I’m No Christian Nationalist (But I Play One On TV)

That’s Robert Jeffress. He would have us believe he is simply a patriot. But his First Baptist of Dallas is a prime example of a Christian church using sacred space for the worship of the nation rather than God. Like its Freedom Sunday, where the whole service was a Pageant of Christian Nationalism, replete with military color guard and salute to our Armed Forces amidst a flag-waving congregation.

“The New York Times has libeled me by characterizing me as a Christian Nationalist”, complains Ralph Drollinger, who runs a ministry to Capitol Hill. If it looks like a duck… yet Jeffress refuses to come out of the closet. And Drollinger claims Christian Nationalism is a fallacy. But not all Christian Nationalists hide their true intent behind clerical robes. “So if Christian nationalism is something to be scared of, they’re lying to you,” declares Marjorie Taylor Greene. “Let’s demonize patriotism by calling it nationalism and associating that with Hitler. Ah, now let’s call it white nationalism,” sardonically said Rod Martin, one of the founders of the Conservative Baptist Network. “Then we’ll call it Christian nationalist so we’ll make it sound like you are the ayatollah. It is all designed to demonize you.” You see, the modern day Christian Taliban is a myth. If Christian Nationalism quacks like Hitler or the ayatollah…

“Listen long enough to any… left-wing group and you’ll believe [the secular] history of America…That version of history… ,” Jeffress preached, “is a complete myth!… America was founded predominantly… by Christians who wanted to build this foundation, this Christian nation, on the foundation of God’s will,” according to Jeffress. And so, the non-Christian Nationalist delivered a powerful rival liturgy to the Gospel story. The operative word is predominantly. There were fervent proto-evangelicals among the Founding Fathers, but there also were non-orthodox Deists and Unitarians, and a very large faction of non-religious influenced by the Enlightenment.

It’s not in the Constitution!” Charlie Kirk was spouting his own brand of bullshit, this time ranting that “we should have church and state mixed together. Our Founding Fathers believed in that.”  They also agreed on the Constitution’s wording, but somehow left out any reference to “God”.  Jefferson didn’t create “separation between church and state” out of thin air. It didn’t start in 1802 with Jefferson’s Danbury letter. Take for example, the 1797 Barbary Treaty of Peace and Friendship:  “As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion…” It goes back further, to the Constitution of Virginia of 1776, which stated that “all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience; and that it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity towards each other.” As if to make the right more definite, the final draft was changed from the toleration of free exercise of religion to its entitlement

America was not founded as a Christian nation. It was a nation of many Christians of all stripes – including repressed Roman Catholics, with several states at the time of the Constitution requiring a Protestant religious test oath to take office. And yes, there was a sizeable Jewish population in America during the American Revolutionary War, with many communities of free-born men, having been settled as early as the 1650s. “The Founders of this nation explicitly included Islam in their vision of the future of the republic”, according to a Library of Congress official. She cites as evidence the words of William Lancaster, a delegate to the North Carolina Convention, who on July 30, 1788, makes the following declaration: “But let us remember that we form a government for millions not yet in existence…. In the course of four or five hundred years, I do not know how it will work. This is most certain, that Papists may occupy that chair, and Mahometans may take it. I see nothing against it.”

“The storming of the Capitol cannot be understood outside the heresy of Christian nationalism peddled by the likes of Josh Hawley, Franklin Graham, Robert Jeffress, Eric Metaxas, and the blasphemies of the Jericho March”, writes Christianity Today’s Tish Warren. We’re only beginning to see the repercussions of church-state domination that the Founding Fathers were determined to avoid. Even after 130 years, the Puritans, extreme Calvinists who wanted religious liberty for themselves – but not others (Arminians, Jesuits and Quakers in particular) – cast a long shadow of intolerance. Regardless of the nice, ambiguous words they say, evangelicals/Christian Nationalists are trying to coerce a religious dystopia onto modern society. It didn’t work then and was discredited. What makes any rational think it will work now? Especially when their Christian Nationalist lies are so transparent to a majority of Americas who don’t want their dreadful God being imposed on them.

“We must oppose the Christian Taliban. I say this as a Christian.”

Given my brief account of America’s original theocracy, let’s move on to the present day, shall we?

The title of this post is U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger’s response to remarks made by his House colleague, Lauren Boebert. (Boebert recently won her primary election with 65% of the vote). “I’m tired of this separation of church and state junk,” the would-be Constitutional expert/high school drop-out complained. “The church is supposed to direct the government”. We are about to get a very brutal real-world lesson in what it’s like to live in a country that doesn’t have that separation”, writes a constitutional law professor.

“We are a Christian nation, founded by Christians, and YES- we should legislate our faith on you. If you don’t like it, get out,” notes Lauren Witzke, who has endorsed making Trump king for life. (My daughter in Vancouver just applied for Canadian citizenship. It’s tempting to emigrate under her sponsorship. For the time being, I remain, and invite the Witzke-ite Christian Taliban of America to leave if you can’t tolerate a multi-faith, multi-cultural America).

