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Tag: Christian Nationalism

“Freedom of Religion” According to Evangelicals

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I spent fifty years in the Christian church. Twenty-five of those years were spent pastoring Evangelical churches in Ohio, Michigan, and Texas. I attended an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) Bible college in the 1970s. Most of my Christian life was spent either attending or pastoring Baptist churches. As a young aspiring pastor, I was taught that there was a strict separation between church and state; that freedom of religion was absolutely crucial to the life of the American Republic and to the status of religion. Church and state were on equal planes, each having its sphere of influence. Churches and preachers didn’t meddle in matters of state, and the government was expected to keep its nose out of church business. In the late 1970s, things began to change with the establishment of the Moral Majority by Paul Weyrich, Ed McAteer, and Jerry Falwell. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, scores of parachurch groups were started for the express purpose of reclaiming America for God. These promoters of American nationalism and exceptionalism flexed their muscles during the 2016 presidential election, delivering to Americans their next president, Donald Trump.

The last thirty-plus years have brought a radical change in Evangelical thinking concerning the freedom of religion and separation of church and state. The impenetrable barrier between church and state that President John F. Kennedy spoke of in the 1960s is now considered a fabrication of libtards who are hellbent on destroying Evangelical, conservative Catholic, and Mormon Christianity. One former presidential candidate, Rick Santorum, even went so far as to say that the separation of church and state is a myth; that the founding fathers never meant to exclude Christians and their religion from influencing and controlling government. These deniers of separation of church and state believe, to the man, that the United States has been uniquely chosen by God — a special nation above all others. Believing that the United States is a Christian nation, these theocrats spend their waking hours attempting to take over government at every level. Having trampled over the wall of separation of church and state, these warriors for God intend on returning America to what they consider its Christian roots.

While Evangelicals have discarded the notion of the separation between church and state, considering it a myth, they continue to say that they support the First Amendment and the idea of freedom of religion. However, their idea of freedom of religion is far different from what has generally been understood in the past. Freedom of religion and separation of church and state go hand in hand. Can we have the freedom to worship or not worship as we please if the government gives preference to Christianity? No! As history clearly shows, any time religion and state are joined at the hip, freedoms and liberty are lost and people die. Who is it that is clamoring for the national registration of Muslims and the banning of immigrants from non-Christian countries? Who is it that is demanding that teacher-led prayer and Bible study be permitted in public schools?  Who is it that wants creationism taught as science and the Ten Commandments posted on public school classroom walls? Who is it that is tirelessly working to overturn societal progress on same-sex marriage, LGBTQ rights, and abortion? Who is it that is clamoring for the government to adopt a nationwide voucher program that will pay for students to attend private Christian schools? Evangelicals and their conservative compatriots in other sects, that’s who.

So, when Evangelicals talk about the freedom of religion, remember what they really mean is freedom for THEIR religion, and their religion alone. While they with their lips say that they support the freedom of all religions, what they really mean is that they support your right to worship your God freely as long as it doesn’t interfere with or influence the American religion, Christianity, and its control of government. Muslims, Buddhists, and other non-Christian religions will be tolerated only so far as they stay out of the way. According to theocratic Evangelicals, their God alone is the one true ruler over all, and the Bible is the standard by which we should govern our lives socially and politically. And those atheists who have tirelessly worked to make sure the wall of separation of church and state is absolute? They will be expected to stop harassing fine Christian school officials and government leaders who only want to follow the dictates of God and the Bible. People who spent their lives working to change the legal system and its brutal punishment of the poor and people of color will likely see a return to the days of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Again, appeals will be made to the Bible and its code of justice. It should not surprise anyone when Evangelicals call for re-criminalizing homosexuality, adultery, fornication, abortion, and marijuana use.

Remember these things the next time your Evangelical friends, family members, or coworkers say they support the freedom of religion. You might want to ask them what they mean by “freedom of religion.” Do they mean freedom equally for all religions? Do they mean freedom to not believe in any gods at all?  Do they support the separation of church and state? If not, do they believe America is a Christian nation? Would they be okay with a Muslim president or building a mosque next door to their Baptist church?  If Christian prayers and Bible readings are permitted in public schools, would they be okay with Muslim prayers and Buddhist teachings being given the same level of support? As you ask these types of questions, you will likely find out that what your Evangelical acquaintances really mean when they say “freedom of religion” is freedom for the Christian religion, for “Biblical” Christianity. Believing that secularism equals socialism and communism, these worshipers of the Christian God want a culture that is dominated and controlled by Christian beliefs and philosophies.

