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This episode of the Be the Bridge Podcast is part of our Cultural Views conversations where we do a deeper dive into societal and cultural issues with the intent of exposing our listeners to opportunities for the reassessment of their own values and perspectives. We have previously talked about gun violence on episode 250 and now we are diving into white Christian nationalism. Podcast host, Latasha Morrison, is joined by Be the Bridge team members Sean Watkins, Elizabeth Behrens, and Micah Smith to dive into a relevant topic impacting our community and our neighbors. At Be the Bridge, we want to make sure that we are equipping you to do this work. So in this episode, we will provide the historical context and present realities of white Christian nationalism.

Make sure you are subscribed as we keep the conversation going. This is a 2 part series, so be sure to stick around for part 2 releasing next week when we will look at how to walk people through this.

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Terms:

Christian Nationalism: a cultural framework that idealizes and advocates a fusion of Christianity with American civic life. Christian nationalism contends that America has been and should always be distinctively “Christian” from top to bottom – in its self-identity, interpretations of its own history, sacred symbols, cherished values, and public policies – and it aims to keep it that way.

Moral Majority: a political action group of conservative Christians formed in the late 1970s to promote things like prayer in schools, anti abortion laws, creationism being taught in public schools, etc.

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Links:

Jude 3 Project’s documentary “Unspoken”

Pew Research on How Americans describe ‘Christian nationalism’

Equal Justice Initiative

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Not all views expressed in this interview reflect the values and beliefs of Latasha Morrison or the Be the Bridge organization.

Narrator  

You are listening to the Be the Bridge Podcast with Latasha Morrison.

Latasha Morrison  

[intro] How are you guys doing today? It’s exciting! 

Narrator  

Each week, Be the Bridge Podcast tackles subjects related to race and culture with the goal of bringing understanding.

Latasha Morrison  

[intro] …but I’m gonna do it in the spirit of love.

Narrator  

We believe understanding can move us toward racial healing, racial equity, and racial unity. Latasha Morrison is the founder of Be the Bridge, which is an organization responding to racial brokenness and systemic injustice in our world. This podcast is an extension of our vision to make sure people are no longer conditioned by a racialized society, but grounded in truth. If you have not hit the subscribe button, please do so now. Without further ado, let’s begin today’s podcast. Oh, and stick around for some important information at the end.

Latasha Morrison  

Welcome to the Be the Bridge podcast. I am Latasha Morrison. And we have something special for you today. So you know we do our cultural views. It’s where we take a pause and we kind of look at what’s happening in the world, what’s impacting our groups, what’s impacting this conversation on racial literacy and bridge building. And so there are some things that we want to discuss today to tool and fuel and hopefully ignite some of our listeners and our group leaders. And so as you know, the Be the Bridge Podcast is a resource and a tool for our community. We want you to pass these podcasts on so that you are sharing information with your community and your neighbors and your family. And today, we are doing cultural views. And we have at the table none other than Mr. Sean Watkins, and Mrs. Elizabeth Behrens, and Mr. Micah Smith. This is the staff of Be the Bridge. And so when we do cultural views, we will bring our staff on. And we’re going to have a conversation, really modeling how this conversation could look in our Be the Bridge group. We’re going to make this information available to you for the cultural views segment, so that you can have our notes and be able to look at this. Elizabeth has graciously done a lot of research for us on this particular podcast. So we’re doing two things today. Are you ready? Drumroll please. A little bit of pause, I want the effects. (laughter) We are going to be talking about white Christian nationalism. And some people call it Christian nationalism. But we’re going to tell you why we’re putting the term white Christian nationalism on there. We’re also going to talk about book bans. So these are two things that are happening in our culture right now that are really impacting our community, our groups. And so we’re going to have this conversation at a high level conversation, dealing with the racial literacy. There’s a lot of intersections in this. But we’re going to deal with the racial literacy portion of these big topics. And Sean’s eyes just got really large. I’m not sure if you guys can see this. But we’re having a conversation. So this is more informal, but formal. And we want to make sure that we are, you know, equipping you to do this work. And so I just want to start off with defining, just given a framework for, Christian nationalism. And then I’m gonna let Elizabeth really give us some historical, we call her History Behrens. (laughter) She’s gonna give us some historical context. And Sean and Micah will chime in, you know, from time to time, and then we have a list of questions that we’re going to go through. Okay? But Christian nationalism is a cultural framework that really idealizes and advocates a fusion of Christianity with American civic life. Christian nationalism contends that America has been and should always be distinctively Christian, from the top to the bottom, in it’s self identity, interpretations of his own history, sacred symbols, cherished values, public policies, and it aims to keep it that way. Let me repeat that again. So Christian nationalism contends that America has been and should always be distinctively Christian from the top to the bottom, (as we say, in the African American community, from the rooter to the tooter) in its self identity, the interpretations of its own history, sacred symbols, cherished values, and public policy. Christian nationalism aims to keep all of this this way. And, you know, the other thing that I want to continue to read all of this, it says, adherents believe in the idea that America was founded by Christians who modeled its laws and institutions after Protestant ideals, with a mission to spread the religion and those ideals in the face of threats from non whites, non Christians, and immigrants. And while Christian nationalism in the country finds its roots hundreds of years ago, it bubbles up during periods when white Christians feel threatened by outside forces, amplified by war, heightened immigration, or periods of economic instability. Christian nationalism in the United States is exclusionary, and nostalgic seeing that the nation is going downhill and needing to be recaptured by people who see themselves as the rightful owners, possibly through authoritarian means. And so Elizabeth I want, you know, first of all, I want any comments on what I just read. You know, what are some first thoughts that come up? And then I want you to just have a give us this background of some historical context, which we think is really important when we’re having conversations like this is the historical context.