Desires for a new American Theocracy are growing. And they’re not limited to Christian extremists. It pervades government, like Governor DeSantis’ “real history”.  Florida’s civics curriculum borrows heavily from David (Mister- history-which-wasn’t) Barton that it is a “misconception” that “the Founders desired a strict separation of church and state”. We see it in the Supreme Court’s religiously-motivated injection of conservative Christianity into law and governance. We see it in school districts whitewashing chattel slavery by calling it “involuntary relocation”.  Frederick Clarkson observes, “when Christian Right leaders talk about religious liberty, they often really mean theocratic supremacism of their own religious beliefs inscribed in government,” Writing in 1910, Emma Goldman observed: “The almost limitless capacity of Puritanism for evil is due to its entrenchment behind the State and the law. Pretending to safeguard the people against ‘immorality,’ it has impregnated the machinery of government and added to its usurpation of moral guardianship the legal censorship of our views, feelings, and even of our conduct.” Despite so much myth-making for the City On A Hill, Christian nationalists excise these unwelcome truths in crafting a New Israel origin narrative to propel their Biblical destiny of theocratic dominion.

“Do not fear theocracy,” Eric Metaxas assures. If “maniacal Christians took control of this country, they would make it safe for everybody else to be a part of this country.” The Christian re-monopolization of American spiritual and political power is happening today, and it doesn’t look anything as benign as Metaxas describes. Following Dobbs, Justice Thomas aimed his intrusive sights at contraception, same-sex marriage and other constitutional rights. Like David Barton with his historical eisegesis, Thomas runs roughshod over decades of stare decisis, claiming his predecessors were wrong. (Conveniently, they’re all dead now and unable to defend their rulings). We’ve seen enough to know there is plenty to fear from a Theocracy. We’re at the tip of the iceberg of cruelties.  Like a state’s draconian laws which deny an abortion to a 10 year-old who was raped, just waiting around until the fifth grader to die in childbirth. Because the “Biblical worldview” has decreed births through rape and incest are the “will of God”. The godly society this maniacal judge envisions will be helped along by his revanchism. No Metaxsas, theocracy would not make it safe for everybody else to be a part of this country.

“Insofar as there’s one God, and he has one son, and there is one way to salvation, and one way to the truth,” Nick (Nazi-Nick) Fuentes declared, “then that’s the way that the people running our society and writing the laws need to be and no other way” “If we are going to have one nation under God, which we must,” according to pardoned felon Mike Flynn, “we have to have one religion. One nation under God, and one religion under God.” The question then arises, whose Christianity should it be? Evangelicals would propose their brand. But whatever faith constitutes evangelicalism is a question with no definitive answer. Does it mean premillennialism, prosperity gospel, a seven day Creation, Sabbath-keeping, or even abstinence from alcohol? Unlike the Puritans who together fit their doctrine under one post-Anglican Calvinist umbrella, evangelicals comprise a constellation of orthodoxies loosely gathered under the rubric known as Bebbington. A framework so vague that many Catholics, Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses could qualify as evangelicals. Evangelical sub-tribes are like groups looking at the sky from different planets. Same stars, disagreeing viewpoints. It is fruitless to frame a specifically “true” American identity if founded on the shifting sands of one “true” evangelical Christian identity.

What sort of church do they see imposed? Perhaps we should take a cue from Founding Father, James Madison, who wrote: “Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other Religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other Sects?” Whose church? Who’s in charge? Maybe the Southern Baptists with 6 million members. Maybe the Roman Catholics with 60 million – and all reporting to one Holy Father.

“That there would be as many (or more) Roman Catholics in America than Protestants but they [Founding Fathers] did not set up this nation to prevent it. They intended the nation to be religiously pluralist.” These disparate and rival religious groups have managed a kumbaya work-around in the Christian Right, driven by a unifying political ideology rather than Christian orthodoxy or praxis that proclaims “My Kingdom is not of this world”.

Like the Puritans, the Christian Right began by espousing piety to God and wound up being the monster they preach against. Everyone sees this dangerous game of hypocrisy will end in common disaster, except they themselves. Theocracy is a chimera; look to the Puritans to see how a Utopia consumes others, and then itself. Perhaps we should all revisit Martin Niemoeller’s prophetic words:

First they came for the Communists

And I did not speak out

Because I was not a Communist

Then they came for the Socialists

And I did not speak out

Because I was not a Socialist

Then they came for the trade unionis

And I did not speak out

Because I was not a trade unionist

Then they came for the Jews

And I did not speak out

Because I was not a Jew

Then they came for me

And there was no one left

To speak out for me

The Perils of American Christian Theocracy: Then and Now.

During last week, I read the bulletin for the upcoming holiday weekend, and decided to skip church. It reeked of patriotic religion, starting out with “My Country ‘Tis Of Thee”. Don’t get me wrong; I am a patriotic veteran, but Christian Nationalism has overtaken America– and the church is no exception.

If St. Paul could boast, “Brethren, I am a Pharisee, descended from Pharisees”, then I am an American of Americans. My direct ancestors escaped religious persecution in England during the Puritan Great Migration. Within their Puritan circles, they lived the “City On A Hill”. The Massachusetts Bay Colony was founded as a Christ-optia, essentially a theocracy. The Puritans pursued policies of rigidly policed morality to enforce a spiritually-correct society, guarding the purity of the ordinances of God against “tolerations of divers religions, or of one religion in segregant shapes”.  Religious intolerance made the Puritans the original Christian Taliban.

The Puritans tried, but soon failed, to be a monolithic religious body. Their Guiding Lights held a monopoly on spiritual and political power. The Puritans had a unitary vision: “one godly ruler, one godly church, and one godly path to heaven, with puritan ministers writing the guidebooks.” But they were a fissiparous crowd who disputed who had the correct Biblical world view. It wasn’t long before theocrats saw flaws in the theocracy of others. “It turns out that even puritans were not always sure who was puritan. They were much better at figuring out who was not, but even that could be difficult”.

