Book review of “The Power Worshippers. Inside the dangerous rise of religious nationalism”

Preface.  One of the many items I found of interest in this book “The Power Worshippers” was that it wasn’t until 1979, six years after Roe v Wade, that conservative activists seized on abortion not for moral reasons, but as a way to deny President Jimmy Carter because he was threatening to tax religious segregated (racist) schools.  

I clearly can’t summarize or quote all 275 pages of the book and left out a lot of the interesting chapters on how Christian nationalists are destroying the school system with the DeVos, Prince, and other family funding, vouchers and charter schools, getting extremist judges on the court, trying to get their hands on disaster and school funds, affiliation with Russia and Putin, and taking over schools and other public buildings for cheap rent rather than spend money on their own church and heating bills, furniture, and upkeep – which is a subsidy from all of us taxpayers since churches are tax-exempt.

Alice Friedemann www.energyskeptic.com  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer, Barriers to Making Algal Biofuels, and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”. Podcasts: Collapse Chronicles, Derrick Jensen, Practical Prepping, KunstlerCast 253, KunstlerCast278, Peak Prosperity , XX2 report

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Stewart, K. 2020. The Power Worshippers. Inside the dangerous rise of religious nationalism. Bloomsbury publishing.

Getting out the vote and increasing power

  • There are Bible study groups in the Senate and House of Representatives. Congressman Jeff Denham of California claims that 10% of the members of the U.S. Senate attend.
  • there are also weekly White House Bible study gatherings, some in the West Wing, include as many as 11 to 15 cabinet secretaries. Alex Azar and Tom Price from the Department of Health and Human Services; Mike Pompeo, now the secretary of state; NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine; former attorney general Jeff Sessions; former secretary of labor Alexander Acosta; Education Secretary Betsy DeVos; Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson; former EPA administrator Scott Pruitt; Energy Secretary Rick Perry; and other senior officials, including Vice President Mike Pence, counted as participating members.
  • Bible study groups are now or will be soon in all 50 state capitols, and thousands of local city and county government offices, and there are plans to start Bible study groups in foreign capitals throughout Western and Eastern Europe.
  • Awake 88 has a tool called the Church Voter Lookup, which essentially marries a church database with a voter database. “You’ll then receive a report that tells you what percentage of your congregation is registered to vote and what percentage actually voted in the last election!
  • Pastors also give lists of their congregation at conventions and to Republican political operatives who see which members aren’t registered to vote.  The church organizes a committee to call and visit members to register them with pamphlets of who to vote for.
  • The Family Research Council forms groups to get out the vote armed with 180-page manuals
  • POTUS Shield, a prayer initiative of “Warriors, Worshippers and Watchmen” supports the Trump presidency. “Points of discussion” on the POTUS Shield website include, “The Church & Kingdom Trump & Resistance Changing the Laws—The Supreme & Federal Court System, Abortion, Turning back Globalization, Israel & Jerusalem Space Force, and dominance.
  • The Christian Coalition worked from the grassroots up and trained pro-family candidates for public office to reshape Republican politics
  • Project Blitz is an ongoing nationwide assault on state legislatures in all 50 states to flood them with coordinated, simultaneous bills hoping they’ll become law to advance religious values of banning abortion and limiting what medical professionals are allowed to say to women about their options, getting the motto “In God We Trust” into public buildings, teaching the bible in public schools, limited government, deregulation, legalize discrimination against LGBTQ and anyone else Christians dislike without risking their tax exempt status, get rid of sex education, free birth control.
  • A database with well over 200 million U.S. voters (nearly all of them) from Cambridge Analytica, the mailing lists of thousands of churches, Ted Cruz and other Republican politicians, with details on 89% of them about whether they were interested in hunting, fishing, NASCAR, go to church, oppose abortion, and so on.  These interests are scored, and any adult not registered to vote is visited or called by Christian right-wing volunteers and paid employees of Koch and other organizations, and voter or not, receives emails, voter guides, and phone calls.  All of this exempt from taxes and public scrutiny, funded with hundreds of millions, if not billions of extremist dollars and church donations.

Introduction

The drive to end public education as we know it is just part of a political movement that seeks to transform the defining institutions of democracy in America. This movement pretends to represent the past and stand for old traditions. But in reality it is a creature of present circumstances and is organized around a vision for the future that most Americans would find abhorrent.

Anyone who cares about what is happening in American politics today needs to know about this movement and its people. Their issues—the overwhelming preoccupation with sexual order, the determination to unite the nation around a single religious identity, the conviction that they are fighting for salvation against forces of darkness—have come to define the effort that has transformed the political landscape and shaken the foundations upon which lay our democratic norms and institutions. This is the movement responsible for the election of the 45th president of the United States, and it now determines the future of the Republican Party. It is the change that we have been watching—some with joy, others in disbelief, others in denial. And it isn’t going away anytime soon.

Most Americans continue to see it as a cultural movement centered on a set of social issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage, preoccupied with symbolic conflicts over monuments and prayers. But the religious right has become more focused and powerful even as it is arguably less representative. It is not a social or cultural movement. It is a political movement, and its ultimate goal is power. It does not seek to add another voice to America’s pluralistic democracy but to replace our foundational democratic principles and institutions with a state grounded on a particular version of Christianity, answering to what some adherents call a “biblical worldview” that also happens to serve the interests of its plutocratic funders and allied political leaders.

The movement is unlikely to realize its most extreme visions, but it has already succeeded in degrading our politics and dividing the nation with religious animus. This is not a “culture war.” It is a political war over the future of democracy.

Political movements are by their nature complex creatures, and this one is more complex than most. It is not organized around any single, central institution. It consists rather of a dense ecosystem of nonprofit, for-profit, religious, and nonreligious media and legal advocacy groups, some relatively permanent, others fleeting. Its leadership cadre includes a number of personally interconnected activists and politicians who often jump from one organization to the next. It derives much of its power and direction from an informal club of funders, a number of them belonging to extended hyper-wealthy families.

Christian nationalism is not a religious creed but a political ideology. It promotes the myth that the American republic was founded as a Christian nation. It asserts that legitimate government rests not on the consent of the governed but on adherence to the doctrines of a specific religious, ethnic, and cultural heritage. It demands that our laws be based not on the reasoned deliberation of our democratic institutions but on particular, idiosyncratic interpretations of the Bible. Its defining fear is that the nation has strayed from the truths that once made it great. Christian nationalism looks backward on a fictionalized history of America’s allegedly Christian founding. It looks forward to a future in which its versions of the Christian religion and its adherents, along with their political allies, enjoy positions of exceptional privilege and power in government and in law.

Christian nationalism is also a device for mobilizing (and often manipulating) large segments of the population and concentrating power in the hands of a new elite. It does not merely reflect the religious identity it pretends to defend but actively works to construct and promote new varieties of religion for the sake of accumulating power. It actively generates or exploits cultural conflict in order to improve its grip on its target population.

This is not a book about “evangelicals.” The movement I am describing includes many people who identify as evangelical, but it excludes many evangelicals, too, and it includes conservative representatives of other varieties of Protestant and non-Protestant religion.  Republicans depend on the 27% of the electorate who are evangelicals and 11% of conservative Catholics who comprise 56% of Republican votes, without which the Republican party would go away.

