Troubling growth of Christian nationalism on display in the pulpit, on the campaign trail
In recent days, several troubling expressions of Christian nationalism have surfaced in the news, which is both a disturbing trend and a reminder of the dangers of equating political identity with religious identity. Unfortunately, Christian nationalism appears to be creeping into our political discourse with increasing ease.
A Baptist pastor in Tennessee received national attention when he called on Democrats in his congregation to leave, falsely proclaiming “you cannot be a Christian and vote Democrat in this nation,” and accusing Democrats of being “demons” that “hate this nation.” You can watch a clip of his sermon here. Pastor Greg Locke previously made news for hosting a book burning, attending the insurrection rally on January 6, and calling Hillary Clinton a “high priestess in the Satanic church.”
Picking sides from the pulpit in an election contest would be problematic enough. It jeopardizes 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status (Americans United called on the IRS to investigate the tax-exempt status of Locke’s church in light of his statements, and video of this past weekend shows Locke claiming he has already dissolved it). But, picking partisan sides also risks one’s prophetic voice and dividing the congregation. Demonizing – literally! – political adversaries during a sermon is especially offensive. As Tennessean opinion writer LeBron Hill explained in response, “Yes, you can vote for a Democrat and be a Christian.”
In Georgia, a candidate for governor went so far as to dismiss the separation of church and state altogether, proclaiming at a campaign stop, “The church runs the state of Georgia. … We decide what happens.” Kandiss Taylor, whose campaign slogan was “Jesus, Guns, Babies,” also made news when she praised the “sacrifice” made by Native Americans “for us to have the freedom“ to “worship Jesus freely that we have today.”
Meanwhile, a party’s nominee for governor in Pennsylvania claims that those who believe, like he does, that the 2020 presidential election was illegitimate, “have the power of God with us.”
“It is the season of Purim,” [Doug Mastriano] said at a March event in Lancaster, referring to the Jewish holiday celebrated in the Book of Esther. “And God has turned the tables on the Democrats and those who stand against what is good in America. It’s true.”
The Philadelphia Inquirer calls Mastriano “the epitome” of the resurgent Christian nationalism movement.
This election season, expressions of Christian nationalism have seemed to become increasingly brazen and unfiltered. The pernicious belief that God supports one’s political views and is opposed to your rivals is as dangerous as it is wrong. We saw all too well on January 6, 2021, how these viewpoints can lead to violence and undermine democracy.
It demands a clear and coherent response from Christians committed to religious liberty for all. To lend your voice, visit Christians Against Christian Nationalism and sign the statement condemning Christian nationalism as a “distortion of the gospel of Jesus and a threat to American democracy.”
And, if you have questions about the tax laws that apply to all 501(c)(3) organizations – which includes most churches – BJC has a helpful one-page guide that provides a general overview of the permissible and problematic activities under the tax code when it comes to partisan campaigns.