Doctrinal disagreement soon broke up the godly elect into factions who deemed the others less godly. Amidst the ideological purgings, a great exodus ensued. Rev. John Davenport removed his church to New Haven Colony. Rev. Roger Williams was banished for “diverse, new, and dangerous opinions”, and took his congregation to Rhode Island. Rev. Thomas Hooker led his parish (including my 7th great grandfather) away to Hartford, Connecticut. Longstanding arguments over the “evidences” of conversion eventually split the Massachusetts Puritans in 1662, by way of the Half-Way Covenant. “All sides saw themselves as besieged by satanically inspired enemies, and Massachusetts nearly fell apart.”

Intolerance was the way in which Puritan magistrates and ministers governed the colony.” My forebears sat at the heresy trial of Anne Hutchinson. Believing that God spoke to her by “an immediate voice”, Hutchinson is possibly the first recorded Charismatic in America. My ancestors presided over the death sentences at the Salem Witch trials. (Including my 2nd cousin 8 times removed, minister of Salem from 1680 to 1683 – the only clergyman executed for witchcraft.)  Coerced virtue led to punishments greater and lesser, including criticizing a minister, Sabbath-breaking, or talking during a dry hour-and-a-half sermon.  Repeat pew-sleepers were sentenced to be severely whipped. Worse were in store for “cursed sects of Christian heretics” like Quakers or Baptists who threatened to contaminate the purity of the colony. Intolerance of religious outsiders led them to be arrested, fined, imprisoned, branded, whipped, sold into slavery, or hanged. And from 1633 on, the Puritans bought, sold, and held enslaved Africans. They engaged in a terror campaign against the indigenous Pequot tribe. In one assault they killed 500 Pequot men, women, and children. A remorseless Puritan John Underhill quoted Old Testament verses to justify the slaughter, declaring that “sometimes the Scripture declareth women and children must perish with their parents”.

The Puritans left England, persecuted by a state church intertwined with the government – and proceeded to repeat systematic religious intolerance in America. State-established religion and religious persecution go hand-in-hand. Theirs was a “Sweet Land of Liberty” – perhaps for them, but no others. The steady drumbeat of Puritan hyper-Calvinism left many in continuing doubt about their salvation, questioning whether their “works” were of God or the devil. What began as ascetic piety evolved into hypocrisy and appearance of righteousness.

The Puritan theocratic experience offers many forewarnings of what an America would resemble if Christian Rightists were to succeed in enforcing society’s conformance to divine rule. Whether a top-down capture of the 7 Mountains à la Dominionists, or over-stuffing institutions with Christian chiefs via Rushdoony/North Reconstructionism, the likelihood is that Trump or one of his fervent acolytes will take office in 2024. Intolerant Christian Rightists are on a victory roll. The survival of democracy in the near future makes the question urgently problematic. The next post will discuss this modern day Christian Taliban.

Praying and Singing Hymns to God

You’d think by the title that this refers to Acts 16, where Paul and Silas were jailed in Philippi. But it’s about a 27 year-old named Tyler Dinsmoor. “He is in a concrete box, but is holding strong. He has his bible, and is singing Psalms!”

Dinsmoor had regularly been posting anti-LGBTQ+ death threats. “All homosexuals are child-rapists in wait, and all (every single one) should be put to death immediately”. What caught the authorities’ attention was his plan to attend a Pride Parade on the following day, “with the implication that he’s going to do something violent unless someone stops him”.

He was charged with felony civil rights malicious harassment with a hate crimes enhancement. Essentially, crimes motivated by bigotry which threaten reasonable fear of harm. (It so happens that he emblazoned the words “Bible Bigot” on his truck). Dinsmoor, who owns “a small Bible Christian family tannery”, remains in jail under a $1 million bail.

You read the words “Bible Christian” correctly. Dinsmoor is a fervent Christian, attending a church where the pastor preaches that homosexuals should be shot in the back of the head. If he had been able to carry out his fantasies, it would have received “the encouragement of those who share his religious and political views”.  Like the Christian Right-dominated Texas GOP, which just declared that President Biden was not legitimately elected, and that homosexuality is “abnormal”. Closer to home, a Give-Send-Go defense fund was started, claiming his only crime was hurting the feelings of a homosexual. Donations are now up to $27,000, with many Christians expressing sympathy with this God-fearing political prisoner.

Juxtapose this hero-worship – à la the martyred Ashley Babbitt – with the resentment directed towards the enemies of Christian Nationalism. Like at a Michigan local right-to-life organization, where someone busted glass windows and defaced the building with pink spray paint. “That “people that would do such a thing … what a sad state of affairs that groups like this ….can resort to terrorism and hate crimes,” the angry Director stated. I’m not condoning law-breaking, but can’t help noticing how Charisma News and other fishwrap are full of these White Christian victimization pieces.

A few months back, I blogged that evangelical churches have increasingly become nurseries of sedition – not simply against an Administration they hate, but more importantly, against the Jesus of the Gospels. This home-grown surge of Christian extremism is largely fomented by religious leaders – there are thousands and they are interwoven with extremists of all types. These pastors, teacher and “apostles” have long practiced stochastic terrorism from the pulpit are seeing their seeds of incitement come to fruition as real world violence. “We’re a mighty army. They’ve gotta listen. They can’t ignore us,” says Pastor Greg Locke – who was at the Capitol while it was being stormed. Inflammatory speech just hasn’t been enough – it seems the time has come to make people listen to God from a gun barrel. It reminds me of Harry Chapin’s ballad, “Sniper”:

The first words he spoke took the town by surprise.