This movement is a form of nationalism because it purports to derive its legitimacy from its claim to represent a specific identity unique to and representative of the American nation.

A great many people who identify as Christians oppose the movement, and quite a few even question whether it is authentically Christian in the first place.

Perhaps the most salient impediment to our understanding of the movement is the notion that Christian nationalism is a “conservative” ideology. The correct word is “radical.” A genuinely conservative movement would seek to preserve institutions of value that have been crafted over centuries of American history. It would prize the integrity of electoral politics, the legitimacy of the judiciary, the importance of public education, and the values of tolerance and mutual respect that have sustained our pluralistic society even as others have been torn apart by sectarian conflict. Christian nationalism pretends to work toward the revival of “traditional values” yet its values contradict the long-established principles and norms of our democracy. It has no interest in securing the legitimacy of the Supreme Court; it will happily steal seats and pack the Court as long as it gets the rulings it wants. It cheers along voter suppression and gerrymandering schemes that allow Republicans to maintain disproportionate legislative control. It collaborates with international leaders who seek to undermine the United States’ traditional alliances and the postwar world order built up over the past seven decades.

The widespread misunderstanding of Christian nationalism stems in large part from the failure to distinguish between the leaders of the movement and its followers. The foot soldiers of the movement—the many millions of churchgoers who dutifully cast their votes for the movement’s favored politicians, who populate its marches and flood its coffers with small-dollar donations—are the root source of its political strength. But they are not the source of its ideas.

They come with a longing for certainty in an uncertain world. Against a backdrop of escalating economic inequality, deindustrialization, rapid technological change, and climate instability, many people, on all points of the economic spectrum, feel that the world has entered a state of disorder. The movement gives them confidence, an identity, and the feeling that their position in the world is safe.

Yet the price of certainty is often the surrendering of one’s political will to those who claim to offer refuge from the tempest of modern life. The leaders of the movement have demonstrated real savvy in satisfying some of the emotional concerns of their followers, but they have little intention of giving them a voice in where the movement is going.

It is a means through which a small number of people—quite a few of them residing in the Washington, D.C., area—harness the passions, resentments, and insecurities of a large and diverse population in their own quest for power. The leaders of the movement have quite consciously reframed the Christian religion itself to suit their political objectives and then promoted this new reactionary religion as widely as possible, thus turning citizens into congregants and congregants into voters.

From the perspective of the movement’s leadership, vast numbers of America’s conservative churches have been converted into the loyal cells of a shadow political party. Here, too, there is a widespread misunderstanding of the way Christian nationalism works. Its greatest asset is its national infrastructure, and that infrastructure consists not only of organizations uniting and coordinating its leadership, and a burgeoning far-right media, but also in large part the nation’s conservative houses of worship. The churches may be fragmented in a variety of denominations and theologies, but Christian nationalist leaders have had considerable success in uniting them around their political vision and mobilizing them to get out the vote for their chosen candidates. Movement leaders understand very well that this access to conservative Christians through their churches is a key source of their power, and for this reason they are committed to overturning regulatory, legal, or constitutional restrictions on the political activity of churches.

A related source of misunderstanding is the comforting yet unfounded presumption that America’s two-party system has survived intact the rise of the religious right as a political force. The conventional wisdom holds that the differences between America’s two parties, now as before, amount to differences over questions of domestic and foreign policy, and that politics is just the art of give-and-take between the two collections of interests and perspectives they represent. Yet the fundamental difference today is that one party is now beholden to a movement that does not appear to have much respect for representative democracy.

Today it makes more sense to regard the Republican party as a host vehicle for a radical movement that denies that the other party has any legitimate claim to political power.  Few Republican politicians can achieve influence without effectively acting as agents for Christian nationalism, and almost no Democratic leaders can realistically cede enough ground to earn the movement’s support.

Many critics of the Republican party today trace its present corruption to the influence of big money. This explanation is true enough yet incomplete. In the age of Trump, the party’s resolute rejection of the democratic and constitutional norms that it once at least pretended to champion would not have been possible without the prior success of Christian nationalism in training millions of supporters to embrace identity-based, authoritarian rule over pluralistic, democratic processes. The roots of the present crisis in the American political party system lie at the juncture of money and religion.

The movement has come to depend critically on the wealth of a growing subset of America’s plutocratic class. Without the DeVos/Prince clan, the Bradley Foundation, Howard Ahmanson Jr., the foundations of the late Richard Scaife, the John M. Olin Foundation, the Lynn and Foster Friess Family Foundation, the Maclellan Foundation, Dan and Farris Wilks, the Green family, and a number of other major funders I will discuss in this book—to say nothing of the donor-advised funds such as the National Christian Foundation, which channel hundreds of millions of dollars in annual donations anonymously, and the massive flow of right-wing dark money targeting the courts—the movement would not be what it is today.

At the same time, the movement has developed a large-scale apparatus for raising funds from millions of small donors.  In fact,  much of its daily activity can be understood as part of an effort to milk its base of supporters.

Just as important as the pursuit of private money to Christian nationalism is the effort to secure public sources of funding. The movement has learned to siphon public money through subsidies, tax deductions, grants, and other schemes.  Christian nationalists have put particular emphasis on the intersection of money and education. The Christian right has been hostile to public education at least since Jerry Falwell of the Moral Majority called for an end to public schools in 1979. This hostility has its roots in a combination of racial animus and fears of secularism,

Christian nationalists now see in school vouchers—and even charter programs—a potentially vast source of public funding. Furthermore, by planting churches in public school buildings for nominal fees rather than purchasing and funding their own buildings or renting private facilities at market rates, they are exploiting the public schools on a widespread scale to subsidize their religion.

Christian nationalists have displayed a high degree of sophistication and technological capability.

Since churches are subsidized with public money through tax deductions and other tax advantages, one could say that the United States now has a publicly subsidized political party that promotes an agenda of religious nationalism.

Americans have come to take for granted that it is part of the natural order of things. We have become so used to the identification of “values voters” with the Republican Party that we no longer remember a time when neither party had a monopoly on God. We have heard the single-issue, pro-life or -death refrain so many times that we no longer remember a time when America’s houses of worship, including conservative ones, tended to approach a vast range of issues that affect our society with the humility and appreciation of their complexity that is their due.

We have been exposed to so much extreme rhetoric—and so many apocalyptic visions for world domination—that we no longer remember the time when such ideas and those who espoused them were nowhere near the center of political power. Yet there was such a time, and it wasn’t so long ago.

In the Trump administration, activists who in an earlier time would have been identified as extremists lead prayer and “Bible study” sessions with officials at the highest levels of the executive and legislative branches, in federal and state governments. At the same time they work with some of America’s wealthiest individuals and families, many of whom fund the careers of the same politicians, to bring forth policies that are favorable to plutocratic fortunes and advance their political vision.

According to the conventional wisdom, the movement is simply an effort to preserve so-called traditional values and, perhaps more critically, to restore a sense of pride and privilege to a part of the American population that feels that its status is slipping. But a closer look at the substance of that political religion, in the context of the movement’s involvement with political elites, tells a very different story. Most of the political vision of Christian nationalism is decided in the inside game. After all, the Bible can be used to promote any number of political positions. Many would argue that it generally favors helping the poor, for example. But the Bible of Christian nationalism answers to the requirements of the individuals who fund the movement and grant it power at the highest levels of government.