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Now that God’s Only Party (GOP) controls most state governments, and will likely regain control of Congress in 2022, we can expect to see attempts to derail and destroy the social progress of the last sixty years. I suspect that savvy Evangelical parachurch groups will use state and federal courts to bulldoze the wall of separation of church and state, leaving its rubble as a monument to the days when social progressives thought they could challenge the authority of the Christian God. And it is for this reason that those of us who value religious freedom must not idly stand by while Evangelicals attempt to remake America into a new version of the 1950s. Don’t think for a moment that such monumental societal change cannot happen. It can and it will if we stand by and do nothing. One need only watch what is happening with abortion rights and transgender rights to see how quickly things can change. Just because Joe Biden and the Democrats currently control the government doesn’t mean the culture war is over. It’s not, and if we don’t fight, we are sure to wake up one morning and see the Christian Flag flying over the White House.

Note

If you do not support the following groups, I encourage you to do so.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State

Freedom from Religion Foundation

American Atheists

American Humanist Association

American Civil Liberties Union

People For the American Way

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Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Dear “Concerned” Evangelicals Who Are Alarmed by Christian Nationalism

christian nationalism

It seems that some Evangelical sects, pastors, and parachurch leaders are now aware of the fact that Evangelical churches are pastored by and filled with members holding racist, nationalist, white supremacist beliefs. Recent weeks have brought countless articles detailing Evangelicalism’s white supremacist and Christian nationalism problem. Shocker, right? While I appreciate high-profile exposure of these problems, I do chuckle a bit when Evangelical and secular authors alike express outrage over something they have just become aware of, acting like a pig who just found a truffle. They seem clueless of the fact that the alarming problems they see in Evangelicalism are not new, that racism, Christian nationalism, and white supremacist beliefs have been core Evangelical dogma for decades. I saw similar behavior when these same people expressed alarm and outrage over sexual abuse and coverup in Evangelical churches and colleges. I wanted to ask, “where the hell have you been?” This stuff has been going on in Evangelical and Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches my entire life. And for new readers who may not know my age, I am sixty-three years old. I have been around Jesus hanging on the cross a time or two.

On the same day I read several news stories about Evangelicals and their affinity for Christian nationalism, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) expelled two congregations for “affirming homosexual behavior” and two other churches for employing convicted sex offenders. Homophobia and pedophiles pastoring SBC churches? Who woulda thunk? The SBC is dying on the vine, a result ot its continued move to the right theologically, politically, and socially. Racism, misogyny, white supremacism, and Christian nationalism are common among Southern Baptists — the largest Evangelical sect in the United States. The same can be said of IFB churches and thousands and thousands of Evangelical congregations.

Long before I left the ministry, I was speaking out about these issues. By 2000, I made it clear to the people I pastored that politics had no place in the church. We were no longer going to be culture war warriors. Instead, we would focus on loving God and loving others, trying to present to the world a Christianity worth having. After I left the ministry in 2005, I continued to focus on the rot within Evangelicalism and continue to do so today.

Well-meaning Evangelicals think that they can “fix” Evangelicalism; if they work to root out bad actors that Jesus will once again bless Evangelical churches, people will get saved, and congregations will start growing again. This, however, is wishful thinking. The problems facing Evangelicalism are systemic. Unless Evangelicals are willing to rewrite the Bible or jettison many of their beliefs, I can’t imagine they will ever return to the glory days of the 1960s-1980s.

Evangelicals are one of the most hated religions in America for good reason. Thanks to the Internet and sites such as this one, Americans now know what goes on behind closed church doors. Evangelical churches and pastors can no longer hide their abhorrent beliefs and practices. The facade has been ripped away, exposing structural racism, misogyny, and homophobia — to name a few. I have published 800+ stories about Evangelical clergy sexual misconduct (and other criminal behavior) in the Black Collar Crime series. Former insiders are now telling their stories, revealing where the proverbial dead bodies are buried. From blogs to podcasts to social media, Evangelicalism is being assaulted on all sides. Their response? Whining, complaining, doubling down, and attacking their critics; anything but making systematic changes to their beliefs and practices.

I get it, Evangelicals believe the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible word of God. They also tend to believe the Bible is a timeless text meant to be read and interpreted literally. To make systemic changes would mean abandoning these beliefs and admitting fallibility. Imagine Evangelicals ever admitting that the Bible is wrong, that its teachings cause psychological and physical harm, that the Bible — a man-made book — is in desperate need of an update. This is not going to happen, of course. Evangelicals, as they like to say, shall not be moved.

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As alarmed reporters and Evangelical leaders belatedly see the light, I hope they will take a hard look at core Evangelical beliefs and practices. I hope they will come to see that Evangelicalism is rotting from within and is in the advanced stages of decomposition. I hope they will see that the Christian nationalism they just stumbled upon was there all the time, that the events of January 6, 2021, were just the culmination of beliefs put into place by men such as Jerry Falwell forty years ago. Most of all, I hope they will see that racism and white nationalism have always been part and parcel of Evangelical Christianity. My God, read the history of the Southern Baptist Convention.

