As if we don’t have enough extremists threatening the existence of freedom and democracy in America, we have the hardcore “Christian nationalists” who try to debunk Thomas Jefferson’s belief in the separation of church and state and who also demand control of our government by Christians and only Christians.
“In November we are going to take our state back, my God will make it so,” declares right-winger Doug Mastriano, the GOP candidate for governor of Pennsylvania. He claims the long-documented concept of separation of church and state is “a myth.”
Mr. Mastriano’s ascension in Pennsylvania is perhaps the most prominent example of right-wing candidates for public office who explicitly aim to promote Christian power in America. The religious right has long supported conservative causes, but this current wave seeks more: a nation that actively prioritizes their particular set of Christian beliefs and far-right views and that more openly embraces Christianity as a bedrock identity.
Many dismiss the historic American principle of the separation of church and state. They say they do not advocate a theocracy, but argue for a foundational role for their faith in government. Their rise coincides with significant backing among like-minded grass-roots supporters, especially as some voters and politicians blend their Christian faith with election fraud conspiracy theories, QAnon ideology, gun rights and lingering anger over Covid-related restrictions.
Their presence reveals a fringe pushing into the mainstream.
Sadly, Mastriano is not alone.
“The church is supposed to direct the government, the government is not supposed to direct the church,” says Rep. Lauren Boebert, a Republican extremist representing the western part of Colorado. “I’m tired of this separation of church and state junk.”
Crackpots like Bobert misquote the Bible and claim that America must be a “Christian nation,” a mistake that Jefferson fought long and hard to avoid. Her misguided claims are a major part of why most Americans now say they are no longer affiliated with any church or organized religion. Pew Research polls show most Americans prefer a clear separation between government and any religion.
“Christians see that integration as a perversion of faith that elevates nation over God,” Pew reports. “The fringe vying for power is still a minority among Christians and Republicans.”
But recent elections and legislative actions prove that a loud, often obscene, minority can gain power by shouting others down.
“We are seeing them emboldened,” says Andrew Seidel, vice president of Americans United for Separation of Church and State “The fringe vying for power is still a minority among Christians and Republicans.”
Since the Jan. 6 attack, which blended extremism and religious fervor, the term “Christian nationalism” is often used broadly to refer to the general mixing of American and white Christian identities. Historically, however, Christian nationalism in America has also encompassed extremist ideologies.
In the 1948 presidential election, for example, a fringe political party called the Christian Nationalist Party nominated Gerald L. K. Smith, a pastor with pro-Nazi sympathies, and adopted an antisemitic, anti-Black platform that called for the deportation of people with whom it disagreed.
Mr. Trump gained power in large part by offering to preserve the influence of white evangelicals and their values just as many feared that the world as they knew it was rapidly disappearing.
The fact that Mr. Trump, whom they saw as their protector, is no longer president intensifies feelings for many conservative Christians that everything is on the line. About 60 percent of white evangelical Protestants believe that the election was stolen from Mr. Trump, according to a Public Religion Research Institute survey conducted late last year. White evangelicals are also the most likely religious group to be believers in QAnon, according to the survey. QAnon refers to a complex conspiracy theory involving a Satan-worshiping, child-sex-trafficking ring, and the F.B.I. has previously warned that some of its adherents could turn violent.
As we see too often in fringe extremists, outright racism breeds fanatics like Christian Nationalists. Hatred and distrust of African Americans and perceived “mongrel races” drives their use of religion as a weapon.
White evangelicals have been Trump’s most dedicated, unwavering base, standing by him through the cavalcade of abuses, failures and scandals that engulfed his campaigns and his presidency – from the “Access Hollywood” tape to his first impeachment to his efforts to overturn the election and incite the Capitol insurrection. This fervent relationship, which has survived the events of Jan. 6, is based on far more than a transactional handshake over judicial appointments and a crackdown on abortion and LGBTQ rights. Trump’s White evangelical base has come to believe that God anointed him and that Trump’s placement of Christian-right ideologues in critical positions at federal agencies and in federal courts was the fulfillment of a long-sought goal of restoring the United States as a Christian nation. Throughout Trump’s presidency, his political appointees implemented policies that stripped away reproductive and LGBTQ rights and tore down the separation of church and state in the name of protecting unfettered religious freedom for conservative Christians. After Joe Biden won the presidency, Trump administration loyalists launched their own Christian organization to “stop the steal,” in the ultimate act of loyalty to their divine leader.
The bottom line is simple. Christian Nationalists are another racist domestic terrorist group that threatens the existence of freedom and democracy in America. Let’s treat them as what they are: Enemies of the State.
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