S3, Ep. 19: Gun culture and Christian nationalism in America
Amanda and Holly discuss how the merging of American and Christian identities impacts discussions on gun policy and shuts down some debate.
Segment 1: What is it about Christian nationalism that drives such strong opposition to gun reform? (starting at 00:43)
You can contact Amanda and Holly with your thoughts on the show by writing to [email protected].
Visit ChristiansAgainstChristianNationalism.org for a statement to sign and additional resources on Christian nationalism.
Amanda and Holly mentioned our 10-part podcast series on the dangers of Christian nationalism and corresponding discussion guide. You can listen to each episode individually at ChristiansAgainstChristianNationalism.org/podcasts, or you can visit our “BJC Podcast” feed and scroll back to episodes from 2019.
The podcast discussion guide is also available at this link.
Amanda mentioned Dr. Samuel Perry and Dr. Andrew Whitehead’s book Taking America Back for God: Christian Nationalism in the United States, which uses a model to identify and explain Chrisitan nationalism and its impact on a variety of public policy issues and debates. You can see a quick overview in this one-page document.
Dr. Samuel Perry and Dr. Philip Gorski have a new book out titled The Flag and the Cross: White Christian Nationalism and the Threat to American Democracy.
Dr. Perry’s recent article for TIME magazine is School Shootings Confirm That Guns Are the Religion of the Right
Amanda mentioned this article by David French: Against Gun Idolatry. She also referred to this episode of the Good Faith podcast, with David French and Curtis Chang: Gun Violence, Gun Rights & Gun Idolatry.
Segment 2: How do we see Christian nationalism impacting the debate on guns? (starting at 18:00)
Amanda and Holly mentioned this article from Australia by Nicola Heath: Where do religious groups in the US stand on gun control?
Segment #3: Clergy in action (starting at 35:28)
Amanda and Holly mentioned these two articles:
- A profile of Peter Cook by Edward Helmore in The Guardian: The Christian leader trying to break America’s link between faith and guns
- An opinion piece by Charlie Dates for Christianity Today: White Churches, It’s Time to Go Pro-Life on Guns
Respecting Religion is made possible by BJC’s generous donors. You can support these conversations with a gift to BJC.
Click here for a transcript of this episode
Season 3, Episode 19: Gun culture and Christian nationalism in America
AMANDA TYLER: Welcome to Respecting Religion, a BJC podcast series where we look at religion, the law, and what’s at stake for faith freedom today. I’m Amanda Tyler, executive director of BJC.
HOLLY HOLLMAN: And I’m general counsel Holly Holman. Today we’re going to talk about Christian nationalism and guns in America.
AMANDA: Hi, Holly.
HOLLY: Hi, Amanda.
AMANDA: Good to be with you today, though, I mean, this is a really sobering topic for us on Respecting Religion today. It’s a tough topic, but a necessary conversation, I think, that we need to have. And, you know, just where we find ourselves. You know, we’re in early June. It’s graduation time, end of school time. I know it’s been a big week in your house, Holly. Congratulations!
HOLLY: Thank you. We do have a high-schooler graduating this year and just celebrated that, coming together. But, yes. Even in graduation speeches in our community and I’m sure around the country, people were talking about the difficulties that our country faces and that these kids are facing. And one of those difficulties is recognizing that America has a huge problem with gun violence.
AMANDA: Yeah. Gun violence in general is a huge problem and one that’s on the rise in many communities, and mass shootings in particular, and we have gone through yet another season in the United States where we’ve had these tragedies pile one on top of each other that have focused our attention in, I believe, a new way in this time in our country, and so we felt like it was time for us here on Respecting Religion to focus our attention on this topic.
HOLLY: One very important recurring topic for us this season is Christian nationalism, and we talk about Christian nationalism’s harmful effects on our country’s commitment to faith freedom for all and its harmful effects on the public witness of Christianity.
Of course, if you haven’t heard us talk about this, if you want to learn more, please visit our Christians Against Christian Nationalism website. We’d love for you to sign the statement. The statement is a short list of religious liberty principles that are important to affirm in the fight against Christian nationalism.
AMANDA: Yeah. We have been focused at BJC on understanding Christian nationalism, on creating and sharing resources when it comes to Christian nationalism now for three years. And I did host a podcast series on our flagship BJC podcast back in 2019, a ten-part series that, I think, continues to be very relevant to the conversation, and we also have a discussion guide that accompanies the podcast that could be used in conversation. We’ll put a link in Show Notes, of course, to where to access that podcast series.
And I think as we frame our conversation around addressing gun violence, finding policy solutions that might stem this awful spate of mass shootings in this country, when we frame that around Christian nationalism, we always begin with definitions when we talk about Christian nationalism.
And so Christian nationalism is a political ideology and a cultural framework that tries to merge our identities as Americans and Christians. And we’re going to get into much more detail now about what Christian nationalism has to do with gun violence.
HOLLY: You know, in the aftermath of recent mass shootings in our country, in Buffalo, New York, in Uvalde, Texas, to mention only the most deadly recent mass shootings, we find that we, as a country, are once again in this very frustrating public conversation about atrocities, guns, rights, and political accountability, and whether we will do anything to try to stem these killings.
So on Respecting Religion, we talk about religion, the law, and policy, and we try to take notice of religion’s impact in our laws and culture. Clearly, America has a distinctive and, I’ll say from my perspective ‑‑ and, Amanda, I know you share this ‑‑ you know, a destructive gun culture. But putting that aside, we have a distinctive gun culture.
And we’re not here to tackle that huge issue. Instead, we’re just noting that many of the public ‑‑ many of the public and political conversations about responses to violent atrocities weave in these statements about extreme resistance to measures that would prevent gun violence, or they’re aimed at preventing gun violence, and in them, we often see a thread of Christian nationalism. And that’s what we want to explore today.
AMANDA: Yeah. And I will say I definitely share your view that America’s distinctive gun culture is destructive in many ways. And with the recent shooting in Uvalde, I was remembering back that I actually was in Italy ‑‑ I was studying in Italy when Columbine happened and living with a host family, and the mother in the family was an incredibly devout Catholic woman, a woman who went to mass every single morning, so definitely a Christian in a majority Christian country, and she’s the one who told me about what happened at Columbine, and just her horror. You know, of course, we were all horrified by it, but this sense of how that hit in Italy and in this other culture. And then we’ve seen what’s happened since Columbine.
And I agree. Our gun culture is distinctive and destructive. And, you know, when we focus on Christian nationalism here, you know, we think about how Christian nationalism has an impact in a variety of contexts and is detrimental to political debate on all kinds of policy issues. And when we think about political debate, when we think about policy solutions, I think we are in a particular moment in the wake of these recent shootings where we have much more conversation and potential for action around finding policy solutions.
You know, Holly, we’re recording on Thursday, June 9, and just yesterday, the U.S. House passed some of the most aggressive gun control measures in years, and they did it with bipartisan support. Nearly all Democrats voted for the bill, and five Republicans joined them. And so while this particular bill that the House passed is not likely to have the support needed to pass in the Senate, there is a bipartisan group of senators who are working on a more modest bills that would at least take some action to address it.
So we’re at an important moment when it comes to policy, but to find agreement, something that stands in the way of finding agreement and compromise is Christian nationalism, and in particular, the hold that that ideology has on the conversation over guns in our culture, that it’s making it really difficult to have a debate about sensible gun laws, even over measures that, you know, public polling shows most people agree on.
And there’s ‑‑ I will note, there’s a whole other conversation going on about how reliable some of that public polling is, and we’re not polling experts and not getting into that, but this is something that majorities of Americans agree that we need to do something about it, and Christian nationalism has a hold on our ability to proceed.
HOLLY: We’ll start off by looking to some of the experts on Christian nationalism, academic leaders who have done a lot of studying of Christian nationalism and look at some of their findings.
AMANDA: Yeah. So Sam Perry and Andrew Whitehead have been some of the leading researchers on Christian nationalism, and they wrote an important book called, Taking America Back for God, and based on a lot of their research, they have developed a model to help identify and explain Christian nationalism and its impact on a variety of public policy issues and debates.
And their methodology involves a survey and also individual interviews with participants in their studies. And when they survey, they have particular questions that help identify Christian nationalism, and they can chart how much a person is impacted by Christian nationalism based on whether they strongly agree, somewhat agree, somewhat disagree, or strongly disagree with a number of questions.
And some of those questions are, you know ‑‑ or statements that people are asked to mark their agreement or disagreement with are, “The Federal Government should declare the United States a Christian nation.” Another statement: “The success of the United States is part of God’s plan.” Another one of these statements: “The Federal Government should advocate Christian values.”
HOLLY: So ‑‑ and through that, Amanda, as we’ve learned that through this model and through those statements, that they have sort of identified ‑‑ they kind of identify a scale of commitment to Christian nationalism and really focus on this as an important framework of ideology that really mandates a symbiotic relationship between Christianity and civil society.
So that’s what we’re talking about when we’re talking about Christian nationalism, that relationship that really connects one’s religious Christian identity with one’s understanding of themselves as part of the political community.
AMANDA: Right. And then once they chart this, then they kind of ascribe different sections, so it’s a range of Christian nationalism. You know, those who most embrace Christian nationalism, they call Ambassadors of Christian nationalism. Those who reject Christian nationalism, they call them Rejectors. And then they chart people in between.
So once they kind of have this scale of Christian nationalism, they ask the same participants their positions on a range of policy issues, and relevant to our conversation today, they asked them about their views on gun laws and gun ownership.
And in a survey of 1,600 participants in February 2020, these researchers found that among white Americans who most strongly identified with Christian nationalism, more than two-thirds rejected the idea that the Federal Government should enact stricter gun laws. So, you know, around 67% of these participants who most identified with Christian nationalism were against any kind of stricter gun laws.
And for comparison, those same laws had the support of over 55% of Americans in general, so a real difference here between, you know, again those who wanted it would be about 33%, compared to all Americans was about 55%.
HOLLY: So what we’re seeing is that Christian nationalism and protection of guns or opposition to stricter gun laws are highly correlated.
In another survey of over a thousand Americans in August 2021, the researchers gave respondents a list of rights provided in the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights. Among whites who said America should be a Christian nation, more than four in ten named the right to keep and bear arms as the most important right. That was the most popular right chosen, over freedom of speech and freedom of religion.
AMANDA: I personally think that’s incredibly telling, that this group of people again who so enthusiastically embrace Christian nationalism, when asked, What’s the most important right in our Constitution, more than ‑‑ the number one answer, again, was the Second Amendment, that even over freedom of religion.
HOLLY: So it takes a little bit of exploring to really get into this and try to understand not only what Christian nationalism is and how that is distinct and detrimental to Christianity, but what is it about this Christian nationalism thinking that would drive such strong support for the right of gun ownership and the right to carry guns.
AMANDA: Yeah. Well, Samuel Perry, again one of these researchers, he’s written another recent book with Phil Gorski called The Flag and The Cross, and in their book, they talk about Christian nationalism, particularly white Christian nationalism, as having what they call the holy trinity of white Christian nationalism: freedom, order and violence, not the Trinity that we’re used to talking about on Respecting Religion.
And in a recent article for Time magainze, Sam Perry expounded on what that has to do with gun rights. He wrote, “White Christian nationalism is ultimately about controlling who gets access to cultural and political power, and thus is fundamentally anti-democratic. Access to guns is about protecting the freedoms of white conservatives to suppress disorder.
“This is why among white Americans, who believe that the United States should be a Christian nation, 82% believe and agree with this statement, that ‘The best way to stop bad guys with guns is to have good guys with guns.’ The goal isn’t to rid the world of gun violence. The goal is to suppress bad guy violence with righteous violence ‑‑ our violence. And that requires guns.”
HOLLY: Well, there’s a lot in that article, and we will definitely link it in the Show Notes, a lot to contemplate. We could spend a lot more time on it. But the thing that just strikes me right away is how Christian nationalism, which really depends on kind of us versus them thinking, fits very well with gun culture, and particularly what the gun manufacturers are selling, which is this fear of us versus them, and that you really need to protect yourself, and it’s, you know, us versus them, good guys versus bad guys.
AMANDA: I totally agree, Holly, about the us versus them nature of how Christian nationalism impacts gun culture. Another point that I think helps explain the correlation we see in the research is about identity. You know, we’ve often said that the Christian in Christian nationalism is more about identity than it is about religion or religious observance. That’s how Christian nationalism is described as a cultural framework and not a religion. And that identity goes beyond just gun culture.
David French, a conservative commentator, has labeled it as a gun fetish or an idolatry of guns. And in preparing for our conversation, Holly, I read a piece that we can link in Show Notes. I also listened to a podcast that he had a conversation about this, and an example of a gun fetish ‑‑ it’s not ‑‑ you know, gun culture is, you know, owning guns, maybe hunting, maybe using recreational use of guns at a firing range. A gun fetish is when ‑‑ I don’t know ‑‑ you’re a member of Congress, and you pose with your entire family with assault rifles on your holiday card.
AMANDA: Or you’re another member of Congress, and you make all of your public addresses with AR-15s behind you. You know, it becomes part of who you are, not just something that you own or something that you do. And once you make that kind of gun ownership part of your identity, then when someone suggests perhaps that we limit what guns you can buy or who can buy guns, then it becomes not just an attack on your property rights and what you can own but rather an attack on your identity itself. And that has a detrimental impact on our political debate.
HOLLY: And unfortunately, we see that identity being emphasized not as just an American identity which is tough in and of itself, but a Christian American identity.
AMANDA: After the break, we will talk more about Christian nationalism and its impact on this debate.
MUSIC — SEGMENT TWO BEGINS (18:00)
HOLLY: Let’s talk a little bit about what we hear in the debates and what we, you know, see with our own eyes about guns in America. It’s not surprisingly borne out in the research that we just talked about, from the researchers that have found this correlation between Christian nationalism and any resistance to public policy changes that are aimed at preventing gun violence.
You know, a major aspect of Christian nationalism is the belief that the Constitution was divinely inspired by God, and so similarly, a belief that the right to bear arms is God-given. And if you think that, then any attempts to take away this right or restrict it can be interpreted as a direct attack on the Christian faith.
Some examples that we have seen ‑‑ and these are just a couple of many unfortunately. Recently, a quote seen on a website of a member of Congress, Representative Jeff Duncan, a Republican from South Carolina, says, “The Second Amendment protects our God-given right to keep and bear arms, and these rights shall not be infringed upon like many States have attempted to do.”
AMANDA: All right. Not exactly what I think the Second Amendment says, but ‑‑
HOLLY: Not very subtle. Then a day after ‑‑ just the day after the Uvalde shooting, Representative Brian Babin, a Republican from Texas, said, “The United States of America has always had guns. It’s our history. We were built on the Judeo-Christian foundation and with guns.” Okay. So he just slapped them directly together. Right away. Not even a breath there.
AMANDA: Yeah. I think listeners will be familiar with this language of the Second Amendment in particular being called a God-given right. It’s not the only one that they use, but it seems to come up with quite a bit of frequency. So what’s the impact? What’s the problem with this kind of language, and what impact does it have on our ability to have reasonable and productive conversations about finding policy solutions that would address mass shootings?
You know, I think one problem from a policy perspective and also just a conversation perspective is that this kind of language perpetuates this false history of America as a Christian nation, this idea that our founding documents were divinely inspired or that our rights are based on so-called Judeo-Christian values. Even that phrase, Judeo-Christian, is a more recent invention, trying to layer on religious significance to government action and government rights. So, I mean, that just at its base is a problem with this kind of conversation.
HOLLY: And it may be particularly damaging that it comes up at this time when our country is focused on this horrible atrocity. Right? So we’re paying attention. We’re looking for answers. We are grieving. We’re trying to understand what’s going on.
And then to have our political leaders address the nation at that time and just weave in this false narrative, this false history, this false understanding of our country, so that it just seeps in to, you know, what people are hearing about our country is probably particularly damaging. It probably has more force than maybe if they were just at some kind of gathering with their congressman, talking about, you know, other daily issues where someone might question some statement about our Christian founding.
AMANDA: I think that’s right, and I think part of it ‑‑ you know, we talk about how government and government officials are uniquely unqualified to talk about religion. Well, here we have a situation where, you know, this can really be confusing from a theological standpoint. I mean, to talk about God-given rights in the wake of a tragedy like this, it sounds like, you know, to some ears that God ordains a right to own guns or God ordains some kind of violence. And it directly contradicts the many messages of peace that we find in the Bible.
You know, the Bible is ‑‑ talk about another episode for another podcast, talking about the Bible, but there are mixed messages, to say the least, in the Bible, but there is a strong component of peace and of protecting life in the Bible, and not murdering in the Bible. And so to hear about these God-given rights in the wake of tragedy is definitely confusing from a theological perspective.