Elizabeth Behrens  

Of course. You know, as you’re reading that the thing that comes to mind is this idea of through lines through history, of narrative arcs that happened through history. And so people wonder, like, “Why is Christian nationalism all of a sudden this term that’s being used?” And we can contextualize it with things that are happening today. But what’s happening today makes so much more sense when you see it’s played out repeatedly, over and over and over again, throughout history that this idea of Christian nationalism waxes and wanes over time. And that what’s happening today perfectly fits with other waxing periods in history. And so once you can see that, I think it really helps you make more sense of why it’s happening, and then also how to counteract it. Like what kind of stamped it down in the past? And what does that maybe look like for us in the present day as we think about it. But, you know, to really figure this out, you really do have to go all the way back to the founding of our country, or the first colonists that came over. And you have to realize that we were a colony. We were a colony of England. And England was a Protestant Christian nation. That was their national religion. To be English was to be Christian, those were synonymous terms. And so when you had, when we were an English colony, we were a Christian colony by definition. And so I think it’s now what does that mean? I mean, it basically meant that the government said it was officially Christian. That didn’t have to mean that the people in it were, and that certainly didn’t mean that the policies and the practices of the nation were in line with Christian ethics. It’s, it’s simply meant that it really was a political terminology. And so, you know, as the colonies are growing and increasing, and they’re not just being inhabited by people from England, there’s this ongoing tension of like, “Are we a Christian nation or aren’t we?” But we can look at our early laws, and we see how, you know, we used English common law against since we were an English colony. And so in English common law, it refers to people at your, it refers to British people as Christians in the law. That was, again, a legal, a political term. And so you start to see that in early American law as well, simply because it’s, you know, really a carry over. But once we, you know, declared independence, wrote our own constitution, we start to see that shift out, and we see the word Christian shift to the word white. Now, the reality was that that wasn’t really a change in definition, it was just a change in terminology. They meant the same thing. And if you look in early law it referred to Christian people, and then various, you know, slurs of other communities. And it meant nothing about the professed faith of the people there. In fact, when they were trying to get the Constitution passed one of the biggest barriers they had to overcome, were some of the founders who wanted the US to declare itself to also be a Christian nation. But the bulk of the founding fathers disagreed and refused to put any mention of God into the Constitution or any semblance of Christianity into the Constitution. Which is a much different beliefs than some people hold today within Christian nationalist circles. But that was the big argument of the day was, “Are we going to be a Christian nation or not?” And it was very much decided that was not going to be the identity of our country. That we were going to be a country that was based more on concepts of religious freedom, which was was definitely revolutionary for its day. Now, what again, what that meant, what that looked like, wouldn’t seem revolutionary today. But at the time, it really was.

Latasha Morrison  

Yeah. And I think that would go back even to if you go further into European history, and why people probably wanted to separate. Because England becoming a Protestant nation was hard fought. There were a lot of wars, you know, that were that took place with some of the Scandinavian countries in the forming of England. So we’re not going to go back that far. (laughter) History gives an account. And so you would have to research even European history in how even Europe became how, England became, you know, a Protestant nation. And so there’s a lot of history with that. So we’re gonna move back on over into these here Americas. (laughter) And I think you just answered this question. Has America been a Christian nation? And what does that idea come from? Because, you know, me as an African American person, I think there’s this thing where we have this cultural religion, but you know, but there’s also this personal relationship and the abiding by the words of Jesus. And so, some people look at that differently where they’re a cultural Christian, but what does it look like when we talk about orthodoxy and orthopraxy in our everyday lives? And so for me, as an African American, knowing the history here, it’s hard for me to even say that America was a Christian nation. What are some of your thoughts, you know, Sean, when it comes to saying that, has America been a Christian nation? And what does that idea, we kind of know where the idea came from because Elizabeth just broke that down very eloquently. And so, I just want you to chime in with your thoughts, and then Micah, I would want to get your thoughts on this also.

Sean Watkins  

Yeah, thank you so much, Tasha. Good morning, everybody and all of our listeners. I was laughing because Elizabeth and I are on the training team together. And we both love history. And she started, I thought she was going back to Rome and Constantine and. (laughter)

Latasha Morrison  

Because you really should go back there. We actually should go back there.

