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Christian Nationalism and why you should be concerned (sermon@Highlands October 30, 2022

This is not the lesson I originally planned for today. Not the one named in the bulletin. But after attending Tuesday’s so-called “press conference” sponsored by the head of the Wyoming Education Department, I couldn’t get the dystopian experience out of my mind. It kept me awake at night and filled my head and heart with dread during the day.

I figured if it occupied so much of my thinking, that was God’s way of saying, “That is what I want you to preach about.”

Christian Nationalism. You may have heard the term recently. It’s been getting a lot of press. Yesterday the Pew Research Center released a set of polls that demonstrate most American don’t know what it is.

Ironically, defining it echoes the words used by the late Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart when he was asked to define pornography. He said, “I may not be able to define it, but I know it when I see it.” And what I saw Tuesday was textbook Christian Nationalism when Wyoming’s Superintendent of Public Instruction summoned a large group of conservative Christians and political extremists to listen to a handful of zealots demonize the public schools and their teachers and librarians under the false claim that they are sexualizing our children.

Speakers included the organizer of a national group calling itself “No Left Turn in Education, a retired military NCO, and several of the most conservative members of the Wyoming legislature. They claimed the schools teach kids about sex before they teach them to read, that the schools hide pornography in online teaching programs, that the schools are pipelines grooming kids for sex traffickers, that teachers are infecting children with what they called STDs or “school transmitted diseases.”

Several Highlands folks attended and they can offer their take. I provided more detail in my newspaper column yesterday.

Suffice it to say, I haven’t been exposed to such a lengthy collection of conspiracy theories, lies, and distortions since I tolerated a few minutes of Tucker Carlson’s show a while back. The only thing missing were pitchforks and torches, but I fear this crowd will eventually get around to that.

The current edition of Christian Century, a progressive Christian magazine, included an article entitled “The quiet rise of Christian dominionism.” Watching the rally at Little America, the article came into focus as it exposed the connections between radical right politicians and powerful religionists.

It gives us a working definition of Christian Nationalism, a compelling definition that tells us why we need to start paying attention to this insidious movement before it’s too late.

The writer is Keri Ladner, a Ph D in religious studies from the University of Edinburgh. Dr. Ladner says the Christian Nationalism movement is best described as “Christian dominionism,” a belief that QUOTE Christians should take moral, spiritual, and ecclesiastical control over society.” Christ will return, they believe, only when they take control and reform society according to their interpretation of biblical law, which includes the authority to stone homosexuals to death.

What I found fascinating is their belief that Christians alone should control our lives derives from the Hebrew Bible, specifically God’s commandment in Genesis 1:28 that humans should exercise dominion (there’s that word) that humans should exercise dominion over the earth, and to them, that means Christians should control every sphere of human activity.

The Rev. George Grant is one of their most vocal and eloquent apologists. He’s an evangelical writer and a pastor in the Presbyterian Church in America, the movement to which some Presbyterians fled when our PCUSA made the decision to advocate for a woman’s right to choose and to allow seme sex marriages in our churches.

Rev. Grant wrote a book entitled “Changing of the Guard.” In it, he makes clear what Christian Nationalism is really all about. Listen.

Quote: “It is dominion we are after. Not just a voice. It is dominion we are after. Not just influence. It is dominion we are after. Not just equal time. It is dominion we are after. World conquest. That’s what Christ commissioned us to accomplish. Dominion.” END QUOTE

Kristin Du Mez wrote a book titled “Jesus and John Wayne.” She talks about the connection between politics and extremist Christians. She identifies the connection where the more intensely a person identifies with the goals of Christian Nationalism, the less likely they are to defend our democracy or our constitutional rights to worship as we choose.

Believe them when they say, “It is dominion we are after. World conquest. That’s what Christ commissioned us to accomplish. Dominion.”

When they say this is what Christ commissioned them to do, they are saying they are willing to destroy democratic institutions and constitutional norms in order to accomplish the mission they see as having been received from Christ.

Their road to dominion doesn’t just pass through their churches but also through the seats of government. Sermons from the pulpit won’t give them dominion but enlisting lawmakers might.

Last week a Jewish Rabbi asked his congregation whether any of them had begun to think the time was upon them to leave the United States. And as I thought about the significance of feeling the needs to ask Jews that question and of what I saw and heard Tuesday, I remembered William Shirer had written about such a movement in his classic book “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.”

So, I pulled my old, battered copy off the bookshelf and found the part where the Nazis co-opted churches in their quest for power and domination and world conquest and how many Christian churches readily enlisted, some out of their anti-Semitic theology, others out of either respect for Hitler or fear of him.