HOLLY: It is unfortunate when elected officials have the big microphone, and they do a terrible job as history teachers and a terrible job as Bible teachers. And it’s so clear that their commitment to this idea that our constitutional rights are God-given is so selective. I mean, we certainly don’t hear much about the God-given right to defense counsel.
AMANDA: I’ve never heard that, honestly.
HOLLY: But I think that that shows really ‑‑ I don’t know. It shows a lot of things about our gun culture and, I think, the powerful, you know, advertising campaigns of gun manufacturers, and, you know, just a lot of unhealthy parts of our civic environment, that this would be so loosely thrown out, you know, a God-given right to guns, and that you would have that kind of conversation at the time when we are, you know, focused on just grappling with an atrocity and, you know, the horror of loss and death and trying to figure out what we can do about it.
AMANDA: And I think that speaks to the power that putting God-given in front of these rights has, and those who use this kind of language know that power and that that has the power to stop debate and make it much harder to have meaningful and productive conversations about tough policy problems.
You know, talking about these rights as sacred or God-given manipulates the conversation, and it suggests that these rights cannot be limited in any way, and none of our rights are unlimited. The right to freedom of speech is limited in certain situations. The right to freedom of religion has to be limited in certain situations in order to protect everyone’s freedom. And the right to bear arms has to be limited in order to protect everyone’s freedom to live safely in our society.
And so I think what’s missing in this conversation about rights is the flip side of rights which is the responsibility, the responsibility that we owe to one another and to use the language of “God-given” often prevents that second conversation about responsibilities and what meaningful limits might look like.
HOLLY: The other prominent way that we see Christian nationalism have an effect in these conversations about violence and guns and policy is in the immediate aftermath of these tragedies, these atrocities. People with Christian nationalist ideology often argue that these horrendous events and world problems that they see, you know, relating to them, including mass shootings, can only be solved by promoting, quote, traditional Christian values, close quote.
Often we will hear talk of bringing prayer back in school. Of course, they’re talking about official, state-sponsored prayer, because as we know, prayer is alive and well in individual expression in public schools as well as elsewhere, and government can’t really stop that. But, anyway, they use that kind of false idea that somehow prayer is not welcome to argue that a lack of prayer is the cause for gun violence, as opposed to availability of guns themselves and, you know, the particular action of shooter that’s very difficult to stop.
For example, after the tragic massacre in Uvalde, Texas, Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene tweeted, “We don’t need more gun control. We need to return to God.”
And then there was the Texas lieutenant governor Dan Patrick who said, “In these other shootings” ‑‑ and he mentioned, you know, these other shootings in Texas, Sutherland Springs, El Paso, Odessa, Santa Fe ‑‑ “it’s God that brings a community together. It’s God that heals a community. If we don’t turn back as a nation to understanding what we were founded upon and what we were taught by our parents and what we believe in, then these situations will only get worse.”
AMANDA: And just when we were preparing to have today’s conversation, we got yet another example. Just yesterday on the U.S. House floor, U.S. Representative Louie Gohmert, also from Texas, said, “Maybe if we heard more prayers from leaders in this country instead of taking God’s name in vain, we wouldn’t have the mass killings, like we didn’t have before prayer was eliminated from schools.”
So, you know, my response is, not only is that awful logic, like this idea that, you know, all the mass shootings started after there was an end to government-sponsored prayer in public schools, that that’s the reason ‑‑
HOLLY: As if they’re causally connected.
AMANDA: Right. Not just temporally correlative, but also that that’s just going to solve the problem. So we have too many examples of how this kind of Christian nationalism language comes out in the wake of these horrific shootings, as if it is a legitimate policy solution.
HOLLY: Yeah. It’s particularly galling, as well as saddening to me, to hear these, because, you know, what you do see after these mass atrocities from a positive perspective of religion is communities coming together to try to heal and work together and, you know, provide comfort to each other.
And then these kinds of comments shut down that positive role of religion in society and use it as some kind of stop, you know, some kind of stop in saying that we don’t need then to, you know, come up with common sense or, you know, agreed-upon solutions, but instead just need to return to state-sponsored religious activity in order to stop these atrocities.