Sean Watkins  

She kept going back. I was like, “Lord, she’s fixing go to Plato’s Republic and Acts five.” She’s going back to the very beginnings of categorizing people based on phenotype and everything. So it’s fascinating. I think we, right there are these two narratives that America has about itself. Right? There’s one narrative where Americans believe the myths and the legends about itself that allows it to have this innocence. Right? Because it’s ignorant of the past. And so they don’t know what actually has happened. Like, “We’re Americans. This is a Christian nation. We’ve always cared about people. We’ve always been a nation of immigrants. We’ve always embraced these biblical principles.” Well, that’s like the narrative that we write on paper. But if we actually go back and look in our history, like Elizabeth was saying, we’ve actually never demonstrated that. Our nation was birthed really out of genocide and enslavement. And so even though we say that we’re a Christian nation, we’ve been violent from day one. And so I think you look at the horrors of the shootings, the mass shootings that are happening in the country right now. You have a number of Americans that are saying, “How was This possible?” Well, again, if you go back and look at our history, we’ve been violent. We’ve never not been violent, to use a hood metaphor, double negative, they cancel out and it works. We never not been violent. It’s a triple one for emphasis. So, I think when you Look at Christian nationalism, there is this notion again, right, that we are a Christian nation. Well, it kind of boils down to ethics. The Christians, the folks that came to this country, how did they live out their faith? Did they live out in inclusive faith that says that there are Native Americans here that are present, that are talking about the Great Warrior, this Creator who in much of their iconography is one God, but really in three parts. That’s true for a number of Native American cultures and African cultures as well. Well, that was dismissed. There’s an African presence in the Bible, that was dismissed. You had Mexican sisters and brothers that were living in the land, they were ignored and marginalized. We banned Chinese people from coming to the country for almost a century. And so you begin to see these narratives that have taken place, these issues and events that have taken place that the Christians in the country said, “The only ones that we’re going to listen to are those of European descent. Every other ethnic group will not be believed, valued, or really seen as human.” And so when that happens, you cease to have Christianity. You have What Carl Ellis Jr, calls Christianityism, it’s a version of Christianity that really is masquerading something frightening. And in this instance, what we have in America is Christianity that prays, Christianity, or whether white supremacy that prays. It’s a white supremacy that just puts across on top of it, and says, “God is not going to evaluate our culture, but our culture will dictate what God can do. God is for us, and God is against the rest of you.” And so that’s deeply problematic. But that’s also the realities of what we see happening in our country right now. Latasha, you and I both know, one of the old stereotypes that happens from Christianity is that it is a white man’s religion. And we really don’t talk about that anymore in apologetics or an African American apologetics. I think that narrative has shifted. But it was a narrative for some time. It’s what gave rise to the Nation of Islam in the African American community. Because the only version of Christianity that we got was one that centered on white people. We got a blond haired blue eyed Jesus, the only ethical issues that we talked about were those that were relevant to the white community. The only theological issues that we talked about, were only relevant to the white community. And so again, you see, not just dictation in the laws, But in demonstration, right, of how these things were lived out in the country. And America really has never been a Christian nation. We’ve had some Christian ideals. But when we decided to wake up and choose violence, we have no problem banning another ethnic group, exploiting another ethnic group, and then saying that God actually blesses that. And so we’ve taken the horrible parts, I think, really of Scripture, and we’ve made them the norm in our nation. And the consequence of that is all the foolishness that we see happening right now.

Latasha Morrison  

Yeah, that’s so good. I think one of the things that Elizabeth said was white and Christians, white and Christian are synonymous terms in the colonial American law. And I think that’s key for us to understand that. And one of the things you said, you know, when we talk about apologetics, we’re having to talk about it now. Jude 3 Project, Lisa Fields, just did a documentary called Unspoken, and it’s really addressing that. Because now with everything that we’re seeing, from Charlottesville to Charleston, South Carolina, to all the you know, the synagogue, like all the things that we’re seeing, we are getting questions, you know, from this next generation, this current generation that Christianity is a white man’s religion, again. Like more so than what you saw in the 70s. And I just had, my God daughter just sent me a message and she was looking for some research. She leads a small group. She’s only, she’s 23, just turned 23. And she leads a small group at her church. But this is coming up in that age group, in that college age group, where they don’t see themselves in Christianity. Because of how they’re seeing it being lived out in front of them. And the things that are being attached to it. Micah, I wanted, you know, what do you think people mean, when they use the term Christian nationalist? You know, just the term Christian nationalist.

Micah Smith  

Hey, yes, white man here. (laughter) And I just want to say that I actually resonate a good bit with some of the stuff Sean said. So I want to touch on that just real quick.

