Just because there were Trump supporters bearing symbols of the Cross as they stormed and ransacked the United States Capital, does not mean this was a faith-based event. These were dangerous thugs, many posing as Christians and using religion for their own twisted purposes—attempting a coup in their efforts to undo a legitimate election and undermine our democracy.
Conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin puts it in perspective when she reports: “There were crosses, ‘Jesus Saves’ signs and ‘Jesus 2020’ flags that mimicked the design of the Trump flags. Comfortably intermingled with Christian rhetoric and these Christian icons were explicit symbols of white supremacy…This is Trump’s Republican Party. It is also the party for and of evangelical Christians, whose worldview is intertwined with racism. ‘This seditious mob was motivated not just by loyalty to Trump, but by an unholy amalgamation of white supremacy and Christianity that has plagued our nation since its inception and is still with us today.’” (Rubin concludes by quoting Robert P. Jones, author of White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity.
The Religious Right has traded the gospel of Jesus Christ for the pathology of a white Christian nationalism. Instead of loving the neighbor, working for justice, or caring for the poor, the movement has embraced power, greed, a strict morality, and blind patriotism as its goals. Trump’s evangelicals have sought to recover lost social influence through the cynical embrace of corrupt power. For them, even a corrupt sociopath was better than the freedom that religious moderates and liberals, along with many Americans who don’t happen to be religious, offer the world.
Christian nationalism is a dangerous religious pathology. I believe one of the greatest threats to mainline Christianity and to our democracy is Christian nationalism and the rise of so-called Patriot Churches. Theirs is an effort to merge Christian and American identities, claiming you can’t be a patriotic American unless you are a devout, conservative Christian. The toxic-yet-spreading ideology demands that Christianity be privileged by the State, enables white supremacy, and is an affront to both the Gospel and the Constitution. Christian nationalism is not a Christian theology, but a toxic theology that---instead of loving our neighbors as Jesus taught—harms our neighbors of different faiths and none.
Columnist Michael Gerson suggests that while evangelicals were complicit in the desecration of our democracy, there is opportunity for redemption. “The collapse of one disastrous form of Christian social engagement should be an opportunity for the emergence of a more faithful one. And here there are plenty of potent, hopeful Christian principles lying around unused by most evangelicals: A consistent and comprehensive concern for the weak and vulnerable in our society, including the poor, immigrants, and refugees. A passion for racial reconciliation and criminal justice reform, rooted in the nonnegotiable demands of human dignity. A deep commitment to public and global health, reflecting the priorities of Christ’s healing ministry. An embrace of political civility as a civilizing norm. A commitment to the liberty of other people’s religions, not just our own. An insistence on public honest and a belief in the transforming power of unarmed truth.”
Whether we worship in a church, mosque, synagogue, or temple, America has no second-class faiths. All faiths are equal under the U.S. Constitution. As Christians, we must reject movements such as Christian nationalism as a distortion of the gospel of Jesus and a threat to American democracy. And we must work together with those of different faith traditions to restore truth, decency, civility, and compassion in our common life.