AMANDA: I had the same reaction, Holly, that it’s almost like using God to avoid having the policy debate, and in so doing, it’s like claiming that God’s on your side. You know, like, if only we would return to God, God doesn’t want us to reform our gun policies here. God just wants us to pray more to God, and then God will take care of everything. And how ‑‑ “galling” is the right word ‑‑ offensive, frustrating that is to have God claimed in a policy debate like that and in ways that shut down that debate and shut down the ability to come up with solutions.
HOLLY: It’s actually kind of shocking to me that someone would blame the lack of school prayer for mass shootings. It used to be quite common, I think, in the ’90s and earlier times. BJC has seen this in a lot of debates: people periodically call for prayer in schools, and they would say the lack of school-sponsored prayer led to teenage pregnancy or more drug use or whatever the social ill of the day was that someone was focused on.
And, of course, not only as you said are these not causally connected, but all they do is let people off the hook, to deny our personal and communal responsibility to care for each other and to come up with legitimate policy responses and community responses to problems, things that we want to address as a society.
AMANDA: Yeah. And then, you know, back to kind of core to what we talk about here on Respecting Religion, it also presumes that the government has authority in matters of religion, again, that the Government has some kind of role in leading prayer, in telling us how to pray, in ‑‑ you know, in Dan Patrick’s words that you read earlier, you know, that we have to have ‑‑ we as a nation have to remember what we were founded on, and as if government leaders have some role in telling us what we believe and how we should practice that belief.
And the truth, of course, is that government-sponsored prayer is bad for religion. It’s bad for religious freedom. It’s bad for Christianity. Religion flourishes best when the government stays out of it. It’s so galling to use a national tragedy to have just one more inroad to try to get more government sponsorship of religion. It’s adding insult to incredible injury.
HOLLY: What do we do about all of this? Well, I think first we must acknowledge that religious people generally and Christians more specifically are not a monolith when it comes to views on gun ownership and use and on policy positions when it comes to addressing mass shootings. We’ve seen some good reporting of this, including an article that highlights some of the various faith-based advocacy efforts for more gun control.
AMANDA: Yeah. We’re going to link this article in Show Notes. The title of the article is, “Where do religious groups in the U.S. stand on gun control?” So that’s a big question. You know, obviously they’re not going to be able to cover the landscape. The article does talk quite a bit about Christian nationalism and how that influences the debate, the topic of our conversation here today.
But it also talks about a number of faith-based organizations. Some of the ones named here are the Brooklyn-based 67th Precinct Clergy Council, the Live Free Campaign, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and the Episcopal Coalition Bishops United Against Gun Violence, as some of the organizations that are actively involved in reducing gun violence in the United States.
One of the other leading gun control advocacy groups, Every Town for Gun Safety Action Fund, also has an interfaith advisory council that has 18 religious leaders involved in their work, and just ‑‑ they name a number of other organizations that are actively working in this space that show, I think, the great diversity of religious activism and how that is really related to the needs of the particular communities in which they’re working.
HOLLY: In addition, all of us can call out and resist Christian nationalism when it’s used in ways to shut down debate, and, you know, whether you’re a Christian or not, we should be speaking up and correcting those who represent us if they are arguing that these rights are sacred in a way that means that they are untouchable, that they are somehow part of one’s, you know, religious heritage and rights, and that they are core to what it means to be an American and Christian, and when they’re also used as a policy alternative. You know, let’s just pray more and return to God. These are all things that we can note and we can call out and we can try to change the debate by holding our elected officials responsible for such irresponsible rhetoric.
AMANDA: Yeah. And I think also just having these conversations, just as a first step, just realizing how nuanced, complicated, emotional and difficult this issue is, it really ‑‑ I don’t want to call it an intractable issue, because I am a hopeful person, and I think that we will be able to make change. But we have to acknowledge the realities that if it were easy, we would have done something about it a long time ago.
And similar in some ways to some of the debates that we hear about religious freedom and when we talk about that, we also want to understand religious freedom as a nuanced issue, that we resist easy answers, and instead, we seek to have meaningful conversation, conversation that moves to action. And, you know, I think for way too long, we as a society have thrown up our hands and done nothing when even if we have to start with incremental change, we have to do something before more and more people are tragically killed in these instances of mass shootings.
MUSIC – SEGMENT THREE BEGINS (35:28)
AMANDA: So in this last segment today, we just wanted to recommend a couple of articles, showing clergy in action, trying to do something to address this epidemic of gun violence that we are facing in our country right now.