One got Mrs. Gibbons above her right eye.

It blew her through the window wedged her against the door.

Reality poured from her face, staining the floor.

And evangelicals of all persuasions are praying and singing praise to God

Franklin Graham, Ukraine and the Biblical World View

It wasn’t hard to suss out what Billy Graham believed. A self-defined premillennial dispensationalist, his Crusade sermons usually featured some disaster or tragedy he clipped from the newspaper. The world was going to Hell. His steady drumbeat was “accept Jesus Christ as your personal savior” right now before its too late. The late Michael “iMonk” Spencer called this house- on-fire tactic, “wretched urgency”. Graham’s political theology was highly influenced by two prominent Presbyterian churchmen: his father-in-law and oil magnate J. Howard Pew, who stood up his career. Both were John Birchers whose anti-communist End Times paranoia fed into conservative politics and evangelical religion. The Birchers are back. And they’re winning.

In the 1960’s, Graham’s creation, Christianity Today, had nothing positive to say about Rousas Rushdoony and the fledgling Christian Reconstruction movement. It was still bent on revivalism in saving America one soul at a time. Dispensationalism held sway, and Russia was foreign enemy #1 of the USA. Even Reagan said that Gog must mean the communist Russia that set itself against God. Anti-communism was a useful scaremongering resource that filled many ministry coffers. “We are like people under sentence of death, waiting for the date to be set. We sense that something is about to happen… We are now on a collision course”, warned Graham. Back then, the Soviet Union was the anti-Christ. Once scorned, Dominionist theology that Christians are ordained to rule and reign is embraced by a majority of evangelicals. “Rushdoony provided a way to sacralize these ideas”. And Putin’s Russia is the darling of the Religious Right. Funny how far evangelicalism had come.

Following Reagan’s “tear down that Wall”, evangelicals began to look inward for enemies of Christ. And there were plenty of domestic targets. Billy Graham maintained that if all of us could come to the cross, Christ is the solution to all the problems that beset America. But evangelicals began to realize slow motion-saving people from the satanic End Times wasn’t immediate enough to bring America back to its founding Christian principles. America’s strongest adversary was itself: abortion, homosexuality and trans-genderism were the sins destroying the national fabric.

The Bible hasn’t changed since the 1960’s, but the evangelical biblical world view has. Jerry Falwell emerged from fundamentalist isolation to wonder, that if a super-majority of Americans still believed in morality, why is America having such problems? “We must look for the answer to the highest places in every level of government.” Falwell – with his “I Love America” rallies –, Pat Robertson, and a host of others set in motion a pro-family political machine, creating partnerships between Christians who never had talked to each other previously. “There are bigger issues now,” as his son, Jerry Jr. explained. “We can argue about theology later after we save the country.” Previously other-worldly focused evangelicals started to contemplate the biblical reordering of society, which would lead to the Second Coming of Christ. Raised on a steady diet of liberal humanist conspiracies, this was an existential war against the satanic control of America. The centerpiece strategy was to seat Christians into the hands of power. Or usurp it, as in the Capitol insurrection – “marching under Jesus’s banner to implement God’s will to keep Trump in the White House.”[i]

“As the process of dominion extends the authority of Christians over more and more areas of life,” wrote Gray North, “we will see the creation of a comprehensive theocracy.” Francis Schaeffer claimed he didn’t want a theocracy. But at the same time, as his son Frank recounted, “we were calling for civil disobedience, the takeover of the Republican Party, and even hinting at overthrowing our ‘unjust pro-abortion government.’”[ii] Sara Diamond rightly recognizes Schaeffer as an early influencer of dominion theology.[iii] Rushdoony, once a bête noir had now become the éminence grise of theocratic Christian Right politics.

And so, finally, back to the original question. What is Franklin Graham’s “Biblical World View”? His father was a Johnny-one-note revivalist. Praying that God will save the nation has nothing to do with old-fashioned revivalism. Franklin’s focus has shifted towards the “new normal” mandate to take dominion. Dominionism is “being used to bring together a new and determined Moral Majority for the 21st century.” And Franklin is a believer: “Speaking of regime changes—we need one in this country!”

The issue is FREEDOM, the freedom to make our own choices.” Franklin was hailing the Canadian truckers’ convoy as “riding against oppression”. His father, on the other hand, preached freedom in Christ:  “Have you honestly faced the truth of your so-called ‘freedom’? You see, in reality you aren’t free; instead, you are ruled by your own lusts and desires… Instead give your life to Jesus Christ and discover what it means to be truly free.” It’s quite a jump from saving souls one at a time to saving America, and truckers’ “freedom”. Somewhere along the line, Franklin’s biblical world view lost the simple purity of the Gospel message.

“They shut the churches down. This is what the communists did in Eastern Europe”, Graham warned.  Speaking with Todd Starnes, Franklin reminded him that thousands of pastors and priests were slaughtered under the Soviet Union. The same could be said for today, as the horrors of Bucha come to light. Hospitals bombed, civilians executed, children shot, women raped, churches under siege. Russian soldiers running amok, mercenary death squads, abduction and mass graves, intentional terror targeting – like the train station massacre with “for the children” scribbled on the rockets. Shutting down of churches and killing of pastors – apparently Franklin cannot see that this is happening now!

