When Unhealthy Christian Nationalism Has the Loudest Voice

When Unhealthy Christian Nationalism Has the Loudest Voice

Okay, so it’s been quite awhile now since fascistic Christian nationalism has been working hard to get an increasingly loud voice in US politics, and I’ve been noticing some increasingly complex dynamics at play because of this. Since a huge part of why I founded this project is to convince people to raise their voices against the unhealthy dynamics in this specific abuse of the fusion of religion and politics (alongside other unhealthy dynamics), I wanted to take some time this week to unpack some of these dynamics and the ways they hurt us all. I hope this will encourage you to continue to stand up against the unhealthy crap toward a healthier world, naturally.

My Peops Always Decried Christian Nationalism, But Also Liberal Christians

As always, I’m coming at this as a former pastor’s kid in a right-leaning “moderate” white Evangelical denomination who grew up to become a communication scholar studying and teaching about stress, trauma, and conflict communication.

As I’ve mentioned many times before, people I grew up around were often filled with tut-tutting about how equally bad those Christian liberals were as those Christian nationalists.

This Made Me Aware of Liberal Christians, I Guess? Silver Lining?

One likely unintended result of this upbringing, I realize now, was that I actually WAS aware that there WERE Christians both theologically and politically further to the left of “our” position.

Sure, I was trained to think of them as deeply suspicious and wrongheaded and more subtly trained to think, as I discussed last week, that they might be going to hell, mind you, but I was aware, albeit dimly, that these folks actually existed in the world.

What Happens When Progressive Christian Voices Get Marginalized by Christian Nationalism

Interestingly, one effect I’ve been noticing of Christian nationalism having such a loud voice in the world is that some people, especially those who might not have grown up with an awareness of the complex awarenesses of Christianity today, don’t actually have this awareness of the existence of progressive Christians who are actually actively fighting Christian nationalism.

As I’ve been noticing in some conversations on the Assertive Spirituality Facebook page lately, this can create some strange situations. For instance, I’ve been in several conversations lately with otherwise seemingly lovely people who are ardent about fighting fascistic Christian nationalism but who also, strangely to me, flat out refused to believe that there might be themes of social justice included in the Bible. Or that things like theology by non-Western, non-white, non-male, non-straight people–or even secular study of biblical texts–exists.

Sometimes these conversations happen in threads responding to memes showing a church sign of a progressive church that is standing up for social justice, and applying the Bible to get there.

Oops! Ending up Giving Christian Nationalists MORE POWER

What I’ve been realizing, while having these conversations, is that essentializing either Christianity or the Bible with the views of today’s conservative Christian views actually reinforces the power dynamics Christian nationalism would like to maintain when it comes to Christianity.

After all, ever since at least Constantine, as many historians have noted over the years, there’s been a form of Christianity often coopted by and fused with political power in various spaces. Many call this Christendom—or, you know, Christian nationalism.

Giving Respect to People who Have and Are Still Resisting Abuse of Religion from Within

But alongside Christian nationalism, see, there’s always been people both inside and on the borders of Christian nationalism that have always been resisting it in various ways. In fact, this same tension absolutely is represented regarding religion within biblical texts.

Sometimes these people have resisted by leaving religion or Christianity altogether, absolutely—and that is not surprising.

But others have resisted by looking deeper and deeper into the original biblical texts and choosing to practice some of the themes they found there while actively resisting the unhealthy abuses of the same texts. And genuinely living out their faith in loving and inclusive ways.

A Great Resource For Learning More

If you want a great accessible introduction to how this kind of thing has worked throughout (church) history, the book A People’s History of Christianity by church historian Diana Butler Bass is an excellent introduction to this kind of history.

Understanding Why It Can Be Hard to Find Any Form of Christianity Safe

Now, I totally get why those who practice other religions or who choose to practice no religion may feel too allergic to the idea of Christianity to read such a book. It may feel like it’s giving too much power to Christendom to even talk more about Christianity, even when it comes to the strands of resistance that continue within the religion.

 And especially if you’re not Christian and you feel (for good reason) like Christian nationalism is coming to make life more difficult for your non-binary kid or your reproductive health, it may well feel unsafe to talk about Christianity or the Bible as anything other than a threat.

Boy, as someone dealing with my own spiritual and religious trauma myself, do I ever get that. It is HARD to maintain that tension—to make space for the idea that healthy people may come down on multiple sides of the issues about whether to practice Christianity or not.

And Yes, Some of the Whole Church Problems Stretch Across Churches….

I particularly get this, as I’ve discussed before, because I was raised with a kind of churchy exceptionalism, in which I vaguely was socialized to feel like the people who didn’t participate in church were vaguely less moral or ethical or committed in some ways.

And let’s be clear—progressive churches all have their own variations of faults along these lines. Usually in some ways more than others. And as I’ve pointed out before, ALL churches are vulnerable to sexual abuse and other forms of abuses.

And Yet, Let’s Not Give Christian Nationalism the Credit of “Being the Primary Christians,” Please!

But also, I can very much see how refusing to recognize progressive Christianity as a thing (or, for that matter, recognizing that all the Abrahamic religions have their own diverse takes on so many different matters of faith and belief and practice) gives Christian nationalism and its narratives and policies SO MUCH MORE POWER. And that’s an issue.

See, if you are coming in hot arguing that the Bible should be thrown out because it’s racist or misogynistic or colonialist or Western, etc. etc. etc., by doing so you’re entirely too actively agreeing with Christian nationalist narratives about Christian history and Christian belief.

Fascistic Christian Nationalism Is Trying to Win the War of Narratives, Is the Thing

Having trouble seeing this? Let me explain.

