Culpability and Christian Nationalism

 I've been grateful to see more widespread national media coverage of the troubling trend toward Christian Nationalism in white American Christianity, and the use of Christian symbols and slogans in the midst of the attempted insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

Image Courtesy: Religion News Service

Seeing signs that say Jesus Saves next to throngs of armed would-be insurrectionists storming the Capitol, posing for photos with Bibles, are uncomfortable images for American Christians, who would rather avoid discussion of the ways Christianity has been warped in America, to support power and whiteness and violence over the peace, justice and love of our purported Savior, Jesus, who, it bears repeated, was a brown-skinned, Middle-Eastern Jew.

The cozy comfort of church and right-wing American politics, in the midst of such violence and hatred, has to be called into question. And yet a quick, cursory study of American history reveals that such corruption of Christianity is nothing new for white America, partisanship aside. The Southerners wearing white hoods and burning crosses on the lawns of Black families were proud Protestants, praising Jesus on one side of their mouth, and on the other cursing Catholics, Jews, and African Americans.

Christianity has long been used as a gloss by those in power, typically wealthy white men, to keep and hoard power for themselves, and while slaveowners cited Scripture to justify enslaving Black men, women and children; later on segregationists started so-called "Christian schools," in order to keep their white children out of schools with Black children, and preachers talked about riots in the inner city, and law and order, in order to excuse their reluctance to support Civil Rights, much as they did this past summer as Black Lives Matter protesters rose up against the death of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police.

In America, the Bible has been idolized and glorified such that it can support any sort of political theory at all, even the godlessness of capricious capitalism that excuses the deaths of poor children and vulnerable seniors. Without the fear of God, the author of the sacred text, the sacred text itself is merely putty in the hands of charlatans and salesmen, who would wring money anew out of a book written to honor a Savior who died poor, convicted, and condemned.

As Ecclesiastes 1 says, "nothing is new under the sun," and the same is true of today's Christian Nationalism, a new form of the same old white American Christian supremacy, passed around on social media and in boardrooms instead of in parlors and drinking halls.

What is also not new is the tendency of most of us to pick the speck out of our neighbor's eye before dislodging the hulking log out of our own, particularly when it comes to entrenched societal sin, like racism and white American Christian Nationalism.

That's the issue I want to write to you about today, because it has the potential and the ability to distort the conversation about Christian Nationalism and racism away from the potential for repentance, reparation and healing, and into a destructive cycle of blame, shame, and no change.

I see a troubling but not surprising tendency in much of the national reporting about Christian Nationalism, and it happens in much the same way as it does when white reporters and writers attempt to write about racism, I'm sure myself included.

Too often, our first reaction, after noticing a disturbing trend of racism or Christian Nationalism leading to violence, hatred, and fear on a grand scale, is to disassociate that trend from ourselves. We can call this the "But I'm not racist," reaction. This reaction arises from a natural human desire for self-preservation, but it lodges our response in preserving our own feelings and dignity, rather than engaging with the systemic problems of racism and Christian Nationalism. The problem then becomes personal and individual, instead of communal and universal. 

I see this reaction, thinly veiled, in stories like this one, from our local paper last weekend. The story leads with the sensational, albeit limited audience, story of a fringe rural Minnesota pastor who suggested that a national Democratic platform involved murder and molestation. Coupled with lengthy quotation from another fringe rural Minnesota pastor, who urged his congregants to "arm up" ahead of the assault on the Capitol, the takeaway from much of the story was that Christian Nationalism is fringe, whacky, and totally out of step with regular white American Christian life, particularly if it's urban and liberal.

Readers could see it and think, "gosh, my Pastor never talks like that," and I'd never storm the Capitol. They'd be left with the suggestion, which reporters and Christian leaders have made to me many times, that Christian Nationalism and racism are somehow always someone else's problem, easily identifiable by language and dress and age and look and location and education level. 

This has nothing to do with me! 

This kind of reporting screams of a certain sort of privileged and also natural desire to separate oneself from whatever is uncomfortable or painful. It allows you to imagine that because your ancestors did not own enslaved men, women, and children; because your grandparents didn't support segregation, because you never used the N word, that you have nothing to do with the problem of racism in this country.

It allows you to imagine that because you've never stood and saluted the American flag as part of a worship service, or hung posters with American flags festooned with crosses in your house or place of worship, that you have nothing to do with Christian Nationalism. 

That kind of thinking brings to mind Pontius Pilate, the most powerful man in Jerusalem, washing his hands before the crowd, as he commands his soldiers to crucify Jesus. Or any other recent leader who, after inciting violence, claims he had nothing to do with it, because he was too rich or too powerful or too educated to do such a thing.

Even the Bible writers, persecuted by the Roman Empire, allowed Pilate to escape culpability. Those with power always wish to blame society's problems and society's sins on those with considerably less power and less ability to blame others for their sins. 

When you imagine that Christian Nationalism and racism are only a problem for people who are somehow not like you, you are part of the problem. 

Maybe this idea and this kind of writing, which "other-izes" Christian Nationalism and racism and all sorts of societal sins, hits me harder because as a Pastor of a rural congregation, I see the ways in which fringe speakers and leaders are granted wide width to speak for entire communities, so that liberal white Americans in urban centers reading articles about white American Christian Nationalism can absolve themselves of thinking it's a problem they themselves might have to confront as well. 

A few weeks ago, myself as well as another pastoral colleague and our synodical bishop were interviewed on multiple occasions about Christian Nationalism and how we understood it as rural Christian leaders and pastors. We spoke about its dangers and about where we'd heard Christianity in our own experience being twisted to support violence, hatred, and power. But each of us also spoke with conviction about the complexity and beauty and love of the rural places and people whom we serve (though none of these quotes or ideas made it into the article, unsurprisingly). Each of us deeply love where we are. We understand that grace and love always dwell close to anger, fear, and hatred -- and those of us who want to follow Jesus are called not to run away from confronting the places where Christianity has been replaced by idolatry, but instead run towards the Cross, so that God might work through us to transform relationships and transform despair and death into hope and life.

None of us would do this kind of work if we didn't see that kind of powerful, Holy Spirit-driven work happening each and every single day across rural Minnesota, and by extension, across America. God's change and transformation is always at work long before we catch it and try to be a part of it. But we cannot participate in that work of transformation unless we first acknowledge that we are also part of the work of sin and death. Particularly for white American Christians, like myself, it is a cowardly and unproductive work to, like Jonah, attempt to claim a path away from Nineveh, and imagine that because your congregation might have historically taken liberal political positions, that you are not culpable in white American Christian Nationalism and racism. Like Jonah, you will only end up in the belly of the fish - screaming and distraught and frustrated and not ever being heard.

Christian Nationalism at its root is an idolatry, an idolatry that claims a certain vision of America is worthy of being worshiped and glorified. But Christian Nationalism is also broader than that. Christian Nationalism is the seductive belief that the American government can serve as a substitute for the will and work of God. To be a Christian is to know that God's most powerful work is always done by those granted the least power among us, to be a voice shouting in the wilderness, and if the Gospel is ever preached by the powerful, it is done so fleetingly, before the world is right-sized again, and Christianity takes its rightful place as an outside agitator, a resistance force to the greed and godlessness of the human condition.

It is not too late for American Christians to take this moment and use it as another Reawakening: a moment of Reformation and renewal, as we crawl through the wreckage of the year of COVID-19, to claim this moment as a time of repentance and reparation. I believe that Jesus has been and will continue to be a powerful force for good in the United States of America, and that the church can again, as it was, at least in part, during Civil Rights, and abolitionism, and as it is in care for the sick, the bereaved, the hungry, and the imprisoned; the church can participate in God's work of liberation and love. 

I wonder how much more powerful that work might be if we approached the problem of Christian Nationalism as one requiring repentance and not shame? If instead of writing about the extremes, we wrote about ourselves, the places where we chose power and alignment with power over love and alignment with Jesus? If we located ourselves within the problem as well as the solution? If we didn't always suggest that the societal sin was lodged in someone else's eye?

I'm writing this because I know, dear friends, of Christians and leaders and pastors and parents and teachers and friends and kids across this great country who are already doing that important work. They - and you - give me hope.

Read more from me on this topic here: https://religionnews.com/?s=Angela+denker

In my book, Red State Christians, I wanted to tell stories of ordinary people - and how their lives were shaped by politicized religion and power-hungry Christian leaders. It is their stories, not the ones of from people who've made the most headlines, that I find most compelling and important in my book.

Comments

  1. I am here to give my testimony about Dr Ose  who helped me in my life, i want to inform the public how i was cured from (HERPES SIMPLEX VIRUS) by dr Ose spiritual, i visited different hospital but they gave me list of drugs like Famvir, Zovirax, and Valtrex which is very expensive to treat the symptoms and never cured me. I was browsing through the Internet searching for remedy on HERPES and i saw comment of people talking about how dr Ose spiritual cured them. when i contacted him he gave me hope and send a Herbal medicine to me that i took and it seriously worked for me, my HERPES result came out negative. I am so happy as i am sharing this testimony. My advice to you all who thinks that their is no cure for herpes that is Not true just contact him and get cure from dr Ose spirirtual healing spell cure of all kinds of sickness you may have. penis enlargement
    Remember delay in treatment leads to death email him @ {oseremenspelltemple@gmail.com} whatsapp  +234813 648 2342 
    https://www.facebook.com/Dr-odion-spell-temple-110513923938220/ 