I do not for a moment imagine that Christian nationalists represent all Christians. I leave it for theologians to decide whether their views are consistent with Christian teachings. I am not interested in judging other people’s religious beliefs. But I think we all have a stake in understanding their political actions.

In The Power Worshippers I will introduce you to the movement’s power players and the foot soldiers. I will tell their stories, in their words, though my real subject is the political vision that ties them together. I will take you to gatherings in Northern California, where agri-business men team up with pastors who have direct access to the Trump White House; to North Carolina, where Christian nationalist leaders recruit clergy to their partisan activism; to Arizona, where charter school operators with sectarian agendas are indoctrinating schoolchildren on the taxpayer’s dime; and to Verona, Italy, where American representatives of what they call a “global conservative movement” gather with international far-right leaders to declare war on global liberalism. We will revisit the strategy meetings of the late 1970s in which it was decreed, several years after Roe v. Wade, that abortion would be packaged and sold as the unifying issue of the movement. We’ll go back further in time to historical antecedents of Christian nationalism in some of the most fraught chapters of America’s theological past—most importantly, the chapter in which the theological ancestors of today’s religious authoritarians wielded the Bible in support of slavery and segregation.

We will sit in on gatherings organized by national activists to motivate pastors to get out the vote for Republican candidates.

Convention asks pastors to get their members out to vote

Chris’s church is a member of the Southern Baptist Convention as well as a partner with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, which takes a philosophically and theologically moderate stance on issues including women’s ordination. Chris is avowedly a Bible believer, yet his reading of Scripture is miles away from the interpretations of the fellow believers with whom we are about to gather. As we set off across the verdant farmland close to the South Carolina border, he reminds me that care for the poor and downtrodden lie at the very heart of the faith, no matter what others seem to say. “It’s just hard for me to imagine how you can read the Bible and not see themes of social justice throughout,” he says squarely.

Then he gets to the point of the gathering. “Christians need to vote,” he says. “The members of your congregations need to vote. As pastors, you need to—I’m not going to say ‘challenge them’; you need to tell them to vote.” Although Perkins never says the word “Republican,” there isn’t the slightest doubt about which way he expects pastors to tell their congregants to vote. One party is determined to end abortion, he suggests, and supporting it is a matter of eternal salvation. “We are a divided nation, and someone’s values will dominate,” he warns, leaving little doubt that in his view “the rulers of the darkness” and “the spiritual host of wickedness” are to be found on the Democratic Party’s side of the aisle.

Family Research Council (FRC) efforts

An FRC video encourages pastors to form “Culture Impact Teams across the country.” These “CITs” are, alongside the Pastors Briefings, central tools in the FRC’s campaign to turn out the vote. The idea is for pastors to create within their churches teams of congregants that will “advance Kingdom values in the public arena.” Pastors are instructed to figure out which members of their congregation are politically active, well-connected with other members, and motivated to persuade them to vote according to “biblical values,” and then draft them as team leaders “to accomplish the Culture Impact Team’s mission of defending and advancing faith, family, and freedom. Other team members will encourage “grassroots participation” and “involvement in pregnancy support centers, school board meetings, civil government gatherings,” and the like.

An unstated motivation behind the creation of the elaborate architecture of Culture Impact Teams (CIT) is to skirt legal prohibitions on the direct endorsement of candidates by church organizations. Current IRS guidelines require that pastors refrain from campaigning for candidates through their office—that is, from the pulpit. But nothing stops congregants from undertaking their own church-based political activism if it’s all about culture.

In order to guide the CITs in their actual mission—to turn out the vote for Republican and hyper-conservative candidates—the FRC supplies dense, information-packed manuals. At Unionville, I spot a stack of such manuals, some 180 pages of material in a three-ring binder.

Along with its crew of firebrand speakers, the Values Buses cross the country delivering hundreds of thousands of “voter guides.” The voter guides are one of the essential tools of the movement. A voter guide created by the North Carolina Family Policy Council has been placed at every seat, and piles of them are dispersed throughout the fellowship hall, including a table in the middle of the room that holds thousands of them in neat stacks, ready to be loaded into the trunks of pastors’ cars. “Take as many voter guides as you can, as you believe you can use effectively, giving one to every member of your church and then beyond,” says John Rustin, president of the North Carolina Family Policy Council.

Voter guides escape IRS limitations on campaigning for candidates on the theory that they offer voters a nonpartisan assessment of where the candidates stand on key issues. However, every voter guide I come across here has a pretty unambiguous message. The candidates from one party are in favor of “life.” Candidates from the other party apparently favor death. One party’s candidates support “religious freedom.” The other party’s candidates presumably endorse religious tyranny.

Scripture, it says, opposes public assistance to the poor as a matter of principle—unless the money passes through church coffers. God has challenged believers “to help the poor and widows and orphans,” but He expects governments to step aside. The Bible also votes against environmentalism, which is a “litany of the Green Dragon” and “one of the greatest threats to society and the church today,

According to the CIT manual, the Bible also opposes gun regulations, favors privatization of schools, and tells us that same-sex relationships are an abomination. It emphatically does not want women to have access to comprehensive, 21st century reproductive medical care. The CIT manual directs readers to additional sources. I recognize one of them, Ken Ham, an author and activist known for promoting the claim that the earth is six thousand years old.

The FRC’s manuals twist and spin a few Bible passages to prove that God opposes gun regulations, the Affordable Care Act, tax increases, public assistance (unless it passes through church coffers), climate science, and pretty much every other position associated with the Republican Party’s opponents.

The Johnson Amendment

In a curt nod to the letter of the law, the pastors are advised to talk privately with speaker Fitzgerald if they are worried about what they are legally permitted to do. “I’m telling you, you can talk about issues all day long as a pastor, you can tell people who you’re going to vote for,” she assures them. But, she cautioned, “you must not publish that information in a church newsletter or state it from the pulpit.

From her tone of voice, I can tell that Fitzgerald’s talk is haunted by the Johnson Amendment, the federal law that bars houses of worship, charitable nonprofits, and private foundations from endorsing and financially supporting political parties and candidates. Passed in 1954 at the urging of then senator Lyndon B. Johnson, the amendment was intended to prevent public money from passing through churches via tax deductions into the hands of politicians. In theory, according to the Johnson Amendment, religious organizations that engage in activities to directly sway elections could lose their tax-exempt status. It has been a favorite target of Christian nationalists, who regularly decry it as an infringement of their religious freedom.

As one of his first acts in office, President Trump vowed to “totally destroy” the Johnson Amendment. At the Values Voter Summit in 2018, Vice President Mike Pence boasted that the Johnson Amendment “will no longer be enforced under this administration.” But he vowed to repeal it anyway.

The point of talking up the nonexistent horror of the Johnson Amendment, in fact, is to feed the sense of persecution that is so central to Christian nationalism today. This is why Trump’s and Pence’s promises to neutralize the Johnson Amendment and to “stand up” for “religious freedom” play well to conservative Christian audiences. The narrative that government is stomping all over the rights of Christians and their churches may have little basis in fact, but it is one of the most powerful messages the movement has to drive voters to the polls.

