You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

'Tasting power is a dangerous thing': Local church leaders say 'shrill voices' in the Christian nationalism movement are taking over school boards and dividing communities

Business Insider India logo Business Insider India 14-09-2022 Pocharapon Neammanee
'Tasting power is a dangerous thing': Local church leaders say 'shrill voices' in the Christian nationalism movement are taking over school boards and dividing communities © selimaksan / Getty Images 'Tasting power is a dangerous thing': Local church leaders say 'shrill voices' in the Christian nationalism movement are taking over school boards and dividing communities
  • Some GOP leaders have fully embraced Christian nationalism, promoting the idea that God should guide policy decisions.
  • Church leaders say that the Christian nationalist movement has a major impact on local government.

The growing influence of far-right Christian nationalism in the Republican party has worried faith leaders around the country, who told Insider that recent activism from this faction has spurred deeper divisions in some local communities — notably in school board elections.

"For years, we've seen people leaving churches or having bigger and bigger fights over their disagreements, and those fights get even bigger when you think God's on your side," said Rev. Nathan Empsall, a Connecticut-based Episcopal priest and the Executive Director of Faithful America, a grassroots faith-based civic organization.

"We've seen these fights in local school boards, and we've seen fights in state legislatures over bills with major local impact, especially regarding schools and LGBTQ issues."

He added, "Now we're seeing similar fights in local counties and states over abortion since it's been taken away from the federal level in the [Supreme Court] decision."

'It's about misinformation and how they spread it'

Sociologists Andrew Whitehead and Samuel Perry provide a full-bodied definition of Christian nationalism in their 2020 book, "Taking America Back for God: Christian Nationalism in the United States" Insider previously reported.

"Simply put, Christian nationalism is a cultural framework — a collection of myths, traditions, symbols, narratives, and value systems — that idealizes and advocates a fusion of Christianity with American civic life," they wrote.

A 2021 national survey conducted by Baylor University found that 52% of Americans embraced Christian nationalism, and those who fully adopted the ideology made up a fifth of Americans.

According to Empsall, many far-right Americans are attracted to the Christian nationalist ideology because of how proponents of the movement usually spread misinterpretations of Christian teachings.

"It's about misinformation and how they spread it, and how they spread it in Jesus's name," Empsall said. "I believe actual Christianity and our loving creator God are forces for good but can be twisted and turned into something else in our rhetoric and our actions. And that's what we see happening."

Many far-right politicians, including former President Donald Trump, have promoted this movement — openly embracing God and politics.

© (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File)

During his time in office, Trump adopted many Christian nationalist agendas such as anti-abortion measures, appointing Christian conservatives to the federal judiciary, and supporting student prayer in public schools.

"He's [Biden] following the radical left agenda, take away your guns, destroy your 2nd Amendment, no religion, no anything, hurt the Bible, hurt God. He's against God," Trump told supporters during the 2020 presidential election.

Trump, this past July, appeared to conflate being American with being Christian, saying "Americans kneel to God, and God alone."

Trump's former Vice President, Mike Pence, an evangelical Christian, also advocated promoting anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ Christian nationalist values. And while serving as governor of Indiana, Pence signed a controversial bill into law that opponents said enabled discrimination against LGBTQ people on the basis of religious freedom.

Other Republican lawmakers have also promoted the ideology.

Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado said in June she is "tired of this separation of church and state junk" and "the church is supposed to direct the government," Insider previously reported.

And Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia also repeatedly identified herself as a Christian nationalist, saying the GOP should be the party of Christian nationalism. Greened calls those who oppose her and Christian nationalism as the "Godless left." Many have spoken out against Greene promoting Christian nationalism.

GOP Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois has condemned Greene, calling her part of the 'American Taliban' — a reference to the Islamic terror group.

'The goal of this movement is to gain power'

Other Christian organizations, including Faithful America and Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, have also criticized the influence of Christian nationalism in America.

"They attack, of course, their political opponents, but demonizing them, not just criticizing and disagreeing with them, calling them things like Team Satan and they tear down anyone you might have any trust in other than themselves. And they do it in Jesus's name, so it's attaching it to your faith," Empsall said.

Pastor Charles Johnson, who is the executive director of a national network of faith leaders called Pastors for Children, told Insider that while the movement's influence on local school boards affects a few school districts in the nation and is mostly limited to less diverse suburban communities, it should not be downplayed.

"Okay, you're going to have some success in a few school districts. I don't say, 'Big deal.' I don't want to downplay the destructiveness of that kind of dynamic in these communities," Johnson said.

Empsall told Insider he believes that the Christian nationalist movement appears to be all about attaining major influence in decisions of public life.

"The goal of this movement is to gain power for its adherence to gain power through authoritarian tactics for conservative Christians, no matter who else they have to hurt along the way, no matter how many equal rights they have to strike down, or how many elections they have to try and overturn locally or nationally," Empsall said.

He said many church leaders have joined with far-right politicians for a similar purpose.

"Tasting power is a dangerous thing, but that's what Christian nationalism is about, power for conservative Christians," Empsall said. "The pastors who support it get power, and the politicians who abuse the church this way, get people who prop them up and keep them in power."

Despite the growth in popularity of the movement on the national level, many community members have expressed their concerns over Christian nationals influencing their local-level politics to their church leaders.

"Mainly, they see these shrill voices winning these school board elections, and they're afraid," said Johnson of Bread Fellowship. "It's very disturbing to see your school district get overtaken by a right-wing, highly politicized, cadre cabal, basically."

© Robert Gauthier / Getty Images

Empsall told Insider that the Christian nationalism movement advances on local level school boards, including how to teach race, including LGBTQ students, are not grassroots-led but rather coming from larger Christian national organizations.

The Family Research Council, a national evangelical activist group, for instance, has provided resources for Christian nationals to run for school board elections. Wallbuilders, a conservative faith-based organization, has also created Christian-based aids for educators.

Patriot Mobile, a Christian Super-PAC, endorsed 11 candidates in Texas school board elections this year — all of whom won.

According to Axios, Patriot Mobile donated more than $600,000 and hired two GOP consulting firms to run their campaigns. Many of the endorsed candidates have adopted policies that restrict how teachers talk about race and LGBTQ issues. They have also banned several books, Axios reported.

"The claims of parental rights are not coming from parents. I say that as a parent who finds these claims of parental rights, actually attack my rights as a parent," Empsall told Insider.

Opponents of Christian nationalism condemn the movement, claiming it to be both unpatriotic and un-Christian, believing that the ideology has no place in local government institutions.

"To be a patriot means that you believe in the idea of America," Pastor Johnson said. "It's the idea that we are all created equal. And therefore, through our public institutions should be accorded an equal playing field."

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon