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The answer to Christian Nationalism isn’t becoming apolitical—it’s forging better politics.
The response to Mike Johnson as speaker is not to insist that politics has no place in our faith, but to advocate for a new kind of Christian politics.
After a comical number of attempts to confirm a new Speaker of the House, following the ouster of Kevin McCarthy, the Republicans confirmed Mike Johnson. The Election-denying, White Christian Nationalist managed to unite his party. Christians in particular should be paying attention to this disturbing turn of events.
Mike Johnson doesn’t call himself a Christian Nationalist, but he does claim to represent Christianity. He told Sean Hannity of Fox News: “Someone asked me today in the media, they said, ‘It’s curious, people are curious. What does Mike Johnson think about any issue under the sun?’ I said, ‘Well, go pick up a Bible off your shelf and read it.’ That’s my worldview.”
Many of us find the roots of our political convictions in the Bible. I do, for one, but I come to vastly different conclusions from those of Mike Johnson. But there’s something sinister about Johnson’s claim that what he finds in scripture are facts, rather than interpretations.
The Bible can inform our politics, but it doesn’t prescribe them. One would think it would be obvious that the Bible has been used to support a variety of theological and political perspectives; there is disagreement on politics even within the text. When a political leader claims otherwise, he is sure to have an impact on the public understanding of Christianity. The damage done to Christian witness can be considerable and portends nothing good for the future.
Furthermore, the heart of Christian Nationalism, which revolves around preserving white supremacist and heteronormative values, does actual harm to real people. It advances racism, transphobia, and homophobia in a way that affects policy and livelihoods. Johnson’s participation in the attempt to overturn the 2020 election is clearly at odds with the gospel. The election was certified as fair by officials of both parties, yet White Evangelicals took the side of upending that most basic of democratic processes.
Beyond its effect on Christian witness and the harm it will cause vulnerable people, the confirmation of Mike Johnson as Speaker should make all of us rethink the connection between religious and political belief. Jemar Tisby writes, “The new Speaker and his fellow white Christian nationalist allies do not see a danger in churches getting explicitly involved in endorsing or speaking out against individual candidates. That’s because they do not fundamentally see much of a line between the church and the state, and whatever line there is they don’t mind blurring as long as it supports their political agenda.”
I agree with Tisby, to some extent. But it is not wrong to allow our Christian convictions to inform our politics. It’s not wrong to advocate for policy according to our Christian faith, and it is also not wrong to want the U.S. to uphold basic democratic values. Mike Johnson’s interpretation and use of the Bible are wrong because of the results he is bent on. Personally, I think it is short-sighted to try to make the U.S. a Christian nation and not only because the framers of the Constitution insisted on a separation of Church and state. I think forced conversion is dangerous and historically does great harm to people of other faiths as well as queer people, and people of color. But we shouldn’t shy away from engaging politically as Christians, just because folks like Johnson are wrong.
It may be actually naive to imagine that our faith doesn’t inform our politics. They are, after all, intimately interlinked within ourselves. “Jesus is Lord” is a political statement that informs how I see politics. The problem with Mike Johnson’s politics is Christian Nationalism, not the fact that his faith informs his politics. What he seems to be proposing is akin to theocracy and is Christian supremacist. He is proposing state religion in which other faiths are either barely tolerated or even persecuted.
The answer, as I see it, is to counter Christian Nationalism with our own Christian conviction. We can’t afford to be apolitical; neutrality would make us complicit. Instead, we need to allow our faith to transform our politics to resist the evils in the world around us.
The Gospel of Jesus the Messiah has political implications. It moves us to side with the poor and the oppressed and it calls us to express that materially and practically. We’ve been given a charge to protect and express the Gospel, i.e. to free the captive and liberate the persecuted. The future of America and especially of the most vulnerable is at stake. Let’s not cede the Gospel to Christian Nationalists.