Faith groups launch new agenda to deal with rising Christian nationalism

As pro-Trump supporters violently stormed the United States Capitol on January 6, many Christian leaders were horrified to see the insurgents wearing and holding Christian symbols, as many rioters prayed for the blessing of God over their activities.

These austere scenes have led some Christian leaders to come together to develop resources which they hope will help curb a recent wave of Christian nationalism, which they see not only dangerous to American democracy, but also to their religious faith. herself. While many conservative Christians – and especially white evangelicals – have embraced former President Donald Trump, other religious leaders within the religious community have developed a new agenda to address the “heretical” beliefs of the Christian nationalist movement. .

Pastor Doug Pagitt, executive director of Vote Common Good, and Amanda Tyler, who heads Christians Against Christian Nationalism, said News week that the political movement has been alive in the United States for decades, but that Trump has embraced and emboldened Christian nationalists. They said this has led to an increase in the visibility and importance of the movement in recent years.

“January 6 clearly showed that these roots had grown very, very deep in society and were now linked to many other movements that were seriously dangerous,” Pagitt said. “It’s sort of a shift that is escalating so far – not seeing it just as a problem for the faithful, but a problem for the planet and the country.”

Tyler said the country began to see “increasing instances of Christian nationalism” just over two years ago. She said this included “an increase in violent incidents”. She pointed out that Christian nationalism has links with white nationalism, pointing out that these beliefs have been used to justify slavery, Jim Crow laws in the South and segregation. These links were apparent during the insurgency, as many Trump supporters carried Confederate flags or carried symbols indicating association with white supremacist beliefs.

A man holds a large wooden cross near the Washington Monument during a rally in support of President Donald Trump in Washington, DC on January 6.
JOSEPH PREZIOSO / AFP via Getty Images

Shared concern about the threat of Christian nationalism has led Tyler’s organization to develop a new program that can be used by church leaders as a resource to educate their communities on issues with ideology. Tyler said the program could be used by “individual congregations or small groups,” whether in seminars, discussions, or Bible studies. Pagitt and Tyler explained that many church leaders had asked for resources, and they realized that there was a significant lack of material dealing with issues of Christian nationalism.

Dozens of pastors and Christian leaders in conservative states are already planning to use the new program, which will officially launch on July 6. Pagitt’s group is working with Christians Against Christian National to promote the material through a large network of pastors, other means. Religious leaders from states such as Texas, Georgia, Arkansas, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee, among others, plan to preach from the program in a nationwide week of action after launch .

The program, which has been revised by News week, provides a series of lessons including questions and Bible references to help religious leaders discuss Christian nationalism with other believers. The material describes Christian nationalism as a “troubling ideology” and defines it as “a cultural framework that idealizes and advocates a fusion of Christianity with American civic life.”

The Constitution prohibits the imposition of any religious ideology by the government. “Congress will not make any law respecting the establishment of a religion or prohibiting the free exercise of it,” says the Constitution’s First Amendment. While Christians – and all religious groups – are guaranteed the freedom to practice their faith without government interference, the government is also prohibited from imposing religious beliefs on the public.

Despite this fundamental constitutional principle, Trump and many Republican lawmakers have pushed forward an agenda that blurs the line the founders established to separate church and state. Conservative Christian voters – and especially white evangelicals – responded enthusiastically. The 2016 and 2020 exit polls showed that about eight in ten white evangelicals voted for Trump in both elections. Prominent Trump allies and conspiracy theorists, such as Mike Lindell, regularly tout their religious beliefs to explain their continued support for the former president and his claims regarding the 2020 election.

“Growing up in a small farming community in the Bible Belt, I assumed that being a good American meant being a good Christian and being a good Christian meant being a good American. given, “Reverend Pastor Michael Mills of the Agape Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, said News week. He is among Christian leaders who plan to use the new program, which will officially launch on July 6.

Trump supporters pray
Supporters of then-President Donald Trump pray outside the Maricopa County Election Department during the vote count in Phoenix on November 6, 2020.
OLIVIER TOURON / AFP via Getty Images

Mills explained that he finally realized that “merging a Christian and American identity is actually a disservice to both.” Although the pastor said it is difficult to change people’s perspective, he said that “calling on my Christian sisters and brothers in the love of Jesus must be the way forward.”

Stephen K. Reeves, director of advocacy at the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in Georgia, said News week that he is “optimistic” about the new program, which he also plans to use.

“In many spaces, Christian nationalism is a default ideology that is rarely challenged. Inviting people to think more deeply about what they can believe or see around them gives them the opportunity to change. I think it’s very important, ”Reeves said.

Reverend Pastor Jillian Hankamer of First Baptist Church in Lewisburg, Pa., Who also plans to use the new materials, said News week that she thinks Christian nationalism has come to a head because we had a president who was not afraid to take advantage of people of faith to promote his own narcissistic need for power and worship. Hankamer said she “didn’t believe [Trump] genuinely shared their beliefs, but instead saw an opportunity to use the power of the evangelical vote – which is great – and seized it, ruthlessly. “

Dr Heather Thompson Day, associate professor of communication and rhetoric at Colorado Christian University and author of the book Christian It’s not your turn, Told News week that changing minds is difficult. The author and scholar, who is not involved in the new program, stressed that building personal relationships is key.

“I am convinced that I can strengthen the hands of people who are listening, to reach out to their friends and family who value their relationship. It is a job that must be done from within. We simply cannot. write off people and say there is no way to reach them, especially as Christians, ”she said.

Thompson Day explained that “we cannot enter conversations for the purpose of changing people’s minds,” but we should “enter into relationships where we are committed to seeing the value of people even though we are not. agree with them, and over time our relationship rubs off on them. “

Trump supporters pray
Supporters of then-President Donald Trump pray outside the United States Capitol on January 6 in Washington, DC
Win McNamee / Getty Images

Pagitt, Tyler, and Christian leaders who plan to use the new material hope that through small group discussions, Bible studies, and one-on-one conversations, these resources can help change the perspectives of Christians who may already feel uncomfortable with the nationalism promoted by some. within their community. They also believe it can be a tool to help provide new perspectives for those who may never have questioned the ideology of Christian nationalism before.

“I think hope is the right word,” Tyler said. “We’re here for the long haul. You know Christians against Christian nationalism, we’ve already been here for two years devoted to this one issue and it’s going to take us a very long time to dismantle an ideology that has been ubiquitous and part of it. American experience since our beginnings. “

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