At the Museum of the Bible, VP Mike Pence showed up to say he vowed to fight until we fully repeal the Johnson Amendment”.

North Carolina

There are three congressional districts in North Carolina in play, all currently held by Republicans, she says. One of them happens to be right here in Unionville. The Republican Party candidate in one of those districts, Mark Harris, a pastor who served as president of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, is right here with us.

Earlier in the election season Harris drew national attention for sermons in which he argued that God’s straightforward message for women is that they should “submit” to their husbands and that the greatest destroyer of love and peace is abortion.  From the stage, he urges pastors to get their congregations registered to vote. He promises to deliver a “church video” in time for Sunday. In this briefing, there is no easy place to draw the line between preacher and politician, just as there is no space between church and political party.

North Carolina is one of the states most affected by the self-inflicted reduction of Medicaid funding. Its public-school system has been deflated by the expansion of fiscally unaccountable charter networks, many of which are run by big GOP donors

The faction of Republicans that are in control is so radical that, in 2013, 14 North Carolina legislators put forward a bill, known as the Rowan County Defense of Religion Act, that declared that states are free to make laws they choose regarding religion. The U.S. Constitution’s church-state separation provision, they claimed, only applied to the federal government. Think of it as a new nullification provision, only aimed directly at the First Amendment. The bill would have allowed, say, public schools to insist that principals prove they had been “born again.” It could have mandated that candidates for public office prove weekly church attendance and that all public meetings begin with prayers that infidels will come to know the Lord.

In 2013, even in North Carolina, this bill was never going to pass, and it was promptly referred to the Committee for Rules, Calendar, and Operations, which is where wacky bills are sent to die. But passing the bill wasn’t the point of the exercise. The sponsors put it forward because they believed—rightly—that this kind of posturing is just the way to gain popularity among the right-wing evangelical base and win power in North Carolina.

Dominionism

In his 2008 book Dominion! How Kingdom Action Can Change the World, Wagner explains that God has commanded true Christians to gain control of the “seven molders” or “mountains” of culture and influence, or seven areas of civilization, including government, business, education, the media, the arts and entertainment, family, and religion. “Apostles,” he says, have a “responsibility for taking dominion” over “whatever molder of culture or subdivision God has placed them in,” which he casts as “taking dominion back from Satan.” Although Wagner is not a household name outside of Christian nationalist circles, his work is broadly influential within it.   “If we can secure the judiciary, from the Supreme Court on down, we can build a firewall for our children and grandchildren that they just might scale the seven mountains of influence.

Rushdoony’s “theonomy,” or idea of a social and political order rooted in “biblical law,” has “insinuated itself in many circles. Rushdoony remains an unacknowledged leader of the Dominion and theonomist movement, a sage whose ideas continue to speak long after he has been silenced.

The Bible, says Rushdoony, commands Christians to exercise absolute dominion over the earth and all of its inhabitants. Women are destined by God to be subordinate to men; men are destined to be ruled by a spiritual aristocracy of right-thinking, orthodox Christian clerics; and the federal government is an agent of evil. Public education, in Rushdoony’s reading of the Bible, is a threat to civilization, for it “basically trains women to be men,” and represents “primitivism,” “chaos,” and “a vast ‘integration into the void.’

Some of his extreme positions, such as the idea that homosexuals, blasphemers, adulterers, incorrigible teenagers, and practitioners of “witchcraft” are all worthy of the death penalty, have been loudly repudiated by many conservative religious leaders.

The Christian homeschooling movement, which has played a role in indoctrinating fresh generations in a “biblical” worldview, is explicitly indebted to Rushdoony’s work. The Quiverfull movement, which encourages ultraconservative Christian couples to produce as many children as possible, was in large part inspired by Rushdoony.

Rushdoony did not agitate for the literal enslavement of Black Americans in his time. But as with his fellow travelers in the dominionist movement, his fascination with proslavery theology was no passing fancy. The idea that the United States is a Redeemer Nation, chosen by God; that it is tasked with becoming an orthodox Christian republic in which women are subordinate to men, education is in the hands of conservative Christians, and no one pays taxes to support Black people; that at some point in the past the nation deviated horribly from its mission and fell under the control of atheist, communist, and/or liberal elites—the stuff of proslavery theology was the life of Rushdoony’s political thought. And it remained a cornerstone of Christian nationalism. “Some people are by nature slaves and will always be so and the law requires that a slave recognize his position and accept it with grace.

William Boykin

Boykin is a living legend at events, an old warrior with an affable manner best known as the commander of the raid depicted in Black Hawk Down. Boykin seems willing to say out loud things that usually don’t come out until the bottle is nearly empty. But to view Boykin’s influence as marginal would be to underestimate the role he has played in nurturing Christian nationalist networks in the military and among “disaster relief” NGOs working abroad.  Boykin pivots from adultery to communism, which he seems to think remains the greatest threat to our nation today.

I glance over at General Boykin’s table, and it occurs to me that if the dominionist agenda calls for military action, he is a designated hitter. Once atop those seven mountains, the plan is to convert the world to Christianity and prepare for the second coming of Jesus. Which could involve an apocalyptic end for the earth, rapture for the faithful, and eternal torment for everyone else. That, it would seem, is the intended final destination of the Values Bus.

Hypermasculinity, if not always drawing from the same sources, is a leitmotif of conservative Christianity in America. The Family Research Council’s Jerry Boykin said Jesus “was a man’s man, but we feminized him in the church,”  adding, “I believe that sword he’ll be carrying when he comes back is an AR-15.

Reverend Jerry Falwell disdained androgynous, gentle representations of Jesus, insisting that his savior was hypermasculine. “Christ wasn’t effeminate,” Falwell asserted. “The man who lived on this earth was a man with muscles … Christ was a he-man!” 

Extremist Christian values

Corporal punishment. In a Capitol Ministries Bible study guide titled “God’s Word on Spanking,” one of his study guides aimed at political leaders, quotes Proverbs 23:13–14: “Do not hold back discipline from the child, although you strike him with the rod, he will not die. You shall strike him with the rod and rescue his soul. When rebellion is present, to speak without spanking is woefully inadequate.

Environmentalism is a “false religion” and certain initiatives to protect animal species and preserve natural resources miss the clear proclamation of God in Genesis. This position must have been encouraging to EPA head Scott Pruitt, who told the Christian Broadcasting Network that it was “wonderful” to be able to attend and participate in CapMin’s cabinet Bible study. In May 2018, reflecting on his first year in office, Pruitt celebrated the rollback of 22 environmental regulations under his watch.

Many sermons and writings leave an indisputable record of commitment to the doctrine that female subordination and “wifely submission” are ordained by God and cemented in Scripture. Women should rank yourself under husbands.  Your task is at home. A woman’s task, a woman’s work, a woman’s employment, a woman’s calling is to be at home, because working outside removes a woman from under her husband and puts her under other men to whom she is forced to submit.

Women, he has maintained, should not be allowed to teach—or be placed in positions of leadership over—men in church.

