The Capitol Insurrection and the Gospel of Violence

February 14th, 2021 - by Bill Berkowitz / BuzzFlash

The Capitol Insurrection Was, in Part, an “Unholy Amalgamation of White Supremacy and Christianity” Infused With “Warriors for Christ”

Bill Berkowitz / BuzzFlash

 (February 11, 2021) —When Donald Trump promised to Make America Great Again, White evangelical Christians interpreted it as Make America Christian Again. During his four years as president, Trump, who is not particularly religious, nevertheless, promulgated culture war rhetoric, appointed an Evangelical Advisory Board, and cultivated a flock of high-profile evangelical leaders to support and praise him. Trump’s penchant for authoritarianism and alternative facts fit well with the conservative evangelical universe.

If Jerry Falwell Jr. hadn’t been sequestered in a sexual-violator-protection-program — after details of multiple sexual peccadilloes committed by he and his wife during their reign at Liberty University were revealed — it is likely he would have been standing by Trump’s side on January 6, when the president called for the mob to march to the Capitol. Then they both would have repaired to a snug spot in the White House, to watch the overwhelming white militia, Christian nationalist, and MAGA crowd carry out their dirty work.

Falwell Jr. and a number of other Christian Nationalist allies of Trump, including Paula White, Ralph Reed, Tony Perkins, and Franklin Graham. Graham responded to outrage about the attack by trying to blame the attack on the Capitol on Antifa, a claim that has been substantially disproved.

Initially, the mainstream media focused on white supremacist/neo-Nazi symbols, and the sartorial choices of the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, and the MAGA hat-wearing mob, and they tended to overlook the prominence of crosses, Bibles, and signs and flags with Christian symbols.

Robert P. Jones, CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute, called the attack on the Capitol an “unholy amalgamation of white supremacy and Christianity.” Via email, Christian author Jemar Tisby, CEO of The Witness, a Black Christian organization, told the Associated Press’ Elana Schor that “violent nationalists have developed ways to deploy such religious symbols in service of their malevolent ends.”

In his January 28 story in The New York Times, Thomas B. Edsall took a close look at White Christian nationalism, and the role it played in the Capitol insurrection.

Edsall leads with a description of Christian Nationalism formulated by Andrew L. Whitehead and Samuel L. Perry, professors of sociology at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and the University of Oklahoma, from their book Taking America Back for God: Christian Nationalism “includes assumptions of nativism, white supremacy, patriarchy and heteronormativity, along with divine sanction for authoritarian control and militarism. It is as ethnic and political as it is religious. Understood in this light, Christian nationalism contends that America has been and should always be distinctively ‘Christian’ from top to bottom — in its self-identity, interpretations of its own history, sacred symbols, cherished values and public policies — and it aims to keep it this way.”

According to Edsall, “The two authors calculate that roughly 20 percent of adult Americans qualify in Perry’s words, as ‘true believers in Christian nationalism.’ They estimate that 36 percent of Republican voters qualify as Christian nationalists. In 2016, the turnout rate among these voters was an exceptionally high 87 percent. Whitehead wrote that ‘about 70 percent of those we identify as Christian nationalists are white.’

In her recent book, The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism,” Katherine Stewart states: “It is a political movement, and its ultimate goal is power. It does not seek to add another voice to America’s pluralistic democracy, but to replace our foundational democratic principles and institutions with a state grounded on a particular version of Christianity, answering to what some adherents call a ‘biblical worldview’ that also happens to serve the interests of its plutocratic funders and allied political leaders.”

Samuel L. Perry told The New York Times’ Edsall that “The Capitol insurrection was as Christian nationalist as it gets.” Perry added: “Obviously the best evidence would be the use of sacred symbols during the insurrection such as the cross, Christian flag, Jesus saves sign, etc. But also the language of the prayers offered by the insurrectionists both outside and within the Capitol indicates the views of white Americans who obviously thought Jesus not only wanted them to violently storm the Capitol in order to take it back from the socialists, globalists, etc., but also believed God empowered their efforts, giving them victory.”

Perry maintained that “the evidence reflects a mind-set that clearly merges national power and divine authority, believing God demands American leadership be wrested from godless usurpers and entrusted to true patriots who must be willing to shed blood (their own and others’) for God and country. Christian nationalism favors authoritarian control and what I call ‘good-guy violence’ for the sake of maintaining a certain social order.”

Greg Locke, the founder of the Global Vision Bible Church in Mount Juliet, Tenn., is a what one might consider a second tier evangelical. While he doesn’t get the mainstream media face-time of many of his evangelical contemporaries, he does have a platform.  In his Sept 2020 book, This Means War Locke writes, “We are one election away from losing everything we hold dear.” The battle, is “against everything evil and wicked in the world.” It is “a rallying of the troops of God’s holy army. This is our day. This is our time. This means something for the Kingdom. As a matter of fact, THIS MEANS WAR.”

The New York Times’ Edsall  asked Philip Gorski, a professor of sociology at Yale and the author of the book American Covenant: A History of Civil Religion From the Puritans to the Present, if Christian nationalists were a force in the Jan. 6 assault on Congress. “Many observers commented on the jarring mixture of Christian, nationalist and racist symbolism amongst the insurrectionists: there were Christian crosses and Jesus Saves banners, Trump flags and American flags, fascist insignia and a ‘Camp Auschwitz’ hoodie,” Gorski noted. “Some saw apples and oranges. But it was really a fruit cocktail: White Christian Nationalism.”

Gorski called the Christian nationalist movement a loose confederation of people and institutions that share “a certain narrative about American history. In rough outline: America was founded as a Christian nation; the Founding Fathers were evangelical Christians; the Nation’s laws and founding documents were indirectly based on ‘biblical’ principles, or even directly inspired by God, Himself. America’s power and prosperity are due to its piety and obedience.”

According to Gorski, “Christian nationalists use a language of blood and apocalypse. They talk about blood conquest, blood sacrifice, and blood belonging, and also about cosmic battles between good and evil. The blood talk comes from the Old Testament; the apocalyptic talk from the Book of Revelation.”

While the focus of federal and state law enforcement continues to be on identifying insurgents and their links to militias and related fringe organizations such as QAnon, it is also important to understand the religious (and ideological) primordial ooze that gives sustenance to such movements. White Christian nationalism offers a wider community that is welcoming and motivating to individuals who may then move on to translate faith into action as Christian warriors.

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