As a critic of Evangelicalism, I hope that increased scrutiny and exposure to the light will bring the sect to an ignoble end. Thoughtful, kind, loving Evangelicals will hopefully abandon the sect, taking their money with them. That alone will starve and kill the beast. We shall always have Fundamentalists among us. The best we can hope for is that they will once again be forced to the margins of life, that the power they have over our culture and political life will be broken. By all means, let them rage against sodomites, abortion, and libs from their clapboard church houses. We just won’t care. Until that day comes, we must do everything in our power to marginalize Evangelical beliefs. We must love Evangelicals but hate their beliefs. We are in a no-holds-barred battle for the future of our country. We owe it to our children and grandchildren to fight for a better tomorrow, one where Evangelicalism is little more than a toothless, lazy porch dog — all bark, no bite.

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Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

America’s Gun Culture in Light of the Recent Insurrection

australian gun control

Years ago, I wrote a post about firearms and the importance of gun control laws. Boy, did I step in it, attracting all sorts of gun nuts and worshipers of the Second Amendment. I took the position then that we must do something about the dangerous, irrational, violent gun culture in America. Numerous mass shootings, school massacres, murders, and insurrections later, I still believe that the people of the United States MUST come to terms with the gun monster we have created by allowing the NRA and other pro-gun groups to impede meaningful, exhaustive firearm regulation. After recent armed insurrections at the U.S. Capitol and numerous state capitals, it’s evident that we must drastically change our firearm laws.

But, Bruce, the Second Amendment says . . .

Ah yes, the God of the American right. What, exactly, does the Second Amendment say?

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

A well regulated militia, end of discussion. The Second Amendment has nothing to do with personal firearm ownership as it is currently practiced in the United States. At best, our well regulated militias are state National Guard units, and not Billy Bob and Joe Bob getting together with their white supremacist buddies and calling themselves a militia.

It is the duty of the law enforcement and the National Guard to protect the security of our free state, not people who have bought an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle or a Glock 9mm semi-automatic pistol at Dick’s Sporting Goods or their local gun store.

I grew up in a home surrounded by firearms. My dad was an avid gun collector. In the 1960s and 1970s, Dad had tables at local gun shows, buying and selling firearms and ammunition. After we moved to Arizona in the 70s, Dad opened a gun store in Sierra Vista. I worked many hours at the store, and had at my disposal everything from single-shot .22k Hornet rifles to .458 Winchester Magnum rifles. When I wanted to go hunting or do some target shooting, I either used my own guns or I borrowed one from the store.

In the 1960s, Dad got a visit from the ATF, alleging that he had violated the 1968 Gun Control Act with some of his firearm sales at a Lima, Ohio gun show. While he was not arrested, ATF agents told him that if he didn’t stop his illicit trade, they would charge him with federal crimes. Did Dad stop illegally peddling guns? I can’t know for sure, but I doubt it.

As an eleven-year-old boy, I vividly remember Dad sitting at the dining room table modifying an M1 Carbine so it would be fully automatic. After the modification, Dad and I went outside and lined up a bunch of tin cans on the fence. Dad then mowed the cans down with his now fully automatic M1. I have no idea what happened to this gun, or if Dad modified other M1s for interested buyers.

That’s my background, lest anyone suggest that I don’t know anything about firearms. I owned firearms well into the 1990s. I then sold my rifles, shotguns, and handguns. By that time, I had stopped hunting, and I lost interest in target shooting and owning guns in general. I do wish I hadn’t sold my bolt action Mossburg .410 shotgun with a modified choke. It was my first firearm purchase at the Lima gun show mentioned above. I was eleven and paid $21 for the shotgun.

What must we as a people do to put an end to the Second Amendment cult? What must we do to put an end to gun violence? What must we do to strip insurrectionists of their weapons of mass destruction? What follows are suggestions for radically changing America’s gun culture.

First, all firearms and ancillary equipment must be registered and entered into a national database that is accessible to law enforcement. Purchase requirements must be strengthened and waiting periods lengthened. These things must be changed at the federal level. State governments have shown that they are unwilling to do what’s necessary to protect the American people from gun violence. Here in Ohio, super-majorities of Republicans in the state legislature have turned the Buckeye State into the Wild, Wild West. Anything goes when it comes to firearms.

Second, certain firearms must be strictly regulated and, if need be, confiscated. Assault-style firearms must be banned, along with high-capacity magazines. Owners of such things should be given an opportunity to turn them in and receive fair market value for their weapons. If they refuse to turn in the guns, laws should be crafted that would seriously punish them if they are caught with the weapons in public.

Third, all state concealed carry laws should be repealed. No one should be permitted to carry a firearm in public. Allowance should be made for hunting and target shooting, but firearms used for such purposes must be secured separate from ammunition until they are readied for use.

Fourth, all private sales or transfers of weapons must be reported to local law enforcement, who then must update the federal database with the new information. Illegal firearm sales must be severely punished.

Fifth, every gun and ammunition sale should be taxed. Want to reduce the number of firearms in America? Tax sales at such a level that purchasers will think twice about buying more guns or boxes of ammunition.