Sean Watkins  

I was like, how is he going to start? I knew he was going to start petty. I felt it. He was smiling the whole time. I knew it. (laughter)

Micah Smith  

It was just interesting. Because like, I grew up in like the Moral Majority kind of thought. That was very influential culture in my upbringing. And it’s interesting how a lot of Christianity of America, of America’s founding was really read in and emphasized, and a lot of the global impact of Christianity was eliminated. So we saw it was very much we’d read the Bible and think white people. You know, instead of that being related to three continents that were not North America. And there was, yes, there were some European. But, you know, when people came across, when we think about Christian nationalism and really the founding of America from the vantage point of growing up in it, you think about the Puritans and seeking religious freedom and the Mayflower Compact and those sorts of things are really built up as the founding of the nation. And when you read the Mayflower Compact it does talk a lot about, you know, having undertaken for the glory of God and the name of God. You know, sort of like, “Yes, Christian nation, that’s where we were founded.” And it’s not until those beliefs started to be challenged, that I started to see, “Oh, this is a narrative. It’s not the fullness of the history.” And even within that narrative, you’re leaving out things like 1619, when you’re talking about the Mayflower Compact in 1620. You’re leaving out the the origination of the slave trade coming to the colonies, at least the first documentation of it. You’re also miss reading it, because when I read the Mayflower Compact, what I read is manifest destiny more than I read just Christianity. It’s more God is ordaining us to overtake this land and the people in it. And that’s really leads into the genocide point that Sean brought up. I do think that there were, and I want to make this point, that there were Christians, Christian individuals within the nation, within the colonies. Now, probably not living it out well. But they existed. That does not mean that we were a Christian nation. Even within the Mayflower Compact that was formed largely because there was a group of Puritans on the Mayflower along with a group of tradesmen and indentured servants. And so that was formed out of tension that happened even there within religion and people who were not religious. So there’s a lot more context that I didn’t have growing up within this idea of white Christian nationalism. Now to get back more to where your question was, what is white Christian nationalism? Because that is a hard one. And it’s interesting, because I was reading a pew research study, but more that, they asked a question. And that they just simply asked, I’ll actually look that up, it was, um, it was how Americans describe Christian nationalism. And so it’s all over the place depending on who you are. But the very first one says, “People who love God and the USA.” Right? So I think a lot of people look at it that way. And there’s nothing wrong with loving God. Right? None of us would say there’s anything wrong with loving God. And I have mixed feelings about the USA, but I understand that people have some warm feelings towards, you know, our place of origin. That sort of thing. There’s a lot of like, I was born in the USA raised here. So obviously, I have some feelings and perspectives about that. So Christian nationalism isn’t necessarily, “Well, there’s something wrong with being a Christian,” or “There’s something wrong with appreciating aspects of the nation you live in.” A couple of issues I see are when you look at nationalism, it’s more than just appreciating your nation. It’s more you elevate your nation to the exclusion and detriment of other people, and you see them as a threat to your way of life. And so that’s where we got to watch out for the nationalism aspect of it. And then with the Christian nationalism, conceptually, it’s more about how you, what is your primary lens? So are you viewing God, are you viewing your faith through the lens of your love of America, of your love of these ideals around really the mythology of Christian nation? Is that framing how you view God and you view living out your faith? So if that’s the case, then God and your Christianity starts to look a lot like protection of the nation, a glorification of the nation, and the nation can do no wrong. And so you’re very defensive of the nation and God becomes like a mascot for that. So, it’s important to really consider what is your primary lens? Because as Christians, we need to be putting that lens first. We need to be saying, “What should this look like if I’m living out my faith?” And making sure that we’re reframing how we live into patriotism, or however we want to, engagement in government, those sorts of things should be driven by the lens of Jesus, and who he was as God in flesh. Because he gives us lots of examples of how to engage. As in my upbringing, we didn’t really talk about Jesus as a political figure, or we didn’t talk about power structures, but it is there. And so we can look at how he lived in the world in a way that affected the kingdom. And how did he challenge power and use power, even not just with Roman government, but looking at like the Sanhedrin as a political power structure? So I think there’s a lot of struggle in thinking about how to frame white nationalism and how to really conceptualize it. But within it, to me, it boils down to, yeah, people love God in the USA, but they tend to glorify the government more than they glorify God.

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Latasha Morrison  

Why do you think, Elizabeth, why do you think there’s this all of a sudden this talk about Christian nationalism? I mean, like, I mean, this is different, 15 years ago we didn’t hear it as much. But you know, you think about now, why do you think there’s all this talk? And then I also want you to kind of talk about the differences between patriotism and nationalism. Okay? But why are we talking? Why are we having to have this podcast now? You know, why are there so many books being read, there are so many podcasts, there are so many conversations about this now. Why are we here?

Elizabeth Behrens  

Whew. There’s the million dollar question.