Government policy should incentivize population growth: Psalm 127:5: Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. The same passage is a favorite among conservative Christians who eschew birth control in their pursuit of very large families.

God believes in deregulation. Leaders must incentivize individuals and industries (which includes unencumbering them from the unnecessary burdens of government regulations).

Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable. This is justified because the economy of Rome at the time of Peter’s writing was one of slave and master. The principle however, of submitting to one’s boss carries over to today (Peter 2:18-21).  This is all music to the ears of agribusiness leaders. Major issues confront managers of agricultural concerns these days, among them government policy with respect to labor, foreign trade, water access, subsidies and other regulation. It is not surprising that industry leaders may look to a certain kind of religion for answers.

Policies that favor low regulation and minimal workers’ rights exacerbate existing wealth inequalities. But this is a feature of the system, not a bug.  It creates concentrations of wealth whose beneficiaries are determined to manipulate the political process to hold on to and enhance their privileges. On the other hand, it generates a sense of instability and anxiety among broad sectors of the wider public, which is then ripe for conversion to a religion that promises authority and order

Social welfare programs have no basis in Scripture. The responsibility to meet the needs of the poor lies first with the husband in a marriage, secondly with the family (if the husband is absent) and thirdly with the church. Nowhere does God command the institutions of government or commerce to fully support those with genuine needs.

Of course, these “Christian” ideas result in taxpayers who have to pick up the tab to provide workers’ medical care, food stamps, and other social services.

Many right-wing leaders believe that the Social Gospel movement, which infiltrated and captured many mainline Protestant denominational seminaries and their pulpits is an aberrant theology. 

The Bible requires nations to be kept separate through borders and boundaries and God frowns on illegal immigrants. 

Getting their hands on government money to turn public schools into religious schools. The purpose of the club was to convince children as young as five that they would burn for an eternity if they failed to conform to a strict interpretation of the Christian faith. The club’s organizers were offered free and better space in the evangelical church next door to our school, but they refused it; they insisted on holding the club in the public school because they knew the kids would think the message was coming from the school.

As I researched the group behind these kindergarten missionaries, I saw that they were part of a national network of clubs. I soon discovered that this network was itself just one of many initiatives to insert reactionary religion into public schools across the country. Then I realized that these initiatives were the fruit of a nationally coordinated effort not merely to convert other people’s children in the classroom but to undermine public education altogether. Belatedly, I understood that the conflict they provoked in our local community—I was hardly the only parent who found their presence in the public-school alarming—was not an unintended consequence of their activity. It was of a piece with their plan to destroy confidence in our system of education and make way for a system of religious education more to their liking.

Limited government. The more limited a government, the less corrupt it is. And the more limited the government, the more you will have individual freedom and personal responsibility. And given those things, along with hard work and talent, you can accomplish your life’s goals.

[Note: some of these ideas are ascribed in the book to particular people, but since these are common ideology in most extreme religions, I stripped the attribution out]

Destroying public education and replacing it with Christian schools. The purpose of the club was to convince children as young as five that they would burn for an eternity if they failed to conform to a strict interpretation of the Christian faith. The club’s organizers were offered free and better space in the evangelical church next door to our school, but they refused it; they insisted on holding the club in the public school because they knew the kids would think the message was coming from the school.

As I researched the group behind these kindergarten missionaries, I saw that they were part of a national network of clubs. I soon discovered that this network was itself just one of many initiatives to insert reactionary religion into public schools across the country. Then I realized that these initiatives were the fruit of a nationally coordinated effort not merely to convert other people’s children in the classroom but to undermine public education altogether. Belatedly, I understood that the conflict they provoked in our local community—I was hardly the only parent who found their presence in the public-school alarming—was not an unintended consequence of their activity. It was of a piece with their plan to destroy confidence in our system of education and make way for a system of religious education more to their liking.

Why right-wing extremist Christians like Trump

The institution of the state is an avenger of wrath and its God-given responsibility is to moralize a fallen world through the use of force. President Trump excels in these biblical criteria for leadership.

Trump, of course, is the man who by all accounts has the least claim of any public figure in recent memory to those virtues that are commonly identified as “Christian.” But that is, perhaps, precisely why leaders embrace him. While many Americans still believe that the Christian right is primarily concerned with “values,” leaders of the movement know it’s really about power. Trump’s supposedly anti-Christian attributes are in fact part of the attraction. Today’s Christian nationalists talk a good game about respecting the Constitution and America’s founders, but at bottom they prefer autocrats to democrats. Trump believes in the rule of force, not the rule of law. He is not there to uphold values but to impose the will of the tribe. He is a leader perfectly suited to the cause.

“It is God that raises up a king,” Trump evangelical advisor Paula White declared in a TV interview about her longstanding relationship with the president. After Trump won, Franklin Graham, son of the late Billy Graham and one of Trump’s most trusted evangelical advisors, declared, “God’s hand intervened.” In 2019 he announced a “special day of prayer for the President, Donald J. Trump”; the initiative was cosigned by more than 250 pastors and faith leaders.

Noting Trump’s propensity for vulgarity and name-calling, Christian TV personality Mary Colbert declared defiantly, “My Jesus was a name-caller. So get over the name-calling!” Addressing her viewers, she said, “You have to line up with what God wants.

The Trump family, too, appears to have gotten in on the act of modeling monarchical behavior. Like royal families of yore, they make little distinction between the public purse and their private interest. The Trump sons travel the world conducting Trump Organization business on the taxpayer’s dime, while son-in-law Jared Kushner has bought and sold as much as $147 million of real estate and other assets since joining the White House. Meanwhile, foreign political leaders and representatives pay for expensive rooms and hold lavish events at the Trump International Hotel. In a democracy answering to the rule of law, such corrupt and nepotistic practices would register as major scandals. In a monarchy, or pseudo-monarchy, however, they are merely business as usual.

Donald Trump at last appears on a giant television screen live via satellite from the White House Rose Garden. The crowd greets the supersize image with enthusiasm, and it is clear that many believe that God, acting through the pro-life movement, put Trump in the White House.

For Republican politicians, abortion demagoguery is the path to power in America. Donald Trump clearly grasped that fact. Most of the people here, like most of the people catching snippets of the event on the evening news, take for granted that it is the way things have always been. Except that it isn’t.

The movement settled on abortion as its litmus test sometime after that decision for reasons that had more to do with politics than embryos. It then set about changing the religion of many people in the country in order to serve its new political ambitions. From the beginning, the “abortion issue” has never been just about abortion. It has also been about dividing and uniting to mobilize votes for the sake of amassing political power.

Christian nationalists and their allies continue to stand behind the most corrupt, divisive, and chaotic president in history because they believe that he can supply, via the courts, the abortion ban that they see as a necessary prelude to making America a righteous nation again.

Religion manifesting in government

The dividends in policy have already begun to show. In 2018, Capitol Ministries Bible study group member Jeff Sessions issued guidelines for the Justice Department giving religious individuals and groups “protections to express their beliefs” when they come into conflict with government regulations

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who has also attended CapMin Bible study, also seems to be allowing his personal religious beliefs to influence American policy. Pompeo held a State Department telephone conference restricted to reporters from “faith-based media only.” No transcript was provided, and the list of invitees was not disclosed.

