Since the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, I’ve been seeing more and more parallels to the anti-immigrant fervor of the 1850s. This time the targets are Muslims, Latino immigrants and, increasingly, progressives of all faith traditions instead of Irish Catholics, but the parallels are striking. And troubling
One was suggested by Rachel S. Mikva, a Jewish Studies professor at Chicago Theological Seminary, in a USA Today article on the Jan. 6 riot headlined “Christian nationalism is a threat, and not just from Capitol attackers invoking Jesus.” She led with a vivid word picture:
After a portion of the mob entered the Senate chamber on Jan. 6, a handful of men mounted the podium. One of them lifted his hands and cried out, “Jesus Christ, we invoke your name. Amen.” Then Jacob Chansley, sometimes called the “QAnon Shaman,” took his bullhorn and announced gratitude to God for being able to “send a message to all the tyrants, the communists, and the globalists that this is our nation, not theirs.” Bare-chested to expose his white supremacist tattoos, he had paused briefly to remove his Viking-inspired horned headdress and cap — presumably to assume a properly humble posture as he claimed the United States for himself and his fellow-believers.
I’ve blogged about Christian nationalism HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE. And I quoted at length HERE from an excellent April 12 story on the subject by Tom Gjelten, who covers religious issues for National Public Radio.
Some verbatim Notes & Quotes from Rachel Mikva’s op ed follow:
It is easy to protest when white Christian nationalism turns violent. Within the chorus of critics, however, are a substantial number of Christians who plan to take the country for Jesus another way. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Missouri, a leader of the misinformation campaign that led people to believe (falsely) that the presidential election was stolen, is among them.
Speaking in his official capacity as attorney general of Missouri in 2017, he proclaimed at a “Pastors and Pews” meetingthat their charge is to “take the lordship of Christ, that message, into the public realm and to seek the obedience of the nations — of our nation… to influence our society, and even more than that, to transform our society to reflect the gospel truth and lordship of Jesus Christ.”
Hawley is aware that not everyone will become Christian, but believes we should all live by his interpretation of Christian values. The lieutenant governor of Texas, Dan Patrick, asserts that elected officials should look to Scripture when making policy, “because every problem we have in America has a solution in the Bible.”
In “Taking America Back for God: Christian Nationalism in the United States,” Andrew Whitehead and Samuel Perry define Christian nationalism as “a collection of myths, traditions, symbols, narratives, and value systems — that idealizes and advocates a fusion of Christianity with American civic life…. It includes assumptions of nativism, white supremacy, patriarchy, and heteronormativity, along with divine sanction for authoritarian control and militarism. It is as ethnic and political as it is religious.”
Most people have never heard of Project Blitz, for example, but it was responsible for at least 75 bills in 2018 that advance Christian nationalism. They have a playbook developed by the Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation with “model legislation” designed to privilege “traditional Judeo-Christian religious values and beliefs in the public square.” The term Judeo-Christian here is a perverse appropriation of Judaism, deployed as a cover for Christian exclusivism.
The playbook advises beginning with bills that require schools to teach Bible courses or offer release time, and to display “In God We Trust” banners. (Their parallel project to set the motto in license plates has been linked to corrupt fundraising practices.) Second-tier proposals include Christian Heritage Week and Year of the Bible, to reinforce the idea that America was and always will be a Christian nation. The third tier focuses largely on religious liberty as a tool for exempting religious individuals and organizations from laws they do not like, especially laws that prohibit discrimination or protect women. If officials object, the spin machine can go after them as anti-faith.
Yet faithful Christians are among those mobilizing to stop a Christian takeover of the nation. In July 2019, the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty launched Christians Against Christian Nationalism, identifying it as “a distortion of the gospel of Jesus and a threat to American democracy.” Given their early persecution in this country, Baptists recognize that religion is a dangerous business, especially when coupled with state power. https://420f9678bbe9ccf8cbb454a3529cf1cc.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html
The difference between them and their Southern Baptist counterparts, many of whom are involved in the Christian nationalist movement, is consciousness of the vital self-critical dimensions of faith. Whatever one’s spiritual life stance, we are choosing in every moment whether its power will be wielded for harm or for blessing.
Note: The evolution of the term “Judeo-Christian” from an inclusive term in the 1930s and 40s to what Mikva terms “a perverse appropriation of Judaism, deployed as a cover for Christian exclusivism” is summarized in Mark Silk’s talk “Judeo-Christian: From Anti-Fascist to Neo-Fascist,” presented at the American Association of Law Schools conference in 2021 in New Orleans. He traces its development, largely summarizing his 1984 article on the subject in American Quarterly, and says “Just as ‘Christian’ had served as a fascist cue for hostility to Jews in the 1930s, so has ‘Judeo-Christian’ become an emblem of evangelical hostility to Muslims in the post-cold war era.”
Tom Gjelten, “Can America’s ‘Civil Religion’ Still Unite The Country?” WAMU Washington. D.C., Washington [NPR]. April 12, 2021 https://wamu.org/story/21/04/12/can-americas-civil-religion-still-unite-the-country/.
Rachel S. Mikva, “Christian nationalism is a threat, and not just from Capitol attackers invoking Jesus,” USA Today, Jan. 31, 2021 https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2021/01/31/christian-nationalism-josh-hawley-ted-cruz-capitol-attack-column/4292193001/.
Mark Silk, “Judeo-Christian: From Anti-Fascist to Neo-Fascist,” in Michael Sean Winters, “Mark Silk on the History of the Term ‘Judeo-Christian’,” National Catholic Reporter, April 15, 2019 https://www.ncronline.org/news/opinion/distinctly-catholic/mark-silk-history-term-judeo-christian.
Rachel S. Mikva is the Herman Schaalman Professor in Jewish Studies and Senior Faculty Fellow of the InterReligious Institute at Chicago Theological Seminary. Her most recent book is “Dangerous Religious Ideas: The Deep Roots of Self-Critical Faith in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.”
Founded in 1855, the Chicago Theological Seminary (CTS) is the oldest higher education institution in the City of Chicago and was established with two principal goals: first, to educate pastors who would minister to people living on the new western frontier of the United States and second, to train ministers who would advance the movement to abolish slavery. […] It is one of six seminaries affiliated with the United Church of Christ and follows an ecumenical tradition that stresses cooperation between different Christian denominations as well as interfaith understanding.
The Chicago Theological Seminary is an independent educational institution located within the broader campus of the University of Chicago.