Protestants & Politics 2/2/21
Rep. Kinzinger calling out his church; March for Life pivots from Trump; Christianity at Capitol insurrection; White Christian Nationalism and Lost Cause; Conspiracies; Myths about evangelicals
Betraying Your Church—And Your Party: How Representative Adam Kinzinger, an evangelical Republican, decided to vote for impeachment—and start calling out his church
The letter writer’s message was clear: Representative Adam Kinzinger is doing the devil’s work, and he is possessed by demons. It’s not hard to guess why Kinzinger would receive such a note. He was one of 10 Republican members of Congress who defied their party and voted to impeach President Donald Trump for inciting the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol. Kinzinger knew most Republicans in his solidly conservative district would not agree with him. But the choice was easy: As someone who identifies as a born-again Christian, he believes he has to tell the truth. What has been painful, though, is seeing how many people who share his faith have chosen to support Trump at all costs, fervently declaring that the election was stolen. The person who sent that letter—by registered mail, to be extra sure he got it—was a member of Kinzinger’s family. “The devil’s ultimate trick for Christianity … is embarrassing the church,” he told me and a small group of other reporters this week. “And I feel it’s been successful.”
When you look at “the reputation of Christianity today versus five years ago, I feel very comfortable saying it’s a lot worse,” he said. “Boy, I think we have lost a lot of moral authority.”
Looking to political personalities rather than Jesus for salvation is the worst kind of mistake a Christian can make, Kinzinger said. “There are many people that have made America their god, that have made the economy their god, that have made Donald Trump their god, and that have made their political identity their god.”
What followed was an unusual iteration of the gathering that contrasted sharply with recent years when references to former President Trump, his policies and his rhetoric were commonplace — some voiced by Trump himself, who spoke at the event in 2020.
But in the wake of this month’s insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, perpetrated by supporters of the former president — including some anti-abortion activists — speakers at the March for Life tended to avoid his name altogether. Instead, many made calls for unity, stressed the diversity of the movement and appealed to President Biden directly.
The Christian imagery and rhetoric on view during this month’s Capitol insurrection are sparking renewed debate about the societal effects of melding Christian faith with an exclusionary breed of nationalism.
It’s clearer than ever that Christian nationalism is a threat to both faith and democracy, Whitehead and Christian leaders agreed Wednesday (Jan. 27) at a virtual event addressing the topic.
But the question remains: What can Christians do about it?
Trump's rise and fall unified the two most pernicious, racist myths about America: White Christian nationalism and the "Lost Cause" myth used to exist in opposition to each other. But now they're a singular danger to our democracy.
The merging white Christian nationalism — which requires a triumphant and ongoing American state — and the Lost Cause philosophy — which essentially argues for its destruction so the racist Confederacy can rise — may not have begun with Trump, but his campaign and then his presidency crystallized it. One reason is that the "Make America Great Again" narrative echoes the white Christian nationalist philosophy: When Trump said, "Make America Great Again," many conservative white evangelicals heard "Make America Christian Again."
And they — and those more interested in the Lost Cause — heard its unmistakable subtext: "Make It White Again, Too."
Trumpism added something new, as well: political messianism. The American revolutionaries had proclaimed "No King but King Jesus!" but their would-be modern-day heirs seem to see Trump as, if not Jesus, at least a king sent by God to deliver us from the hands of our enemies. White Christian nationalists had long worshipped a Golden Calf in the shape of the United States; after 2016, they bowed down before an Orange Monarch.
‘The Capitol Insurrection Was as Christian Nationalist as It Gets.’ Religious resentment has become a potent recruiting tool for the hard right.
It’s impossible to understand the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol without addressing the movement that has come to be known as Christian nationalism.
If evangelical Christians are called to live in truth, why do so many believe political conspiracies?
In my decades as a journalist on the front lines of the American evangelical movement, no one could have convinced me it would come to this: Christians so caught up in the deceptions of a toxic political movement that they traded their allegiance to the way of Jesus for the protection of a president.
It’s no wonder that some picked up their MAGA hats and “Jesus Saves” banners to join white supremacists and neo-Nazis at the storming of the Capitol. Trump is the first president who promised to protect evangelicals from threatening political forces on the left.
People I know and care about still hold a shocking but unshakable belief that a deep state, involving the Supreme Court, federal judges, election officials and mainstream media, stole the White House from Donald Trump.
But conspiracy theories have become a growing concern for many pastors and church leaders across the country. In a recent Lifeway Research study, 49% of U.S. Protestant pastors say they frequently hear church members repeating conspiracy theories. While spreading harmful information has no religious or ideological limits, such dangerous explanations have a long, unfortunate history among Christians.
Church historians, Christian apologists, and those who have personally suffered as a result of conspiracy theories say followers of Christ must be concerned with seeking and following truth.
Once commonly referred to as “born-again” Christians — in contrast to mainline Protestants such as Presbyterians, Episcopalians and Lutherans — evangelicals have, in recent decades, become increasingly influential in American religion, culture and politics. Their movement is associated with figures such as Billy Graham and Jerry Falwell Sr. and is particularly strong in the South. It represents a range of communities and beliefs, but myths abound.