Langley: Christian Nationalism: The Right’s Crusade Against Equality


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By Jeffrey Langley Jr., Opinion Editor


The United States of America, while in no way a utopian society today or at its founding, was the birthplace of many novel freedoms and rights. Among these is the freedom of religion, which guarantees citizens’ right to worship and limits our government from establishing or promoting any such faith. However, in recent years, a movement birthed from our time’s most hateful, violent and authoritarian ideas seeks to eliminate this freedom.

Christian nationalism unabashedly threatens and disgraces all that is good in our country, and we must fight against it.

America Was Never a Christian Country

Around 60% of Americans assume our founders intended this country to be a Christian nation. However, this assumption bases itself on 200-year-old myths and a poor understanding of the religious beliefs of our founders.

The early U.S. had a diverse and nuanced religious scene. Deism and Theistic Rationality were the most common views held among our founders. Both religious philosophies view God as a more laissez-faire entity rather than a personified, authoritative being and reject many aspects of Christianity, such as the divinity of Christ. This isn’t to say that our founders didn’t appreciate the gospels and Jesus, but many were not what many today would call traditional Christians.

Two key drafters of the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, James Madison and Thomas Jefferson, staunchly believed these more secular views of religion. Madison fought for the free exercise of religion for years before incorporating it into the First Amendment. Jefferson, too, had a deistic point of view about religion and created a version of the New Testament that removed all accounts of miracles or supernatural occurrences.

Following his beliefs, Jefferson explicitly stated that a separation of church and state was necessary for the U.S., even coining the phrase “a separation of church and state.” With this and more examples of staunch secularists in the early American political sphere, a Christian nation isn’t at all an accurate description of our early country.

Historians largely agree the myth traces back to the 1830s, when many used Christian identity to bolster our national pride. These claims also attempted to prop Americans up as the destined rulers of this land, which successfully whet our imperialistic appetite for Native and Mexican lands. Today, these lies now culminate in the modern Christian nationalist movement.

Christian Nationalism’s Attacks on Minority Rights

Since the election of President Donald Trump, Christian nationalism has become a mainstream political ideology among conservatives. While in no way an example of Christian values, Trump has led many to this radical point of view. We see the greater consequences of this ideology in attacks on abortion and trans rights.

As of this year, 24 states have or are likely to restrict abortion rights. As I have written before, these restrictions’ economic and social effects, which disproportionately harm people of color and lower-class citizens, are unacceptable. While Christian nationalists make up much of the pro-life movement, their plot to overthrow Roe v. Wade goes much deeper.

The Federalist Society, a conservative legal organization, has long made it its mission to overturn Roe v. Wade and other rights over the last 40 years. To make matters worse, their expressed issue with Roe lies solely with their belief that states should be allowed to govern “acceptable sexual behavior.” The methods by which they took control to make these authoritarian changes are troubling as well. Not only does the Federalist Society burrow its way into our courts through nepotism, but members like Leonard Leo spend billions of dollars toward furthering their theocratic goals.

Christian nationalists in our government aren’t pushing policy to protect the lives of children, which would be ironic, given the proud display of AR-15 pins after countless school shootings. The goal isn’t even to serve God. Instead, the goal is to maintain control of marginalized people’s lives at all costs.

This attempt to control marginalized people is made clearer by the attacks on the trans community. Many states, including Utah, have made strides to revoke transgender people of their access to medical treatment and the right to express their chosen identity in public settings. Conservative lawmakers not only use these bills to win over evangelical Christians but, in some cases, explicitly state that their purpose is to punish what they perceive to be sinful. While this significant use of evangelical Christians can be traced back, like the Federalist Society, to the 1980s, they have seldom attacked an issue with such intensity.

The Violence of the Christian Right

However, our elected officials aren’t the only ones acting against marginalized people in this country. Terrorism enacted by radicalized Christian nationalists, such as the Buffalo shooter last year, threatens our country and attempts to pin marginalized people down with fear.

Inspired by the religiously-motivated Christchurch mosque shootings of 2019, the Buffalo shooter is only one example of Christian nationalism’s ability to drive people to violence. As of late, Christian nationalists have inspired and participated in many shootings and fire-bombings against queerfolk and people of color.

One of the worst aspects of these crimes is the availability of conspiracy theories that cause them. While far-right messaging boards are well known as beds of extremism, one wouldn’t have to go far in our mainstream media to find such dangerous lies. One example is Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson’s promotion of the great replacement theory, which states that non-Christian immigrants, racial minorities and Jewish people are to replace white Christians. This conspiracy theory has connections to many massacres, including both the aforementioned shootings and the 2019 El Paso Walmart shooting.

The bigotry of those in power must be taken seriously. Their lies act as dog whistles for greater violence and the normalization of hatred within our country.

A Professor’s Perspective

Daniel McClellan, a Ph.D. holder in theology and religion, professional scripture translator with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and BYU adjunct professor, shared his opinions about the movement. He expressed his concerns about how conservatives today use the Bible.

“The Bible is held up primarily as a source of authority and prooftext,” he said. “I would argue that it is not the origin of a lot of the ideologies that are being held by the religious right, but it is a source of authority.”

This is worrying, given that the Bible is a collection of many ancient texts and therefore “can be interpreted in a wide variety of ways.” Put plainly, the Bible does not speak with one voice, and because of this, McClellan said, “To try to extract a single message out of it requires negotiating with the text. It requires giving priority to certain texts and then marginalizing, reinterpreting or just outright ignoring other texts.”

He added that this sort of behavior in modern America took off in the 1970s when conservative evangelicals “began this calculated effort to galvanize a religious right and to create specific identity markers using the Bible and using ideologies surrounding the identity of Jesus” in reaction to Roe v. Wade.

Today, these practices are still an issue surrounding abortion rights, but have also been used against transgender Americans. McClellan said, “I think we, as a society, have gotten over the hurdle of the idea of gay marriage.” But, consequently, conservatives have moved their attention to trans rights and made it a central cultural issue. And given the lack of biblical foundation for anti-trans sentiments, these tactics are, as McClellan argues, purely political.

Near the end of our interview, McClellan also mentioned how “Latter-day Saints have been hitching their wagon to the broader evangelical movement in an effort to increase access to power and resources.” Furthermore, he stated that “some white supremacist groups found an awful lot of footing in Utah, and were able to spread their message effectively.” As young Utahns, we must look out for this worrying development. Our need for diligence is especially true at the University of Utah, given the presence of groups like Turning Point USA and the Young Americans for Freedom.

Christian nationalism, an ideology fueled by blind wrath, is one of our time’s most disgraceful and destructive movements. Despite the words of the conservative demagogues in our courts and legislatures, Christianity is not an ideal they wish to uphold but merely a means of control. It is a wicked plot that our founders fought to prevent. As young people, students and members of this secular country, it is our responsibility to fight against these blatant attempts at totalitarian religiosity.


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