But hey, who cares? Not Franklin; he’s been as quiet as a mouse over war crimes committed by Russia. And yes, a minister – the Dean of the Slavic Evangelical Seminary in Kyiv – was among the hundreds of murdered civilians. Yet Franklin is preoccupied with refugees coming into America. “What’s going on at our southern border is out of control.”

In 2015, Franklin tried to find some silver lining in Putin’s heavy-handed assistance to the Assad government – which included attacks on civilians using cluster bombs, chemical weapons, and thermobaric weapons. “What Russia is doing may save the lives of Christians in the Middle East,” Graham said. The truth is different. “Russia’s military intervention contributed to untold suffering for millions of Syrian civilians”.  The same war crimes are being committed daily in Ukraine.

Interesting which sides Franklin Graham’s moralistic worldview picks. Graham has made several “non-political” trips to Moscow, to have photo-op chats with both Putin and Orthodox prelates, and came away asserting that “many Americans wished that someone like Putin could be their president.” Just before the invasion was underway, he made a plea to pray for Putin – neglecting to solicit prayers for Ukraine. Graham intends to make up for that omission with a trip to preach in Ukraine. (He’s billed it as an Easter service. But it’s not Orthodox Easter (April 24); just another grim day of misery and violence that Ukrainians have suffered for two months. And the days to come will get much dirtier, with the arrival of Russian general Dvornikov – dubbed the Butcher of Syria. With his appointment, many fear “a significant escalation and deliberate ‘terror campaign’ in Ukraine.” Russian media assures its viewers that genocidal vengeance –  a “final solution” – is in the plans.

This is not just total war – Ukraine is a Holy War, with Patriarch Kirill urging true patriots to eradicate scum and traitors. Putin’s war is about the survival of a totalitarian dictatorial regime. Dominionists want to defeat their democratic regime. Graham and Kirill are attempting to reach the same goal from opposite poles. Both, as Kirill defined it, “are talking about human salvation, something much more important than politics.”

Which is why, at Graham’s “Easter” celebration, we’ll hear a hearts and prayers sermon, preaching that sinners need to come to Christ. Meaning everyone aside from Franklin, and his rationalizing and minimizing criminal wrongdoing by Trump. Years of soft-peddling murderous Putin should grieve him deeply as well. Graham praised Putin as inspirational. Either he didn’t listen to Putin’s rhetoric threatening Ukraine since the 2014 Crimean take-over, or chose to ignore his barely concealed hatred – that the “Ukrainian authorities are illegitimate and Russia has to be prepared to act to protect compatriots”. If it were me praising Putin’s high moral standard, I’d be embarrassed to show my face in a Ukraine victimized by a hero who embodies his own Christian values. This is not just a shooting war; there is the second, fundamental war of ideas that drove it. It’s impossible to express remorse for one without repudiating the other. As Mark Silk points out, “as for his issuing a prophetic denunciation of Russia, I’m not holding my breath. It would mean disavowing an alliance he has been involved in for years.”

More fundamentally, it would clash with his Dispensational/Bircher/Dominionist-inspired “Biblical World View”. Ukraine shows us how, that if his theology were realized, it would lay waste to our own country. Maybe the one we should be praying for most fervently on Easter is Franklin himself. And, our future as a democracy.


[i] An online petition calling for Graham’s firing collected more than 24,500 signatures, claiming Graham spread “discredited election conspiracy theories” and “white nationalist terrorism,”– which it contended  led to the riot at the U.S. Capitol. https://julieroys.com/petition-franklin-grahams-firing-capitol-riots/

[ii] Ken Kersch, Conservatives and the Constitution (London: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2019), p. 281

[iii] Sara Diamond, Roads to Dominion, (New York: Guilford Press, 1995) p. 246.

Know Jesus, No Peace.

[NOTE: Follow-on to Ukraine: The Unholy Holy War.]The evangelical thought leaders I’ve described have focused on Ukraine as a binary conflict between two superpowers domination systems – as Walter Wink described them. Empires are hegemonic conquest states. Like a hammer always looking for the next nail, empires like America or Russia exert acquisitive geo-political power. Overlooking our misadventure in Afghanistan (where my son was wounded by an IED) we need only look to Trump’s grandiose scheme to buy Greenland, or China’s menacing of Taiwan.

Military Darwinism determines that the stronger prevail, and we have tried our best to insure we are the fittest. Part and parcel of U.S. support to Ukraine and the “New Europe” is NATO military hardware. Like $2.5 billion in military aid to Ukraine or a pending $6 billion tank deal to Poland. It raises Russian suspicions that the “West is primarily interested in moving its military infrastructure closer to Russian borders, and not in spreading democracy and liberal values”. Decisions are based on what military power permits us to do, rather than morally what we should not. Regardless of Russia’s claim, relying on a NATO counterweight results in a spiral of violence. “The last thing Ukraine really needs is arms.” What Ukraine does need is the shalom of a stable internal and external environment. The country would be much better off if unimpeded to develop its economy and improve people’s livelihoods.

Two all-important questions are noticeably absent in this tale of super-world death match: Ukraine itself, and Jesus. Whether Russia or the Western powers prevail in the war likely to come, it is Ukraine that will be despoiled, left in ruins and human despair. Ukrainians would rather live in peace, coerced by neither military bloc, and allowed to engage in mutually beneficial diplomacy with both East and West.  “Diplomats and political leaders appear in danger of talking over the heads of Ukrainian people, while much commentary has ignored the likely consequences of proposals on the lives of ordinary Ukrainians.”