Although he later became disillusioned and was imprisoned for opposing the regime, Pastor Martin Niemoller initially wrote how pleased he was that QUOTE the Nazi revolution had triumphed and brought about the national revival I had fought for so long.” The German Christian Movement, like American Christian Nationalists, saw government as their path to domination and supported the Nazi doctrine of racial, ethnic, and religious superiority. A group of Protestant pastors formed what they called the “Reich Church” to further Hitler’s goal of Nazifying the churches. Their motto was, “One People, One Reich, One Faith.” It was their idea of rendering unto Caesar. Shirer used words to describe the experience of this church and state collusion with words that should resonate today.

He said the persecution of some Christians did not even cause a stir among the vast majority of Germans. Here are his words. “A people who had so lightly given up their political and cultural and economic freedoms were not going to die or risk imprisonment to preserve the freedom to worship.” Sound familiar? Are we not witnessing so-called Christian leaders who adhere to a political platform while forgoing the sermon on the mount in order to cozy up to political demagogues who have no sense of justice?

Doesn’t it seem odd to you that Christians would collude with authoritarian and extremist politicians in the hope they could achieve dominion? Didn’t we learn our lesson in the 1st century? After all, so much of what we claim we believe arises from Jesus’s execution, his death on the cross, which was brought about by a conspiracy between the Roman government and religious zealots 2000 years ago.

Make no mistake. The developing conspiracy between demagogic politicians and radical Christians is a threat to the teachings of Jesus. Our shared identity should be in Christ and not some political ideology we think will give us dominion over the choices others have the freedom to make. What was on display at Tuesday’s culture war pep rally was a delusional effort by Christian fundamentalists to partner with state lawmakers to impose their narrow view of the bible on us all.

We need to be honest about what’s going on here. It was not only an attack on public schools and teachers and librarians and books but it was part of a not so subtle strategy to deny the rights of the LGBTQ community, people of color, and those of us who see Christianity’s purpose to create a just community around a society that honors the dignity of everyone regardless of ethnicity, gender, sexual identity or orientation, race or religious beliefs or non-beliefs.

If you think people like us, progressive Christians, will have the freedom to worship in a country dominated by Christian Nationalists, you need to listen to what they think of us. In response to a column I wrote explaining what it means to be a progressive Christian, one of them wrote a letter to the editor saying that our theological advocacy for racial and gender equality, LGBTQ rights, and environmental justice is QUOTE nothing more than filthy rags to a just and righteous God and deserving of God’s wrath.” END QUOTE Note, these words used by A man who holds himself out as a Christian pastor.

And they see themselves as the commissioned purveyors of God’s wrath. Let’s be honest, it is not likely we can have civil conversations with people who think their cause is a holy war.

During the week as I pondered what we heard Tuesday, I came across an article urging Christians to respond with “greater civility.” Oh…that if that were possible. The Pew poll shows many Christians believe Christian Nationalism refers to people who believe in Christ and are also patriots. We need to have a civil conversation with them so they can understand what it is really about. On the other hand, tell me, how do you have a civil conversation with the man who wrote those words for all to read or with those we heard at Tuesday’s rally who called for a war against those with whom they disagree?

The leaders of American Christian Nationalism movement are not interested in compromise. Remember always the threatening words of Christian Nationalist Rev. George Grant who was clear they are not interested in a dialogue. He said,

“It is dominion we are after. Not just a voice. It is dominion we are after. Not just influence. It is dominion we are after. Not just equal time. It is dominion we are after. World conquest. Dominion.”

How do we respond civilly to Rev. Grant and those who spoke Tuesday?

We’re speaking to biblical literalists. Right? Perhaps our response must be biblically literal, right from the Gospel of Matthew where Jesus confronted those who could not accept his call to love God and neighbor. Jesus called them “a brood of vipers.” I suggest we respond to them as did the Hebrew prophets. Listen to Isaiah. Listen to Jesus in the Gospel of Mark.

The time has come to be certain and to express ourselves boldly. Write letters to the editor. Risk friendships. Say what needs to be said at dinner parties or on social media. Let the community know these people don’t speak for you, that what they want out of the public arena is an IED with a fuse and will explode one day. They are clear in describing the threat they want to pose. They see it as a war and wars always have casualties.

Unless challenged, the Christian authoritarianism we are witnessing on the rise as it self-righteously wages the culture wars of the day will become a profound problem for us and those we love. AMEN

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