Sixth, sales of things such as bulletproof vests, armor-piercing bullets, flash grenades, and arrest zip ties should be limited to law enforcement. Ammunition purchases should be limited. No one needs to own thousands of rounds of ammunition.

Seventh, all firearm owners must take comprehensive firearm training. This training must be repeated every five years. All firearms are required to be secured with a trigger lock or locked in a gun safe/box.

Eighth, Hollywood and game companies must be held accountable for their love affair with violence and firearms. This is one of those “think of the children” moments. Children with immature minds gain warped views of firearms, life, violence, and death when watching programming or playing video games that glorify these things.

Ninth, the Dickey Amendment must be repealed. For 25 years the CDC has shied away from conducting research on gun violence. That’s because in 1996 Congress passed the Dickey Amendment, a law that mandated “none of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the CDC may be used to advocate or promote gun control.” This silencing of research on gun violence serves to hide the true nature and extent of gun-related injuries and deaths.

The goal, long term, should be to adopt the Australian or British model of gun control. One thing I know for certain: we cannot continue on the path we are on. It’s only a matter of time before another mass shooting, school massacre, or, the gods forbid, an armed, bloody insurrection against the legally constituted government of the United States. These insurrectionists are not patriots. Their purpose is to overthrow federal and state governments, establishing a white theocracy. That the people who stormed the Capitol were determined to have no king but Donald Jesus Trump should scare the shit out of rational Americans. If the insurrectionists had turned right instead of left, we likely would have seen the execution of numerous senators and representatives. This mob was even calling for the head of Christian nationalist Vice President Michael Pence.

I have no doubt that armed insurrections lie ahead for Washington DC and many state capitals. We are possibly facing days like we have not seen since the Civil War. The difference is the insurrectionists are heavily armed and are able to inflict mass casualties. When mass delusion controls millions and millions of Americans, there’s no hope of reasoning with such people. Most of them are beyond facts. They have bought into lies that have so enraged them that they are willing to murder people in the name of “truth.” The short-term answer, then, is for insurrectionists to be met with and repelled by law enforcement and the national guard. Long term, the beast must be neutered and disarmed. The things I mentioned above would help in doing just that.

Let me be clear, I have no interest in debating members of the Second Amendment cult, NRA members, or people who think firearm ownership is an absolute right (no rights are absolute). For this post, I will invoke the one comment rule for members of the cult. Say your piece, and move on. I am more interested in hearing from people who are tired and fearful of the American gun culture; who are sick of all the threats of violence and murders; who fear that our democracy is in trouble and we must do everything in our power to turn back seditious insurrectionists out to destroy the United States as we know it.

The comment section is yours.

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Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Quote of the Day: What Does U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr Really Want?

bill barr

But at least since Mr. [Bill] Barr’s infamous speech at the University of Notre Dame Law School, in which he blamed “secularists” for “moral chaos” and “immense suffering, wreckage and misery,” it has become clear that no understanding of William Barr can be complete without taking into account his views on the role of religion in society. For that, it is illuminating to review how Mr. Barr has directed his Justice Department on matters concerning the First Amendment clause forbidding the establishment of a state religion.

In Maryland, the department rushed to defend taxpayer funding for a religious school that says same-sex marriage is wrong. In Maine, it is defending parents suing over a state law that bans religious schools from obtaining taxpayer funding to promote their own sectarian doctrines. At his Department of Justice, Mr. Barr told law students at Notre Dame, “We keep an eye out for cases or events around the country where states are misapplying the establishment clause in a way that discriminates against people of faith.”

In these and other cases, Mr. Barr has embraced wholesale the “religious liberty” rhetoric of today’s Christian nationalist movement. When religious nationalists invoke “religious freedom,” it is typically code for religious privilege. The freedom they have in mind is the freedom of people of certain conservative and authoritarian varieties of religion to discriminate against those of whom they disapprove or over whom they wish to exert power.

This form of “religious liberty” seeks to foment the sense of persecution and paranoia of a collection of conservative religious groups that see themselves as on the cusp of losing their rightful position of dominance over American culture. It always singles out groups that can be blamed for society’s ills, and that may be subject to state-sanctioned discrimination and belittlement — L.G.B.T. Americans, secularists and Muslims are the favored targets, but others are available. The purpose of this “religious liberty” rhetoric is not just to secure a place of privilege, but also to justify public funding for the right kind of religion.

Mr. Barr has a long history of supporting just this type of “religious liberty.” At Notre Dame, he compared alleged violations of religious liberty with Roman emperors forcing Christian subjects to partake in pagan sacrifices. “The law is being used as a battering ram to break down traditional moral values and to establish moral relativism as a new orthodoxy,” he said.

Barr watchers will know that this is nothing new. In a 1995 article he wrote for The Catholic Lawyer, which, as Emily Bazelon recently pointed out, appears to be something of a blueprint for his speech at Notre Dame, he complained that “we live in an increasingly militant, secular age” and expressed his grave concern that the law might force landlords to rent to unmarried couples. He implied that the idea that universities might treat “homosexual activist groups like any other student group” was intolerable.