Latasha Morrison  

In a Be the Bridge way. (laughter)

Elizabeth Behrens  

Right? So again, I want to pull back the narrative arc. Sean, I promise to not go to like Ancient Near East. (laughter) I think when we think about this idea of a national narrative, the story we tell about ourselves, that our origin story is really important. Like I said, this idea, like of that founding. And another aspect of that founding was this idea that there were a lot of groups coming over and colonizing parts of North, Central, and South America. When America tells its origin story, it’s very specifically focuses on the story of the pilgrims, despite the fact that at the time of the pilgrims, the area that’s now the US was actually much more heavily colonized by the Spanish than the English. A lot of more of our origin story is actually Spanish in origin. But we kind of write that part out because it doesn’t fit the narrative. We like this narrative that we find with the idea of the Puritans and these people who had this pure religion, and they were, you know, pursuing religious freedom; and this is who we come from. And part of that was that they held a deeply religious belief that they were the new Israel, that they were God’s new chosen people. And that’s where we get Manifest Destiny from. That’s where we get these ideas that they were supposed to come in and conquer like a new reliving out of the Old Testament story. And we get from that this narrative of like, of being God’s chosen people and at the same time that’s married with God’s chosen people are white. It’s coming from other realms, it’s also coming from within theology; theology is shifting to back that up. And so, this narrative comes back up whenever there are times of crisis. So we see this came back up in the 1830s and 40s. In the era, there was a lot of immigration. There was a lot of unrest. We’re leading up to the Civil War. We actually see that the Confederacy declared itself an explicitly Christian nation in saying that they were going to be the ones that were going to get back to our true mission as God’s chosen people, which included whiteness, which included slavery. That was part of the narrative of being God’s chosen people, was upholding this ideal of being white Protestants. So it kind of backs off a little while after the Civil War, and things are kind of settling down. It comes back up between the World Wars. There’s a lot more unrest again. There’s a lot of uncertainty, there’s economic uncertainty. There’s also a lot of, at the time we had things starting to happen like the Scopes Trial and things that made sort of a subset of Christianity that started to really solidify itself. They call themselves fundamentalists, or eventually evangelicals, as well, the terms kind of shift with time, it’s not, you know, it’s not like hard and fast rules of definitions. But this idea of, “Oh, the nation, government is starting to go against us. And so we have to hold fast to this idea that we’re still God’s chosen people.” And we start to see almost this subculture forming out of that. Because there’s this fear that we’ve gotten, that the country has gotten away from God. And that’s what it means to have a country that saying like, “Well, maybe actually, no, maybe we shouldn’t have explicit prayer in school. Maybe that’s maybe not the best idea,” or, you know, “Who’s deciding what’s being prayed and which which theologies are we okay with and we’re not?” You know, like, there’s a lot around that. And this actually pulls in with the topic you brought up earlier today, there’s, um, this comes back up again, more recently, as there’s, again, this big narrative push of this culture war between those who are clinging to these fundamental Christian evangelical beliefs, whatever terminology you want to put around that, and then supposed like, and apparently this government that’s going against the nation’s ideals, against the nation’s founding. There’s this again, this battle between like, “Oh, they’re going way out, the government’s going away off track off of this Christian focus of being God’s chosen nation.” And so you see that especially we saw this pop up. And it started to pop up significantly more after Obama was elected. That’s part of why I think we can’t take the word white off of the Christian nationalism conversation, because that’s when we see its resurgence again, is there’s this fear of this Black man in the White House. And that’s why you started to see like, “Oh, maybe he’s Muslim.” “Maybe where’s he really from?” “He’s not really one of us. He’s not a white Protestant.” Or we don’t want to see him his with either of those terms. That doesn’t fit the narrative. So that’s why we see like in 2012, there’s like, there’s literally a Christian nationalism Bible that comes out. I think, it’s like the Bible for the American patriot or something like that. And you read the description, and it’s explicit white Christian nationalism, with like devotions to tell you all about the founding fathers and their deeply held beliefs and how the Bible was woven into our founding documents. It’s this whole rewriting of the narrative. Because again, there’s this fear, there’s this, there’s big change. That things look different. There’s upheaval, to the point that we even see, you know, in the wake of the election of Biden and the January 6 hearings, we actually had in those hearings, if you are a nerd like me and watched them. (laughter) There was Rusty Bowers was on there. And he literally comes out and says like it’s a tenant of his faith to say that the Constitution was a divinely inspired document, which through most of Christian history would have been heresy to say. Right? To say that anything but the Bible was divinely inspired. That used to be way outside the realm, but it didn’t raise alarm bells. In fact, like Liz Cheney came back on after that, like in her closing statements and says, like, we were reminded by Speaker Bowers, that our Constitution is indeed a divinely inspired document. So we see this return. There is fear. There is upheaval. There is a clinging to power. There’s a clinging to control. And it just keeps, it keeps resurfacing. And there’s a time right now amidst COVID and the midst wars happening around the world, and crises, again, the waxing and waning of immigration patterns. So we see whenever there’s big influxes of immigration, we see a resurgence of white Christian nationalism. We have all of those things happening right now. That’s our reality. Our world is a little topsy turvy. And so this gives people a sense of control. It gives them a sense of grounding. It makes them feel like, “Well, everything would be okay if we just” fill in the blank. When that’s not true. It’s never been true. But it gives people a sense of control and when the world feels deeply out of control people cling to anything that makes them think, “If we did this, then everything would be okay.” But Sean, I think, Sean’s like, “I got, I have something to interject.”

