From the July-August 2020 issue of News & Letters
The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism (Bloomsbury Publishing, March 2020), by Katherine Stewart, is an extremely important book that explains the religious Right as a “Christian nationalist” movement. Stewart studied its history, conducted interviews with leaders and followers, and attended anti-abortion marches and conferences of major organizations like the Family Research Council.
OUT TO DESTROY DEMOCRACY
The public often misunderstands this movement as a culture war among citizens disagreeing on social issues. In reality, it is not a grassroots movement but one deliberately designed by ultra-rich businessmen and families to impose a system of complete political, social, and economic control. Stewart uses the term “Christian nationalism” to emphasize its true goal and similarity to worldwide authoritarian movements past and current. Constantly claiming it wants “religious freedom,” this movement implies it wants its viewpoint included in democracy when it really wants to destroy democracy itself.
The founders of the U.S. intended to create a pluralistic, secular government based on Enlightenment values of equality and democracy. For decades, Christian nationalist David Barton fabricated an immense amount of easily debunked propaganda claiming that the founders intended the U.S. to be an authoritarian nation based on Old Testament law.
Religious Right leaders got this idea of “Dominionism” or “Christian Reconstructionism” from their main philosophers, Rousas J. Rushdoony and Robert Lewis Dabney. Both defended slavery, racism, and patriarchy as a supposedly God-ordained, inescapable social hierarchy. They opposed Marxism and labor unions. Stewart explains these thinkers were part of a counter-revolution against the Enlightenment values of the American Revolution, and this counter-revolution continues with today’s Christian nationalism.
This movement’s propaganda claims it began as a popular revolt against Roe v. Wade. In reality, it was started by wealthy businessmen, politicians, and right-wing theologians five years later in 1978 for the purpose of seizing political power to oppose public school desegregation. Since this cause was unpopular, they settled on opposing abortion to manipulate voters, especially religious people.
Christian nationalism uses the concept of conquering the “Seven Mountains” of cultural influence: government and military, education, media, family, business, religion, and the arts. It focuses on propagandizing children through infiltrating public schools with the goal of destroying public education. Stewart describes how it has infiltrated every aspect of society, including “steeplejacking” formerly liberal churches of every denomination. Hospitals are increasingly controlled by right-wing Catholicism, and Stewart describes how she herself almost died as a result of dogma replacing science.
U.S. CHRISTIAN NATIONALISM GOES GLOBAL
Christian nationalist leaders created international versions of their well-funded, manipulative organizations like the Child Evangelism Fellowship and the Alliance Defending Freedom. They work with global alt-right movements and support dictatorships worldwide. They collaborated with the Russian government to put Trump in office. This partnership also created the World Congress of Families, exploiting fear of immigration and economic insecurity to impose authoritarianism on a personal level.
It promotes domestic violence and child abuse and opposes reproductive and LGBTQ rights. The Gospel Coalition, a religious Right “church planting” organization promotes the same opinions.
One of its leaders, Doug Wilson, even stated, “The sex act cannot be made into an egalitarian pleasuring party. A man penetrates, conquers, colonizes, plants. A woman receives, surrenders, accepts.”
Stewart says, “Overcoming this kind of reactionary and authoritarian movement isn’t just something Americans can do; it is what has made Americans what we are.” Christian nationalism’s biggest lies reveal its biggest weaknesses. It claims to be the “moral majority” with “traditional values,” but most people support the egalitarian, pluralistic, secular democracy that is our true and traditional source of strength. They claim to be the only true Christians because they fear the revolutionary power of liberal Christians’ “Social Gospel.”
Stewart says since “reactionary authoritarianism…draws much of its destructive energy from social and economic injustices,” “Christian nationalism is the fruit of a society that has not yet lived up to the promise of the American idea.”
Hopefully, she will write more about those who are fighting for a just society, but this book is an important alert to the extent and nature of this threat.