The first article I would recommend is one from The Guardian, and it’s called, “The Christian leader trying to break America’s link between faith and guns.” And this article, which we will, of course, link in Show Notes, is focused on the Rev. Peter Cook who is the director of the New York State Council of Churches. And he is responding in particular to the mass shooting that was perpetrated by a white supremacist in Buffalo that killed ten people in May.
And the article notes that Cook’s message is that it’s the responsibility of white Christian denominations to challenge white America’s relationship with God and guns that is intertwined with white supremacy. And this gets to a topic that we’ve talked about previously, didn’t explore as much in today’s conversation, but the ways in which Christian nationalism and white supremacy are related.
I think we saw some of that in the studies we mentioned earlier, Holly, where the sociologists Perry and Whitehead, their results were focused on how white Christians viewed gun control, and that suggests that there were differences that were more pronounced among white Americans than among others who embrace Christian nationalism.
And we know that the shooter in Buffalo, even though he noted in his manifesto that he was not a Christian, that he was purporting to stand up for so-called Christian values in the shooting. And so I think that’s an important part of the conversation around gun culture, around mass shootings in particular, and around white Christian nationalism ‑‑
AMANDA: — and I was pleased to see this religious leader taking a firm stand.
HOLLY: Yeah. Well, I mean, we’ve said enough in this episode about Christian nationalism and their view of guns as sacredly protected, and it’s very important that we turn our eyes upon all the conversations in Christian communities, making theological and other arguments for nonviolence and for responsibility for each other.
And, you know, the minister that you mentioned that’s featured in that Guardian article says that these arguments don’t have theological integrity, but they use the language of faith, you know, to acquire power and basically, you know, further these white supremacist notions. So I think it’s important that these Christian leaders are challenging their congregations, challenging their communities, you know, to put their faith to work.
Another article that we’ll put in the Show Notes comes from Christianity Today. It’s an opinion piece by a Rev. Charles Dates called, “White Churches, It’s Time to Go Pro-Life on Guns: The Christian majority in America needs to shake off its malaise and work with Black pastors to end shooting violence.”
I found this a really interesting and compelling piece from a pastor who lives and works and teaches and preaches in Chicago, because Chicago often comes up in conversations about gun violence and efforts to reform gun laws. It did so right after the Uvalde, Texas, massacre. Gov. Abbott mentioned it. I think he mentioned it in a way of saying that gun regulations don’t work.
But this pastor is kind of calling that out and calling it for what he sees it as, a racist strategy. And this pastor’s also talking about a lot of cooperation between white and Black Christian churches to be pro-life, and he’s calling on white communities, just as they have influenced his thinking on anti-abortion policies, anti-abortion thinking, he’s calling them back and saying, You’ve got to speak out against this gun culture and work with us.
So it’s a good example of the need for Christians to work together, particularly for white and Black Christian leaders to work together, to use their different political power where they are and where they can make a difference. He recognizes that many of the congressional leaders that are not acting on sensible gun measures are in districts where many of these white Christian leaders would have great influence and could change their minds if they were willing to try to do that and to press them.
AMANDA: And in that way, I think this really prophetic leader in Chicago is urging others to be prophets like him, to use the power of their pulpit, use that prophetic witness, to impact change and to stand against the forces of the culture, some of which a lot of those cultural forces are right within the congregation, which again gets to the root of how Christian nationalism makes this a really difficult issue in these communities.
So these are, I think, two excellent examples of religious leaders who are trying to make a difference in their communities and know that there are many more others like them around the country.
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HOLLY: That brings us to the end of this episode of Respecting Religion.
AMANDA: Thanks for joining us for today’s conversation. For details on what we discussed, including links to the articles we mentioned, check out our Show Notes.
HOLLY: If you enjoyed today’s conversation, share this program with others on social media and tag us. We’re on Twitter and Instagram @BJContheHill, and you can follow Amanda on Twitter @AmandaTylerBJC. Plus you can email both of us by writing to [email protected], and you can see a full list of shows on our website at BJConline.org/RespectingReligion.
AMANDA: And take a moment to find out more about BJC and how we’ve been working for faith freedom for all since 1936. Visit our website for a look at what we do and some of our latest projects, including our comprehensive report on Christian nationalism and the January 6 insurrection.
HOLLY: Join us back here on Thursdays for new conversations Respecting Religion.