A very useful op ed piece on the New York Times’ website today connects the dots between former President Trump’s violent assault on the U.S. Capitol Jan. 6, 2021; white Christian nationalist fears of being replaced and persecuted by non-Christian immigrants and secular society; and the past year’s hysteria over “Critical Race Theory” and other right-wing bugaboos.
It’s by Katherine Stewart, a frequent contributor to the Times and other center-left publications like the Guardian and Atlantic magazine. She wears her heart (or her politics) on her sleeve, imho, but her stuff is well documented and provocative.
Cite: Katherine Stewart, “Christian Nationalism Is One of Trump’s Most Powerful Weapons,” New York Times, Jan. 6, 2022 https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/06/opinion/jan-6-christian-nationalism.html.
The role of social and right-wing media in priming the base for the claim that the election was fraudulent is by now well understood. The role of the faith-based messaging sphere is less well appreciated. Pastors, congregations and the religious media are among the most trusted sources of information for many voters. Christian nationalist leaders have established richly funded national organizations and initiatives to exploit this fact. The repeated message that they sought to deliver through these channels is that outside sources of information are simply not credible. The creation of an information bubble, impervious to correction, was the first prerequisite of Mr. Trump’s claim.
The coup attempt also would not have been possible without the unshakable sense of persecution that movement leaders have cultivated among the same base of voters. Christian nationalism today begins with the conviction that conservative Christians are the most oppressed group in American society. Among leaders of the movement, it is a matter of routine to hear talk that they are engaged in a “battle against tyranny,” and that the Bible may soon be outlawed.
A final precondition for the coup attempt was the belief, among the target population, that the legitimacy of the United States government derives from its commitment to a particular religious and cultural heritage, and not from its democratic form. It is astonishing to many that the leaders of the Jan. 6 attack on the constitutional electoral process styled themselves as “patriots.” But it makes a glimmer of sense once you understand that their allegiance is to a belief in blood, earth and religion, rather than to the mere idea of a government “of the people, by the people, for the people.”
At Christian nationalist conferences I have been reporting on, I have heard speakers go out of their way to defend and even lionize the Jan. 6 insurrectionists. At the Road to Majority conference, which was held in Central Florida in June 2021, the author and radio host Eric Metaxas said, “The reason I think we are being so persecuted, why the Jan. 6 folks are being persecuted, when you’re over the target like that, oh my.” At that same conference, the political commentator Dinesh D’Souza, in conversation with the religious right strategist Ralph Reed, said, “The people who are really getting shafted right now are the Jan. 6 protesters,” before adding, “We won’t defend our guys even when they’re good guys.” Mr. Reed nodded in response and replied, “I think Donald Trump taught our movement a lot.”
Movement leaders now appear to be working to prime the base for the next attempt to subvert the electoral process. At dozens of conservative churches in swing states this past year, groups of pastors were treated to presentations by an initiative called Faith Wins. Featuring speakers like David Barton, a key figure in the fabrication of Christian nationalist myths about history, and led by Chad Connelly, a Republican political veteran, Faith Wins serves up elections skepticism while demanding that pastors mobilize their flocks to vote “biblical” values. “Every pastor you know needs to make sure 100 percent of the people in their pews are voting, and voting biblical values,” Mr. Connelly told the assembled pastors at a Faith Wins event in Chantilly, Va. in September.
“The church is not a cruise ship, the church is a battleship,” added Byron Foxx, an evangelist touring with Faith Wins. The Faith Wins team also had at its side Hogan Gidley, a deputy press secretary in the Trump White House, who now runs the Center for Election Integrity, an initiative of the America First Policy Institute, a group led in part by former members of the Trump administration. Mr. Gidley informed the gathering that his group is “nonpartisan” — and then went on to mention that in the last election cycle there were “A lot of rogue secretaries of state, a lot of rogue governors.”
Opposition to public education is part of the DNA of America’s religious right. The movement came together in the 1970s not solely around abortion politics, as later mythmakers would have it, but around the outrage of the I.R.S. threatening to take away the tax-exempt status of church-led “segregation academies.” In 1979, Jerry Falwell said he hoped to see the day when there wouldn’t be “any public schools — the churches will have taken them over again and Christians will be running them.”
Today, movement leaders have their eye on the approximately $700 billion that federal, state, and local governments spend yearly on education. The case of Carson v. Makin, which is before the Supreme Court this term and involves a challenge, in Maine, to prohibitions on using state tuition aid to attend religious schools, could force taxpayers to fund sectarian schools no matter how discriminatory their policies or fanatical their teachings. The endgame is to get a chunk of this money with the help either of state legislatures or the Supreme Court, which in its current configuration might well be convinced that religious schools have a right to taxpayer funds.
This longstanding anti-public school agenda is the driving force behind the movement’s effort to orchestrate the anti-C.R.T. campaign. The small explosions of hate detonating in public school boards across the nation are not entirely coming from the grass roots up. The Family Research Council, a Washington, D.C.-based Christian right policy group, recently held an online School Board Boot Camp, a four-hour training session providing instruction on how to run for school boards and against C.R.T. and to recruit others to do so. The Bradley Foundation, Heritage Action for America, and The Manhattan Institute are among those providing support for groups on the forefront of the latest public school culture wars.
[The Times:] Ms. Stewart has reported on the religious right for more than a decade. She is the author of “The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism.”
[Wikipedia:] Katherine Stewart is an American journalist and author who often writes about issues related to the separation of church and state. Her books include The Good News Club: The Christian Right’s Stealth Assault on America’s Children (2012) and The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism (2020).
As a writer and speaker, Stewart has shown interest in controversies over religious freedom and the separation of church and state. She has also written about public and science education,public funding of faith-based initiatives, anti-LGBT initiatives on the state level, and bullying in schools in the U.S.
In March 2020, Stewart published The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism, which outlines the decentralized Christian nationalist movement in the U.S. and its grabs for power, linking it to historical movements against abolition, the New Deal, and civil rights. It was reviewed in Foreign Affairs and was excerpted in the New York Review of Books and partially adapted in The New Republic.The Washington Post called it “required reading for anyone who wants to map the continuing erosion of our already fragile wall between church and state”.Christianity Today charged Stewart with secular dogmatism, writing, “At times, her wariness toward white evangelicals and sense of conspiracy borders on the comical.” David Austin Walsh in The Baffler wrote that Stewart neglected key right-wing evangelical figures such as Gerald L.K. Smith but that their “absence…is not a fatal omission.” She was interviewed on The Brian Lehrer Show,The Majority Report, and for Salon and Sojourners.
History News Network — Wikipedia page at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_News_Network