Latasha Morrison

Yeah, yeah. Go ahead Sean.

Sean Watkins

I agree with Micah 100%. I want to both respond to Elizabeth, but go back to something that Micah was saying as well, too, at the beginning. We had our Be the Bridge Leadership Summit a couple of months ago and one of our partners and volunteers, Pastor Darryl Ford, said something that was really profound. He was on a panel with Mariah Humphries, who’s our Director of Marketing and Innovation. And Darryl said something that is on the very surface of the text of Scripture, but he just said it, he articulated in the way in which Micah and I were both on the side like whisper screaming like, “Yes!” Which is what you see in Scripture. There’s a command to love your neighbor, there is not a command to love your country. And that’s an example of Christian nationalism. Like what are some of the examples that we see in scripture? God’s going to send Abraham and make him into a great nation. We see some of that. We see when they’re in exile, right, in Jeremiah 29. Seek the peace and prosperity of the place to which I’ve called you. There’s this ethic in Scripture about us loving God, loving people, and loving the land, being in relationship with the land. We don’t own the land. We’re in relationship with it. What we see in Christian nationalism…

Latasha Morrison  

Say that again. Say that again. Say that again brother.

Sean Watkins  

Well, we see like in Scripture is this trifecta, we love God, we love people, and we love the land. We are in a relationship with the land. We don’t own it. It’s not ours. We steward it. But in Christian nationalism, you own the land, you protect the land. As a matter of fact, the land is more important than people’s lives. Which is how Kyle Rittenhouse can take a gun and cross state lines and shoot people who are protesting racial injustice. And he gets away because he’s protecting the land over people’s lives. That’s an example of Christian nationalism. And so, again, I think to Micah’s point, right, we see this notion of in Scripture, you love God and you love your neighbor. Right? And the land is to be stewarded. But we don’t see that. We see love the land and fight your enemy or fight your neighbor. Right? If you will. And so I think that’s part of it, which Micah is illustrating masterfully. I think the other thing that I wanted to be able to say, kind of in response to Elizabeth as well too. Y’all know, I talk about him all the time. But there’s a white history professor, as in he is white and male, not he studies white history. But he’s a history professor, who is white named Dr. Mark Miller. (laughter) Had to clarify in these podcast streets. His name is Mark Miller. And he talks about five links in a chain of a destruction of a community. That anytime we see a dominant culture and a sub dominant culture collide, and that minority or sub dominant group disappears, it doesn’t matter what country it’s in, what time period it’s in, these five links always take place. And so the first one is identification. You got to pick a people group to blame your problems on. Like, “You know, the issues that are happening in our society right now? It’s the Blacks. They’re lazy. They’re not working. They’re welfare queens. They just want to munch off the government.” The former president of the United States, when he announced he was running for office, came down his escalator and said all these derogatory things about Mexican people, and immediately put a target on this entire diaspora from Central and South America. Right? So it’s identification. The second step really is marginalization. Once I’ve identified a people group, I can push them out of the mainstream economy. “We’re looking for a certain kind of clientele to live in this neighborhood. I’m not going to sell you a house here. I don’t think you’d actually enjoy it. The neighbors are concerned.” “We’re looking for a certain demographic to work in this organization.” Right? You can push them out of the mainstream economy. Identification. Marginalization. The third step is confiscation. And that’s where we see the over policing of these marginalized communities. Because we’ve identified a people group and we’ve said there are problems present. Well then now we have to send law enforcement in those communities to make sure that they’re not actually committing crimes. You know, African Americans, we make up 12% of the population, but African American males ages 18 to 49, 50% of them have a criminal record or are under the control of the criminal justice system in America. Now, that data also contradicts what Bryan Stevenson and them doing with the Equal Justice Initiative and the amount of wrongful incarceration and convictions that we’ve had for Black and Brown people in the country. Right? So you’ve got confiscation, where we can over police them and take their things. The fourth step is concentration. If I can take your things at some point, I can take you. Hi Japanese internment camps, hi Nazi concentration camps. Take your pick, right? You identify them; you marginalize them; you can confiscate their things; you concentrate them into particular communities, or in the ghettos, if you will, in the slums around the world. And then the fifth step really is just extermination. You can just start murdering people. And so I think when you see people of every ethnic background, whether they’re white folks like Elizabeth and Micah who’ve done the hard work, African Americans, our Latinx brothers and sisters, our Indigenous brothers and sisters, our Asian brothers and sisters, who have a history. Right? We have a collective memory of these things. When we start to say things about people in mainstream media, when we start to marginalize them, when we see the rise in Asian hate happening around the country, when we see an increase, not in the unarmed shootings of African Americans, but when we see an increase in the recordings. Right? When it becomes mainstream news, that for us is a clear signal of the danger that’s happening. That we are on these five stages. And so that’s one of the consequences of Christian nationalism, to have a community come in and say that, “We are God’s chosen people, and to identify every other group that is not white and not male, and to say they are the reason why we are having problems in the land and in the country. They have to be marginalized. They have to be pushed out. They have to be over policed, because they’re committing crimes. They have to be arrested because they’re a danger to society. Well, let’s just start shooting them because that’s really the way in which it ends up.” I’ll say this, and then I’ll pause for a second. I think when I first started working here, and we were, I think one of the first things that Tasha had said was like, “Sean, we’ve very much been in a Black white binary,” both, you know, her doing work in Texas, and then Be the Bridge being rooted in Georgia. And so we were saying, one of the first edicts Tasha gave was, “I want to have an inclusive Be the Bridge. We’ve got to represent all the different diasporas that are present.” And so I really didn’t, I think I said two sentences, and Elizabeth said, “That’s all I needed!” We all started doing research and trying to figure out how to update our trainings and be inclusive of things. And I remember I went for a walk one day, after our trainings, I think I told you this, Tasha, and there was a historical marker that was outside of my godparents house where I used to live. And I was renting from them. And it said, “Dedicated to the true Christians in the United States protecting the land from the savages that sought to destroy American democracy.” And I was like, that’s, I mean it was very rusted. But the fact that there was a marker that was put up from the 1700s that said, “We killed the Indigenous population under God’s authority in order to build a godly nation. And isn’t it wonderful?” That’s frightening. To know that there were Christians in the land that believed God saw them as human and saw everybody else as subhuman. And as a consequence, they got to kill them. And that ideology continues to this day. What we see happening in January 6, what we see happening with the book burns, this is not old. I mean, this is not new, rather. This is a very, very old conversation that our elders remember from all of our communities, both those that have horrible memories from these, but they also have like, accurate memories of this as well, too. So it’s definitely something for us to consider.

