We’re All Christian Nationalists Now

James Carville and Rob Reiner sound the alarm

During Democratic political strategist James Carville’s recent appearance on Real Time with Bill Maher he stated that Speaker of the House Mike Johnson “is a bigger threat than Al Qaeda to this country.” In a talk Carville gave (recorded on TikTok) he got into the more dangerous aspects of Johnson’s fascist plot to take over America. Among the alarming facts is that Johnson uses the online monitoring software Covenant Eyes to protect his children from pornography and other harms while they use the internet. Rob Reiner (an atheist) has said recently that “Christian Nationalism is not only a danger to our Country, it’s a danger to Christianity itself.” His forthcoming documentary God and Country—starring, among others, Russell Moore and David French—will lay out all the gory details.

It’s easy to dismiss such claims as the rantings of extreme zealots, or to insist that Christians don’t believe the horrible things we’re said to believe. Mike Johnson, along these lines, has called on Democrats to condemn Carville’s rhetoric and for Carville to apologize. The insistence that these men on the Left apologize, however, seems to be premised on the idea that they believe something outside the range of acceptable beliefs on the Left. If only we could get rid of the loonies like Carville, so it goes, then we could get back to bipartisan business as usual.

That seems increasingly unlikely. Republicans like Mike Johnson actually are a threat to the way of life desired by Carville, Reiner and their fellow travelers. The charges leveled against politically active Christians are completely at home within the moral and political framework in which Carville and Reiner operate. Carville’s comment about Covenant Eyes is what really tipped me off. To someone like me, it is the most natural thing in the world that I would do whatever is necessary to protect my children from evil when they are online. I know that the demand for absolute and sacrosanct teenage privacy, as unthinkingly prevalent as it is in our society, is harmful. I know that my vocation as a father is to protect my children. Their spiritual, emotional, and physical welfare is my responsibility.

But people like Carville, a fairly bog-standard leftist, don’t see the world the way I do. For him, things such as limiting a teenager’s online freedom are fascist by definition. This flows out of foundational philosophical premises, especially the premise that men are in bondage in so far as they have restrictions placed on them by authorities they have not chosen. I don’t mean to suggest that Carville (or those like him on the Left) has ever thought this through at a deep level. It’s the moral air he breathes. It’s a foundational presupposition of his entire view of the world.

And, of course, it gets much worse for such men when we get to the really serious issues of law in contemporary America, issues such as abortion, marriage, immigration, religion in the public square, and so on. I am pretty ambivalent about the phrase Christian Nationalism, but it is becoming clearer and clearer to me that any Christian who seeks to bring God’s moral law to bear on the laws of our state in any way is going to be called a Christian Nationalist. Mike Johnson has been labeled one, though he hasn’t ever called himself one. States that have banned abortion at any level have been labeled “fascist havens of Christian Nationalism.” Ditto for banning transgender surgeries on minors.

The real divide among American Christians today is between those who do think God’s moral law should shape our laws and those who don’t. For those who do, there are many legitimate debates to be had about how to do so, but there is unity in the desire to see it done. Such Christians might disclaim the label Christian Nationalist, but it won’t matter to the Reiners and Carvilles of the world.

The Anabaptist impulse to completely disengage from contemporary politics is prevalent in many circles, including confessionally Protestant ones. It often appears driven by the fear that faithful preaching of the Gospel and heavenly-minded living will be neglected if Christians get caught up in politics. There may be a danger for some of falling into that false dichotomy, but it is by no means inevitable. One need not be a reconstructionist, nor a theonomist, nor a magisterial Protestant, nor a self-styled Christian Nationalist to oppose this false dichotomy either. All one needs to do is accept that our political leaders are not a law unto themselves, that our laws cannot be neutral with regard to right and wrong.

Carville and his ilk clearly believe that the only way their desired freedoms can be preserved is by using state power to suppress anyone or anything that would restrict those freedoms in any way. Thus, if Republicans seek to pass laws restricting abortion, drugs, sexual liberty, gay marriage, and more, the full power of the state must prevent them from doing so. What this ultimately comes down to is freedom for those who are on the Left, but not on the right. Republicans tend to believe we still have enough common ground in America that we can simply live and let live. But is that really the case? Any of the legal or legislative restrictions I just mentioned will be treated by the Left as fascist authoritarianism. Within the view that leftists take of human nature and of the political task such restrictions are by definition evil and fascistic.

It is, thus, now commonplace to hear prominent public figures state that nothing is off-limits with regard to stopping Christian Nationalists. They will certainly not think twice about “fortifying” elections, or extreme double standards in our judicial system depending on one’s political views. James Carville believes Mike Johnson is more dangerous than Al Qaeda. What do you do to Al Qaeda terrorists? Anything that is necessary to stop them.

There is no simple solution to this state of affairs, but it seems at least one thing needed is to change the way we think. There are two incompatible views of human freedom and flourishing on offer today. These views lead to incompatible views of the political task. These are not things the state can be neutral about. A laissez-faire approach might work when you have a body of people who share bedrock assumptions about self, society, and state, but not otherwise. Decisions have to be made about what will and will not be allowed in society. Radical libertarianism won’t fix this mess, though the libertarian temptation will likely remain alluring to many. The government not doing things isn’t going to stop the attempts of the Left to subjugate all who dissent from their view of political freedom.

We also now face the classic dilemma of democratic (and republican) forms of government: the levers of democratic political power can be used to prevent large minorities, sometimes even majorities, from exercising political freedom for themselves. We need to be clear-eyed about the fact that those on the Left in America are attempting to use the state to make America free and democratic only for those who share their beliefs. I wish that wasn’t true, but wishing doesn’t make it so. We can either bury our heads in the sand or we can try to find creative ways to push back. But frantically disavowing the label Christian Nationalist—regardless of whether it is a helpful label—isn’t going to make us safe. It isn’t going to turn the tide against aggressive leftists who want nothing more than a nation in which their political opponents aren’t allowed to participate unless they reject their own Christian or conservative views. Republicans who hold such views really are a threat to the political system these leftists support, so their hostility should not surprise us.

It is chilling to hear people in America claim that nearly half of their fellow citizens are as dangerous as Al Qaeda, but it is better to accept reality than to long nostalgically for a time in our nation that has passed. Then, instead of spending the majority of our energy trying to prove to an implacably hostile culture that we’re not Christian Nationalists, we can “use our strength for our people” leaving the results up to the Lord, who will “do what seems good to him” (1 Chron 19:13).

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