This form of “religious liberty” is not a mere side issue for Mr. Barr, or for the other religious nationalists who have come to dominate the Republican Party. Mr. Barr has made this clear. All the problems of modernity — “the wreckage of the family,” “record levels of depression and mental illness,” “drug addiction” and “senseless violence” — stem from the loss of a strict interpretation of the Christian religion.

The great evildoers in the Notre Dame speech are nonbelievers who are apparently out on the streets ransacking everything that is good and holy. The solutions to society’s ills, Mr. Barr declared, come from faith. “Judeo-Christian moral standards are the ultimate utilitarian rules for human conduct,” he said. “Religion helps frame moral culture within society that instills and reinforces moral discipline.” He added, “The fact is that no secular creed has emerged capable of performing the role of religion.”

Within this ideological framework, the ends justify the means. In this light, Mr. Barr’s hyperpartisanship is the symptom, not the malady. At Christian nationalist gatherings and strategy meetings, the Democratic Party and its supporters are routinely described as “demonic” and associated with “rulers of the darkness.” If you know that society is under dire existential threat from secularists, and you know that they have all found a home in the other party, every conceivable compromise with principles, every ethical breach, every back-room deal is not only justifiable but imperative. And as the vicious reaction to Christianity Today’s anti-Trump editorial demonstrates, any break with this partisan alignment will be instantly denounced as heresy.

….

“What does Bill Barr want?”

The answer is that America’s conservative movement, having morphed into a religious nationalist movement, is on a collision course with the American constitutional system. Though conservatives have long claimed to be the true champions of the Constitution — remember all that chatter during previous Republican administrations about “originalism” and “judicial restraint” — the movement that now controls the Republican Party is committed to a suite of ideas that are fundamentally incompatible with the Constitution and the Republic that the founders created under its auspices.

Mr. Trump’s presidency was not the cause of this anti-democratic movement in American politics. It was the consequence. He is the chosen instrument, not of God, but of today’s Christian nationalists, their political allies and funders, and the movement’s legal apparatus. Mr. Barr did not emerge in order to serve this one particular leader. On the contrary, Mr. Trump serves a movement that will cynically praise the Constitution in order to destroy it, and of which Mr. Barr has made himself a hero.

— Katherine Stewart and Caroline Fredrickson, The New York Times, Bill Barr Thinks America Is Going to Hell, December 30, 2019

Quote of the Day: The Rise of Christian Fascism

chris hedges

The greatest moral failing of the liberal Christian church was its refusal, justified in the name of tolerance and dialogue, to denounce the followers of the Christian right as heretics. By tolerating the intolerant it ceded religious legitimacy to an array of con artists, charlatans and demagogues and their cultish supporters. It stood by as the core Gospel message—concern for the poor and the oppressed—was perverted into a magical world where God and Jesus showered believers with material wealth and power. The white race, especially in the United States, became God’s chosen agent. Imperialism and war became divine instruments for purging the world of infidels and barbarians, evil itself. Capitalism, because God blessed the righteous with wealth and power and condemned the immoral to poverty and suffering, became shorn of its inherent cruelty and exploitation. The iconography and symbols of American nationalism became intertwined with the iconography and symbols of the Christian faith. The mega-pastors, narcissists who rule despotic, cult-like fiefdoms, make millions of dollars by using this heretical belief system to prey on the mounting despair and desperation of their congregations, victims of neoliberalism and deindustrialization. These believers find in Donald Trump a reflection of themselves, a champion of the unfettered greed, cult of masculinity, lust for violence, white supremacy, bigotry, American chauvinism, religious intolerance, anger, racism and conspiracy theories that define the central beliefs of the Christian right. When I wrote “American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America” I was deadly serious about the term “fascists.”

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Tens of millions of Americans live hermetically sealed inside the vast media and educational edifice controlled by Christian fascists. In this world, miracles are real, Satan, allied with secular humanists and Muslims, is seeking to destroy America, and Trump is God’s anointed vessel to build the Christian nation and cement into place a government that instills “biblical values.” These “biblical values” include banning abortion, protecting the traditional family, turning the Ten Commandments into secular law, crushing “infidels,” especially Muslims, indoctrinating children in schools with “biblical” teachings and thwarting sexual license, which includes any sexual relationship other than in a marriage between a man and a woman. Trump is routinely compared by evangelical leaders to the biblical king Cyrus, who rebuilt the temple in Jerusalem and restored the Jews to the city.

