Saturday, May 28, 2022
I think everyone realizes that none of what Republicans are saying about how to respond to mass shootings will translate into actual policy proposals. They’re barely even trying to make sense. Instead, they’re just making noise to drown out rational discussion until the latest atrocity fades from the news cycle. The truth is that conservatives consider mass shootings, and for that matter America’s astonishingly high overall rate of gun deaths, as an acceptable price for pursuing their ideology.
But what is that ideology? I’d argue that while talk about America’s unique gun culture isn’t exactly wrong, it’s too narrow. What we’re really looking at here is a broad assault on the very idea of civic duty — on the idea that people should follow certain rules, accept some restrictions on their behavior, to protect the lives of their fellow citizens.
In other words, we should think of vehement opposition to gun regulations as a phenomenon closely linked to vehement (and highly partisan) opposition to mask mandates and vaccination in the face of a deadly pandemic, vehement opposition to environmental rules like the ban on phosphates in detergent, and more.
I don’t fully understand where this aversion to the basic rules of a civilized society is coming from. What’s clear, however, is that the very people who shout most about “freedom” are doing their best to turn America into a “Hunger Games”-type dystopian nightmare . . . .
What makes this Republican/conservative rejection of the concept of the common good so dangerous are the structural flaws in America's constitutional system that increasingly allow a toxic minority to trapple on the will of the majority of Americans. A piece in The Atlantic looks at the problem which has been touched on before on this blog. Here are highlights:
After each of the repeated mass shootings that now provide a tragic backbeat to American life, the same doomed dance of legislation quickly begins. As the outraged demands for action are inevitably derailed in Congress, disappointed gun-control advocates, and perplexed ordinary citizens, point their fingers at the influence of the National Rifle Association or the intransigent opposition of congressional Republicans. Those are both legitimate factors, but the stalemate over gun-control legislation since Bill Clinton’s first presidential term ultimately rests on a much deeper problem: the growing crisis of majority rule in American politics.
Polls are clear that while Americans don’t believe gun control would solve all of the problems associated with gun violence, a commanding majority supports the central priorities of gun-control advocates, including universal background checks and an assault-weapons ban. Yet despite this overwhelming consensus, it’s highly unlikely that the massacre of at least 19 schoolchildren and two adults in Uvalde, Texas, yesterday, or President Joe Biden’s emotional plea for action last night, will result in legislative action.
That’s because gun control is one of many issues in which majority opinion in the nation runs into the brick wall of a Senate rule—the filibuster—that provides a veto over national policy to a minority of the states, most of them small, largely rural, preponderantly white, and dominated by Republicans.
The disproportionate influence of small states has come to shape the competition for national power in America. Democrats have won the popular vote in seven of the past eight presidential elections, something no party had done since the formation of the modern party system in 1828. Yet Republicans have controlled the White House after three of those elections instead of one, twice winning the Electoral College while losing the popular vote. The Senate imbalance has been even more striking.
Senate Republicans have represented a majority of the U.S. population for only two years since 1980, if you assign half of each state’s population to each of its senators. But largely because of its commanding hold on smaller states, the GOP has controlled the Senate majority for 22 of those 42 years.
The practical implications of these imbalances were dramatized by the last full-scale Senate debate over gun control. After the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut, the Senate in 2013 voted on a measure backed by President Barack Obama to impose background checks on all gun sales. . . . the 54 senators who supported the bill . . . represented 194 million Americans. The remaining senators who opposed the bill represented 118 million people. But because of the Senate’s filibuster rule, which requires the backing of 60 senators to move legislation to a vote, the 118 million prevailed.
In their opposition to gun control, Republicans in Congress clearly are prioritizing the sentiments of gun owners in their party over any other perspective, even that of other Republican voters.
[S]ignificant majorities of Americans support background checks (81 percent), an assault-weapons ban (63 percent), and a ban on high-capacity ammunition magazines (64 percent); a majority also opposes concealed carry of weapons without a permit. Majorities of Republicans who don’t own guns shared those opinions . . . Despite all of this, Republican elected officials, in their near-lockstep opposition to gun control, have bent to groups like the NRA in equating almost any restrictions as a sign of disrespect to the values of red America.
The Senate’s small-state bias is impeding legislative action on other issues on which Americans broadly agree, including climate change, abortion, and immigration. As with gun control, polls consistently show that a majority of Americans support acting on climate change, oppose overturning Roe v. Wade, and back comprehensive immigration reform, including offering legal status to undocumented immigrants (especially young people brought into the country by their parents).
