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Media are finally taking note of the Christian nationalist movement

Insurrectionists carry a large wooden cross outside the Capitol on Jan. 6. (Shutterstock photo)

The gloves are off as public officials and political candidates reveal themselves as self-avowed Christian nationalists. And, finally, the mainstream media are paying attention.

It used to just be the Freedom From Religion Foundation and Christians Against Christian Nationalism, an off-shoot of the Baptist Joint Committee, (plus a handful of authors and academics) focusing on the threat of Christian nationalism. FFRF and BJC co-published a damning report earlier this year documenting Christian nationalism’s role in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. 

While Christian nationalism has been present throughout modern history — one only has to look at Manifest Destiny — Rachel Maddow devoted part of a fascinating show in July to the 20th-century political origins of the Christian nationalist movement within the Republican Party. Gerald L.K. Smith, running for president in 1948, openly promoted a Christian nationalist movement predicated on overt anti-Semitism and drawing off of the “America First” movement. 

Joining Maddow’s show in reporting on the rise of Christian nationalism was also CNN. There’s been growing coverage of the issue due to instances such as Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s recent remarks overtly advocating that the Republican Party needs “to be the party of nationalism, and I’m a Christian and I say it proudly. We should be Christian nationalists.”

On her own video blog, Greene said: “I believe that Republicans need to prove to the American people that we are the party of American nationalism. Christian nationalism. I’m a Christian, I have no problem saying I’m a Christian nationalist, and I think that’s an identity that we need to embrace, because those are the policies that serve every single American, no matter how they vote. They can be a Democrat and a progressive, but Christian nationalist or American nationalist or America first policies still serve those people because they’re the right policies for everyone.”

In other words, Greene and her ilk believe that “We the People” — whether atheist, Jewish, Muslim or liberal Christian — must be under the thumb of a Christian theocracy. White Christian nationalism is an identity movement predicated on the false belief that the United States is a Christian nation, that “every knee should bow” to Christianity, and that only certain brands of Christians are the true Americans who deserve privileged status and rights. The movement also whitewashes U.S. history to a supposed idyllic time when a Christian government was in charge. Of course, that would actually be the Puritans of Massachusetts Bay Colony — or maybe the colony in Salem, infamous for its witch trials.

Underlining the clear intent to turn the United States into a Christian theocracy are the pronouncements of Andrew Torba, the notorious CEO of Gab social media, who recently used his anti-Semitic platform to tell Jews that “we’re not bending the knee to the 2 percent anymore,” that people are “done with them” and that folks like Torba won’t be “told what we’re allowed to do in our own country by a 2 percent minority.”

Torba added:

“So, no, we don’t want people who are atheists. We don’t want people who are Jewish. This is an explicitly Christian movement because this is an explicitly Christian country. Now, we’re not saying that, you know, we’re gonna deport all these people, or whatever. You’re free to stay here, right? You’re not gonna be forced to convert or anything like this. But you’re gonna enjoy the fruits of living in a Christian society under Christian laws.”

It’s a “comfort” to know that we atheists and Jews are not going to be rounded up or deported . . . yet. 

Shockingly, Doug Mastriano, a Pennsylvania state senator, similarly believes that God intended America to be a Christian nation and hired Torba to be one of his paid consultants. (Reminder: One of Gab’s users was the mass shooter charged with killing 11 people in 2018 at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue.) Mastriano was not only at the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the Capitol, but spent more than $3,000 to bus 100 Trump supporters to Washington, D.C., that day. While he was seen crossing police barricades, he says he did not enter the Capitol. He was accompanied by former Pennsylvania state Rep. Rick Saccone, a theocrat who is a longtime FFRF nemesis.

There’s a lot of scary talk these days about Americans “kneeling to God,” including by Donald Trump. American citizens, in fact, may not be told to “kneel to God,” whether by ex-presidents or rogue members of Congress. Under the First Amendment, citizens may have as many gods as they like or none at all, and government may not direct how or whether they worship.

At least, that’s the America we still live in. 

The big question facing us is do we have a Christian nationalist supermajority sitting on our high court? The six religiously extreme members of the Supreme Court are casually overturning decades of Supreme Court precedent on abortion rights and against religion in our public schools. They are not evangelical Christians, unlike Greene and fellow Rep. Lauren Boebert, but they likewise are tilting in the Christian nationalist direction. The six extremists are all Roman Catholic (or were raised Catholic, in the case of Neil Gorsuch). FFRF is pleased to see not only the esteemed New York Times commentator Linda Greenhouse breaking the media taboo against pointing this out, but also now Marcia Coyle, who is chief Washington correspondent for the National Law Journal and frequent contributor to “PBS NewsHour.” 

Greenhouse has long called out the Catholic majority and its impact on decisions, most recently in her column, “Religious doctrine, not the Constitution, drove the Dobbs decision.” She writes, “It was not constitutional analysis but religious doctrine that drove the opposition to Roe.”

Coyle, in a July 15 piece for the National Constitution Center, asks if “the news media [are] afraid to make the connection?” She notes this is not an anti-Catholic rant. Empirical data tracks how the Roberts Court “represents a break in the development of the two religion clauses.”

While the threat of white Christian nationalism is growing in the United States, it is gratifying to see that the media and others are paying increasing attention to this menace to our democracy. As the gloves come off Christian nationalists, secularists will need all the allies we can get.

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