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The ideology of the Christian fascists panders in our decline to the primitive yearnings for the vengeance, new glory and moral renewal that are found among those pushed aside by deindustrialization and austerity. Reason, facts and verifiable truth are impotent weapons against this belief system. The Christian right is a “crisis cult.” Crisis cults arise in most collapsing societies. They promise, through magic, to recover the lost grandeur and power of a mythologized past. This magical thinking banishes doubt, anxiety and feelings of disempowerment. Traditional social hierarchies and rules, including an unapologetic white, male supremacy, will be restored. Rituals and behaviors including an unquestioning submission to authority and acts of violence to cleanse the society of evil will vanquish malevolent forces.

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Christian fascism is an emotional life raft for tens of millions. It is impervious to the education, dialogue and discourse the liberal class naively believes can blunt or domesticate the movement. The Christian fascists, by choice, have severed themselves from rational thought. We will not placate or disarm this movement, bent on our destruction, by attempting to claim that we too have Christian “values.” This appeal only strengthens the legitimacy of the Christian fascists and weakens our own. We will transform American society to a socialist system that provides meaning, dignity and hope to all citizens, that cares and nurtures the most vulnerable among us, or we will become the victims of the Christian fascists we created.

— Chris Hedges, Truthdig, Onward, Christian Fascists, December 30, 2019

Quote of the Day: “The Family”

A secretive organization that has courted political leaders and built international influence while undermining the constitutional division of the church and the state in the process is at the center of a new five-episode documentary series called “The Family.”

Since 1953, the National Prayer Breakfast has remained a fixture in American politics that has boasted attendance by every president since Dwight D. Eisenhower on the first Thursday of every February. It has been hyped as an opportunity for the political elite of Washington, D.C., and visiting international dignitaries to put aside partisan differences and reflect on a higher purpose.

While the annual event is purportedly hosted by members of Congress, it is actually organized and run by an evangelical Christian organization called The Fellowship Foundation, or “The Family,” as it is referred to internally by its members.

The series, which debuts on Netflix on Friday, takes a look at the group that operates with its own higher purpose — quietly building its influence on global politics “in the name of Jesus.”

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“The Fellowship isn’t about faith and it spreads very little. It’s about power,” said Jeff Sharlet, whose books, “The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power,” and “C Street: The Fundamentalist Threat to American Democracy,” inspired the Netflix series.

“Internally, it is spoken of primarily as a ‘recruiting device’ with which to draw ‘key men’ into smaller prayer cells to ‘meet Jesus man to man,’” according to Sharlet. “Practically, the Prayer Breakfast has functioned from the very beginning as an unregistered lobbying festival.”

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Citing 2006 documents, Sharlet estimates the number of dedicated organizers who handle recruitment at just 350. Those organizers, however, have built a network of prayer cells that the late Christian Right leader Chuck Colson pegged at 20,000-strong, calling it, “a veritable underground of Christ’s men all through government.”

Sometimes that has meant aligning with politicians who stray from Jesus’ example. In 2009, former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford gave a press conference outside of C Street emphasizing his religious pedigree upon resurfacing after disappearing from his state for days to visit a mistress in Argentina.

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So, while President Donald Trump may not have the most pious of track records, Sharlet says the Family has embraced the unique opportunity provided by the most fundamentalist Cabinet in recent American history to advocate evangelical policy.

“The Fellowship believes God uses who He wants, and that power itself is an indicator of who He has chosen — it’s a theology of more power for the powerful,” Sharlet explained.

“The fact that Trump, with his “art of the deal,” is especially well-prepared to embrace this transactional theology — Trump puts the Christian Right’s people in power in return of their support — seals the deal.”

— Ethan Sacks, NBC News, Secretive Christian group at heart of D.C. politics ready for its close-up in Netflix docuseries, August 10, 2019

Purchase Books by Jeff Sharlet

The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power

C Street: The Fundamentalist Threat to American Democracy

Thanks to Donald Trump, The United States is the Laughingstock of the World

donald trump un speech
Cartoon by Adam Zyglis

President Donald Trump recently took his nationalist road show to the United Nations. During his speech to U.N. delegates, anti-globalist Trump, a pathological liar who daily lies to the American people, said:

Today I stand before the UNGA to share the extraordinary progress [lie] we’ve made. In less than two years, my administration has accomplished more than almost any administration in the history of our country [lie].

After Trump uttered these lies, many of delegates laughed at him, thinking, I am sure, is this man nuts? What’s astounding about his delusional rant is that it was a scripted speech. This wasn’t Trump talking out of his ass. His handlers wanted him to say this, knowing that it was a boldfaced lie.

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Trump continued his lying saying:

America is governed by Americans. We reject the ideology of globalism and we embrace the doctrine of patriotism. I honor the right of every nation in this room to pursue its own customs, beliefs, and traditions. The United States will not tell you how to live or work or worship. We only ask that you honor our sovereignty in return.

