As revelations about the January 6th 2021 storming of the United States Capitol continue to emerge, what is emerging as well is the strong involvement of far-right Christian nationalists. Already, as the supporters of the former president rallied near the White House early on January 6th, the former president urged them to go to the Capitol and to “fight like hell.” A rowdy group of young men waving their “America First” flags, began chanting: “Christ is King!” 

As the insurrectionists moved on to the Capitol, many carried bibles, wooden crosses, and banners proclaiming “Proud American Christian” and “Jesus Saves.” The far-right organization, Proud Boys, gathered in a prayer rally near the Washington Monument. One fellow prayed into a bullhorn: “God will watch over us as we become proud.”  Other Proud Boys joined him and looking up to the sky began yelling: “We love you God!”

Several ideological currents animate the U.S. far-right: racism, antisemitism, and fervent nationalism. But Christian nationalism has come to serve as a unifying element. What we see today is reminiscent of the Ku Klux Klan, which flourished in the post Civil War era and again in the 1920s. It was an extremist terrorist movement that targeted African Americans, Jews, Latinos, Asian Americans, Catholics, and Native Americans. I recommend a book by  Kelly J. Baker Gospel According to the Klan, The KKK’s Appeal to Protestant America, 1915-1930. Baker, who completed her doctorate at Florida State University in 2007, is a well-informed commentator on contemporary religion and its intersections with race, class, gender, and violence.

Linking patriotism and religious piety has become common among U.S. far-right Christian nationalist movements. Radicalized Christian nationalism is a growing threat to U.S. democracy as well organized factions are working to turn the country into something resembling a theocracy. Christian nationalism has also become a common theme among anti-vaccine activists and the extremist QAnon ideology, which has prospered in many evangelical Christian groups. And today some Christian nationalists are in fact energizing their movement with opposition to coronavirus vaccines and face mask mandates.

A more sinister element of Christian nationalist movements is a growing ideology that claims, among other things, that Jesus of Nazareth was a white Aryan and that very soon the “end times” will arrive through a racial holy war. In fact, like most people in Judea and Egypt around his time, Jesus most likely had brown eyes, dark brown to black hair and olive-brown skin.

The white-skinned ideology about Jesus, however, is directly linked with a nonsensical but dangerous propaganda development being spread by the prominent QAnon influencer “GhostEzra” about the “two-seedline theory.” The belief also called the “serpent seed” is a far-right fringe religious belief which bizarrely interprets the Genesis account of Adam and Eve. It states that the Serpent also mated with Eve in the Garden of Eden. This event resulted in the creation of two races: the wicked descendants of the Serpent and the righteous descendants of Adam. The man, who goes by “GhostEzra” by the way, is Robert Smart of Boca Raton, Florida. He is an open Nazi who praises Hitler, admires the Third Reich, and denounces the supposedly treacherous nature of Jewish people.

A prominent American Pentecostal minister in the 1940s and 1950s, William Branham, with links to the Ku Klux Klan, also promoted the “serpent seed” doctrine. Branham taught that the Serpent had sexual intercourse with Eve and their offspring was Cain, whose modern descendants appear to be educated people and scientists but are really (in Branham’s words) “a big religious bunch of illegitimate bastard children.” Branham accused Eve & Serpent of producing an evil “hybrid” race. He traced that hybrid line to Catholics, Africans, multiple figures in Jewish history, and the Antichrist.

Adherents of the “serpent seed” ideology do not believe that Jewish people are the true chosen people of God because, they say, not all of them are “white.” In their view, only white people are the descendants of Adam and therefore only white people are the chosen people of God. Yes it is ridiculous but very sinister. Judaism is not a race, it’s a religion. And the Adam and Eve account in Genesis 1:26 to Genesis 5:5 is a symbolic religious narrative not a precise historical report.

Another book recommendation is White Too Long, the Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity by Roberto P. Jones, the CEO and founder of the Public Religion Research Institute in Washington, DC.

The dangerous “serpent seed” nonsense has been appearing in QAnon and Proud Boys media links, coupled with growing antisemitism. When Art Spiegelman had learned on January 10th 2022 that Maus — his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about his family’s experience during the Holocaust — had been banned by a Tennessee school board, he told the Washington Post: “It’s part of a continuum, and just a harbinger of things to come. This is a red alert.” In the last week of January 2022, by way of example, three synagogues in Chicago were vandalized.

Published in 1991, Maus is inspired by the story of Spiegelman’s parents, Vladek and Anja, who survived the Holocaust after being shipped to the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland. The graphic novel depicts Nazis as cats and Jewish people as mice.

A study conducted by George Washington University’s Program on Extremism revealed a December 2021 internet post by Mike Lasater, president of the St. Louis Proud Boys chapter which stated: “Our time is not up. It is the Jewish hegemony whose days our numbered. This is a Christian nation.” (Ironically, Lasater says his path to the far right began rather far on the left. He voted for Obama in 2008 as a “socialist-leaning Democrat,” but his politics shifted as he started watching Fox News.)

U.S. Christian nationalism is a virus. More dangerous than Covid and Omicron. It is perverted religion. You think it is fading or under control then it reappears in new configurations. There are no vaccinations or face masks to protect us. 

To paraphrase the historical Jesus in John 8:32: only the truth will set us free. With clear vision we need to observe, judge, and act. Here are my points for perverted religion virus alerts. They apply to individuals, to local communities, and to larger church organizations. 

Healthy religion builds bridges between people. Perverted religion sets up barriers between people and creates qualitative classes of people.

