February 10, 2021 Wayne Northey

Reckoning with the Toxicity of Christian Nationalism

WN: The article highlighted below is very disturbing for followers of the one Mark Lewis Taylor dubs The Executed God (book review here, with the subtitle: The Way of the Cross in Lockdown America).

I stand in perpetual amazement at how the New Testament Jesus is read to be the Ultimate Violent Crusader, or in a particularly odious depiction by a U.S. military chaplain: Jesus Was an Airborne Ranger: Find Your Purpose Following the Warrior Christ. Yikes! I think I’ll take a pass . . .

I shall cite from a paper (Why I Oppose the Death Penalty: “The Talking Place: Discussing the Death Penalty” Forum on the Death Penalty, Fairbanks Alaska, March 22, 1997) you may read fully as well. It is yet another illustration of the tragedy this highlighted article describes–in addition to toxic Christian nationalism.

In 1986 I was invited to a public forum on Capital Punishment at Fraser Valley College (since University of the Fraser Valley), to give a Christian view of the death penalty. I spoke against it. It was to be voted on the next year in Parliament, and Prime Minister Mulroney had freed MPs to vote their conscience.

When the question time came, a man stood up right away with a question for Mr. Northey. He began by quoting Matt. 23:23 in the KJV: “… ye… have omitted the weightier matters of the law, JUDGMENT!!!” He thundered out that last word with all the gusto he could muster–reminiscent of preachers who come to a point in their sermon notes where is inserted: “Weak point. Thump pulpit loudly now!”

Then he proceeded with a diatribe against me and my kind for having neglected the law precisely in this way in my opposing the death penalty. If “Christian expletive” is not an oxymoron, he unleashed precisely that kind of violent vituperative invective upon me and my ilk for the next several minutes. His strongest accusation was that I was not, as I had claimed, an evangelical, rather a Liberal of the worst kind, who could not see or accept the plain teaching of Scripture. He proceeded to call down judgment upon me, and issued a warning of dire consequences for the safety of our nation if Canada continued in its lawlessness by refusing to reinstate the death penalty.

So vehement was he that I felt genuinely embarrassed as a Christian to be associated with that display of “Christian”  sentiment. I realized too with a sudden chill that he apparently would have wanted the death penalty to be carried out on me for the offence of “wrongly dividing the word of truth” according to him!

When he finished, the moderator asked if I wished to respond. I indicated, as I tried to lock eyes with him, that it would perhaps be better if the two of us talked the issue over more at the end of the evening.

I looked for him immediately afterwards. But he was nowhere to be found. He had seemingly come to dump on me (if I failed to take the right position) and had no interest whatsoever in dialogue. Too often I have found amongst Christians that kind of angry, judgmental, and mean-spirited response to a NO position on the death penalty!

What I would have raised with him, had he given me the chance, is the following:

    • First, he was quoting from the KJV where the Greek word, krisis used can have that connotation of condemnation and judgment. But it can also mean “justice” especially with reference to divine justice. In fact, most other translations use the word “justice.” By this time (Chapter 23) in the Matthew text, we know from Jesus that the Pharisees are a highly self-righteous, judgmental lot. It is a little hard to believe that Jesus would be challenging them on their failure to show condemnation and judgment!
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    • Second, the text is misused if a huge exclamation mark is placed after the word, “judgment.” In the KJV, the text says actually: “ye… have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy and faith.” There is already a hint of a continuum or even a parallelism here, that argues against the sense of this statement to mean “judgment” in the way my accuser meant it. Jesus is quoting from Micah 6:8, which often is considered to be the high water expression of Old Testament spirituality. Here is what the passage says in the KJV:

He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?

The passage follows a specific disavowal of mountains of sacrifice, in favour of “justice, mercy, and faithfulness.” It precedes God’s castigating his people for their failure to treat others justly, compassionately, mercifully, caringly.

