Dominionism. Paul Rosenberg reports at Salon, New grassroots Christian movement joins the fight against Christian Nationalism:

In late July the Washington Post ran a story about South Dakota’s new law requiring the posting of ‘In God We Trust’ on public school walls, but it somehow managed not to say a word about Project Blitz, the organization behind such laws, or about the larger Christian nationalist/dominionist agenda that it’s part of, which Salon has covered repeatedly (here, here, here, here, here) since researcher Frederick Clarkson discovered their playbook last year.

For more than a year, the leading organizational voices raised in opposition have primarily been secular ones concerned with the political threat to America’s pluralistic democracy and specific groups whose rights are being threatened, united in the recently-formed BlitzWatch Coalition, which includes Political Research Associates, where Clarkson is a senior research analyst.

But that changed dramatically on July 29, with a statement of principles announcing the launch of Christians Against Christian Nationalism, spearheaded by the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, under the leadership of Executive Director Amanda Tyler. It was originally conceived as an interfaith initiative, “But we quickly learned that our partners from other faith traditions did not feel as comfortable calling out Christian nationalism as we and other Christian partners did,” Tyler told Salon via email. “Their response initially surprised me, but I quickly saw the power in and the need for us, as Christians, to clean up our house first.”

The statement called Christian nationalism, “a persistent threat to both our religious communities and our democracy,” warning that “Christian nationalism seeks to merge Christian and American identities, distorting both the Christian faith and America’s constitutional democracy;” that “It often overlaps with and provides cover for white supremacy and racial subjugation;” and asserting that “As Christians, we are bound to Christ, not by citizenship, but by faith.”

The statement doesn’t specifically mention Project Blitz, but Tyler cited such legislation as well as terrorist violence as troubling manifestations of their underlying concern with the divisive nature of Christian nationalism in the first of a series of 10 weekly podcasts BJC has launched in support of the initiative.

“We’ve seen violent and deadly attacks on houses of worship, perpetrated by extremists who espouse Christian nationalist views,” Tyler said, as well as “the state of bills sweeping the state legislatures around the country.” She went on to say, “This initiative is not in response to any one of these instances. But rather a way to counter what we view and proceed as a growing threat…. Christian nationalism tends to create an in-group of Christians, and an out-group of everyone else. In this phenomenon is completely at odds with our constitutional principles of religious freedom for all people, ensured by government that remains neutral when it comes to religion.”

A Grassroots Movement

The statement was released along with brief additional statements from 19 prominent endorsers, six of them Baptists, but—true to its Baptist origins—it’s not conceived as a top-down organization. “This is a grassroots movement, spreading through word of mouth and social media,” Tyler told Salon. “We had signers from all 50 states and more than three dozen denominations in the first eight hours of the campaign,” she said, with a total of more than 10,000 additional signatories in just over a week. “Anyone who self-identifies as Christian is invited and welcome to join us,” she said. “Our goal is not just to gather signatures, but to start conversations about what Christian nationalism is and how it shows up in our society today.”

To help further that conversation, BJC launched the above-mentioned podcast series, and EthicsDaily.com, a partner in the project, has published a series of opinion pieces from signatories.

The Baptist endorsers include Paul Baxley, executive coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. “To suggest that the church needs the protection of the state in order to flourish and thrive is idolatrous,” said Baxley in his statement. “The Church of Jesus Christ exists by the power that parted the Red Sea and raised Jesus from the dead, and that power and authority is still at work within us and among us even as empires rise and fall.”

“This is a first for the Baptist world and the wider community of Christian leaders who support separation of church and state,” Clarkson said. “Baptists have historically insisted that the coercive power of the state is a threat to the ‘free will’ required of individuals to find their own relationship with God. The dominance of government by any religious faction or institution, even their own, would be anathema for the same reason.”

Other endorsers included Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of NETWORK Lobby For Catholic Social Justice. “Christian nationalism comes from a place of insecurity and fear. Jesus said we should ‘fear not!'” Sister Campbell said. “Christian nationalism rejects Christ’s teachings and manipulates our faith to deny the inherent dignity of every person.”