Latasha Morrison  

Yeah, this is good.

Elizabeth Behrens  

Like you were saying, Sean, you know, when I was saying, like we talk about the origin story, like how important that origin story narrative is. And when you have that dominant culture and the sub dominant cultures and the coming up against each other, one of the ways that you do that for the erasure there, too, is like, “I don’t have to change my origin story. I don’t have to change my origin myth, if I can erase yours.” And sometimes it’s erasing the human people or sometimes to counteract and a push back to the conception of white Christian nationalism, you ban what people can learn. You ban books. You change AP Black History curriculum. You figure out how to control what the next generation believes. And we’ve seen this both from two fronts really happening. One there is this banning, there’s this like enforcing certain curriculums. You can’t even talk about these things. You can’t. That, you know, teachers can get sued and whatnot. And then there’s also you know, what we saw when school desegregation was happening, the start and the really big push to more of a private, first it was private segregation academies. And then it’s shifted more to private Christian schools, private parochial schools, private really ritzy, country club schools, all of those things. But I think what’s really interesting within that is, if you look at the publishing companies that started up at that exact same time as those schools were starting up, some of, I will not name drop. I will keep us out of a lawsuit. But there are several.

Latasha Morrison

I want to know, I want to know. We can edit it out. (laughter)

Micah Smith  

I can add one.

Elizabeth Behrens  

There are several Christian publishing companies that started at that exact same time to publish curriculum, to publish K 12 curriculum. And their curriculum to this day, if you read the history curriculum, it promotes white Christian nationalism. Outright. I will say, without having to name the names, the top three best selling Christian curriculums in the US today promote white Christian nationalism. The top three. The most used at every, for homeschoolers, the top three curriculums used for homeschoolers, the top three curriculums used in private Christian schools, promote Christian nationalism. And those textbook companies have existed since the 50s and 60s. So you now have a couple generations where kids grew up on this, they had kids, they put their kids in those same schools with the same curriculums. You now have full, you know, multiple generations who have been indoctrinated in this since the time they were learning to read. So of course, that’s what they believe.

Latasha Morrison  

Even Black Christian schools.

Elizabeth Behrens  

Of course, that when you say and you are only learning from others who are making money off of that segregating yourself off, yeah, they’re not going to put themselves out of business. They’re not going to teach the same things that you can learn in other history curriculums. That’s a very specific worldview promoted with a specific purpose and it’s working. It’s working.

Latasha Morrison  

Yeah.

Micah Smith  

Can I can speak to this real quick? I’m gonna say a couple of things. One is our training team is so knowledgeable, and they walk through things so well. I’m just sitting here kind of listening to Sean and Elizabeth talk, and I’m just like, “Okay, yes, these people are awesome.”

Latasha Morrison  

They’re so good, right!?

