We Can't Pray Away Christian Nationalism. We've Got to Vote it Out | Opinion

As ordained Christian ministers, we have been distressed to see Christian nationalism increasingly normalized. For years, we've heard leaders in the Religious Right pine for greater power and influence in our politics. Now, emboldened by the Trump years, whispers have turned to shouts. Alarmingly, the loudest voices praising Christian nationalism have been elected members of Congress.

What I and other religious leaders involved in political work know is that Christian nationalism is a threat to democracy, especially at the state level.

Christian nationalism melds Christian and American identities, distorting both in the process. Christian nationalism expects that Christianity will be given a place of privilege by the State. It tells people that to be a good American, one must be a Christian. Far too often, it is deeply intertwined with white supremacy and patriarchy.

At its most basic essence, Christian nationalism proclaims that the United States is a "Christian nation," even though this country was founded on a guarantee of inalienable rights for all people—regardless of religion or lack of religion— although not fully realized then or now. Christian nationalism isn't the only option for people of faith who want to engage in our civic life. An elected leader can have personal faith without turning the State into a church.

Christian nationalism can cause politicians to become more concerned with outcomes than with political values. People who have valued small government have used their power to make government impose morality on others. People who valued "strict constitutionalist" interpretations of the Constitution have abandoned checks and balances and the rule of law.

It is imperative to understand that Christian nationalists have exchanged previously held traditionally conservative values for authoritarian values such as winning at any cost, fomenting division among the American people, and ridiculing political opponents. Those we expect to take the command to "love your neighbor" seriously actually care more about owning Democrats.

Some, like congresswomen Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert, have proudly embraced the label of Christian nationalists. At the same time, all across the country, whether they call themselves Christian nationalists or not, state legislators have weaponized their personal faith, having a profoundly negative impact on people of color and other historically marginalized groups. This type of religion-based governing is largely used to justify racism, xenophobia, and exclusionary policies.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) speaks
Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill Sept. 20, 2022, in Washington, D.C. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Christian nationalists in state legislatures have passed laws discriminating against the LGBTQ+ community, trans and nonbinary citizens in particular. These "religious freedom" laws legalize discrimination against any group that does not conform to traditional gender roles and sexual orientations.

Anti-abortion laws in Arkansas and other states further illustrate the threat of Christian nationalism. One devout group of people seeks to use the government to mandate their morality on others. These laws are not based on science or medical facts. By wrapping themselves in Christianity and proclaiming their position is good for all people regardless of faith—even if there is no evidence to support such claims—conservative Christian state legislators have been able to gain more influence over public policy.

Christian nationalism has not just violently stripped away rights of many Americans. It has also led directly to literal violence.

Mass shootings have been motivated, at least in part, by Christian nationalism. This includes the El Paso shooting in which 22 people died and more than two dozen were wounded; the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting that resulted in 11 people dead; and the shooting at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston where nine Black congregants were killed during Bible study.

Christian nationalists also played a prominent role in the insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021. From carrying crosses and Christian flags to praying in the name of Jesus from the Senate dais, many who stormed the Capitol did so because they believed their "Christian nation" was being stolen from them through election fraud. They were willing to sacrifice everything to protect it.

To protect democracy, we must break the cycle of violence fueled by Christian nationalism.

This week, we'll be rallying together in Little Rock to urge voters of faith to denounce candidates like Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who support Christian nationalism, and to elect candidates who will fight for the common good and work to uphold our democracy. We'll be joined by nearly 60 pastors from across the state who are standing up for freedom and fairness in our nation and against elected officials pushing their own harmful political agendas.

Republicans hold majorities in 30 state legislatures, including 14 supermajorities, where the Republicans have the votes to override a gubernatorial veto. Arkansas is one of those states. The best thing Americans concerned about the threat of Christian nationalism can do is vote, in local, state-wide, and federal races. Avowed Christian nationalists and those who won't stand up to their anti-democratic agenda must be defeated at the polls.

Beyond voting, citizens can seek to understand the attractiveness of Christian nationalism to some of their fellow citizens. Christian nationalism promises a return to a time when their comfort and certainty were privileged. This promise appeals to a fear that cannot be overcome by shame. It must be overcome by love.

Christian people, all across the political spectrum, need to remember the words of Scripture, "Perfect love drives out fear."

Doug Pagitt is executive director of Vote Common Good.

Chris Jones is a gubernatorial candidate.

The views expressed in this article are the writers' own.