Democracy in action

On a beautiful March evening in the nation’s Capitol building, I experienced a hopeful moment of representative democracy.

by | Apr 2, 2024

I make it a point each year to watch the State of the Union. This year, I had the privilege of attending it in person, representing the millions of Americans who are concerned about the dangers of Christian nationalism. It was an honor to take your concerns and share them directly with our nation’s leaders at this critical moment in American history.

We all know that members of Congress are elected to represent us in Washington, and we see most of them gather together for this speech every year. But you may not know that each member of Congress also gets to invite one guest to attend the speech. I was invited by Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif., who has been an important ally in calling out the dangers of Christian nationalism.

As an invited guest, I watched the speech from the House gallery — the upper level seating section surrounding the House floor. Though the members of Congress sit according to party, their guests had randomly assigned seats in the gallery. I was surrounded by people who came at the invitation of both Republicans and Democrats, and we were there to represent our country, albeit in a different way. Some were invited because of their relationship to the member of Congress — be they a spouse or a staffer. Many of us were there because we have a connection to a political issue of importance to the member of Congress who invited us.

Rep. Huffman’s invitation to me was surprising to some. We have found common cause in drawing attention to the urgent threat Christian nationalism poses to our democracy. Rep. Huffman is the only member of Congress who has spoken against Christian nationalism in a floor speech — an act that can have both political and personal consequences. I have testified twice in Congressional committees about how Christian nationalism distorts Christianity and violates religious freedom, including by inspiring white supremacist violence.

We’ve worked together across lines of difference — I’m a Baptist, and he, as a Humanist, is the only openly non-religious member of Congress. The American Humanist Association, which has been a coalition partner of BJC for many years, defines Humanism as “a progressive philosophy of life that, without theism or other supernatural beliefs, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good.”

Pluralism in our country isn’t watering down each other’s beliefs — it means being open, honest and dedicated in our beliefs. And, we don’t have to share a religious identity to work together on important issues, even as we come to the work from our own religious or secular perspectives.

As a guest of a member of Congress, I was able to attend a reception to meet some of his colleagues in the House of Representatives. In fact, thanks to our shared cause, Rep. Huffman often made it a point to tell others about our work at Christians Against Christian Nationalism, specifically how Christians are calling out Christian nationalism as a gross distortion of the teachings of Jesus.

I’m inspired by Rep. Huffman, who used his one invitation to shine a spotlight on this issue — not just to his constituents, but to his colleagues, too. Who do we know in our own communities that might be open to talking about this if we find a way to break the ice? How can we encourage the leaders of this country to have the political courage to name this threat and take it seriously?

In this fraught political year that is so often marked by division and discord, it can be tempting to succumb to despair. But on a beautiful March evening in the nation’s Capitol building, I experienced a hopeful moment of representative democracy. Meeting with members of Congress and their guests, I expressed the concerns that matter to us, and I listened to and was inspired by the stories of Americans from diverse backgrounds. I was honored to be there to create new conversations and show that yes, there are Christians who know the dangers of Christian nationalism, and we are ready to work with anyone to stop it.

Listen to more of Tyler’s reflections on attending the State of the Union on Respecting Religion (Season 5, Episode 20).

Amanda Tyler is executive director of BJC.

This article first appeared in the spring 2024 edition of Report from the Capital.  You can download it as a PDF or read a digital flip-through edition