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. To know more about Chief Dr Lucky you can visit his website (https://chiefdrluckyherbaltherapy.wordpress.com/)
       
       A friend that suffered from Herpes and was cure with the help of this great herbal doctor Chief Lucky so i decided to contact him for help in getting rid of my families genital herpes virus 1/2 which i did and all i was told to provide was just some useful information and some materials used in preparation of the natural cure and that i did and now i am the happiest person on earth because i am writing this testimony of mine with joy and happiness in my heart to the whole world to know that natural remedy is real because i am a living testimony of Chief Lucky traditional herbal cure and i want you all to contact Chief Lucky via his email: chiefdrlucky@gmail.com or WhatsApp him +2348132777335 am sure he will help you too.

      Delete
    2. Hello viewers around the Globe, I was despondent because i had a very small penis, about 2.5 inches soft and 4 inches hard not nice enough to satisfy a woman, i have been in so many relationship, but cut off because of my situation, i have used so many product which doctors for me, but none could offer me the help i searched for. i saw some few comments on the INTERNET about this specialist called Dr,OLU and decided to contact him on his email: Drolusolutinthome@gmail.com) so I decided to give his herbal product a try. i emailed him and he got back to me, he gave me some comforting words with his herbal pills for Penis Enlargement, Within 3 week of it, i began to feel the enlargement was surprised when she said that she is satisfied with my sex and i have got a large penis. Am so happy, thanks to Dr OLU I also learn that Dr OLU also help with Breast Enlargement Hips and Bums Enlargement etc.. If you are in any situation with a little Penis, weak ejaculation, small breast_hips_bums do get to Dr OLU now for help on his email ( Drolusolutionhome@gmail.com ) or add him on whatsapp line +2348140654426 

      Delete
  2. Am here to testify what this great spell caster done for me. i never believe in spell casting, until when i was was tempted to try it. i and my wife have been having a lot of problem living together, she will always not make me happy because she have fallen in love with another man outside our relationship, i tried my best to make sure that my wife leave this woman but the more i talk to her the more she makes me fell sad, so my marriage is now leading to divorce because she no longer gives me attention. so with all this pain and agony, i decided to contact this spell caster to see if things can work out between me and my wife again. this spell caster who was a man told me that my wife is really under a great spell that she have been charm by some magic, so he told me that he was going to make all things normal back. he did the spell on my wife and after 5 days my wife changed completely she even apologize with the way she treated me that she was not her self, i really thank this man his name is Dr ose he have bring back my wife back to me i want you all to contact him who are having any problem related to marriage issue and relationship problem he will solve it for you. his email is oseremenspelltemple@gmail.com  he is a man and his  great. wish you good time.
    He cast spells for different purposes like
    (1) If you want your ex back.
    (2) if you always have bad dream
    (3) You want to be promoted in your office.
    (4) You want women/men to run after you.
    (5) If you want a child.
    (6) You want to be rich.
    (7) You want to tie your husband/wife to be yours forever.
    (8) If you need financial assistance.
    (9) HIV/AIDS CURE
    (10) is the only answer to that your problem of winning the lottery

    Contact him today on oseremenspelltemple@gmail.com or whatsapp him on +2348136482342.  https://www.facebook.com/Dr-odion-spell-temple-110513923938220/  

    ReplyDelete
  3. This is another testimony on how Chief Dr Lucky cured my HIV disease. Do you need a cure for your HIV disease? Do you want to be cured from your cancer disease? Or you want to be free from any type of disease. Kindly visit his website https://chiefdrluckyherbaltherapy.wordpress.com/ . He just cured my HIV disease and I’m very grateful to him, he is the only herbalist that can cure you.  
    WhatsApp number : +2348132777335 
    Via Email : chiefdrlucky@gmail.com
    Thank you all for reading,
    God bless"

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hi, is a true life experience is not designed to convince you its a personal health experience, sometimes medical doctors take a different approach about herpes treatment. i has been stocked in bondage with herpes for two years and four months i has tried different means to eliminate this sickness because it surely has distract me even with the world, and i was told there is no cure, but only medicine for treatment all the possible ways i has tried was treatment, two months back i did some herpes research and i found amazing testimonies concerning natural herbal cure, and i go for it through the email address from the post just to give a try of herbal treatment, and i found it grate without delay i got cured with natural treatment from doc Twaha herbal cure his cure are powerful and shows out excellent result. and i think everyone suffering with herpes and others symptoms should also know about this cure from, drlregbeyen10000@gmail.com or WhatsApp him +2349038518881 thank you

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular Posts