Far-right Christians' quest for power: 'We're seeing them emboldened'

A cross atop a church in Bismarck, N.D., on Sept. 29, 2020. (Tim Gruber/The New York Times)

A cross atop a church in Bismarck, N.D., on Sept. 29, 2020. (Tim Gruber/The New York Times)

Three weeks before winning the Republican nomination for governor of Pennsylvania, Doug Mastriano stood next to a 3-foot-tall painted statue of an eagle and declared the power of God.

“Are there free people in the house here? Did Jesus set you free? he asked, speeding up the dozens in front of him on a Saturday afternoon at a Gettysburg, Pennsylvania roadside hotel.

Mastriano, a state senator, retired Army colonel and a leading figure in former President Donald Trump’s futile efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 state election, was addressing a far-right conference mixing Christian beliefs with conspiracy theories called Patriots. Arise. Instead of focusing on issues like taxes, gas prices, or abortion policy, he weaved a story about what he saw as the nation’s true Christian identity and how it was time for Christians, together, to take back the political power.

Sign up for The Morning Newsletter from the New York Times

The separation of church and state was a “myth,” he said. “In November we are going to recover our state, my God will do it that way.”

Mastriano’s ascension in Pennsylvania is perhaps the most high-profile example of right-wing candidates for public office explicitly aiming to promote Christian power in America. The religious right has long supported conservative causes, but this current wave is seeking more: a nation that actively prioritizes its particular set of Christian beliefs and far-right views and more openly embraces Christianity as a core identity.

Many dismiss the historic American principle of separation of church and state. They say they are not advocating a theocracy, but are advocating a role central to their faith in government. His rise coincides with significant endorsement among like-minded grassroots supporters, especially as some voters and politicians conflate their Christian faith with conspiracy theories of voter fraud, QAnon ideology, gun rights, and lingering anger over restrictions. related to COVID.

Their presence reveals a fringe that pushes into the mainstream.

“The church is supposed to run the government, the government is not supposed to run the church,” Rep. Lauren Boebert, a Republican representing western Colorado, said recently at Cornerstone Christian Center, a church near Aspen, Colo. “I’m tired of this garbage separation of church and state.” Parishioners rose to their feet in applause.

A handful of people who espouse this view, like Boebert, recently came to power with the combination of Christian messages and conspiracy theories that Trump has raised. Others, like Mastriano, are taking part in competitive races, while most have long-term campaigns and are unlikely to survive the main races.

The ascension of these candidates comes amid a wave of action across the country that promotes the cultural priorities of many conservative Christians. The most important is the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade and ending the constitutional right to abortion, in addition to his recent series of decisions allowing a greater role for religion in public life, such as prayer in schools and the financing of religious events. education. States have also been taking action; many have instituted abortion bans. A Florida law bans classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in the early years of elementary school, and Texas has issued an order to investigate parents with transgender children for possible child abuse.

Declaring the United States a Christian nation and ending federal enforcement of separation of church and state are minority views among American adults, according to the Pew Research Center. Although support for church-state integration is above average among Republicans and white evangelicals, many Christians see such integration as a perversion of the faith that elevates the nation above God. The fringe that competes for power remains a minority between Christians and Republicans.

Like Mastriano, some of the candidates pushing that fringe view already hold lower-level elected office but are now running for higher office where they would have more power, said Andrew Seidel, vice president of Americans United for Separation from the Church. and the state.

“We’re seeing them emboldened,” Seidel said. “They are claiming to be the true inheritors of the American experiment.”

Trump gained power in large part by offering to preserve the influence of white evangelicals and their values, just as many feared the world as they knew it was rapidly disappearing.

The fact that Trump, whom they saw as their protector, is no longer president intensifies the feelings of many conservative Christians that everything is on the line. About 60% of white evangelical Protestants believe Trump stole the election from them, according to a survey by the Public Religion Research Institute conducted late last year. White evangelicals are also the religious group most likely to be QAnon believers, according to the survey. QAnon refers to a complex conspiracy theory involving a Satan-worshipping child sex trafficking ring, and the FBI has previously warned that some of its adherents could turn violent.

Across the country there are active efforts to take advantage of the growing religious fervor of the American right in electoral participation. That includes more typical Republican voter outreach efforts, but also new groups mobilized since President Joe Biden took office.

A sense of religious grievance is deepening in the ultraconservative wing of the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, a contingent that is increasingly allied with right-wing political causes such as extreme pressure to punish women for abort. At a conference in Memphis, Tennessee, this spring, Rod Martin, one of the founders of the Conservative Baptist Network, described objections to Christian nationalism as simply a plot by Democrats.

“Let us demonize patriotism by calling it nationalism and associating it with Hitler. Ah, now let’s call it white nationalism,” he told the gathering, mimicking how he viewed people on the left. “Then we will call it a Christian nationalist to make it sound like you are the ayatollah. Everything is designed to demonize you.”

The Patriots Arise event, where Mastriano spoke, kicked off with a video of QAnon-related conspiracy theories prophesying that “systems of control,” including “media propaganda, child trafficking, and the slave economy,” will be they would fall apart.” A robotic voiceover predicted a “great awakening” and the image of a guillotine blade accompanied the promise of “executions, justice, victory.”

When Mastriano finished, a man in an American flag cowboy hat and shirt handed him a longsword, inscribed “For God and Country.”

“Because they’ve been lopping off a lot of heads,” explained Francine Fosdick, a social media influencer who organized the event and whose website promoted a QAnon slogan. “You are fighting for our religious rights in Christ Jesus, and that is why we wanted to bless you with that sword of David.”

He raised the golden hilt in his right hand. “Where is Goliath?” she asked.

© 2022 The New York Times Company

Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.