  • Healthy religion strengthens a basic sense of trust and relatedness to people. Perverted religion feeds fear and distrust of the other and negatively stereotypes “the other.”
  • Healthy religion stimulates personal responsibility. Perverted religion puts all the blame on the other and promotes further polarization.
  • Perverted religion’s primary concern is controlling people’s surface behavior. The big show. Healthy religion is concerned about the underlying faith and values that shape a person’s life outlook and behavior.
  • Healthy religion helps people find the sacred in life, with all of its ups and downs. Perverted religion has a narrow vision and even justifies the horrific as holy.
  • Healthy religion encourages all people to deal kindly with others, overcome personal selfishness, and create just and caring communities. Perverted religion categorizes certain people as evil and unworthy of life.
  • Healthy religion sees religion as a way to support and liberate people. Perverted religion sees religion as a way to use and control people.
  • Healthy religion encourages intellectual honesty, questioning, and doubts. Perverted religion condemns the questioner and demands unquestioned loyalty. 
  • And, of course, healthy religion emphasizes love and growth.

Be well. Be healthy.

– Jack

13 thoughts on “U.S. Christian Nationalism

  1. Thank you, Dr. Jack, for the historical analysis, and for your “virus alerts” which amount to a program of resistance, not only for personal wholeness, but also for social cohesion. It seems “we,” meaning Sapiens in the fleshy-now across the planet, needs a mental mutation to step up to the next level of consciousness, or to sound Teilhardian, into the noosphere. Sapiens doesn’t regress: humans experience, sense, and think about the burden of living in a non-linear, spherical mode. In other words, I think history is not some thing, some inevitable singularity, that determines our fate and thereby precludes free will and intentionality. What has happened historically and what will come is already present, in the “fleshy-now.” Perhaps that resonates with you too, as an historian.

    As you point out, our duty– what we need to do– lies in clearing our personal field of vision and vocalizing resistance within our communities to what is “utterly absurd,” which really means ending the appalling silence and muting of what should be an outcry against inhuman and unethical “leadership” in Congress and local politics. Jesus himself is recorded to have thrown furniture around and tossed out the fat cats in the temple. (The passage was included, I think, for pondering the uncomfortable truth behind conflating religion, politics, and profit.) Some of our brothers and sisters in these frantic and desperate economic and spiritual times might be influenced, motivated or impelled to anti-social actions by the ranting and bull-horning of opportunistic false-messiahs. But this is not news, nor is it fate: that mental dead-end was concluded by Jesus on the cross, consummatum est.

    You have once again amplified the call to circumspection, perception and to deep listening for addressing the needs of others– what we must do– for the sake of all life, larger life, a larger realization beyond the limited perspective vectored on an illusory vanishing point. Camus, in La Peste, puts the leap of faith, the metanoia, in terms of “our reliance upon and our need for each other,” with universal vigilance, because the rats will return.

    This blog page itself is an action, forging another link in the human chain of resistance and consolation with testimony, poems, letters that give voice and encouragement for courageous deeds in resisting evil and the virus of deathly exclusion.

  2. Let’s not forget the role played by the pervasive ideology of misogyny. The God they pray to is the almighty omnipotent Father God whose existence implicitly justifies the domination of powerful males over less-powerful males, as well as over all females, children, and non-binary persons.

    1. William Branham was a raging misogynist and as a woman, it took me years to heal from hearing his teachings.

  3. Dear Jack,
    Your description of the many distortions of “Christianity” are horrific and unbelievable. How do people espouse such awful corruptions of the beautiful, loving, inclusive world that Jesus promises us if we follow Him? How can the love that Jesus brings be so twisted into its opposite? Perhaps Abraham Lincoln captured the essence of these hideous versions of “religion”: “My concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side.” The Jesus we know gives us such a different way to live and love.

  4. Thanks for these guidelines, Jack. They serve for any community of people living in Godly ways. In this time, I’m especially happy to see your penultimate “rule,” intellectual honesty, questioning, and doubts. Perverted religion condemns the questioner and demands unquestioned loyalty.
    As new scientific knowledge as well as the social sciences increase our understanding of the universe and humankind, we need to always be asking questions and explaining our faith in God. I’m reminded of
    1 Peter 3:15, “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the HOPE that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”

  5. Cindy’s quote from Peter prompts me to consider again how hope precedes faith, at least initially to the extent that “I believe that I believe.”

    Udoli’s lament is a Janus-facies, i.e. the consolation of sadness is often assuaged by truth, though it takes time for it to sink in. The reverse of the lament is also true and frightful, i.e., when (not if) fascism gains ground, it will pervert religion. Witness the Confessing Church of Bonhoeffer.

    Thanks to Frank Skeltis, who helps me appreciate Lincoln once again, especially this month. Lincoln engaged himself, and some in his cabinet, in the binding of the nation’s wounds: where are our Lincoln’s today? Michael Ignatieff recently writes of how we are now struggling with the same “tidal force of political malice that recurrently rises to threaten the hard-won civility on which a democracy depends.” That goes for the churches, too, if religion is basic to being human. What “saves us” in the fleshy-now is not doctrine, but solidarity, the company of our co-sufferers. We are not alone but linked in a vast human chain of witness to the grief and the feelings of others. Salvation depends up salve, applying balm by hand, one on one, in this wide old world, if only to soothe if not to heal; but do something after seeing and thinking.

    Resistance in the face of evil, of pandemics, of the maladies and malfeasance that plague us and spawn theories like theodicy, means taking the Beatitudes to heart and to hand, like consoling the bereaved, accompanying the lonely. Camus knew this and wrote of Dr. Rieux struggling like Sisyphus against the pandemic and the rats, in “The Plague” 76 yrs ago.

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