Jim Nelson

Mike Johnson (R-LA), the new Mr. Speaker proposed by the Freedom Caucus and anointed by the GOP, is a curiosity to science. He’s composed of anti-matter.

Here’s what he’s against—anti-: the LGBTQIA+ community (he says homosexuality should be criminalized; approves of “don’t say gay;” thinks queers brought down the Roman Empire (historians say it was barbarian invaders)), critical race theory, diversity programs, same sex marriage, transgender care, freedom of reproductive choice, requiring military personnel to take Covid vaccines, hunger mitigation and nutrition programs, unions, investigating threats against school boards, Head Start, cannabis, fighting health and election disinformation, climate change mitigation, and a lot of science. He denies Joe Biden won the 2020 election; he’s xenophobic, misogynistic and a hawk on China and immigration.

But it’s what he stands for the that keeps me awake at night. Mr. Speaker is an evangelical, white Christian nationalist.

America’s version Christian nationalism holds that our nation is defined by Christianity and was founded as a “Christian nation.” There should be no separation of church and state. Christianity should inform and guide law-making and governing. Our country should not be defined as a democracy, but, rather, a republic—ruled by the “virtuous,” not the majority. God intended America to be a new promised land for European Christians.

White Christian nationalism is bogus.

First, Christian nationalism has nothing to do with Christianity.  Rather, it is a political deception, a trick, to obtain and retain power by the “virtuous” few over the unwashed masses. It is antithetical to democracy; it is authoritarian.  (It is, for example, the “religion” of Hungary’s dictator Viktor Orbán--a darling of the right-wing GOP--and of Vladmir Putin).

James Nelson
James Nelson

Christian nationalism is absolutely antithetical to Jesus’ teaching in his Sermon on the Mount and in the parable of the Good Samaritan.

Second, America’s framers did not believe in nor did they form a Christian or any one-religion nation. The First Amendment to the federal Constitution has two religion clauses: The Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause--the government shall make no law establishing religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. Additionally, Article VI section 3 of the Constitution prohibits any religious test as a qualification for holding any office or public trust.

James Madison, a key framer of the Constitution, incorporated Section 16 of the Virginia Declaration of Rights (grounded in the free exercise of religion based on one’s own conscience) into the drafting of the First Amendment--because the Colonies had established state religions and were persecuting and prosecuting those who held different religious beliefs. Madison held that without freedom of religion, there could be no representative government, because establishing one religion over others attacked the fundamental human right of freedom of conscience.

Indeed, in his first term as President, Thomas Jefferson referred to the First Amendment religion clauses as “a wall of separation between Church & State.”

Among the 56 framers, there was only one member of the Clergy.  Washington, Jefferson, Franklin and Madison were Deists, who, among other things, believed that the supreme being created the universe to operate solely by natural laws, and that after creation he absented himself from the world.

In a peace treaty between the United States and Tripoli, George Washington explicitly stated: “The government of the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion. . .”

Certainly, they had no problem with a diversity of religions (nor do I), but if the framers intended to create a Christian nation—as evangelical white Christian nationalists proclaim—they would have explicitly done so.  Indeed, the framers’ intent and purpose was to do precisely the opposite--as expressed in the First Amendment and in Article VI, section 3.

White Christian nationalism has no grounding in the history of American democracy. It is a false narrative; a toxic ideology; it is wrong.

So, Mr. Speaker is starting off on a whole list of negatives, denials and falsehoods.

But, why should we be surprised?

James Nelson is a retired Montana Supreme Court justice.