If there is any hope for congressional action on gun control in the aftermath of the Uvalde tragedy—or another mass shooting in the future—it almost certainly will require reform or elimination of the filibuster. Otherwise, the basic rules of American politics will continue to allow Republicans to impose their priorities even when a clear majority of Americans disagree. The hard truth is that there’s no way to confront America’s accelerating epidemic of gun violence without first addressing its systemic erosion of majority rule.
As the tyranny of the minorityincreases, one has to wonder when the majority will decide that the system must be torn down so that the hates, biases and grievances of the few in relative terms no longer subvert the common good of the majority.
Friday, May 27, 2022
In 1985 Gilbert Gauthe, a cowboy-boot-wearing showboat of a priest in southern Louisiana, was convicted of abusing dozens of altar boys. It was one of the first of the sexual-abuse scandals that for three decades have rippled through the Catholic Church, devastating the institution. Millions of Americans and Europeans have left it.
America’s biggest Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptists, now faces the same reckoning. . . . . its national executive stonewalled and prevaricated, leading to demands for an independent investigation. Its findings, made public this week, are even more shocking than expected.
Abuses within the denomination appear to have been widespread, often committed by church leaders and systematically covered up. The report includes a “credible” allegation of sexual assault by a former president of the national executive, Johnny Hunt . . . It describes efforts by Southern Baptist officials to intimidate and denigrate as “opportunists” victims of assault and an overriding concern to stop them suing for compensation.
It amounts to a familiar story: of privileged men exercising power with grubby and sometimes criminal impunity, then denying having done so to protect their institution and themselves. Secular institutions have seen plenty of that, of course. But it is probably no coincidence that the Catholic and Southern Baptist churches are among the most male-chauvinist Christian traditions. Nor is it by chance that some of their most censorious figures have turned out to be among the biggest abusers.
Southern Baptists will discuss the report, which is already receiving pushback from conservatives, at their annual meeting in California next month. But even if their leadership accepts it contritely, the revelations seem likely to accentuate a decline in the white evangelical tradition that is already advanced.
Since 2006, when Southern Baptist membership peaked at 16.3m, the group has lost 2.6m members, including over a million in the past three years. Formerly seen as an American bulwark against irreligiosity, white evangelicalism, of which Southern Baptists are the dominant strain, now looks to have been a brief holdout. It has been losing congregants at the same rate as the Catholic and mainline Protestant churches. In 2006, almost a quarter of Americans were white evangelicals; only 14% are today.
The decline has been most pronounced among those aged 18-29. Anecdotal evidence suggests they dislike the partisan alignment as much as the scandals Messrs Patterson and Pressler have wrought. . . . People of my age are turned away by the positions on race, sexuality and gender.” And also, she adds, by white evangelicals’ embrace of Donald Trump, another alleged sexual predator. Southern Baptists “were supposed to be part of a moral majority”, she says.
They represent a plurality of the Republican coalition and are by far the country’s most powerful special interest. If America is about to lose the right to legal abortion, it will be by order of a conservative Supreme Court majority assembled to please them. Yet a cultural minority will struggle to win a culture war. And the damage white evangelicals’ political overreach is storing up is already obvious.
The Catholic church has survived the dire failures of its priesthood in part by emphasising other strengths, including the vigour of its charities, its growth in developing countries, and their ability to replenish dwindling rich-world vocations and congregations. In their partisan fury, America’s white evangelicals seem more intent on kicking their tradition’s crutches away.
[P]oliticisation has blunted them in favour of groupthink and hostility to outsiders. Black and immigrant Southern Baptists, possible sources of renewal, have joined progressives in the rush to the exit. Dissident thinkers such as Russell Moore, a critic of the church’s response to the abuse scandal, and Beth Moore (no relation), one of its few notable women, have been driven out. New baptisms are close to record lows.
The sexual-abuse scandal is emblematic of these wider institutional failures. Conscientious evangelicals consider it proof of the persistence of sin. An alternative reading is that it indicates an institution that has abused its power over its own vulnerable members, just as it has in the public square.
Thursday, May 26, 2022
As usual, both Democrats and Republicans react with horror but with widely divergent perspectives on how to respond. Anguished Democrats call for more gun regulation. That makes sense since America not only has more guns in private hands than any other nation in the world (nearly 400 million) but also some of the world’s loosest gun laws. But Republicans want to do, essentially, nothing. They fiercely resist calls to make it harder to buy and carry guns with a variety of deceitful dodges that are no less contemptible for being so familiar.
