Professor Peter Lineham says American Christians face a day of reckoning over ugly political scenes in recent weeks.
OPINION: It would be wrong to hold all American Christians accountable for the ugly mob at the Capitol ten days ago. Many religious people were quick to denounce the attacks, and the President who encouraged them.
But let there be no doubt that a new breed of Christian nationalists were part of the invasion, along with the Proud Boys, Confederate supporters, QAnon conspiracists and other fascist and white supremacist groups.
Indeed, Christian supporters were among the elite who encouraged the invasion.
How did it come to this?
* ‘Blood on his hands’: Republicans turn on Trump-supporting senator Josh Hawley
* Meet the Americans who believe Trump’s US election fraud lies
* Democrats, Republicans blame Trump for inciting ‘coup’ as mob storms US Capitol
* Donald Trump uttered what many supporters consider blasphemy, but he’ll probably be forgiven
Consider the case of Senator Josh Hawley from Missouri, a Yale-trained lawyer and former state attorney general, who led a campaign in the Senate against endorsing Biden’s election. He saluted the invaders with a fist pump as he arrived at Congress on the day of the insurrection.
Hawley is noted for his opposition to abortion, and his support for the dubious policies of Israel. He is cited by the New York Times as saying: “Government serves Christ’s kingdom rule; this is its purpose. And Christians’ purpose in politics should be to advance the kingdom of God – to make it more real, more tangible, more present.”
Hawley and his friends believe that the USA is a Christian nation, and seem sympathetic with those who would subvert the law to preserve it in the guise of Trump’s policies.
I was startled to see the flag “Jesus 2020” flying outside the western side of the Capitol during the invasion. Signs with this inscription were very widely displayed outside churches during the presidential campaign, as if Jesus’ name was on the ballot paper. For most, they suggested that a vote for Trump was a vote for Jesus, since Biden supported abortion.
Online harassment campaigns can escalate into a tangible and life-threatening event like when pro-Trump extremists stormed the Capitol in Washington D.C. (Video first published January 8.)
Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham and advisor to the president, described Trump as “King David”, divinely appointed to office. Biden’s election thus symbolised that Jesus was losing control of America, “God’s Christian nation”. The attempt to seize control of the Capitol was an attempt to save the nation from the allegedly stolen election.
Even more bizarre behaviour was motivated by a group who claimed a prophetic order from God. Over recent years “Jericho marches” have been held in many parts of the USA, marching around state and federal capitol buildings, seeking to claim the buildings for God, and blowing ancient Jewish “shofar” horns, expecting that the walls would fall down as they did in ancient Jericho.
Just before the invasion on January 6 such a march took place around the Capitol. Marchers had believed that Vice President Pence could intervene and declare the elections a fraud, and his refusal to do so seems to have led Trump and the protestors to take action into their own hands.
In modern democracies conspiracy theories can have some appeal, because people are loath to admit that their preferred candidate did not win. Religious supporters of Trump have since the election increasingly suspected a conspiracy.
Trump’s opposition to abortion has blinded the eyes of many Christians to his manifest faults. They have also urged on his myopic conviction that he is above the law, with their constant claims that he is God’s appointee.
And now there will be a settling of the score, not only for Trump but also for his blind supporters.
“America the beautiful, God shed his grace on thee” says the song which nearly became the US national anthem.
Christian nationalists will continue to fight for this, but their dangerous fanaticism is likely to push the once proud Christian nation sharply towards secularity and the defeat of traditions of Christian nationalism.
Peter Lineham is Emeritus Professor of History at Massey University.