Tag Archives: Jerry Falwell

(Un)Civil Religion

What is “Christian Nationalism” and how is it operating to support Donald Trump? Think Progress has an illuminating history,  and an effort to explain the continued devotion of many Evangelical Christian pastors to Trump and his Presidency.

It is notable that, in response to Trump’s moral equivocations following Charlottesville, when business executives resigned en masse from the administration’s advisory panels, only one minister followed their lead.

Others have actively defended those equivocations.

Jerry Falwell, Jr. tweeted his “pride” in the President:

Finally a leader in WH. Jobs returning, N Korea backing down, bold truthful stmt about tragedy.So proud of @realdonaldtrump

Falwell’s relationship with Trump, and his inability to see anything “unChristian” about the President’s behavior, led some graduates of Liberty University, which Falwell heads, to return their diplomas.

Chris Gaumer, a former Student Government Association president and 2006 graduate, said it was a simple decision.

“I’m sending my diploma back because the president of the United States is defending Nazis and white supremacists,” Gaumer said. “And in defending the president’s comments, Jerry Falwell Jr. is making himself and, it seems to me, the university he represents, complicit.”

The Think Progress article quotes liberally from Sam Haselby, author of The Origins of American Religious Nationalism. Haselby identifies three elements of our national history that give rise to Christian Nationalism:  Reverence for the country’s founders;  persistence of the “Jeremiad” narrative, defined as the insistence of activists (left and right) that their cause is consistent with the spirit of America’s founding; and the “undeniable prevalence of religious rhetoric or ‘God talk’ in political spaces, no matter which party is in power.”

But few groups indulge in this tradition more fervently than today’s Christian nationalists, whose repeated (and disputed) calls for America to be “restored” as a “Christian nation” mixes all three of Haselby’s elements. When leaders such as Franklin Graham say God has blessed America more than any other nation on earth, they often mean it in a very specific way: Namely, that America is somehow special to God, and has been since its founding, when it supposedly was “built on Christian principles.”

Haselby points out that today’s Christian Nationalists use these elements very differently than their predecessors.  Modern Christian nationalism—characterized by antipathy towards science, so-called “secular” institutions, and government overreach—would have confused and repelled their 18th- and 19th-century forbears.

America’s current version of Christian Nationalism bears an unsettling resemblance to the German version that enabled the rise of Hitler:

The result was broad support for Hitler’s rise to power among German Christians and their leaders, some of whom took their devotion to an extreme. Hitler’s numerous flaws were often explained away or, in some cases, replaced with complete fabrications about his faith.

Interweaving authoritarianism with American-style Christian nationalism isn’t just theoretical: it’s happened before.

“There was a widespread belief in Germany among Christians that Hitler kept a copy of the New Testament in his breast pocket, and he read from it every day—which was completely false,” Ericksen said. “[Hitler] was happy to nurture or not confront those kind of misconceptions, because he wanted that kind of Christian support. And the Christians were so willing to bend over backwards — they accepted or in some ways maybe even invented explanations of how he could be a real Christian leader.”

By the time his power crescendoed, the difference between the Hitler and religious leaders was almost nonexistent. The most extreme form of Christian nationalism had taken hold.

The article is lengthy, but well worth a read in its entirety.

It has been said that although history doesn’t repeat itself, it does rhyme. Fortunately, America’s Christian Nationalists are a decided minority within the faith community; we can take comfort in the significant numbers of American religious leaders who have forcefully rejected Trump’s endorsements of racism and various bigotries.

But we also need to learn from history, and recognize the threat posed by those who are willing to twist and deform their theologies in the service of cultural dominance.

Civil Rights and the Religious Right

Yesterday at the Indiana statehouse, hearings were held on three bills taking different approaches to GLBT civil rights. None of those bills as originally written actually extended civil rights protections to the gay community—at their best (which wasn’t particularly good), they were efforts to look like the state is protecting the rights of LGBT Hoosiers without actually doing so— efforts to avoid the wrath of both a business community that supports real civil rights protections, and the Christian Right, which most definitely does not.

Of course, some of our legislators aren’t even pretending.

When I went to bed last night (we’re old and I go to bed early), the worst of the measures, a bill that had been dubbed “super RFRA,” was dead (at least for the moment), and a hearing on the others was still going on. This morning, I learned that SB344–which will now move to the Senate floor, would repeal RFRA and replace it with”protections” neutered by religious exemptions.

Genuine extension of civil rights to the LGBT community would be simple: four words and a comma added to the Indiana law that currently protects people from being discriminated against on the basis of race, religion, gender, and national origin. (Interestingly, there aren’t religious exemptions to those categories: if your religion preaches separation of the races or subordination of women, tough. You still can’t fire black people or refuse to serve women.)The convoluted measure that emerged is pretty strong evidence that Indiana legislators really don’t want gays and lesbians (and definitely not transgender Hoosiers) to be treated as citizens entitled to equal treatment.

These legislators are in thrall to the diminishing number of fundamentalist religious activists who want to be able to pick on gay people without worrying about some law requiring owners of public accommodations to actually accommodate all members of the public.

Ironically, all these howls of religious righteousness, all this deference to the delicate religious sensibilities of Christian literalists, is taking place at the same time that leaders of those groups are displaying the highly selective nature of their religiosity. Yesterday, Jerry Falwell, Jr.—one of those who finds homosexuality to be an “abomination”— endorsed Donald Trump for President.

So let me get this straight (pun intended). Gay people—even the most exemplary gay people in long-term, loving relationships—are sinners not to be accorded civic equality or human dignity. But a three-time married megalomaniac who has repeatedly used bankruptcy laws to screw over his creditors, who has flaunted his sex life in the tabloids, who has separated poor people from their money in his casinos, lies constantly and has repeatedly exhibited the crudest racism, sexism and xenophobia—that man is entitled to your “Christian” approval and endorsement.

If there was ever any doubt, Falwell’s endorsement makes one thing clear: This pious insistence that religious objectors should be accorded “special rights” to discriminate isn’t theology. It isn’t based upon their (selective and convenient) reading of their bibles.

It’s bigotry. And our lawmakers should not accommodate it.