Micah Smith  

So I’m so glad that I’m sitting here learning from y’all and interjecting a statement every now and then. (laughter) When I think about white Christian nationalism, feeding off of what’s been said, there is a real challenge to challenging the foundation of what we’ve learned about America and its founding. It shakes, it shook me, you know, it’s kind of made me feel a little bit like I was grasping, and I wasn’t sure. Like, “Oh, everything I believe is kind of falling apart,” sort of thing. And so I do think out of that there is this urge to push back and be like, “No, you’re challenging something that is right and pure.” And we talk about government sometimes in ways I’ve noticed that’s concerning. Like around January 6, for instance, Trump specifically tweeted out something about “the sacred election results,” and Biden also made a statement about “these sacred halls.” So it’s not like a partisan issue here. It’s like across the board, there is this linking between our government institutions and these set apart religious frameworks that are government. And so it’s hard to challenge that when that’s part of your identity. So that’s one thing. And yes, homeschool curriculum does reinforce this. As a homeschool dad, I can say that. And I know Latasha, you said, we could say names. And I heard you say, Abeka, I will say Good and Beautiful. Because I really thought that their history curriculum, when we bought it, apparently they had a board that was like looking across to consider it. And when we got it, they talked about Thomas Jefferson and his happy slaves. You know? And then they also had sections in there that were really pushing back against this modern culture attempt to destroy our nation. Right? And uphold this idea of like, the 1776 push back. You know, I read that and it was very much just this mythological ideology that upholds us wanting to feel good about ourselves, us wanting to hold on and not be put in this place of discomfort and uncertainty. And in this system, one, I have the power to not have to worry about that. It all just lined up for so many years for me, because of my intersection of all most of the privileges, if not all of them. That’s where I sit. And so everything lined up really well for me. And I got to enjoy that, if I can say it that way. But also, when things start challenging me, it’s easy to get defensive. It’s easy to say, “Well, that really disrupts the way I think about things. And that’s a threat to me and my identity and how I think about things.” But I would just encourage and say it’s important to kind of lean into that. Because these things aren’t sacred and holy. These are, I liked the way Sean framed it earlier. These are good ideas. Their ideas of like, “Okay, maybe we can govern this way. Maybe these are some ideals that we can work towards of, you know, equality and justice for all.” Even though, at that time, we have to also be able to say these are manmade systems. They are imperfect. They are broken. And so we can also say, “That was a nice ideal by a bunch of people who owned slaves, and by a bunch of people who had policies of extermination of Native nations.” And you know, all of the sort of things that they engaged in that worked against the very ideals. We have to be able to be honest about those things. And as we lean into that honesty, it doesn’t make us worse. It doesn’t threaten our existence. It actually gives us opportunity to build something to work towards something that lives out Kingdom ideals that we should be seeking. Kingdom ideals like recognizing the inherent value of each person, recognizing that people who are coming in as immigrants, that are often framed as threats to the white Christian nationalism perspective actually bring some understanding, bring some context, maybe can help us learn things that we’re missing. Can add to the tapestry that we claim we’re weaving. So it’s just really important to allow yourself to not get caught up in that mindset. That’s where I think I would really challenge yourself. I would never called myself a white nationalist, or a Christian nationalist, white Christian nationalist, we can mix them all three. Right? That was a word in the 90s. I would have never thought to describe myself as. But I do think as I look back at it, I can make the delineation in how, at that point, I had put America on a pedestal; I had put America as a chosen land; I had put America at the center of Christianity.

Latasha Morrison  

An idol.

Micah Smith  

Yeah. And so yeah, you idolize and you glorify, and it becomes your god. So if you find yourself unwilling to genuinely and authentically challenge those systems, then you might be a white Christian nationalist. Not intentionally. That’s not, I don’t think a lot of us are out there just saying, “Oh, we want to just tear other people down.” But that’s a framework. And that’s going to lead you to, like Sean walked through much better me, so I won’t go over it. But in the long run, you’re going to dehumanize and marginalize and justify hurting people in the name of religion. And that just goes back like Elizabeth was saying, this whole history of manifest destiny, and all these other things that caused so much harm that reflects the world and its brokenness and not the Kingdom and what it’s trying to, the ideal vision that we’re trying to live into.

Latasha Morrison  

One of the things I see, you know, it’s hard to hear. There’s this statistic that says 70 to 80% of white evangelicals believe some form of Christian nationalism. How do we disciple people through this? What does discipleship look like leading people who have bought into Christian nationalism? Pastor Sean?

Lauren Brown  

I know, I know. It was just getting good. I’m Lauren C. Brown, Senior Producer of the Be the Bridge Podcast. I promise we are not going to leave you hanging. There is a part two to this conversation that you don’t want to miss. Tune in next time. Trust me, it gets even better.

Narrator  

Thanks for listening to the Be the Bridge Podcast. To find out more about the Be the Bridge organization and or to become a bridge builder in your community, go to BeTheBridge.com. Again, that’s BeTheBridge.com. If you’ve enjoyed this podcast, remember to rate and review it on this platform and share it with as many people as you possibly can. You can also connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Today’s show was edited, recorded, and produced by Travon Potts at Integrated Entertainment Studios in Metro Atlanta, Georgia. The host and executive producer is Latasha Morrison. Lauren C. Brown is the Senior Producer.

Lauren Brown  

And transcribed by Sarah Connatser.

Narrator  

Please join us next time. This has been a Be the Bridge production.