Twice already in Matthew’s Gospel (9:13, 12:7), Jesus says explicitly: “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” with reference to God’s way, God’s “face.” The Gospel is nothing if it is not about a dismantling of the very scapegoating mechanism [more on this here] to be found in all cultures and all times that lead in fact to putting Jesus upon the Cross! The Gospel is nothing, in other words, if it is not about denying capital punishment! The terse statement of Jesus about desiring “mercy, not sacrifice,” slightly more fully reiterated here with reference to the Micah 6 text, is in fact the death knell of the death penalty.

  • Third, one could not therefore have chosen a better passage to put the point home that true spirituality sees a face of God that is simply opposite to the face showed that night by such an angry diatribe, a face on the contrary that rules out capital punishment. It is a face that (Matt. 5:45) “Causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good,” that (Luke 6:35) is “kind to the ungrateful and wicked,” that says (Ezekiel 33:11) “ ‘As surely as I live, … I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?’” (NIV)

excerpts:

For decades, they’ve been stigmatizing and attacking opponents, raising money and building huge flocks based on faith, fear and anger, launching multi-million-dollar media empires, and becoming the face of conservative evangelical Christianity. While a series of sexual and financial scandals have thinned their ranks, for many among them, the only thing they haven’t gotten away with is murder! However, the January 6 invasion of the Capitol, and their touting of Donald Trump’s big lie that the election was a fraud, is shining a blazing spotlight on Christian Nationalism.

David French called January 6th, the day “a violent Christian insurrection invaded and occupied the Capitol.” The attack “occurred days after the so-called Jericho March, an event explicitly filled with Christian-nationalist rhetoric so unhinged that French, Senior editor of The Dispatch, a columnist for Time, and the author of the forthcoming Divided We Fall, “warned that it embodied ‘a form of fanaticism that can lead to deadly violence.’”

On January 6, Christian music blared, Christian symbols were ubiquitous, many in the mob wore Christian-themed t-shirts, and the Proud Boys led a prayer session before storming the Capitol.

Writing for Reveal, from the Center for Investigative Reporting, and in partnership with Rolling Stone, Sarah Posner reported (https://revealnews.org/article/how-the-christian-right-helped-foment-insurrection/) that the Jan 6 Save America March “opened with a prayer [led by] Trump’s longtime spiritual adviser and White House adviser, the Florida televangelist Paula White, [who] called on God to ‘give us a holy boldness in this hour’ White implored God to “let every adversary against democracy, against freedom, against life, against liberty, against justice, against peace, against righteousness be overturned right now in the name of Jesus.”

When the Senate chamber was breached, Posner further wrote: “the group paused to pray ‘in Christ’s holy name.’ Men raised their arms in the air as millions of evangelical and charismatic parishioners do every Sunday and thanked God for allowing them ‘to send a message to all the tyrants, the communists and the globalists, that this is our nation, not theirs.’ They thanked God ‘for allowing the United States of America to be reborn.’”

Meanwhile, Donald Trump’s evangelical posse is in pretzel bending mode: While some have condemned the January 6 violence at the Capitol, others refuse to blame Trump for inciting the mob. Sarah Posner, author of Unholy: Why Evangelicals Worship at the Altar of Donald Trump, maintained that evangelical leaders will attempt to minimize “Trump’s role in the Capitol attack… because many see him not just as an elected official but one anointed by God.” Religion Dispatches Chrissy Stroop argues the Capitol invasion “will force a reckoning with the ways in which conservative Christianity upholds white supremacist patriarchy in the United States. Not as a fig leaf, not as window dressing, but substantively, as religion. Christianity comes in many varieties, not all of which are benign, pro-social, or conducive to the embrace of pluralism and democracy among their adherents.”

Please click on: Toxic Christian Nationalism

Wayne Northey

Wayne Northey was Director of Man-to-Man/Woman-to-Woman – Restorative Christian Ministries (M2/W2) in British Columbia, Canada from 1998 to 2014, when he retired. He has been active in the criminal justice arena and a keen promoter of Restorative Justice since 1974. He has published widely on peacemaking and justice themes. You will find more about that on this website: a work in progress.

Always appreciate constructive feedback! Thanks.

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