So what Christian nationalism is trying to do is to make sure that THEIR version of who is and isn’t a Christian is the only one that is seen to be significant. They want to have everyone accept their version of who is seen to be moral and holy and who is not.

We Can Resist Fascistic Christian Nationalism By Giving Credit to the Diversity within Christianity

The last thing they want you believing is to see how complicated church history, biblical interpretation, and historical belief and practice of Christianity in various groups and cultures really has always been.

This is especially the case with current white Evangelical Christian nationalists in the US, whose version of “Christianity” is actually highly complicit with and heavily influenced by other unhealthy cultural systems. Examples: white supremacy, patriarchy/toxic masculinity, colonialism, etc. etc. etc.

Christian Nationalists Would Rather You Not Draw Attention to Their Systemic Influences

THIS is a level of anaysis Christian nationalists would rather you not take on, mind you. And if you ask me, looking at other forms of Christian faith that have and continue to resist these particular unhealthy systems are one way to refuse to give Christian nationalism so much power.

Listening to Diversity Among Christians Often Means Giving Voice to the Margins

Especially because so many people who have done this kind of work are in marginalized populations, doing this valuable kind of listening can not only fight against Christian nationalist narratives, but it can also help with listening to marginalized populations as well.

Which is a win, right?

Equity Among Biblical Interpretations a Threat to Unhealthy Christian Nationalism

Here’s the thing—I know for a fact, by having stepped over invisible lines myself (as I discussed last week), that one of the things that can make conservative-leaning Christians the most uncomfortable is, for instance, arguing that LGBTQ+ Christians might at least be trying to live out their understanding of the Bible as carefully as those on the other side of the culture wars may be trying to do.

Not Just “Those Extreme Folks”

And let’s be clear—because religio-political culture wars principles have seeped into soooo much of the the church at large, this doesn’t just include the kind of overt Christian nationalists that were critiqued and seen as “other” in my youth. This includes anyone across the religio-political spectrum of Christianity who continues to struggle with being fully affirming of LGBTQ+ folks In a real way.

This isn’t just the case in fully conservative denominations. I saw this a ton in my right-leaning moderate denomination.

 In fact, most–though definitely not all–of the people I grew up with who claimed to decry Christian nationalism would very much agree with this highly Christian nationalist stance. And I know for a fact that lots of right-leaning Christians end up attending more progressive denominations at times too. The mainline church pastors I listen to regularly talk about the “purple church” problem.

It’s a problem, in varying degrees, in the church as a whole, sure.

Continuums Matter!

But it’s a continnum there—and that’s important. Because let’s be clear—the current white Evangelical forms of Christan nationalism in the US would not exist as they are without the broader societal systems they draw on.

And those unhealthy systems, while they often get tied up with religion in really unhealthy ways, are not inherently religious or Christian.

I mean, I’m sure we all know that that racist cousin, or that misogynist uncle, may identify as Christian but doesn’t have to, right?

Definitely Huge Problems with Christendom

Yes, it’s absolutely extra-convenient when Christian nationalism gets to play on people’s fears about being seen as “moral” or not in order to get people to despise a scapegoated population like trans people, or women, or Black people, or indigenous peoples, etc. etc. etc.

And too often, throughout the centuries, Christendom has enacted horrific abuses in the name of the Christian religion.

And it’s important that Christians of all stripes own these problems and work to own and resist these patterns as appropriate.

Christian Nationalism—and the Unhealthy Systems It Relies On—Are a Societal Problem!

But it’s also important to note that Christian nationalism, and its related unhealthy systems, are a whole society problem.

I know this much is true: regardless of where we fall on the spectrum of belief, Christian or otherwise, we are stronger and are able to make wiser decisions that help us reach toward the common good much better when we know more.

Can We Please Not Harm Vulnerable Populations Further, Please?

I believe this as well: to perpetuate the lie that all of Christianity is represented by Christian nationalism is to ignore and/or harm the voices of often-marginalized populations who identify as Christians and/or are studying the Bible who are also resisting Christian nationalism.  

Important to Work Intersectionally for the Greater Good

Sometimes I think that all of this would be easier if this was all more cut and dried. But, well, growing up among people who both decried and leaned toward many of the policies that came from Christian nationalism certainly has taught me that not a ton is like that.

And that’s okay.

It’s okay that a variety of people both in and out of the church work to resist unhealthy systems like white supremacy, patriarchy, colonialism, etc. where they are and how they’re able.

The Hard Work of Working Toward a Genuinely Diverse, Inclusive Society

In fact, that’s lovely. After all, isn’t a diverse society what we want? One in which people aren’t expected to believe all the same things?

Let’s All Resist Unhealthy Systems Together

In short, I think the contemporary form of Christian nationalism in the US is something to be resisted.

I’m so thankful that people in a variety of populations and with a variety of beliefs resist it.

I hope we can all work together across our differences the best we can, in our own places and ways, to continue to resist it, as well as the broader unhealthy systems it relies on.

A Final Charge

Go team #AssertiveSpirituality! Let’s continue to do what we can where we are with what we’ve got to continue to resist the toxic crap toward a healthier world for us all. We can do this thing.

Want to help keep this work going? It’s been 5 years of this project, and I finally have tip jars set up at Venmo and PayPal so you can help keep the lights on and such (THANK YOU for whatever you can do!). Here’s the info:

Venmo: @assertivespirituality

PayPal: https://www.paypal.com/donate/?hosted_button_id=Q2QWKELCNATBE

Looking for more resources toward speaking up for what’s right and dealing with the conflict that results?

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When Unhealthy Chris…

by DS Leiter Time to read: 10 min