Violence can never be justified in the name of Jesus. But we see evangelicals like Dr. Land urging superpower America to go in guns a blazin’. They are accountable, according to William Stringfellow, for “naming each escalation and reescalation of war a way to quicken peace”.  On the other hand, we have Putin-flattering Franklin Graham, giving passive assent interspersed with the lazy sanctimony of “hearts and prayers”.  Leading evangelicals having the gravitas to shape policies and perceptions are either too compromised or too disinterested to act as go-betweens. The absence of evangelicals of stature as credible peace-makers prompted Russell Moore to suggest instead that Pope Francis should work with the region’s spiritual leaders to seek a lasting peace.

Is it that God cannot find an evangelical statesman for this calling?

Ukraine: The Unholy Holy War

Ever since Cain sulked off to form his city, humans have found refuge in building empires. Like hammers always looking for the next nail, empires thrive on exerting power over others. Walter Brueggemann notes that empires have insatiable appetites, intrinsically unable to restrain themselves. The United States is such a totalizing empire. So also is Russia. Translated, Ukraine means “borderland”. And that barbed wire frontier is where these antagonistic empires have squared off.

Most American Christians do not know much about Ukraine, other than it is somewhere between Washington and Moscow..  Estimates indicate some 190,000 combat troops50% of Russia’s offensive capability – is poised at Ukraine’s border. The U.S. government believes invasion is imminent. Facing fierce resistance, it would be a bloody and difficult war, creating an enormous surge of refugees, with devastating socio-economic shock across the European continent and beyond. Those who could not leave Ukraine would face a puppet government imposing harsh conditions, mass arrests and reprisals – not to mention an open sore of mass hunger and displacement. Even a “successful” war wouldn’t cease evil; peace at the barrel of a gun just changes the form evil takes.

How Russia acts – and how the West then reacts – remains an open question: one of the pitfalls of recording contemporary history. Facts constantly evolve; with Russia now annexing Donbass and Luhansk regardless of Ukrainian sovereignty. A number of political observers have insisted that “we need to be clearly on the side of the West.” But how should American evangelicals react?

One avenue – taken by Richard Land – is military deterrence. Land construes the Bible Americanly, believing in a strong U.S. military as a central article of evangelical faith. America is militarily strong and morally right; there are no limits to reordering the world that our God-ordained greatness could not bring about. A neo-con hawk, Land advocates “to arm the frontline states from the Baltic to the Black Sea to make it very painful and costly for the Russians to use military force.” This militaristic view is shared by those many evangelicals who, in the words of Walter Brueggemann, “read the Bible with the United States cast in the role of God’s chosen people and carrier of God’s will for freedom in the world.” “I’ll never apologize for the United States of America. Ever. I don’t care what the facts are,” George H.W. Bush once declared. The U.S. in this view, convinced of its own righteousness, is like a church where its foreign missionaries carry guns.

A contrary position held by many evangelicals is, simply put, to leave Russia to its own devices. “Russia did not and does not want to be part of the decadent liberal system”, one evangelical writer declares. He maintains that Post-Christian America is in no position to be the moral judge of the world by imposing “the ‘universal values’ of democracy, human rights, and liberty” upon nations like Greater Russia that don’t want them. In this thinking, Ukraine shouldn’t exist, because Biden’s “woke” America is so corrupted that it is no longer worthy of respect. Another goes so far as to say that if Russia conquered Europe, it would be an improvement. It’s a dystopian view that implies some conflict thousands of miles away is irrelevant to the U.S., which by now should have learned its lessons about policing the world. Yet more than that; it feeds into Dominionist ideologues who proclaim “we’re gonna rule and reign through President Trump and under the lordship of Jesus Christ.”

Doubtless the most visible adherent of this latter view is Trump-admiring Franklin Graham, who sees the rapid decline in American Christianity primarily caused by the ‘progressives’ repudiating God as the source of moral guidance. Putin believes Ukrainians and Russians are “one people”, saved through the Russian Orthodox Church. The Church under Kirill – a convenient spiritual ally for the Kremlin – has accused the West of imposing secular values on Russia. Graham has made several “non-political” trips to Moscow, meeting both with Putin and Orthodox prelates, and came away asserting that “many Americans wished that someone like Putin could be their president.”

“Putin,” writes David Brooks, “has redefined global conservatism and made himself its global leader.” But by far Putin’s biggest admirer is Donald Trump, who “cannot stop praising him”. “This is genius,‘ Trump declared after Putin helped himself to more of Ukraine. Together, they are “new breed of autocrats… people who aren’t interested in treaties and documents, people who only respect hard power.” Like President Trump’s Putin envy, evangelical culture is all about the pursuit of temporal power, awash with alpha males wielding supremacy over their mini-hierarchies. For evangelical diplomats, Mike Pompeo, former Secretary of State under Trump (and likely GOP candidate to take Trump’s old job in 2024) is the genuine article. He offered his admiration for Putin’s savvy in tearing off another piece of Ukraine. “He knows how to use power.”

Again, we should ask, is this how American evangelicals should react? This blog will be exploring that question in the posts to follow.

Ukraine’s Sorrow and Evangelical Guilt

[Note: This post is written as Russia is poised to invade Ukraine. By the time you read it, it may well have already happened].

