And the Enemy is Interfaith
by Paul Chaffee
“It makes me crazy!” my pastor cried out, more than once, in last week’s sermon.
She was responding to a New York Times article about American Christian nationalism she’d read the day before. It reported that 70 bills are currently before state legislatures across the country, bills “to use the coercive powers of government to secure a privileged position in society for their version of Christianity.” The organizers coordinating this legislation call it Project Blitz.
A number of the bills are intended to sponsor government programs which promote and celebrate Christianity in public schools and elsewhere. Others excuse businesspeople who discriminate against LGBTQ persons on the basis of deeply held beliefs. One of Blitz’s leaders is Bill Dallas, a convicted embezzler and database master managing 200 million files on American citizens. Dallas sums up their political philosophy very simply: “There is not a place in the universe where Christ does not shout out ‘Mine.’” David Barton, another “steering committee” member, explained the strategy behind the legislative onslaught: “It’s kind of like whack-a-mole for the other side. It’ll drive’em crazy that they’ll have to divide their resources out in opposing this.”
“Report and Analysis on Religious Freedom Measures Impacting Prayer and Faith in America” (2017) is a 116-page rundown of Project Blitz’s activities you can download here. It is provided by the organizations supporting the effort: Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation, the National Legal Foundation, and Wall Builders ProFamily Legislative Network.
The report details the 70 legislative proposals, all for the sake of “religious liberty.” Anyone who thinks this is a crank effort by a diminishing group of bitter, elderly right-wing Christians need to see this sophisticated report. It is a stunning, upfront guidebook to a legal, political, moneyed campaign to turn the United States into a Christian nation. Sample legislative titles: Proclamation Recognizing Christian Heritage Week; Resolution Establishing Public Policy Favoring Intimate Sexual Relations Only Between Married, Heterosexual Couples; Resolution Establishing Public Policy Favoring Reliance on and Maintenance of Birth Gender; and Student Prayer Certification Act.
Power and Prejudice
TIO has been following the close bond developing between right-wing Christian evangelicals and Donald Trump. Last month we reported that Trump’s new agency, the White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative, is designed to support the laws being proposed by Christian nationalists around the country. We’ve noted the president’s preference in giving interviews to the Christian Broadcasting Network.
TIO also reviewed the “Two Kingdoms” theology Pastor Robert Jeffress of Dallas has been championing, asserting that individuals are called biblically to be kind and caring, but not governments. Jeffress is the one who offered the opening prayer at the U.S. Embassy dedication in Jerusalem last month, a man who once said in a lecture series, “God sends good people to Hell. Not only do religions like Mormonism, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism — not only do they lead people away from God, they lead people to an eternity of separation from God in Hell.” This past December 14, Jeffress said on Fox News, “President Trump is not only on the right side of history; he is on the right side of God.”
Implicit in Christian nationalism is a moral superiority complex that scorns all but its own as it reaches for the levers of power in the United States, in cooperation now with the president. Christian nationalism is the absolute antithesis to interfaith’s commitment to inclusivity, to welcoming all peoples from all traditions, to nurturing mutual respect, friendship, and values-based collaboration among those who were strangers. Clearly Christian nationalism has seen its enemy, and the enemy is interfaith. Every special favor the government gives exclusively to a certain brand of Christians violates the constitution, breaks the law, and implicitly condemns all but a certain kind of Christian. Yet it is happening, and the evangelicals who secured Trump’s success are enthusiastically hard at work.
The interfaith movement has lacked a compelling core issue capable of inspiring the kind of campaigns we’ve seen regarding civil rights, women’s rights, and LGBTQ rights. Perhaps that has changed. The Christian nationalist agenda, to the degree that it succeeds, condemns the rest of us to be second-class citizens, stripped of the rights guaranteed by the Constitution. Surely the time has come for interfaith activists everywhere to take hands and oppose the nationalist agenda. The time has come for foundations and large donors to contribute more to projects which strategically champion religious pluralism and universal rights for all people. And it must be said – the United States has no corner on the resurgence of right-wing religious extremism. This is an issue that requires global healing.
Later this summer (July 28-August 1) “Reimagining Interfaith” will gather hundreds of interfaith activists in Washington DC to explore ways to improve interfaith culture throughout the world. This issue of TIO takes up the “Reimagining Interfaith” theme. It may not sound like a very sexy given the headlines we read every day. What is different now is that the religious right-wing in America is leading a well-funded, legally sophisticated, communications-savvy effort to reimagine a country without the separation of church and state.
“Religious liberty” does not give me the right to discriminate against or harm those who don’t believe what I believe. Rather it is the freedom we all deserve to believe what we wish to believe and safely practice the faith we choose to follow. Never has the importance of reimagining, reinvigorating the interfaith movement been greater, for the sake of us all. You can go register now – but whether or not you can come to the conference next month, get active now. Share this information with the faith groups in your community, your constituency. Write opinion pieces for your local paper. Share your stories about the unexpected wonders of interfaith friendship, the genuine fruit of religious freedom. And connect with interfaith stakeholders, starting with your own interfaith council. The time has come.