The most common reaction on the right is to offer, as the Internet meme has it, “thoughts and prayers.” It’s as if Uvalde had been struck by a hurricane or tornado that we poor humans can do nothing to affect. . . . . That is not, of course, the Republican reaction to Islamist terrorist attacks. After Sept. 11, 2001, they did not shrug their shoulders and say “What can you do?” They worked with Democrats to massively beef up airport security while also launching invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.
Likewise, Republicans have no problem passing legislation to address the perceived evils that concern them — e.g., abortion or critical race theory. Many members of the “pro-life party,” however, simply do not appear to view the murder of children who are out of the womb as an issue that cries out for a legislative solution.
To deflect gun regulations, right-wingers offer their own, increasingly outlandish proposals for how to avert school shootings. One former FBI agent interviewed on the Fox “News” Channel suggested that parents, instead of buying their kids toys and games, should invest in “ballistic blankets” — as if that would stop a determined shooter. Why not dress kids in bulletproof clothing too?
A retired detective suggested on another Fox News show that the answer is to install “man traps” in all schools: “a series of interlocking doors at the school entrance that are triggered by a tripwire … and it traps the shooter like a rat.”
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) opined that “We need to return to God,” as if religious fanatics never perpetrate violence. She also echoed a common refrain on the right: “Our nation needs to take a serious look at the state of mental health today.” No doubt that’s true, and she’s Exhibit A. But (a) there is no evidence that the United States has more mental health problems than any other country and (b) Republicans consistently oppose more funding for mental health services.
Another popular, if self-refuting, GOP talking point is to argue that the answer to widespread gun violence is to make guns more widely available. . . . . Its advocates don’t care that this theory — “the only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun” — has been invalidated time and again. In the Buffalo mass shooting less than two weeks ago, a store security guard shot at the killer, who was clad in body armor, but did not stop his rampage. In Uvalde, a school district officer shot at the gunman but could not prevent him from entering the school.
The Federalist, a right-wing publication, might deserve some kind of booby prize for the most ludicrous alternative to gun control. It ran an article headlined: “Tragedies Like The Texas Shooting Make A Somber Case For Homeschooling.” . . . weren’t Republicans just complaining about covid restrictions that kept kids out of school?
Of course, none of these suggestions should be taken either literally or seriously. Republicans have shown repeatedly that protecting “gun rights” matters more to them than protecting the right to life. They aren’t actually trying to prevent mass shootings. They’re simply tossing out farcical ideas to distract the public and fill the airtime until public anger dissipates and gun legislation stalls. Then, very soon, we will have the next mass shooting and we can repeat this same pathetic ritual all over again.
People need to get off their asses, go to the polls and vote every Republican out of office until the GOP addresses the needs and concerns of the majority of Americans, not just the minority composed of extremists.
Wednesday, May 25, 2022
Thoughts and prayers. It began as a cliché. It became a joke. It has putrefied into a national shame.
If tonight, Americans do turn heavenward in pain and grief for the lost children of Uvalde, Texas, they may hear the answer delivered in the Bible through the words of Isaiah:
“And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood.”
We will learn more about the 18-year-old killer of elementary-school children: his personality, his ideology, whatever confection of hate and cruelty drove him to his horrible crime. But we already know the answer to one question: Who put the weapon of mass murder into his hand? The answer to that question is that the public policy of this country armed him.
Every other democracy makes some considerable effort to keep guns away from dangerous people, and dangerous people away from guns. For many years—and especially since the massacre at Connecticut’s Sandy Hook Elementary School almost a decade ago—the United States has put more and more guns into more and more hands: 120 guns per 100 people in this country.
The years of the pandemic have been the years of the greatest gun sales in U.S. history: almost 20 million guns sold in 2020; another 18.5 million sold in 2021. No surprise, those two years also witnessed a surge in gun violence: the spectacular human butchery of our recurring mass slaughters; the surge of one-on-one lethal criminality; the unceasing tragic toll of carelessness as American gun owners hurt and kill their loved ones and themselves.
