October 29, 2020

The Right-wing Christian leader Franklin Graham organized a “Prayer March” that was held in Washington D.C. on Saturday, September 26th. A mostly white crowd of thousands gathered on the National Mall to pray for national unity, the well-being of President Trump, the Supreme Court, an end to abortion, an end to the pandemic, an end to racism and violence against “people who have suffered unjustly.”

Convinced I would be supportive, a friend who had watched the event on Facebook emailed me afterward urging me to find a recording and watch it myself. I know my less than enthusiastic response disappointed him. “You’re against Franklin Graham?” was his deflated reply.

How can one be against prayer? How can one be against unity? How can one be against healing? How can one be against Franklin Graham, the flag or a spiritual resurgence in these United States?

The answer is Christian Nationalism. A very basic definition of Christian Nationalism is that it is the belief that to be a good American one must be a good (conservative) Christian and that our nation will only thrive when Christianity (the right-wing kind) proliferates and dominates.

The advancement of Christian Nationalism was not listed in any of the statements about, or any of the publicity for, the recent march in Washington D.C. Indeed, the organizers took great pains to declare that it was a non-partisan event. Yet, when Franklin Graham is involved Christian Nationalism is on the agenda.

“He doesn’t have to run for office to be ‘political,’” said Susan Harding, an anthropologist of religion at the University of California, Santa Cruz. “Franklin is vying for leader of the hard-right evangelicals,” succeeding Jerry Falwell (whose son endorsed Trump). They long for “an old-fashioned triumphalist Christian world where Christianity is Truth with a capital T.”

As one participant in the September 26th march put it, “Politics will never get us to unity. It’s only Jesus.” As one who tries to follow the teachings of Jesus,

I appreciate this person’s commitment to Jesus. As one who sees Christian Nationalism as detrimental to our national well-being, I struggle with their use of the words only Jesus.

Our nation is still mourning the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She has rightly been praised for her commitments to justice, to humanity, to the well- being of those whom the framers of the Constitution did not view as fully entitled to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” It is important to note that Justice Ginsburg was Jewish. A phrase from the book of Deuteronomy, “Justice, justice you shall pursue,” was on a framed plaque that hung on the wall of her chambers.

According to the tenets of Christian Nationalism, as a non-Christian, she did not deserve to have, she did not belong in, a post as significant as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. Such posts are reserved for those who see Jesus as the “only” answer to our national ills.
As Election 2020 approaches, I urge us all to beware of creeping Christian Nationalism. It often is presented in terms of morality, unity and spiritual vitality. Its effect is to give power to the Franklin Grahams of the world and de-value the Ruth Bader Ginsburgs.

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