The Movement’s beginning

In the 1970s right-wing religious and political leaders got together. Some of the more vocal members of the group included Southern Baptist pastor Jerry Falwell; conservative activists Ed McAteer and Paul Weyrich; Nixon appointee Howard Phillips; attorney Alan P. Dye; and Robert J. Billings, an educator and organizer who would later serve as Ronald Reagan’s liaison to the Christian right. This was an angry group of men.

They were angry at the establishment conservatives, the Rockefeller Republicans, for siding with the liberals and taking down their hero, Barry Goldwater; they were angry about the rising tide of feminism, which they saw as a menace to the social order; and about the civil rights movement and the danger it posed to segregation, especially in education.

Weyrich came to be known as the “evil genius” of the movement—or sometimes “the Lenin of social conservatism”—and Viguerie, who is considered the pioneer of political direct mail, came to be known as its “funding father.” From the beginning, the New Right sought radical change. They would establish themselves “first as the opposition, then the alternative, finally the government,” according to Conservative Caucus chair Howard Phillips. “We will not try to reform the existing institutions. We only intend to weaken them and eventually destroy them. We will maintain a constant barrage of criticism against the Left. We will attack the very legitimacy of the Left. We will not give them a moment’s rest … We will use guerrilla tactics to undermine the legitimacy of the dominant regime.

“I don’t want everybody to vote,” Weyrich said at a gathering in the fall of 1980. “As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.

At the core of the concerns of the New Right was the perception that American capitalism was under dire threat from mortal enemies—some of them internal, some external, most of them communist.

Schlafly also gave voice to another motivating concern of the emerging right-wing consensus: the specter of feminism. Schlafly rose to prominence in her campaign against the Equal Rights Amendment. The feminist movement, she asserted, “is the most destructive element in our society.

Just as reformers around the turn of the century had deployed the Social Gospel on behalf of progressive causes, Martin Luther King Jr. has used his pulpit to mobilize change. If the right could access the religious vote, Weyrich reasoned, power would be in its grasp. Together with Phillips, he devoted “countless hours cultivating electronic ministers like Jerry Falwell, Jim [James] Robison, and Pat Robertson, urging them to get involved in conservative politics.

How abortion became an issue

In the late 1970s, following a string of court cases, the IRS began to threaten the tax-exempt status of religious groups running race-segregated schools.

It would be hard to overestimate the degree of outrage that the threat of losing their tax-advantaged status on account of their segregationism provoked. As far as leaders like Bob Jones Sr. were concerned, they had a God-given right not just to separate the races but also to receive federal money for the purpose. Emerging leaders of the New Right were prepared to defend them. They began to meet regularly, to discuss politics, and to look for ways to make their voices heard in Washington.

Building a new movement around the burning issue of defending the tax advantages of racist schools wasn’t going to be a viable strategy on the national stage. “Stop the tax on segregation” just wasn’t going to inspire the kind of broad-based conservative counterrevolution that Weyrich envisioned. They needed an issue with a more acceptable appeal.

What message would bring the movement together? The men of Lynchburg considered a variety of unifying issues and themes. School prayer worked for some, but it tended to alienate the Catholics, who remembered all too well that, for many years, public schools had allowed only for Protestant prayers and Bible readings while excluding Catholic readings and practices. Bashing communists was fine, but even the Rockefeller Republicans could do that. Taking on “women’s liberation” was attractive, but the Equal Rights Amendment was already going down in flames. At last they landed upon the one surprising word that would supply the key to the political puzzle of the age: “abortion.

As the historian and author Randall Balmer writes, “It wasn’t until 1979—a full six years after Roe—that evangelical leaders, at the behest of conservative activist Paul Weyrich, seized on abortion not for moral reasons, but as a rallying-cry to deny President Jimmy Carter a second term. Why? Because the anti-abortion crusade was more palatable than the religious right’s real motive: protecting segregated schools.

More than a decade later, Weyrich recalled the moment well. At a conference in Washington, D.C., sponsored by a religious right organization called the Ethics and Public Policy Center (to which Balmer had been invited to attend), Weyrich reminded his fellow culture warriors of the facts: “Let us remember, he said animatedly, that the Religious Right did not come together in response to the Roe decision. No, Weyrich insisted, what got us going was the attempt on the part of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to rescind the tax-exempt status of Bob Jones University because of its racially discriminatory policies.

Abortion henceforth would be the key to unlocking power for the conservative movement.

But before it could be used to control the future, it was necessary first to change the past. The flock would have to learn to forget that for decades abortion was just one among many moral concerns, and it played little role in dividing the faithful from the damned.

When abortion was criminalized across most of the United States in the late 19th century, the sentiments of the Catholic Church had little to do with it. Two groups in particular spearheaded the antiabortion cause. The first was Protestant nativists who feared an onslaught of immigrant and Catholic babies and saw a ban on abortion as a way of producing the more “desirable” kind of babies. Leaders of the eugenics movement, too, were initially hostile to both abortion and birth control, fearing they would suppress the birth rates of wealthy, “better” women. According to historian Leslie J. Reagan, professor of history at the University of Illinois, “White male patriotism demanded that maternity be enforced among white Protestant women.

Storer, who sought to reverse widespread acceptance of early abortion. Storer also railed against the education of girls, asserting that “To stimulate a girl’s brain to the utmost, during the access of puberty, is a positive loss to the State.” In a widely distributed tract, he lamented that “abortions are infinitely more frequent among Protestant women than among Catholic women and wondered whether America’s western and southern territories would be “filled with our own children or by those of aliens?

By the middle of the twentieth century, abortion was both mostly illegal and yet widely practiced in the United States. Somewhere between 200,000 and 1.2 million procedures took place every year (estimates vary), with a large number occurring in unsafe circumstances.

In 1965 deaths from illegal abortion still accounted for 17% of all deaths attributed to childbirth and pregnancy.

Feminists in the second wave saw the criminalization of abortion as an intrusion on women’s right to bodily autonomy and private decision-making regarding health and family. Many religious leaders agreed with them, and came together to form the Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion, which assisted women in obtaining abortions from licensed medical professionals. The effort to reform laws criminalizing abortion was also driven by public health–minded doctors, who pointed out that the risk of injury and death from illegal abortion “disproportionately harmed poor women and women of color, who could not afford to pay the ‘right’ doctor or travel to a jurisdiction where abortion was legal,

The abortion battles of the middle decades of the twentieth century did not divide the religious against the secular, nor did they divide one party from the other. On the contrary, as Daniel K. Williams, professor of history at the University of West Georgia, points out: “The early political battles over abortion in state legislatures pitted Catholic antiabortion lobbyists against Protestant proponents of abortion law liberalization, with most Republican legislators siding with the Protestants.

As Williams goes on to note, “many Republicans supported the liberalization of state abortion laws, believing that abortion law reform accorded well with the party’s tradition of support for birth control, middle-class morality, and Protestant values.” Billy Graham echoed widely shared Protestant sentiments when he said in 1968, “In general, I would disagree with [the Catholic stance],” adding, “I believe in planned parenthood.” Indeed, the most liberal abortion law in the country was signed in 1967 by California’s Republican governor, Ronald Reagan.

