US Christian Nationalism Politics Splits America, Church [2]

This is a really quick update to the first blog post about this subject. Delving into the subject in Google has turned up quite a bit more stuff, and whilst this post will be shorter than the last one, the additional information is really pertinent to this topic. Firstly, Ed Stetzer of Wheaton College has really hit the nail on the head when he questions the whole basis of Christian nationalism, suggesting that it is very easy for its proponents to lead people into an idolatrous worship of the American nation or the president, rather than God. Stetzer followed up this viewpoint with a commentary on the Charlottesville protests in mid-2017, when he questioned why so few Christians had criticised POTUS 45 who initially appeared to endorse white supremacists.

Activism site ThinkProgress also contributed a three part series at about the same time as Stetzer, doubtless in response to the same events, as Christian nationalism was thrown sharply into the spotlight as a result of the mixed messages coming from Trump’s evangelical supporters. The first part took a look at the roots of CN in the Moral Majority of the 1970s, which in turn is allied with dominionism and other similar theological heresies. The second article looked at the historical roots of CN in US history, starting with the huge misstep over Charlottesville, and alluded to the cult of Trump amongst his evangelical champions. The post went on to make a less than flattering comparison with church backing for Hitler in Nazi Germany, and whilst things were very different then, there is one quite obvious parallel, and that is the way in which Christian nationalists in the US have been quick to advocate for the Trump campaign to try any means possible to overcome the democratically held elections for the 46th president, which has key similarities with the way the Nazis suspended and then abolished elections in Germany. The last of the three parts took a more indepth look into Christian nationalist beliefs and found people who voted for Trump on the basis of his CN platform held very black and white views on a number of subjects, implying that CN was closely tied with other conservative movements in the US that held more extreme viewpoints such as racial segregation.

What’s been in the news for the last three days is that ardent Christian nationalist Pat Robertson has been on CNN telling Trump to move on. Gradually most of Trump’s most ardent supporters have been caving in to the inevitable but there are still a few diehard standouts, whilst Trump himself is pushing for a last ditch effort on January 6 when Congress must receive the votes from the Electoral College. However, as the Think Progress articles point out, there will eventually be a point at which the CN people will ditch Trump and look for a new champion to continue their campaign, and it may be that this is all that is really happening, rather than that they have backed down on their campaign in the face of the election loss. Robertson’s comments were carried on the Charisma Magazine website alongside a continuing stream of articles urging believers to continue praying for the election outcome to be overturned.

US Christian Nationalism Politics Splits America, Church [1]

The Southern Baptist Convention is facing substantial backlash after six white seminary presidents met and issued a resolution denouncing Critical Race Theory, a “theoretical social sciences framework that examines society and culture as they relate to categorisations of race, law and power” (Wikipedia definition). CRT is something of a red flag to political conservatives, and on September 22, 2020, Donald Trump issued a lengthy Executive Order denouncing CRT and related concepts like “white privilege” as “offensive and anti-American race and sex stereotyping and scapegoating”. The biggest problem for the SBC is that it has become a highly politicised institution, with some of its key leaders joining the conservative evangelical bandwagon of aligning themselves to the Republican Party and their current POTUS. This implies strongly that the issue of CRT is less about its content (whether that is scripturally aligned or opposed) and more about the SBC wanting to continue ingratiating itself with conservative politicians. This perfectly illustrates the dilemma that the almost uniquely American approach of campaigning for political change through alliances to major parties has created, and it serves as an object lesson to the rest of the world. SBC is being torn in two directions: one in favour of a conservative network which opposes CRT, intersectionality and social justice, and the other in support of ethnic diversity, particularly African-American leadership.

SBC, the largest Protestant denomination in the US, was founded as a split from a larger Baptist grouping because their leaders and congregations believed that segregation and slave ownership was compatible with Scriptural beliefs. The result has been a long history of division within evangelicalism in America and SBC has today only a small level of membership from African-American-majority congregations. Two prominent churches have left the SBC since the CRT statement blew up, and others earlier in the year, and the matter remains live at the time of writing. The overall situation for the US evangelical community as a whole remains highly politicised, even as Christian nationalists (for example Charisma magazine’s publisher Steven Strang) maintain an unrelenting campaign against the transition to a Democratic presidency rolling on (still issuing new declarations as this post goes live). How did the political situation in the US come to this? Why is Trump different from any other US Republican president in the last 40 years?

