What it will take to achieve religious freedom

Belonging in American society should never depend on what we believe or how we worship or how we identify religiously

by | Dec 15, 2022

I had the privilege to present a TED-style talk about BJC’s work confronting Christian nationalism at the Belief and Belonging Festival in Waco, Texas, in November. I always enjoy visiting my home state of Texas, and this was a special trip. I had the chance to talk about my upbringing and how my views have changed as I’ve studied American history and advocated for religious freedom for all. I want to share the concluding remarks from my speech with you. If you’re interested in watching the full recording, it’s available on BJC’s YouTube channel.

If we care about religious freedom for all, we must dismantle Christian nationalism.

James Baldwin wrote, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

We have to tell the truth about who we are. For some of us, that means telling the truth about what our ancestors did. For others, it means telling the truth about what our ancestors experienced. And for all of us, it will be an act of vulnerability, courage and openness. We have to be willing to complicate a narrative that has given divine sanction to all kinds of evil committed in God’s name. We have to be willing to understand that telling a more honest version of history is an act of patriotism, not an insult to it. And we have to call out the myth of the founding as a “Christian nation” as what it is — a lie that perpetuates white supremacy and bigotry.

This is going to be hard. But, if we do it, we will have the opportunity to tap into that ideal of religious freedom: that belonging in American society should never depend on what we believe or how we worship or how we identify religiously.

And for those of us who are white Christians, we have to be willing to interrogate and understand how we’ve benefited from Christian nationalism. When I look back at that 18-year-old me in front of the VFW Post, I understand why she was so starry-eyed about American democracy and freedom. Growing up white and Christian in Central Texas was not too hard. And I found a way of being Baptist that would affirm my calling as a woman.

But since then, through time and experience and — most of all — relationships, I have come to appreciate how what I experienced as “freedom” is really Christian privilege. And how it is preventing my neighbors from having full religious freedom. Fannie Lou Hamer famously said, “Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.” And I would add … nobody’s free until we dismantle Christian nationalism.

This poison has been seeping for so long that the work to dismantle it will be long. It will take a concerted effort from a diverse coalition working together for everyone’s freedom.

And for those of us who are Christians, it gives us an opportunity to tap into whose we are, to lean into the gospel of love that can repudiate this false idol of power. At ChristiansAgainstChristianNationalism.org, there are resources to help have these honest conversations about Christian nationalism and its threat to American democracy and to Christianity. Join our movement in fighting Christian nationalism. Together, I believe we will finally achieve religious freedom — not just for some, but for all.

I had great conversations with BJC supporters while I was in Texas, and I’m excited to share that BJC will be devoting more resources to our work in the state, specifically the North Texas region, in 2023. We’re currently raising money to start a local chapter of the Christians Against Christian Nationalism campaign there. Once we get underway in North Texas, we’ll be looking to other communities across the country as well. I hope you will help support our work to root this campaign in local communities where there is so much work to do to defend religious freedom. You can make a gift at BJConline.org/give.

Amanda Tyler is executive director of BJC. Follow her on Twitter: @AmandaTylerBJC.

This column first appeared in the winter 2022 edition of Report from the Capital. You can download it as a PDF or read a digital flip-through edition.