I have kind of an unhealthy fascination with the cultishness of Christian Nationalist American Evangelicals. I was raised Catholic; before I went to high school, my mom actually worked at the local church, and later taught "family and life skills" at a private Catholic school. But she was always more interested in the Dorothy Day and Mother Teresa side of Catholicism. Later, in life, a family friend and child of Irish immigrants replaced his drug addiction with a Jesus addiction, and exposed us to a whole new world of hellfire-and-brimstone American Authoritarian Christianity that sharply conflicted with the Jesus I'd grown up with.
That family friend has now blocked me out of his life after I called him on his xenophobic and Islamophobic bullshit one too many times. But not before he tried one last time to get me to convert and accept his version of Jesus as my personal savior; apparently, my Agnostic view of "Idunno just be a good fucking person, and if there's Heaven, then you're set" is not enough for that wrathful, vengeful, Old Testament God that these people believe in.
But I thought of as I listened to a recent article from Rolling Stone written by a recovering Evangelical named Alex Morris. Morris dives deep into the ways that Trump has specifically courted the Christian Nationalist base, and why they fail to see any moral conflicts with his language, behavior, or beliefs. Over the course of 45 minutes (via Audm), she effortless weaves this political story with her own personal narrative of growing up in, and ultimately escaping from, this cultish movement:
For the God-fearing evangelical, gay marriage, abortion, and the evils of socialism — as opposed to racial injustice, family separation, or income inequality — put America squarely in the path of the wrath of God. "Parts of the Old and New Testaments imply very strongly that there's not just a judgment of individuals, but there's a judgment of nations," says historian Diana Butler Bass. "People who sin are keeping the nation away from a moral goodness that needs to be present, because they think that God's coming back and is going to destroy everything, and they want America to be on the right side of that equation. They want to stand before God and say, 'We did your will. We created a godly nation, and we're the remnant. We're your true people.' "
In his promises to Christians and his overt nationalism, Trump uniquely equated American salvation with American exceptionalism, asserting that to be great "again," America had to come down on the right side of those very wedge issues that the religious right felt would be their reckoning. Even more, he affirmed and evangelized the belief that it is not only acceptable but actually advisable to grant cultural dominance to one particular religious group. "The white nationalism of fundamentalism was sleeping there like a latent gene, and it just came roaring back with a vengeance," says Thornbury. In Trump's America, " 'religious liberty' is code for protection of white, Western cultural heritage."
Morris's personal experience a unique and valuable perspective—she can completely empathize with where these Christian Nationalists are coming from, because she used to be one of them. Her family still drinks that Kool-Aid, too, and she even tries to confront them about it. Spoiler alert: it doesn't go well. But it did give me a little more understanding of my own crazy family friend, and has made me think about the ways that I try to approach these issues with that specific breed of Eschatological Evangelicals who would gladly usher in the Endtimes at any cost just to know that they'd be saved from "Hell."
False Idol — Why the Christian Right Worships Donald Trump [Alex Morris/Rolling Stone]
Image via Cory Doctorow/Flickr which I didn't even realize until after I had found it