The answer is that Christian nationalism never got such a sympathetic hearing from any other Republican president in the preceding four decades. As noted in previous posts in this blog, it is exceedingly rare for evangelicals to compare any political leader to someone in the Bible, and declaring Trump was akin to Cyrus was a pragmatic, but theologically heretical, move when the candidate turned out not to be of their chosen Christian faith. The Christian Nationalist faction of evangelicalism has been dominant ever since Trump was elected and proved more willing to accommodate this strand of theological belief than any of his predecessors. But has the result been good for the Church, let alone America? Ultimately, no. Trump has acceded to their beliefs simply because of his own personal character flaws, not because it is a good idea. Christian nationalism is not actually mainstream in America, let alone anywhere else. It is a divisive force within evangelicalism, and adhering to it means that democracy takes a back seat. Christian nationalists have adopted an extreme black and white political division of the American electoral system that places all Republicans in the God-fearing camp and all Democrats in the satanic realm. Christian nationalism got a good boost with Trump because as a non-believer, he had no foresight of the political divisions and ructions within the American church that would be created by boosting this faction of belief, something all of his predecessors rejected, for sound reasons, because Christian nationalism has not been historically supported by either house of Congress and many attempts to have the US Constitution or law changed to reflect a CN identity have failed to gain ground. Ultimately, this Trumpist unilateral change of direction has been about as successful as many of the other examples of the 45th presidency, and therefore likely to fade away into insignificance in the pages of history.

The inexhaustible conclusion, therefore, must be that the coalition of Christian nationalists and dominionists calling for the election result to be overturned are wittingly or unwittingly tapping into a wider sentiment in the Republican Party that has attempted to overturn the election results. Unfortunately this sentiment is not universally based on Christian views – unless the entrenchment of white racial superiority can be considered Christian. And where was it so in less recent times? In the Southern Baptist Convention. Therefore, the move by the SBC to placate its more conservative membership risks looking like a return to the past when it was all-white and supported segregation. Because of the move by some in the Republican Party to suppress the black vote, that is a huge risk that churches are taking by aligning themselves with the GOP. The CRT furore implies a certain level of willingness exists in the SBC to this type of accommodation (the organisation is already tying itself in knots over some of their senior leadership’s declared allegiance to or preference for the GOP and oppositional views from others like Russell Moore of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission). This became really apparent and embarrassing to Christians at the time of the Charlottesville protests in 2017 when the President’s Evangelical Advisory Board were falling over themselves to explain away POTUS’s implicit endorsement of white supremacism, and it became even more difficult to justify with the administration’s response to protests in a number of cities following the George Floyd killing. But that hasn’t stopped Christian nationalists from continuing to endorse Trump, as we can see from the ongoing claims of election fraud. However it cannot be denied that the US church, even in evangelicalism, is greatly divided over the Christian nationalist viewpoint and endorsement of Trump, and that this is unprecedented for any US presidency in recent history. It also risks being viewed as highly heretical and ultimately counterproductive to the Christian witness and Gospel message in the US.

The counterpoint to this is that the US was really intended to be established as a Christian nation as the Nationalists claim. But this would be hard to prove, because one of the key features of US society is religious diversity. The same sort of religious liberty that makes it possible for people to practice their Christian faith also allows them to express a range of differing religious views. This faith diversity was what made it possible for the split that took the Southern Baptists away from those supporting anti-segregationalist views to occur, and therefore helped to bring about the Church support for reformed civil rights in the 1960s. The tendency of Christian nationalists to align themselves with the Republicans, and in certain parts of the US, particularly in the South, tacitly accede to or at the very least turn a blind eye to voter suppression practices carried out in Republican-led states, is hardly likely to endear the rest of the evangelical or church community in the US to their particular theological viewpoint. This is the strongest argument against a theocracy in the US or anywhere; nations which have been established along such lines in the past have tended to become consumed with more secular preoccupations in the past such as power and perpetuation and have over time gone away from overtly Christian belief and practice. Ultimately the theological case for theocracy rests on a scriptural interpretation, often from a reading of dispensationalism, which many in the church consider heretical. Dispensationalists believe they must create the conditions in the church and the world to bring in the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. But for those who do not adhere to these beliefs, they are peddling many compromises and accommodations with secular or anti-Christian authorities, as has been seen during this term of the 45th presidency. Mostly, the problem with dispensationalism is the way that it diverts believers’ attention from the immediacy of the Gospel message into a whole series of more worldly considerations about the future of nations, which leads to unhealthy focus on conspiracy theories. Something that is all too apparent in the aftermath of the 2020 elections with unfounded claims of fraud, which are all miraculously drying up now legal action is being taken against certain media outlets and individuals. When Biden is inaugurated all of these CN-campaigning church leaders will have to go back to their congregations and explain just how they got another set of predictions and prophecies about the elections wrong, again.