The 1971 convention of the Southern Baptists endorsed a resolution calling for the legalization of abortion to preserve the “emotional, mental, and physical health of the mother” as well as in cases of rape, incest, and “deformity.

As for abortion, it mattered, too, as one part of the alleged attack on family values and the dignity of women’s traditional role within it. “Since women must bear the physical consequences of the sex act, men must be required to bear the other consequences and pay in other ways,” Schlafly said. Laws and customs, she added, “decree that a man must carry his share by physical protection and financial support of his children and of the woman who bears his children, and also by a code of behavior which benefits and protects both the woman and the children.”

The first lady, Betty Ford, hailed it as a “great, great decision.” Conservative senator Barry Goldwater—Paul Weyrich’s beau ideal of the modern statesman—also initially hailed its passage. “I think abortion should be legalized because whether it is legal or not, women are going to have it done,” he wrote in a draft of a letter to a constituent in 1973.

Public opinion polls at the time showed that a greater percentage of Republican voters were pro-choice than their Democratic counterparts.

The closing of the Republican mind took more than a decade. A pro-choice movement persisted in the Republican Party all the way up through the early 1990s. Yet it grew increasingly isolated and forlorn. At the Republican National Convention in 1996, the influence of Christian conservatives had become so strong that pro-choice Republicans Weld and Wilson were “bumped from prime speaking roles.

In order to achieve political unity around abortion, the leaders of the emerging Christian nationalist movement understood, it was also necessary to change the deep frame of American religion.

The movement appeared to understand was that the greatest danger to the antiabortion party might come from liberal Christian thinkers. The Bible and 2,000 years of Christian apologetics, after all, has provided ample material to those who argue that abortion rights are compatible with Christian belief and practice. It was therefore necessary to purge theology of any position inconsistent with the idea that all the moral and religious attributes of human life are invested in the zygote at the moment of fertilization. This in turn meant making “life begins at conception” something close to a foundational doctrine

Evangelists attack Mainstream Religion

In their 2007 book, Steeplejacking: How the Christian Right Is Hijacking Mainstream Religion, Sheldon Culver and John Dorhauer assert the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD) used “covert methods” to wage a shadow war on mainline churches such as the United Methodist Church, Presbyterian Church (USA), and the United Church of Christ. “In alliance with fundamentalist and evangelical Christians, the IRD uses trained activists, skillfully developed propaganda and clandestine tactics to infiltrate and hijack—or ‘steeplejack’—mainline churches in order to force out ‘liberal leadership’ and replace it with those who share their conservative world view,” according to Culver and Dorhauer. Through the use of same-sex marriage as a wedge issue, congregations are persuaded to separate from their denomination, the authors say, and when possible to seize control of the church-owned real estate and take it out of the denomination, too.

In her foreword to their book, the author and journalist Michelle Goldberg, whose 2006 book Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism foretold the political crisis of the present moment, echoed the alarm. “It’s hard to tell this story without sounding like a conspiracy theorist—it is, after all, a tale of power-seeking reactionaries enacting a plan to infiltrate and undermine established institutions,” she pointed out. “Yet Culver and Dorhauer have carefully marshaled evidence linking fights in individual congregations to larger organizations like the Institute on Religion and Democracy.” Just as planned, Goldberg notes, “right-wing groups have formed parallel organizations inside mainline congregations all over the country, often attempting coups against more liberal church leadership.” The outcome of these struggles, she says, “will determine whether America’s historic Protestant churches remain firm voices for social justice or become mere adjuncts of the political right.

In conversation with me, the historian Diana Butler Bass, whose books include Standing Against the Whirlwind: Evangelical Episcopalians in Ninetheenth-Century America, describes concurrent efforts to bring the Episcopalian church, too, under more conservative leadership. “On the national level, there were people who were troubled by what they saw as a turn away from orthodoxy,” she says. “They abandoned the traditional policy structure of elected representatives and adopted a strategy of succession in order to have as many dioceses as possible secede and form the ‘true’ Episcopal church, and thus leave the old Episcopal church, with gay people and women leaders, in the dust.” These conflicts, Bass notes, “function as predictors, or canaries in the coal mine, about larger political movements.

Christian Coalition & Church United: a vehicle intended for the control of the Republican Party.

By working from the grassroots up and training pro-family candidates for public office, the group set out to reshape Republican politics. Communicating the message to voters in innovative ways, such as papering church parking lots with voter guides and penning lurid fund-raising appeals warning of “a feminist agenda … that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians,” they had an outsized influence in primaries and elections.

By the election of 2016, the creation of a new American religion of “life” and its merger with a single political party was plain for all to see. Every presidential candidate for the Republican nomination took a stand against abortion and disagreed only on whether rape, incest, and life-of-the-mother exceptions should be allowed.

A number of the more farsighted leaders are therefore making a conscious effort to include and empower conservative Christians of color. At the very least, they are doing what they can to collect their votes.  But this won’t change quickly. Many of the southern white evangelical groups that remain entrenched in the national leadership of the religious right hail from a tradition that long maintained the separation of the races is central to the Bible’s plan.

A substantial number of Church United gatherings are conducted in the Spanish language, and the organization has spawned at least one affiliate, Alianza de Pastores Unidos de San Diego, whose members minister to largely Spanish-speaking audiences.

The testosterone rhetoric favored by the Christian Right reflected a renewed forcefulness in cultural and political engagement as well as anxieties about gender, sexuality, and family structure that preoccupy religious nationalists around the world.  Today, many conservative evangelical networks promote the idea of “male headship” at church and in the home as part of “God’s created design”—even as more women than men fill their pews.

Church United members meet with elected officials to discuss issues of local and statewide concern and attend gatherings at the state and national capitols. They also offer support to the growing numbers of Christian nationalists holding public office. “Briefings” draw representatives of church and state together, so that “members of Congress, the California Legislature, and county and city elected officials speak to the pastors about their faith and how they implement a biblical worldview in policy.

California may look to the world like a blue state. But one in five adults are evangelical Christian, and the state has more megachurches than any other.

“For the evangelical church right now, membership is no longer based on color,” Onishi notes. “It is also not really based in religion anymore, either. Your litmus test for religious belonging comes via your political beliefs. 

At a church in San Diego, Craig Huey, a business man shouts to the Spanish crowd (with an interpreter translation). “Muslims vote 84% but only 40% of Christians did in California. As a result, we see our Christian rights going away. As the audience groans, he runs through a litany of frothy complaints: “Recently they tried to stop homeschooling. They tried to ban the Bible. They just almost passed a bill in California that would have put out of business Christian colleges, like Azusa, Biola, because the people in Sacramento, like many of those in Congress and the Senate and in Washington, D.C., have an ideology that discriminates against Christians and want to take away our rights.” To judge from the sighs in the crowd, it appears that these preposterous allegations are accepted here as mostly true.

California churches do not pay for abortions. But this sham narrative has become a popular talking point for the California Family Council and is perhaps too valuable in activating the base to set aside just because it’s not true.

“Listen, parents, pastors, leaders, there’s no opt out of sex education. Your child must go through this curriculum.” This, too, is a bending of the truth.  Inflammatory handouts are given to the audience.