Most of us are appalled. But not enough of us are sufficiently appalled to cast our votes to halt it. And those to whom Americans entrust political power, at the state and federal levels, seem determined to make things worse and bloodier. In the next few weeks, the U.S. Supreme Court will deliver its opinion in the case of New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. Bruen, a decision that could strike down concealed-carry bans even in the few states that still have them. More guns, more places, fewer checks, fewer protections: Since Sandy Hook, this country has plunged backward and downward toward barbarism.
[T]he former gun-industry executive Ryan Busse writes of the effect of mass shootings on gun sales. They are, to put it bluntly, good for business. People think that perhaps the authorities might do something, and race to the gun stores to buy weapons before the “something” happens. The gun in the gunman’s hand multiplies to more guns in more hands. Most of those hands do not mean to inflict harm. But the harm follows, even so.
In this magazine five years ago, I wrote a parable:
A village has been built in the deepest gully of a floodplain.
At regular intervals, flash floods wipe away houses, killing all inside. Less dramatic—but more lethal—is the steady toll as individual villagers slip and drown in the marshes around them.
After especially deadly events, the villagers solemnly discuss what they might do to protect themselves. Perhaps they might raise their homes on stilts? But a powerful faction among the villagers is always at hand to explain why these ideas won’t work. “No law can keep our village safe! The answer is that our people must learn to be better swimmers—and oh by the way, you said ‘stilts’ when the proper term is ‘piles,’ so why should anybody listen to you?”
So the argument rages, without result, year after year, decade after decade, fatalities mounting all the while. Nearby villages, built in the hills, marvel that the gully-dwellers persist in their seemingly reckless way of life. But the gully-dwellers counter that they are following the wishes of their Founders, whose decisions two centuries ago must always be upheld by their descendants.
Since then, of course, things have only gotten worse. Can it be different this time? Whether any particular killer proves to be a racist, a jihadist, a sexually frustrated incel, or a randomly malignant carrier of sorrow and grief, can Americans ever break the pattern of empty thoughts, meaningless prayers, and more and worse bloodshed to follow?
The lobbying groups and politicians who enable these killers will dominate the federal courts and state governments, as they do today, until the mighty forces of decency and kindness in American life say to the enablers:
“That’s enough! This must stop—and we will stop you.”
Tuesday, May 24, 2022
The report is a calamity. My friend Russell Moore, a former president of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, called it an “apocalypse.” The report says that “for almost two decades, survivors of abuse and other concerned Southern Baptists” contacted its executive committee “to report child molesters and other abusers who were in the pulpit or employed as church staff.”
And what was the reaction they received? A select group of executive-committee leaders “largely controlled” the committee’s response to abuse reports, and they “were singularly focused on avoiding liability for the SBC to the exclusion of other considerations.” According to Guidepost, this meant that survivors and others who reported abuse “were ignored, disbelieved, or met with the constant refrain that the SBC could take no action due to its policy regarding church autonomy—even if it meant that convicted molesters continued in ministry with no notice or warning to their current church or congregation.”
[A]]t the same time that senior leaders refused to take action, they compiled a private list of “accused ministers” in Baptist churches. There is no evidence that they shared this list “or took any action to ensure that the accused ministers were no longer in positions of power at SBC churches.”
Executive-committee leaders also “turned against” survivors and others reporting abuse. The report states that survivors of abuse at the hands of SBC clergy, employees, and volunteers were denigrated as “opportunistic,” having a “hidden agenda of lawsuits,” wanting to “burn things to the ground,” and acting as a “professional victim.”
Not only did senior Baptist leaders ignore abuse and disparage those who reported abuse, but a shocking number were implicated in misconduct themselves, including several of the most powerful and influential men in modern Baptist history.
The list just keeps going. Paige Patterson, a former SBC president and former president of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (one of the denomination’s most important schools), was fired by the seminary after he told a student not to report a rape and after he “emailed his intention to meet with another student who had reported an assault, with no other officials present, so he could ‘break her down.’”
In 2018, executive-committee President and CEO Frank Page resigned after he admitted to what he called a “consensual affair” with an adult woman.
Another SBC giant, former Vice President Paul Pressler—one of the architects of the so-called conservative resurgence that remade the modern SBC—is now a defendant in a civil lawsuit brought by a man who alleges that Pressler began abusing him when he was 14 years old. Two other men have “submitted separate affidavits in the case also accusing Judge Pressler of sexual misconduct.”
During the investigation, an SBC pastor and his wife “came forward to report that SBC President Johnny Hunt (2008–2010) had sexually assaulted the wife on July 25, 2010.” Guidepost included the allegation in the report because the allegation was corroborated by multiple witnesses . . .