“Trump Is Anointed By God” – White Evangelicals Claim – As They Call For Election Reversal

Back in a previous post on this blog the idea was floated that evangelical leaders had decided Trump was anointed / appointed by God to his role as US president, this was predicated on the strong language being used by these leaders to describe what would happen if Trump was impeached or lost the election, and subsequent events where these leaders have invoked various conspiracy theories to explain the election loss and claimed Trump can still win despite all of the losses his campaign has experienced. At the time the notion of a divine appointment was not possible to prove, it was just an educated guess. Now, in an October 29, 2020 article at activist site Right Wing Watch that digs in depth into the fervent support that Charisma Magazine has given to the Trump campaign, this idea is discussed in detail. The post looks into the promotion of various anti-Democrat conspiracy theories being circulated by Charisma, and the truth is, they are far from alone in the evangelical community, with similar views aired nightly on CBN by host Pat Robertson, among others. Charisma has been sourcing and publishing material from people closely connected in far Right circles with associations to Breitbart and other publishers. Additionally, Charisma’s publisher claims the Democrats party are primarily responsible for undermining US democracy, yet appears silent on the active GOP engagement in voter suppression in numerous states it controls. Somewhere along the way, truth became partisan, and with it, the evangelical church in American became another institution split along political lines.

The reference to Trump’s supposed Godly calling comes in a single sentence near the end of the article and is not expanded upon in any way therein. But more clues can be found in frequent references made by Trump evangelical supporters to the concept that Trump is a modern day “Cyrus”, an allusion to the pagan king of Nehemiah’s day, who received inspiration to enable the exiled Jews to return and rebuild Solomon’s Temple in the city of Jerusalem. This concept has been widely explored in the mainstream media, this article from 11 January 2020 in the Guardian being one such example. Notably, it immediately invokes a direct linkup with Zionist nationalism in modern day Israel and the US government’s heavy involvement there, and particularly the beliefs of dispensationalist evangelicals in the US as key proponents of a heresy that a third temple must be built in the ancient Biblical capital in order to help usher in the “end times” and the second coming of Jesus Christ.

The dangerous deception in this belief is that Trump responded just as his evangelical cheerleaders thought he should. He stacked his cabinet with conservative Christians, he actioned the long-deferred relocation of the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and his policies have strongly pushed back against litmus evangelical social concerns in areas like abortion, transgenderism and immigration. He appointed three conservative justices to the Supreme Court and a near-record number of appointments to lower courts across the US. Numerous other policies implemented by his cabinet, VP Pence and the Republican-controlled Senate have continued the broad trend of Trumpism aligned with strongly moralistic conservative evangelical beliefs that have divided even the US evangelical community down strong partisan lines, let alone the rest of the world.

The real truth behind the Cyrus-Trump parallels is that they are essentially founded on political expendiency and pragmatism. Traditionally, evangelicals have been reluctant to compare leading politicians with biblical figures, making this situation somewhat unique for Trump. Many Republican presidents have been at least nominally Christian, especially since the Reagan era. The conservative evangelical community in America had hoped to get another leading faith-aligned candidate into the presidency in the primaries for 2016 – just as they always do. When it became obvious that Trump would be the GOP candidate, they came up with the Cyrus comparison to swing support behind him.

Fundamentally though, and chillingly for a national with a proud democratic founding and track record like the United States of America, the biggest issue from invoking comparisons with a historical monarchical figure is that they have absolutely supremacy over their subjects and next to no accountability. As far as Trump’s evangelical acolytes are concerned, his election is the first step towards a theocratic government. Somewhere along the way, democracy will cease to exist in its current form because when you are appointed by God you are only accountable to him and to your fellow believers, and the bulk of the US population who aren’t Christian or specifically supporters of the Trump-inspired stream of evangelicalism don’t have any rights at all. This sounds and is outrageous in whole-world terms, but is not so far fetched in the fervency of American Christian nationalism, whose supporters believe the US was founded as a Godly nation and should be one today.

The most recent kind of evangelical cheerleading for autocratic unilaterial decision-making by their King Trump has been the suggestion aired by a prominent Floridan preacher on Charisma 16th December 2020 that the president should declare martial law to overturn the election results in key states and re-run them under military control. In the interview with Charisma publisher Strang, the latter reveals he believed election fraud would be the no.1 reason Trump could lose an election; apparently, the idea that in a democracy, voters could legitimately vote out a massively incompetent leader, a far more likely scenario, is beyond belief. Now, numerous news outlets have reported that the martial law idea, advocated by Lt Gen Mike Flynn, was recently aired in a heated meeting in the White House. Flynn is already tied up intimately with conservative evangelical campaigning for Trump (he was the key speaker at the recent Jericho March) and ultimately it is the support at this level that has significantly enabled Trump to continue refusing to concede and seeking ways to overturn the election outcome. The real problem for credulous conservative evangelicals is that despite the corrupt behaviour of key Republican leaders and politicians, they are no closer to their desired theocratic government than they ever have been at any time in US history, in reality. It is far more likely with the high level of political polarisation and continual perpetuation of historical racism that America will enter a second Civil War, than that Christian nationalists will achieve their aims.