Putin is ready to launch a blitzkrieg war to crush Ukraine. Like most wars, it will produce nothing of benefit, but inflict death and misery to countless thousands. Could this have been avoided?  Not by American evangelicals. They helped cause it.

Let’s start here in the U.S., where evangelicals overwhelmingly supported a despotic President who flaunted the rule of law and attempted a coup. A man who tried to bribe Ukraine into helping him lie to influence  the 2016. A man who tried to dissolve NATO admired Putin. Both men clever enough to say whatever evangelicals want to hear.

Let’s talk about American evangelicals, whose media constantly barfs out anti-American (and particularly anti-Biden) desinformatsiya. They have become a quasi-religious lobby group who have dismissed Democrats as “just another word for godless”, and who look to enforcing “One Nation Under Their God”.  Whose Dominionist totalism sees no room for democracy – either in America under Biden or in Ukraine joining the godless EU. Whose dispensationalism relishes human suffering because it verifies their nihilistic theology.

Let’s talk about their leaders, like Franklin Graham, having come away from personal audiences with Putin having nothing but praise for his anti-gay and anti-abortion policies, widely reported by Russian propaganda outlets. Not to mention having met several times with Vyacheslav Volodin, sanctioned Putin aide and architect of his takeover of Crimea “to strengthen relationships between the Christians in our countries”. And smoozing with Russian Orthodox spiritual leaders, each bemoaning the “ever-declining moral values in western societies”, and agreeing to joint “defense of traditional morality”.  All this cordiality despite the fact that Putin is repressing Russian evangelicals.

Or, Larry Jacobs of the World Congress of Families, who spoke for many evangelicals by declaring, “the Russians might be the Christian saviors of the world”.  We shouldn’t forget wholehearted welcome of Mariia Butina, an FSB honeypot who attended the National Prayer Breakfast at the invitation of influential evangelicals. “The value system of Southern Christians and the value system of Russians are very much in line,” one connected lawyer mentioned.

Franklin Graham’s latest biblical worldview effort has been to support the Canadian truck blockages. “The issue is FREEDOM, the freedom to make our own choices”, he declares. But what about Ukraine’s freedom? Nary a word, and silence likewise across evangelical media. Not even any wan “hearts and prayers” being pronounced. A queue of Western politicians flying to Russia in a desperate sue for peace, but Franklin Graham hasn’t booked a ticket. And he hasn’t pushed for a trucker’s protest in Moscow, either.

Influential evangelicals like Sen. Josh Hawley thinks it wrong to expand the West’s “liberal order” around the world. Meaning – parroting the views of Tovarich Carlson – there is no reason why the U.S. should help Ukraine defend its territorial integrity.

Ukraine is ripe for the picking, and evangelicals have already picked the side they want to win. They’ve helped make the bed the rest of us will be forced to lie in. Evangelical guilt for Ukraine’s downfall – may God intervene – will be great. Lord have mercy on us all…

A MAGA-Defiant Military

Kevin Stitt is Governor of Oklahoma. He attends an Assemblies of God church in Tulsa. “Under vaccines, I believe in choice,” Stitt stated. This is a governor who named a state highway after Trump, blamed President Biden for a Chick-Fil-A sauce shortage, and who tested positive for COVID. “I was pretty shocked that I was the first governor to get it,” he said. A bigger shock was that the state was recording over 1000 new infections per day. Oklahoma rates in the top 6 States for death rates from coronavirus, and ranks 39th in terms of population fully vaccinated.

If one realizes that Gov. Stitt is not only a politician, but also the Commander of the Oklahoma National Guard, it’s not hard to understand that the Guard is at once a military element and a political animal.  And Stitt is using his authority to stick it to the libs.

The Pentagon has issued direct orders for all service members to be fully vaccinated. Active duty members have largely complied. Those hold-outs refusing are subject to punishment, out of which a number have been involuntarily discharged. The Pentagon’s orders applied to National Guard members as well, with only 40% of Oklahoma’s Army Guard vaccinated.

The problem is, the Pentagon does not command state National Guards, unless/until directed by the President. In ordinary drill status, Guardsmen take orders from their Governor. Through his commanding general, Stitt issued a directive countermanding the military vaccination orders. As if to solidly his showdown with Washington, he directed his attorney general to sue the Biden administration to halt its COVID-19 vaccination requirement.

Stitt was technically on solid legal ground. But in making MAGA points by his stunt, he seriously let his Guard members down. Refusers were essentially locked out of a State system which depended on Federal resources. To name only a few necessities: military schools needed to qualify in their jobs, Federal subsidies added to their pay, the award of Federal medals, and Federal recognition of their promotions. On a unit level, Federal assets on loan to the Guard, such as airplanes, tanks and weapons could be withdrawn. Making this a partisan point against Biden policy has a tremendous organizational downside.

I fully support the authority of the Governor under the constitution and Title 32 to govern his forces in Oklahoma,” the newly-appointed Adjutant General Thomas Mancino stated. (His predecessor, a vaccine proponent, was abruptly relieved of command. It may well be that he stood up for his troops’ well-being and got the chop). His more compliant replacement, Brigadier General Mancino, now finds his second star in limbo due to State intransigence. In one way or another, the quarrel will resolve itself in the Pentagon’s favor.