Laura Dudnick, a representative from the San Francisco Unified School District, she tells me that none of the graphics or materials on the Christian handout are used in any district public school in the manner implied by organizers of this event. 

Not true. There is no single course on offer. Rather, there are multiple courses and curriculum materials in use in various districts. Parents are legally allowed to opt out of lessons about comprehensive sexual health and HIV prevention in their entirety—and many of them do. What they may not opt out of is assemblies on bullying and harassment or social studies classes that discuss the contributions of LGBT people in history.  

Activists trying to break the link between Latinos and the Democratic Party try to undermine unions and other progressive sources with questions like: “Is it because you think that when Democrats offer you free stuff, it means they really care about you?

Meetings with congressmen are often arranged with assistance from the Christian legal firm Advocates for Faith & Freedom, which also acts as a sponsor of the tours. “Most of the politicians were extremely encouraged by their visit from the pastors,” according to a report from one such gathering. “God definitely had His hand in the connection made between the pastors and their elected officials!

Early American history

Southern Presbyterians resolved at a conference: “We hesitate not to affirm that it is the peculiar mission of the Southern Church to conserve the institution of slavery, and to make it a blessing both to master and slave.

The period around the American Revolution was, by most accounts, a low point for fundamentalism and a high one for freedom of thought and what was considered heresy. In a letter to Dr. Benjamin Waterhouse dated June 26, 1822, Thomas Jefferson famously predicted that all Americans would shortly convert to Unitarianism, and Thomas Paine went even further, suggesting that they would abandon all traditional religions in favor of a pure deism, or religion of nature and reason.

In the decades following the Revolution, an evangelical surge rolled across the landscape, sweeping aside the Unitarians and other liberal religionists and installing hardline Presbyterian, Methodist, and Baptist sects that, while often popular in their rhetoric and methods, promoted literalism and absolute submission to authority in their doctrines.

The new generation of leaders promoted a theological vision that emphasized the divine origins of the existing order, which invariably involved domination and subordination, always of men over women, and frequently of white people over Black people, too.

Religious abolitionists tended to be a distinctly disempowered minority in their own denominations.

“Southern clergymen,” according to the author and historian Mitchell Snay, “emphatically countered that slavery was sanctioned in the Bible.

Perhaps the most important aspect of the proslavery theology was its fusion of religion with a racialized form of nationalism. Indeed, Christian nationalism came of age in the American slave republic. In the eyes of proslavery theologians, the United States was the “Redeemer Nation”—a “nation which God’s own hand hath planted, and on which He has, therefore, peculiar and special claims,

When the United States was divided by Civil War, God’s hand unmistakably settled on the Confederate States of America, which was understood to be waging a holy war on behalf of Christian civilization against the impious Union.

The “Social Gospel,” as Rushdoony understood it, is the mistaken belief that Christianity would have us use the power of government to reform society along lines that conform with Jesus’s teachings about loving thy neighbor.

How Corporate America created Republican Jesus

To combat the horrors of the New Deal, Fifield proposed to energize the nation’s Protestant pastors. In 1935 he cofounded and led the Mobilization for Spiritual Ideals, also known as Spiritual Mobilization. His ambition was to broadcast from pulpits and radio stations a simple message: business has a friend in Jesus, and government is the enemy of God and man. He had a theology to back it up, but it was uncomplicated. The welfare state violated several of the Ten Commandments, but especially the Eighth. When New Dealers used the power of government to restrain business and take from the rich to give to the poor, he argued, this was a clear violation of God’s word: Thou shalt not steal.

In Fifield’s mind, the Social Gospel was just another word for communism, and it had to be stopped. Fifield understood that in a world that had just witnessed catastrophic economic collapse where government had indeed proved vital in rescuing workers, his views would not command immediate support. How would he make this unpopular doctrine appealing?

The secret sauce was money. With a talent for whispering into the ears of plutocrats, Fifield secured major funding for his activities from the moguls of the Sun Oil Company, Chrysler, and General Motors, among others to reach out to evangelical preachers with a theology that lionized business, demonized labor unions, public education, affordable health care, redistributive programs like Medicare and SSN, and anything that required government to work on behalf of the people.  

Christian Nationalism

The most obvious paradox of Christian nationalism is that it preaches love but practices intolerance and even hate. They love and care for their children, volunteer and then seek to punish those who are different that don’t conform to their ideas of righteousness, especially anyone championing social justice.  They would like to have religious or theocratic government rather than a democracy, to be achieved by taking over the court system and the rest of government and turning it over to Bible believers.

Falwell epitomizes the mix of love and hate. He regularly spewed toxins, as when he blamed the abortionists, feminists, gays, and lesbians for the September 11 attacks.

Christian nationalists are heavily involved in Texas and other states textbooks, and work hard to promote a Bible Curriculum in public schools.  They get jobs at military base newspapers and slant the news there as well.

Bible translations

“Some people revere the King James version like they were the precise words of, say, Paul, written in English rather than Greek,” he says, “as opposed to a translation that has been updated as we make advances in the field of translation and scholarship. I think it’s about familiarity and fear. People memorized those specific words when they were children, and now, if those words change, the fear is everything else might be up for grabs.” The greatest terrors of translation, in Chris’s view, have to do with sex. New words could mean a new gender order. “In Romans there’s a woman named Junia, whom Paul said was outstanding among the apostles,” he explains. “Many early writers believed that she was indeed a woman. At some point, though, there was this thought that ‘apostle’ wasn’t a role women should have, and you see a masculine form of the name, ‘Junias,’ start to appear. Some translations highlight this tension in the footnotes, but others don’t mention it. She just became a man.

Oh no!  Organic girl produce is owned by hard right Capitol Ministries. Boycott! 

When a Whole Foods shopper reaches for a package of Organicgirl premium salad mix, she might be under the illusion that its contents were brought to market by a yoga mama with rainbow flags on her hydroponic greenhouse. But to anyone sitting at the table here in Tulare, these kings of the organics business are very much on board with the hard-right religion and even harder-right politics of Capitol Ministries.

Abortion view of a closet, more liberal Baptist preacher (some are reasonable)

“Do we not owe people more than simply reducing ‘pro-life’ to one issue?  I mean, no one wants babies to die. No one is ‘pro-abortion.’ That is a false dichotomy. Do we not owe more to people than to force them into one box or another? As much as abortion is a pro-life issue, so is affordable health care, access to contraceptives, and real, comprehensive sex education. Minimum wage. Fighting poverty. These should all be part of the ‘pro-life’ conversation.” Chris falls into silence for a few minutes, then speaks again. “And shouldn’t we show compassion to people regardless of how they identify? They, too, are made in God’s image. We find in Scripture the imperative to love our neighbors and care for the least of these. That is by far one of the clearest messages we receive

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One Response to Book review of “The Power Worshippers. Inside the dangerous rise of religious nationalism”

  1. Pam says:

    Thanks for the synopsis Alice. I’ll be reading this one as I see some of the effects of the ongoing lockdowns seem to be following this extreme religious enslavement. I think the next step after permanently making schools virtual is the eventual defunding and closing of public schools. In my state Maryland, Governor Hogan forced a county health official to allow in-person instruction for private schools. This was after Hogan kicked the can regarding school reopening down to the county level. I guess he didn’t really mean it.

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