January 16, 2023 Editor

Following in MLK’s Footsteps Means Resisting Christian Nationalism

King’s life gives us a blueprint to fight the religious right.

January 16, 2023

WN: In the excellent article highlighted below, the author writes:

Today the theological and political descendants of King and Falwell again fight for the direction of the nation.

But my friend Allen Harder (with extensive experience doing relief and development work overseas, including in Muslim-dominated cultures), in response to Kristin Kobes du Mez‘  outstanding book (see my Book Review of: Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation | 2021/06/12–where his longer reflection is found), writes:

The book has also clarified many of my questions about how evangelicals who believe in Jesus could support such misogyny, violence, racism, anti-feminism, etc. etc. It’s a cultural phenomenon and not a religious, theological one, albeit undergirded by a contorted understanding of religion. It has also clarified for me that the extent of convictions and practices of patriarchal authoritarianism explains why democratic ideals mean nothing to this crowd and that it is pointless to call them out on these ideals. It’s all too clear that religious leaders could endorse the January 6 uprising.

It’s a cultural phenomenon and not a religious, theological one, albeit undergirded by a contorted understanding of religion.

I couldn’t help but be reminded of comparison between extreme right-wing evangelicalism and extreme right-wing Islam. The parallels between the masculine militancy, absolute patriarchal authority and subordination of women and sexuality can’t be missed. When I talked to my wife about this, she also drew a parallel. It must be something to do with far right-wing religion, whether it is Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and even Buddhism. The more right-wing, the less tolerance there is of “the other” and the more likelihood of resorting to violence through power. The culture of violence in right-wing Islam and in right-wing evangelicalism seems remarkably similar.

What astounds me is how little place there is for grace for others. Being convinced that God is unending and unbounded love and grace for all is the only remedy.

The pullquote above summarizes du Mez’ presentation.

As a committed–inclusive!–Christian, that point, as made slightly differently in the article highlighted, is crucial. As one section title reads:

The Two Faces of Christ

If our Jesus is not that face of Christ as seen by Dr. King, then we have no clue about what the Gospel is! None whatsoever!

As you will find on my Front Page:




Martin Luther King Jr. yanked the burnt Ku Klux Klan Christian cross from his front lawn as his child looked on. It was 1960. Many Black families in Atlanta woke to charred crosses left as a warning to civil rights activists.

Sixty-one years later, a Christian nationalist group called Jericho’s Road stoked the January 6 insurrection with prayer vigils and marches. A right-wing mob waving flags emblazoned with “Jesus 2020” and “Jesus is My Savior” stormed the Capitol, armed and threatening to kill Democrats and Republicans. Outside, men prayed near a giant cross. A year after the January 6 attempted coup, the Christian far right is more isolated, extreme and preparing to strike again.

White Christian nationalists, the extreme fringe of the religious right, are increasingly turning to violence. They want to make Christianity the state religion, ban abortion, reinforce conservative gender roles and dramatically cut immigration to ensure a white majority. MLK Jr. endured attacks from racist evangelicals, using redemptive suffering and taking the moral high ground to unite a multiracial coalition, the Poor People’s Campaign. What worked for him then can work for us today.

King saw Jesus as a revolutionary pacifist.
[C]onservative Christians, according to Pew Research, tend to be white, older, less educated, pray daily, believe in a literal Hell and Heaven, and skew Republican. They also tend to cultivate racist ideas and deny the reality of systemic racism.

On the conservative fringe are Christian nationalists, a toxic brew of American jingoism and Bible thumping. In an interview with The Young Turks, Katherine Stewart, author of The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism, said, “It basically is the idea that America is founded as a Christian nation … we’ve moved away from that and the right kind of Americans need to take it back … it divides ‘us’ versus ‘them,’ the ‘pure’ from the ‘impure’ … it is an organized quest for power.”

In this biblical struggle, white Christian nationalists imagine themselves as the foot soldiers of Jesus. Secular society looks to them, Stewart said, to be “Satanic. Demonic. Inhuman.” It is a theology that is anti-democratic and juvenile. It is a simple-minded story of good and evil that demonizes whoever is different; the gay person, the Muslim, the immigrant. Finally, the unconverted must kneel at the foot of the cross, by court order or force if needed.

[Jerry Falwell] did not publicly advocate violence, but he laid the foundation for Christian nationalism with his mix of racism, patriotism and Bible scholarship.

“We should be proud to be Christian nationalists,” boasted Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, the latest face of the movement. Today’s upsurge of white Christian nationalism is a reaction to the social protests that have rocked the U.S. — Black Lives Matter, the Supreme Court decision to legalize gay marriage, #MeToo and Occupy Wall Street. Each protest disrupted long accepted power dynamics and exposed the dirty underside of the “American Dream.”

In a contest over public support for civil rights, King and Falwell were two faces of U.S. Christianity. King read the same Bible as Falwell, but instead of Falwell’s vengeful Jesus, casting sinners into the fiery pit of Hell, King saw Jesus as a revolutionary pacifist.

Each protest disrupted long accepted power dynamics and exposed the dirty underside of the “American Dream.”
King’s Jesus was a Black Jesus. He loved the poor. He healed the sick. He was willing to break an unjust law for the greater moral good of love. King wrote about unjust laws in his 1963, Letter from Birmingham Jail, “An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.”

King’s Jesus did not reduce anyone’s humanity to skin color, class or sex. The Christian tradition he represents always transcended the limits of the Bible’s text to reach its spirit. In order to make it real, King and the millions who followed him risked their lives and suffered, in hopes to redeem — really rescue — the racists trapped in their hatred.

Please click on: Following in MLK’s Footsteps

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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.