Christmas 2017: The Christmas Light Drive-Thru in Hicksville, Ohio

keep christ in christmasMy wife, oldest daughter, and I, along with several of our children and grandchildren, recently attended the Christmas Light Drive-Thru at the Defiance County Fairgrounds in Hicksville, Ohio. Attended by thousands of people from Northwest Ohio, Northeast Indiana, and Southern Michigan, the drive-thru is a mishmash of lighted secular and Christian displays. Thousands of dollars and man-hours go into putting on the largest Christmas light display in the area. Volunteers at the entrance held donation buckets for attendees to donate. Not knowing what awaited me beyond the entrance, I threw in a $5 bill.

While the trappings of secular Christmas were everywhere we looked, it became very clear to us that Jesus, along with Christian nationalism, were the true stars of the show. At both the entrance and exit, there were lighted American flag displays. Later in drive-thru, we passed a lighted memorial to the Twin Towers in New York (yeah, it struck me as bizarrely strange too). We later drove by a display that said that God gave the us two things: the cross Jesus died upon and the flag of the United States of America.  This display, in particular, was a perfect example of how fused Christianity and right-wing political beliefs lie in the minds rural Midwesterners.

More than a few displays touted Christian clichés: Jesus is the Reason for the Season, Keep Christ in Christmas, to name two. My favorite display was one of a shirtless Santa lounging on a beach. After being assaulted by a barrage of Christian Christmas messages, Santa Bruce and Polly were ready for a trip to the beach too, along with a steady stream of alcoholic beverages.

There was nothing in the Christmas Light Drive-Thru that surprised me. I know rural Northwest Ohio quite well. It is, after all, the land of my birth and where I have spent most of my adult life. This is the land of conservative Christianity, right-wing politics, and Christian nationalism. Recent local outrage over Defiance College football players refusing to stand for the National Anthem revealed that Jesus and the GOP — God’s Only Party — are very much alive and well. Of the numerous letters written to the Defiance Crescent-News about the kneeling players, only three letter writers, including yours truly, supported their actions. The Christmas Light Drive-Thru, then, serves as a reminder of who rules the roost in rural Ohio — Jesus and right-wing politics. I am surprised that the Drive-Thru didn’t have a display of three wise men standing before a crèche while saluting an American flag flapping in the breeze over the white baby Jesus’ manger.

The people behind the Christmas Drive-Thru are decent, good people who simply in their actions reflect the tribal beliefs of most denizens of rural Northwest Ohio. I don’t find fault with the Christmas displays, except for the fact that there were no displays touting the Winter SolsticeHanukkah, or Kwanzaa. I suspect the area’s whiteness and lack of religious diversity has a lot to do with why these “other” holiday themes were not represented. (And if any of the people behind the Christian Light Drive-Thru stumble upon this post, I would love to provide and pay for a Winter Solstice display next year.)

The Drive-Thru cost us $5 and an hour of our time. While it is not likely we will make a return visit, I certainly understand its appeal — a bright shining display touting the beliefs most locals hold dear. I know we are generations away from, if ever, locals seeing and understanding that both the Jesus and Santa on display at the Christmas Light Drive-Thru are myths. As long as the Jesus myth prevails, so will displays touting the rightness of rural, white, conservative Christianity.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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Feeling Like a Stranger in My Own Country

flags at henry county fair 2017

I am someone who is committed to social and economic progress for all Americans. I oppose racism, bigotry, misogyny, and xenophobia wherever they are found, including in the groups and political parties I support. Recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia have left me increasingly feeling as if I am a stranger in this blessed land of ours. Nazis, KKK members, and white supremacists — some of whom were armed with assault rifles — marched in the streets as if we still lived in the 1950s. Counter-protesters pushed back at this vile and ugly display of Donald Trump/Steve Bannon-inspired white nationalism, but I was dismayed to see photographs of people who supposedly have much in common Martin Luther King, Jr. carrying firearms and resorting to violence to get their message across.  During President Obama’s eight years in office, great strides were made in areas such as gays serving in the military and same-sex marriage. As a liberal, I thought, better days lie ahead. Thanks to Bernie Sanders and others who hold Democratic Socialist values, the plight of American workers will be improved, health care will be reformed and expanded, and the economic stranglehold the rich and corporations have on the working class will be broken. I naïvely thought that the influence of lobbyists and corporate donations on our political process would finally be ended. Instead, white and Evangelical America rose up and voted Donald Trump into office — the most inept, unqualified man to ever be elected president. Overnight, President Trump has rolled back decades of social progress, dumped billions of dollars of new money into the military-industrial complex, attacked minorities, and used the power of the Federal government to persecute and deport people who are in the United States illegally. Worse yet, President Trump has increased troop levels in the Middle East, threatened to attack Iran and Venezuela, and has us on the cusp of nuclear war with North Korea. And now it is increasingly likely that the President and/or people closely associated with him colluded with Russia to subvert our democratic process.

I find the current state of affairs to be quite depressing, so I try to do things that distract my mind from Trumpmania. Last Saturday, Polly and I, along with our oldest daughter, drove to Napoleon, Ohio to attend the Henry County Fair. We met our two oldest sons and their families at the fair. My sons love tractor pulls, and since Polly and I had never attended such an event, I thought attending the NTPA — (National Tractor Pullers Association) sanctioned tractor pull would be a delightful distraction. Little did I know that Christian nationalism would be front and center at the pull.

