Midway through God and Country, a panel on Christian Nationalism at this weekend’s annual Texas Tribune Festival, Dr. Anthea Butler of the University of Pennsylvania gave a brief lesson on the many groups that Evangelical Christians have attacked since the 1940s. It was an impressive list.
In the 1950s, Butler said, the Evangelical Christian community opposed Communists, who they conflated with civil rights supporters. In the 1960s, it was civil rights supporters and those in support of secular public schools. In the Seventies, it was feminists and gays. In the Eighties and Nineties, gay people, Blacks, and Hispanics. In the aughts, Barack Obama supporters and gun control advocates. In the 2010s, immigrants. And today, the trans population.
Along the way, Butler said, Evangelicals got deeply involved in politics and became the dominant voice in the Republican Party. “These culture wars that started off as morality turned into political action,” she concluded. “So you can talk about culture wars as being Biblical, but if you do, you miss the political action that is happening. I have to ask, what is the use of saying ‘culture war’ when what the war is about is power?”
Today extreme Evangelicals are known as Christian Nationalists, and it has become impossible to deny the links between them and white supremacists. “Christian Nationalism does provide cover for white supremacy and racial subjugation,” said Amanda Tyler, Executive Director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty. “It uses the gospel as respectability for the racism, for the exclusion. Christain Nationalism tells a narrative about who really belongs here.”
Butler and Tyler were joined by a third panelist, Bart Barber, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention, who said that research shows that many Christian Nationalists don’t actually attend church. Barber agreed with Tyler that Christian Nationalism fuels extreme policy proposals by Republicans, especially here in Texas. Tyler said the proposals are getting more radical in the wake of the Supreme Court’s recent rulings that weaken the separation of church and state doctrine, describing Republican efforts in the last legislative session to pass a law to put copies of the 10 Commandments on the wall of every public school classroom in the state.
That law was not passed but one that was will require school districts across the state to vote on whether to pay Christian-only chaplains to minister to their students. Undoubtedly, many school districts will choose to do so. Tyler explained that the school chaplain bill was the result of concerted lobbying by Christian Nationalists under the name of the Mission Generation. “They tell you what their aim is,” Tyler said of Mission Generation. “Their aim is to disciple … children into the faith through the use of school chaplains. So they are going to statehouses and asking school boards to allow school chaplains into their buildings so that they can proselytize and convert young people.
“If this is not an incursion on religious freedom and parental rights, I don’t know what is. And yet we have the state of Texas passing this first-of-a-kind bill.”
Got something to say? The Chronicle welcomes opinion pieces on any topic from the community. Submit yours now at austinchronicle.com/opinion.