May 29, 2024 Editor

Profound Concerns Raised By: A New Documentary Goes Behind the Scenes of Christian Nationalism

“Bad Faith” traces the origins of January 6 back to the Moral Majority of the 1980s.

 

NOTE: Bad Faith is now available to rent on Apple TV and Amazon Prime. 

WN: This is indeed “Bad Faith.” Please see much more in my post: Book Review of: Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation 02-15-2023.

Then let us heed Luke 6 — a text in direct contradiction of what is highlighted in the documentary:

Good Faith:

27 But to you who are listening I say:  “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them.30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.

32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them.33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full.35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” — Jesus

excerpts:

The new documentary Bad Faith, directed by Stephen Ujlaki and Christopher Jacob Jones, begins with footage familiar to many Americans: an army of insurrectionists adorned in stars, stripes, and military gear storming the Capitol to stop the certification of the 2020 election results. It was a watershed moment that left many Americans wondering how we got here. Bad Faith seeks to help answer that question by looking at a crucial reason why American democracy ended up at a precipice: the rise of Christian nationalism.

Christian nationalism, broadly speaking, is a movement that believes America is a Christian nation, and that our political institutions should be governed by Christian values. But as the film points out, the movement often privileges a very narrow definition of “Christian values”: “The big idea of Christian nationalism is that God made America for Christians, and not all Christians, but a particular kind of white Christian with a particular theology and a particular worldview,” Eboo Patel, founder of the nonprofit group Interfaith America, says in the documentary.

Bad Faith contends that the story of January 6 began in the 1980s with conservative operative Paul Weyrich, who partnered with Jerry Falwell to found the Moral Majority. The organization registered and briefed conservative voters on political issues, crystallizing the religious right into a powerful voting bloc. Weyrich would also go on to co-found organizations like the Heritage Foundation, the American Legislative Exchange Council, and the Council for National Policy, forming the foundation for a sophisticated conservative network that has brought extremist, anti-democratic ideas into the mainstream. Weyrich is also credited with popularizing the pro-life stance among evangelicals, working to bring teachings about abortion into churches and thereby galvanizing evangelicals around the issue.

The documentary shows how Weyrich used anxieties about desegregation, especially in Christian colleges, to launch a network of think tanks and conferences dedicated to shaping America along ultra-conservative, Christian ideals. Though Weyrich died in 2008, his legacy is still visible in the modern right. The film cites a 2001 manifesto written by Weyrich’s mentee Eric Heubeck at the Free Congress Foundation, a conservative think tank Weyrich founded. Heubeck writes that to revive the “defeatist” conservative movement, “we will not try to reform institutions. We only intend to weaken them, and eventually destroy them.”

Eventually, I ran across Anne [Nelson]’s book, which provided a whole new dimension to the story of Christian nationalism. She delved into how they were funded, how they were organized. And she highlighted the exploits of Paul Weyrich, somebody who had pretty much avoided the spotlight for a while.

As we approach  the 2024 election, Christian nationalism has become more mainstream in American politics than ever. The Heritage Foundation is now leading the charge on Project 2025, a plan to pack a second Trump administration with loyalists and rearrange American bureaucracy to give the president unprecedented power—a blueprint that, the filmmakers argue, shares the anti-democratic overtones of Heubeck’s manifesto. To better understand the threat of Christian nationalism and its origins, I spoke with Ujlaki and Anne Nelson, whose book on the collapse of local journalism and the rise of the right wing’s information war, Shadow Network: Media, Money, and the Secret Hub of the Alt-Right, helped inspire the film. Our interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

“The big idea of Christian nationalism is that God made America for Christians, and not all Christians, but a particular kind of white Christian with a particular theology and a particular worldview,” Eboo Patel, founder of the nonprofit group Interfaith America, says in the documentary.
What did you learn about Christian nationalism by making the film? 

Ujlaki: It was only after I read Anne’s book that I came across what I call the smoking gun, which is the Weyrich manifesto, a manifesto he commissioned because he was finally realizing that he would never succeed in creating a Christian nation through democracy. He would always be in a minority, and the solution was to bypass democracy, to dismantle it. The decision was, if we’re going to accomplish the will of God as we see it, then democracy stands in the way.

We could show that from that manifesto to what they’ve been doing in the last 20 years, they’ve been following that plan. And that’s where Anne’s book and Anne have been so instrumental in actually charting all that. In other words, everything that’s happening today is the result of a plan. It’s not happenstance.

Ujlaki: It was all about protecting their investment, protecting their segregated Christian academies. That’s why [evangelical Christians] were so angered, and that’s why they decided they wanted to get involved with politics. However, Weyrich, evil genius that he was, realized that that wasn’t actually going to work very well. And so they came up with this idea of abortion and the rights of the unborn.

What do you think Paul Weyrich understood about democracy that most Americans don’t?

Nelson: The national press and the Democratic Party tend to be focused on marquee elections, and they also look at generic polls. But that is misleading in terms of the way our political system actually works. We’ve got the Electoral College, this strange system where even the way the states assign electors can differ. That is not conveyed in the national press and the way the Democratic party talks. They talk about winning an election with a number of votes. And that’s just not how it works. As we know, you can win the largest number of votes and still lose the election. Paul Weyrich and his partners understood this. They understood that if you drilled down and found unengaged, evangelical voters, especially in swing states, you could tilt the elections ever farther in an anti-majoritarian sense. They also understood the power of evangelicals and fundamentalists and right-wing talk radio, which the Democrats had written off. So they really did a lot of deep analysis of how the country works, and pulled ahead in terms of activating critical splinter votes in the places where they needed them.

The documentary shows how Weyrich used anxieties about desegregation, especially in Christian colleges, to launch a network of think tanks and conferences dedicated to shaping America along ultra-conservative, Christian ideals.
The film ends with a warning about Project 2025. How seriously should we take that threat? 

Ujlaki: I feel that we’re witnessing a slow-moving revolution. People are not realizing that the tide is coming in to overpower them. And they can’t quite believe it’s happening…Trump doesn’t have to win for them to say he’s going to win. That was the plan. And I never understood how that was possible, until I realized that they don’t believe in democracy.

Please click on: Behind the Scenes of Christian Nationalism

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Editor

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.