“While the BJC has long been critical of Christian nationalism, this effort to inform and rally their communities towards greater clarity on both the religious and wider social and political significance of Christian nationalism, is a thoughtful—and I think remarkably forceful—defense of the faith in response to a rising ethos and ideology in the Christian Right,” said Clarkson.

A Matter of Principles

“What I’ve noticed from our critics is that they don’t take on the text of the statement, perhaps because it is hard to quibble with the unifying principles we’ve laid out,” Tyler said. These principles include:

      • People of all faiths and none have the right and responsibility to engage constructively in the public square.
      • Patriotism does not require us to minimize our religious convictions.
      • Government should not prefer one religion over another or religion over nonreligion.
      • Religious instruction is best left to our houses of worship, other religious institutions and families.
      • America’s historic commitment to religious pluralism enables faith communities to live in civic harmony with one another without sacrificing our theological convictions.
      • Conflating religious authority with political authority is idolatrous and often leads to oppression of minority and other marginalized groups as well as the spiritual impoverishment of religion.

Rather than say anything about these principles, Tyler said critics “have tried to layer on culture-war debates — disputes that are not at all invoked in the statement — as well as claiming that we are attacking them or their positions by calling out Christian nationalism.” But, she said, “You’ll note that nowhere in the statement do we call names or label people as ‘Christian nationalists.’ Rather, we are denouncing a political ideology as harmful to our faith and to our country. Many of the negative responses I’ve seen are laden with Christian nationalist language and history, further proving the need for this kind of response right now.”

On his blog, evangelical historian John Fea, who signed the statement, pushed back against critics who claimed there was no such thing as Christian nationalism, a subject he’s written a whole book on. “Christian nationalism not only exists, but it is a view of church and state that drives a significant part of the Donald Trump presidency,” Fea wrote. “As I argued in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump, some of the fastest-growing evangelical groups in the United States embrace Christian nationalism.”

“While a common current media trope is that Trump is using evangelicals, this puts it exactly backwards. They’re using him to get what they want, and it’s working,” exvangelical writer Chrissy Stroop told Salon. “As I recently argued in Religion Dispatches, Christian nationalists’ disproportionate power is also the reason the American government is incapable of meaningfully curtailing rampant gun violence. Christian nationalist ideology is incompatible with democracy. If we cannot defeat Christian nationalism politically, we will only move further down the road of fascism.”

That’s not implausible. “Many of these extreme Christian nationalists may also be described as ‘dominionists’ because they want to take ‘dominion’ over government, culture, economic life, religion, the family, education, and the family,” Fea wrote. That’s precisely the goal that Project Blitz ultimately orients around.

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Christian nationalists aren’t about to stop name-calling, finger-pointing and pushing their dominionist agenda. But they’re clearly alarmed that they’re now being challenged in an organized way, even just an organized conversation. They’d much rather dictate than converse—a mindset critics might see as neither Christian nor American, after all.

To save American democracy, fight the radical Christian Right.




1 COMMENT

  1. Michael Gerson, the Washington Post’s religion editor, writes “Some white evangelicals are difficult to recognize as Christians at all,” https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/how-we-christians-order-our-outrage-says-a-lot-about-us/2019/08/15/a5a0c2e2-bf91-11e9-a5c6-1e74f7ec4a93_story.html

    “The problem does not lie in Christianity but in the moral formation of Christians. Are they getting their view of refugees from Christian sources? Or are they taking their view from Fox News, talk radio and Trump? I suspect the latter. And the worship of political idols is ultimately a spiritual problem — a different kind of blasphemy.

    These challenges run deeper than politics. Many white evangelical Christians hold a faith that appeals to the comfortable rather than siding with the afflicted [a reference to the heretical Prosperity Gospel theology]. They have allied themselves with bigots and nativists, risking the reputation of the gospel itself. And, in some very public ways, they are difficult to recognize as Christians at all.”

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