It comes as no surprise that the crowd was white. During the four-plus hours I sat in the stands, I saw all of one black person. An Asian family sat in back of us for a short while, but after having their fill of high-horsepowered machines, they got up and left. Prior to the start of the event, I expected the announcer would ask everyone to stand, remove their hats, place their right hands over their hearts, and face the flag as someone screeched out the Star Spangled Banner. While I personally despise the singing of the National Anthem (and God Bless America) at sporting events — a tradition dating back to the World Wars —  I acquiesce, removing my hat and placing it over my heart. Unfortunately, minutes — long, painful minutes — before the singing of the National Anthem, the announcer launched into a diatribe better suited for the brown shirts In Charlottesville who were, at the same time, showing their support for nationalism, militarism, and Christianity.

First, the announcer had everyone stand, remove their hats, and place their right hands over their hearts, not for the singing of the National Anthem, but for the saying of a sectarian prayer to the Christian God. He demanded everyone conform, and then launched into a full-blown — are we at an Evangelical church? — masturbatory prayer to Jesus. The prayer was completed with the announcer saying, and all God’s people said AMEN. The stands reverberated with an orgasmic AMEN! with virtually everyone around me lending their vocal approval. No shock here. This is rural Northwest Ohio, the land of Christian God, guns, American militarism, and overt displays of nationalism.

cash explosion tractor pulling team henry county fair 2017

Having attended countless sporting events over the years, I have had to listen to innumerable inane, stupid — and at times hilarious — Christian prayers. I was not, however, ready for what happened next. Once the prayer was finished, the announcer asked everyone to remain standing for the next ritual, the saying of the Pledge of Allegiance. Before leading the crowd in a profession of fealty to the United States and to the Christian God, the announcer went on a several minute-long harangue about how great America was, how awesome our military was, and how parents need to teach their children the importance of blind, nationalistic patriotism.

Once the Pledge of Allegiance was duly uttered, it was time for the singing of the National Anthem. I thought, finally escape looms near. Unfortunately, everyone in attendance was forced to listen to part three of the announcer’s Ain’t ‘merica Great sermon first, and then the appointed singer sang the National Anthem. Thinking my hell on earth was finally over, I started to sit down, only to find out that the announcer wasn’t done. Since there were Canadians in attendance at the tractor pull, it was deemed appropriate to play the Canadian National Anthem. Thankfully, no one was called on to sing O Canada.

As I always do when attending sporting events, I refused to remove my hat for the praying of the prayer to the Christian God. This God is not my God, and I find such displays of sectarianism at events open to the public offensive. As far as I could see in front of me and to the left and right, I was the only man who refused to uncover his head. The saying of the Pledge of Allegiance elicited the same response from me. I refuse to pledge my allegiance to America, its flag, or the Christian God. I know the saying of the Pledge has its roots in the anti-communist McCarthyism of the 1950s. As a Christian, I refused to say the pledge because my only allegiance was to Jesus. These days, I refuse because of the connection of the Pledge to nationalism and militarism.

I am sure some readers might wonder how, constitutionally, the announcer could get by with the sectarian prayer and sermonizing. Ohio county fairs are actually private events. Agricultural boards rent the fairgrounds from their respective counties and are free to do whatever they want. I learned this years ago when I got into a skirmish in Southeast Ohio with the Perry County sheriff and county fair officials. I had gone, along with a group of people from the church I pastored at the time, to the fairgrounds to hand out tracts and preach. The local sheriff, with whom I had a running battle, threatened to arrest me if I didn’t immediately stop what I was doing and leave the fairgrounds. I refused, threatening both him and the fair board with a lawsuit for violating my first amendment rights. They backed down, but a few weeks later I received a letter from the Ohio Attorney General informing me the Ohio fairs were private events and as such I could be arrested for trespassing if I continued to hand out tracts and preach. Ironically, Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF) was permitted to have on fair property a train caboose-like vehicle they used to trap children into watching movies or other forms of entertainment so they then could be evangelized. (At the Henry County Fair, there was a man preaching and handing out tracts. He was allowed to do so unmolested.)

The tractor pull itself was quite entertaining, and both Polly and I enjoyed watching the loud, thunderous machines pull a weighted sled down the track. My sons informed me that this Saturday’s NTPA national event at the Wood County fairgrounds in Bowling Green, Ohio will even be worse when it comes to worship of the Christian God and the promotion of American exceptionalism and nationalism. Not only will there be a prayer and a pledge, there will also be the playing of numerous patriotic country songs. The songs of flag-wavers such as Toby Keith and Lee Greenwood will blare across the pull grounds, as men and women who proudly wear the redneck label thank God for horsepower and the smell of racing fuel. I’ll pass, thank you.

Bruce Gerencser