Page after grim page reveals crushing scandal after crushing scandal. One abuse survivor, a woman named Christa Brown, said that an executive-committee member turned his back to her when she addressed the committee in 2007. Another member allegedly chortled at her. Brown described the emotional impact of the moment:
I ask you to try to imagine what it’s like to speak about something so painful to a room in which men disrespect you in such a way. And I hope that you will also try to imagine the long-lasting impact this had on me—to speak about this horrific trauma of having my pastor repeatedly rape me as a child, only to have religious leaders behave in this way and to have not a single other person who thought it mattered enough to speak up.
I remember when the Catholic abuse scandals started lighting up the media. Those reports were similarly hard to read, and while I’m not a Catholic, I had a hard time believing that the evangelical Church was any different. I’d seen multiple scandals during my own time in church, and my own wife, Nancy, was abused by a vacation-Bible-school teacher when she was only 12. The decentralization of American Protestantism has meant that it’s hard to grasp the scale of the crisis. But this much we know—abuse is occurring across the length and breadth of the evangelical Church.
Last year, Nancy and I detailed a horrific scandal at one of the largest Christian camps in America, Kanakuk Kamps, where leaders ignored red flag after red flag (including multiple reports of nudity with young boys) and promoted a young counselor to the position of camp director. The director, a man named Pete Newman, was a superpredator, and when he was finally caught and convicted, the camp bought the silence of victims, bullied their families, and even to this day threatens those who have exposed its horrific negligence.
Also last year, the evangelical world learned that the late Ravi Zacharias, one of its most beloved and influential apologists, or defenders of the faith, was a serial sexual predator. Even worse, whistleblowers inside the organization he ran described a ministry culture that protected Zacharias from accountability and retaliated against employees who raised justified concerns.
And we can’t forget the series of scandals that have rocked Liberty University, one of the largest Christian universities in the world. . . . . 12 students filed a federal lawsuit claiming, among other things, that the university promoted “a tacit but widely observed policy that condoned sexual violence, especially by male student athletes.”
Earlier this month Liberty entered into a confidential settlement with the plaintiffs, announced a series of multimillion-dollar security upgrades on campus, and stated that it was “strengthening” its Title IX department’s “policies and procedures.”
I highlight reports of abuse in the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, in one of its largest Christian camps, in one of its largest Christian universities, and in its most prominent apologetics ministry because it is past time to recognize that the culture of American evangelicalism is broken at a fundamental level.
But the responsibility does not rest with Baptists alone. Christians have created a culture that all too often celebrates male power at the expense of female dignity. Our churches frequently follow charismatic leaders even when they wave red flags in our face. And when other churches fail and other leaders fall, we shake our heads and say, “Thank God we’re not like them.”
Monday, May 23, 2022
Leaders in the Southern Baptist Convention on Sunday released a major third-party investigation that found that sex abuse survivors were often ignored, minimized and “even vilified” by top clergy in the nation’s largest Protestant denomination.
The findings of nearly 300 pages include shocking new details about specific abuse cases and shine a light on how denominational leaders for decades actively resisted calls for abuse prevention and reform. Evidence in the report suggests leaders also lied to Southern Baptists over whether they could maintain a database of offenders to prevent more abuse when top leaders were secretly keeping a private list for years.
The report — the first investigation of its kind in a massive Protestant denomination like the SBC — is expected to send shock waves throughout a conservative Christian community that has had intense internal battles over how to handle sex abuse.
The 13 million-member denomination . . . has struggled with declining membership for the past 15 years. Its leaders have long resisted comparisons between its sexual abuse crisis and that of the Catholic Church, saying the total number of abuse cases among Southern Baptists was small.
The investigation finds that for almost two decades, survivors of abuse and other concerned Southern Baptists have been contacting the Southern Baptist Convention’s administrative arm to report alleged child molesters and other accused abusers who were in the pulpit or employed as church staff members.
The report, compiled by an organization called Guidepost Solutions at the request of Southern Baptists, states that abuse survivors’ calls and emails were “only to be met, time and time again, with resistance, stonewalling, and even outright hostility” by leaders who were concerned more with protecting the institution from liability than from protecting Southern Baptists from further abuse.
“While stories of abuse were minimized, and survivors were ignored or even vilified, revelations came to light in recent years that some senior SBC leaders had protected or even supported alleged abusers, the report states.
While the report focuses primarily on how leaders handled abuse issues when survivors came forward, it also states that a major Southern Baptist leader was credibly accused of sexually assaulting a woman just one month after he completed his two-year tenure as president of the convention.
Sex abuse survivors, many of whom have been sharing their stories for years, anticipated Sunday’s release would confirm the facts around many of the stories they have already shared, but many were still surprised to see the pattern of coverups by the highest levels of leadership.
“I knew it was rotten, but it’s astonishing and infuriating,” said Jennifer Lyell, a survivor who was once the highest-paid female executive at the SBC and whose story of sexual abuse at a Southern Baptist seminary is detailed in the report. “This is a denomination that is through and through about power. It is misappropriated power. It does not in any way reflect the Jesus I see in the scriptures. I am so gutted.”
The report also names several senior SBC leaders who protected and even supported alleged abusers, including three past presidents of the convention, a former vice president and the former head of the SBC’s administrative arm.
For decades, the findings show, Southern Baptists were told the denomination could not put together a registry of sex offenders because it would go against the denomination’s polity — or how it functions. What the report reveals is that leaders maintained a list of offenders while keeping it a secret to avoid the possibility of getting sued. The report also includes private emails showing how longtime leaders such as August Boto were dismissive about sexual abuse concerns, calling them “a satanic scheme to completely distract us from evangelism.”
[T]he report shows how lay Southern Baptists allowed a few key leaders, including Boto and the convention’s longtime lawyer, James Guenther, to control the national institutional response to sex abuse for decades. Guenther, the longtime lawyer for the SBC, said he had not read the report yet. Attempts to reach Boto on Sunday were unsuccessful.
“The Executive Committee betrayed not only survivors who worked hard to try to make something happen, but betrayed the whole Southern Baptist Convention,” said Brown, who is a retired appellate attorney in Colorado. “They’ve made their own faith into a complicit partner for their own decision to choose institutional protection over the protection of kids and congregants.”
In March 2007, the Rev. Thomas Doyle, a priest and canon lawyer who first warned of the looming Catholic sex abuse crisis, wrote to the SBC and Executive Committee presidents, according to the report. He expressed his concerns that SBC leaders could be falling into some of the same patterns as Catholic leaders in not dealing with clergy sex abuse, and he urged that Southern Baptists should learn from Catholic mistakes and take action early on to implement structural reforms so as to make children safer.
The issue of sex abuse was a prominent theme in leaked private letters written by Russell Moore, who left his position in 2021 as head of the SBC’s policy arm, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. . . . “The depths of wickedness and inhumanity in this report are breathtaking,” Moore said. “People will say, ‘This is not all Southern Baptists, look at all the good we do.’ The report demonstrates a pattern of stonewalling, coverup, intimidation and retaliation.”
Moore said he hopes the SBC will consider replacing a statue of evangelist Billy Graham, which was moved from Nashville to Graham’s home state in 2016, with a statue of Christa Brown, the abuse survivor who spent the past two decades fighting for reform.
Organized religion is big business and it needs to be taxed as such. American taxpayers should not be forced to indirectly subsidize religious institutions.
Sunday, May 22, 2022
White Christian nationalism can be messy to define, but it’s critical to recognize its three animating impulses: freedom, order and violence — the ideology’s holy trinity. The freedom belongs only to Americans these nationalists see as like them (White men). The order is to be imposed on all those they don’t (everyone else). And righteous violence is to be deployed as necessary to achieve this twisted vision.
Both the racist massacre in Buffalo last weekend and the antiabortion legislation spreading rapidly through the states in anticipation of the overturning of Roe v. Wade next month are linked to white Christian nationalism, despite a pair of glaring paradoxes: The suspect in the Buffalo shooting doesn’t claim to be Christian in a religious sense, and many “pro-life” Christians are pro-death-penalty, pro-guns and pro-police brutality.
The ideology’s adherents are committed to instituting an ethno-culture that represents a shrinking minority — a traditionalist Christian social order in which the freedoms of White Christians are privileged. Theirs is a world where race, religion and national belonging have become virtually inseparable and are not necessarily tied to spirituality. And the spread of this kind of thinking is rapid and startling.