“It’s the fault of the elected officials,” one researcher said. “They are politicizing members of the military; this is almost unprecedented.”  The standoff has serious implications for good order and discipline, where one component thumbs its nose at the rest of the military. It harkens back to 1997, when the Secretary of Defense ordered the troops to receive an anthrax immunization to protect them from chemical weapons threats upon deployment. While the vaccine remained experimental, some 2 million U.S. military personnel received it. Some – including a number of National Guard personnel – nopted out, either by resigning or bearing harsh consequences for disobeying a direct order. There was no Christian MAGA Right to lobby for them then. Billy Graham was silent on the matter.

It is curious, then, that anti-vax became an evangelical cause; it never was so until it became an ideological marker of Trumpism.. A generation later, and with Christian nationalism in full tilt, Graham’s son took time off from saving souls to help rescue these poor soldiers from a diabolical Biden. Franklin wrote: “Oklahoma’s Attorney General John O’Connor is suing the Biden Administration over their Covid-19 vaccine mandate for the military and federal employees, saying that it “does not reflect the Land of the Free.” I must say that I agree with him… . The pandemic has given power-hungry government officials the opportunity to overreach into our lives—and they will just want more and more control.”

Someone should ask Franklin Graham how a “woke” military mandate to vaccinate against Covid-19 is any more tyrannical than requiring some 16 other inoculations to protect the troops and defend the American people. When I entered the service, my left arm felt like a pin cushion – but it was needed to be world-wide deployable. Especially ask Graham why, given the US death toll from Covid-19 has passed 800,000, with more than 200,000 of those deaths occurring after vaccines became available. A number of military members have lost their lives – the majority in the Reserves or National Guard. Graham has never served in the military, much less having been told by anybody what to do. It’s a different ballgame in the military; you do as your superior orders. Jesus encountered this, “For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes.” (Matthew 8:9)

Perhaps evangelicals like Graham and Stitt fight this vaccine mandate as the devil trying to attack true Christians. If so, we have met the enemy and they are us.

Christian Dominionist Politics and the National Guard.

You may wonder, what a blog about Jerusalem hath to do with Rome? I was a career officer in the Air National Guard – a JAG to be specific. This is an area near-and-dear, in which I have considerable experience. My fear is that the military is becoming more vulnerable to MAGA/QAnon/Christocrats – like Mike Flynn. Flynn, the retired soldier who once swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution, now was advocating a military coup. The hero of  pro-Trump tele-preachers, the former general stood before John Hagee’s church to declare that America must have one religion under God. Presumably, the Christian nationalist one.

Trump loyalists are pervasive throughout the military. “We’re not talking about half a dozen people. We’re probably talking about thousands across the Department of Defense.” Of course, military members are also citizens, with differing political views and voting patterns. As Flynn himself asks, “will having a pro-American set of beliefs and using the word ‘patriot’ get you labeled a domestic terrorist?No, but fomenting a rebellion will.

6 states have National Guard forces that could rival a foreign army. In terms of the Air Guard, several states have more military aircraft than many countries. The question is, why does a peacetime State need combat-ready planes? To fend off attacks from neighboring hostile States? But there are legitimate missions to perform – disaster relief and wildfire suppression, drug interdiction, aero evacuation, coronavirus-related missions and quelling civilian disturbances. But National Guard soldiers and airmen spend most of their time at home base, training to be combat-ready for “when the balloon goes up” – mobilization in time of war. A relic from the Cold War, this force of almost 500,000 part-timers is largely under-utilized during peacetime, although certain elements have been busy performing domestic operations, including border controls along the southwest U.S.

Governors, who under Title 32 are the commanders of their state National Guard, in the past have seen their state military as a political play toy. Seven Mountains Christians seeking to rule the political mountain have found their darling in Gov. Kristi Noem of South Dakota. To kick off her stint as Governor, Noem held a public prayer meeting in which one speaker declared Jesus to be “the Lord and King of South Dakota”.

In 2021, presidential aspirant Noem ordered her National Guard to deploy to the southwestern border. The campaign was – oddly enough underwritten by a private donation from a MAGA billionaire – with critics saying it “set a troubling precedent in which a wealthy patron can effectively commandeer U.S. military might to address private political motivations.” One reservist lawyer commented that “it looks like those soldiers are working for the billionaire or for the donor.”  Claiming ignorance, the Commander of her National Guard said he didn’t know about the financing, adding his troops were “not for hire”.

The message I have received is clear: this deployment is working”, Gov. Noem stated. Meanwhile, deployed leadership ran amok, with a mission ill-defined. Even if the troops had some concept of their job, equipment needed to perform it was withheld. Many slept on concrete warehouse floors. Weeks of endless boredom staring into a vacant desert, performing mindless tasks, living without electricity or showers, and eating MREs even over holidays meant morale sunk to the bottom. Soldiers were getting into trouble with the law, and party-spirit reigned as bored-stiff soldiers binged on alcohol and drugs. One Alabama National Guardsman got busted for trying to buy a kilo of pot. Sexual harassment and discipline problems were rife. Some deserted, others died in alcohol-fueled crashes. “We are literally the biggest threat to ourselves down here,” one deployed officer commented.  

Like the Fourth Crusade sent off on a mission from God, the Tex-Mex adventure met an inglorious, drunken end without defeating any enemy except itself. But turning her military into an instrument of MAGA ideology did brand-building wonders for a woman quickly moving up the ladder of possible 2024 GOP presidential candidates.  Her military foray was definitely not “small beer”, but for her career it was not small potatoes either. And as we shall see in a following post, hers was not a singular instance of governors translating their Dominionist beliefs into military action, with the aim of ruling America as one theocracy under their version of God.