Over the last year or so, White Christian nationalism has become intertwined with the “great replacement” theory, which holds that a corrupt elite made up of Jews and Democrats is carrying out a plot to replace “real” Americans by engineering mass immigration from the Third World. Since 2015, that theory has captured the fringes and some in the mainstream on the right, from angry young men bearing tiki torches in Charlottesville; to pundits like Ann Coulter, Charlie Kirk, Matt Walsh and Tucker Carlson; to at least a half-dozen prominent Republican candidates and lawmakers, . . .
In citing the “great replacement” in a lengthy document posted online, the Buffalo suspect appears to have justified plans for his murderous assault by articulating what many of his fellow citizens already believe. . . . According to a recent survey by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, a third of all American adults now embrace the idea that “an effort is underway to replace U.S.-born Americans with immigrants for electoral gains,” even if they wouldn’t shoot up a grocery store in its furtherance.
In a nationally representative survey we fielded in March, we found that 28 percent of all Whites and half of conservative Whites affirm that “being a Christian is very important to being truly American.” For many White Americans, Christianity is more of an ethnic culture and identity than a set of spiritual beliefs. It means “White people like us.”
In “The Flag and the Cross,” our new book on white Christian nationalism, which we have both been studying for some time, we show that the “holy trinity” embodied in it is anchored in a mythological version of American history that goes something like this: America was founded as a Christian nation; the founders were traditional Christians; the founding documents are biblically based; God has therefore bestowed immense wealth and power on America . . . . but that mission and those blessings are now threatened by the presence of non-Whites, non-Christians and non-native-born people on American soil.
Today this story is propagated by a veritable Christian-nationalist industry that includes radio stations, video series, scores of books and entire organizations dedicated to telling White conservative Christians that the nation is their birthright.
For a segment of Christians, the battle over abortion is just one front in a wider war to make America Christian again — by any means necessary. They are not pro-life so much as pro-control. . . . . Among the White Americans who believe that abortion should be outlawed, more than half think we don’t use the death penalty often enough, 4 out of 5 see “good guys with guns” as the best solution to gun violence, and nearly half support police enforcing order by “any means necessary.”
The majority of those with the strongest antiabortion views also want to impose their vision of a Christian nation on other Americans. We asked the same group of White Americans various questions about America’s relationship to Christianity. Among those who want to outlaw abortion outright, roughly two-thirds believe both that the government should formally declare the United States a Christian nation and that making God’s kingdom more present on Earth involves changing laws to reflect biblical principles. . . . In our book we show that about 20 percent of Americans who believe that the federal government should declare the nation Christian don’t even identify as Christian — a view that aligns with the Buffalo suspect’s view of Christianity.
When Roe was originally decided in 1973, 85 percent of Americans were White and more than 85 percent were Christian. A half-century later, conservative White Christians are just another minority group, albeit an extremely powerful and well-organized one. Not content with this diminished status, some are no longer content with majority rule, either. They want rule by “we, the people,” which they understand to mean “our kind of people.”
The Supreme Court itself is now an instrument of minority rule by White Christians. Consider: Of the five justices who reportedly voted to strike down Roe, four were nominated by presidents who lost the popular vote, and five of the six conservative justices were confirmed by senators representing a popular minority. The new conservative majority on the court represents a shrinking minority of conservative White Christian Americans.
[E]ven before the 2020 election, Christian-nationalist ideology was a leading predictor that White Americans thought we make it too easy to vote. If the goal is control, then the last thing you want is full democratic participation. Rather, you want to raise the bar so that only the “worthy” can have a say. . . . White Christian nationalism is powerfully related to belief in Trump’s “big lie” about a stolen election, and today, some adherents of white Christian nationalism favor insurrections and bullets over elections and ballots.
Given the connection between Christian nationalism and the desire to completely outlaw abortion, it shouldn’t surprise us that 42 percent of White Americans who support banning abortion also believe that physical violence may be necessary to rescue the country. . . . A surprising and disproportionate number of White conservative Christians are inclined to believe that defending and preserving a White and Christian America will require violence.
As the Buffalo suspect explains, the perceived threat is not just racial but religious or, more specifically, ethno-cultural. The White Western way of life needs defending, by law or by violence. . . . . any remaining boundaries between white nationalism and Christian nationalism are becoming blurrier by the day.
And by violence, it would be foolish to believe murder of those deemed "other" is not part of the agenda as demonstrated by the Buffalo shooter. Gays, Hindus, Muslims and non-whites and non-Christians should be very afraid and realize voting against these people and their political candidates is absolutely critical.