Political pundits will fine tooth comb the January 6 committee’s highly anticipated report. As faith leaders, that is not our job. Our work is to reach into the moral conscience of our country, into the core values we share. Among those is freedom and among those blessed freedoms, our much-cherished freedom of religion.
Freedom of religion thrives in a strong and vibrant democracy and ours is currently under assault by an authoritarian faction that claims to value freedom of religion—as long it’s theirs. Cloaked in the cross, white Christian Nationalists were visible and violent during the January 6 Capitol Hill insurgency against the peaceful transfer of power. They have made it abundantly clear that they are willing to take away a breathtaking range of rights in the name of their faith. That is neither religion nor is it freedom.
It is important everyone understands Christian Nationalism. Christian Nationalism twists our
constitutionally-protected freedoms toward unconstitutional ends. It falsely claims the U.S. was founded by and for certain kinds of Christians and believes it must remain that way. With cult-like characteristics, Christian Nationalists are forcing their way into our homes, bedrooms, schools, and governments. They perpetrate violence that is spilling into our houses of worship. White Christian Nationalists have massacred Sikhs, Jews, Muslims, and Christians as they prayed.
White Christian Nationalists are a very useful weapon for the MAGA movement, a tool to unravel everything from our personal safety to the guardrails of our democracy. They are being used in the battle against voting rights and in support of desperate candidates—local, state, and federal—who promise to overturn elections they lose. Pillars of power are manipulating their Christian Nationalist followers in order to hold onto the Golden Calves of power and money. That power and money does not trickle down to their followers. Their lives do not improve. Instead, leaders cultivate rage to keep them in line. As we’ve seen, sometimes that rage turns deadly.
People join extremist groups to meet needs that become pronounced in times of profound transition. Economic disparity, climate disaster, the opioid crisis, the breakdown of governance, have served as tinder for the bonfire of white Christian Nationalism, which rears its head at moments such as these, in every generation since the founding of this nation.
Christian Nationalism is not Christian. Christian values, like kindness, humility, and love of neighbor, are shouted down as to no longer be audible. Christian Nationalism is a violent and divisive problem for us all. When extremists co-opt the language of faith, it’s no wonder many are tempted to throw faith out the window. It’s easy to see democracy and society as safer and freer if religion was erased.
The answer is not to disengage from faith, but to engage deeper into the wisdom of spiritual traditions, and our nation’s guiding values. Freedom of religion was so important, the Founders enshrined it in the very first amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The First Amendment guarantees the separation of church and state. The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment prohibits government from encouraging or promoting (“establishing”) religion in any way. The Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment guarantees our freedom to worship as we choose.
The path to religious freedom is a healthy democracy. The multifaith community must work to strengthen the ties between us in pursuit of dignity and justice for all. We must take a vocal stand and call on the government to continue the January 6 investigation no matter where it leads. We must call on the government to secure voting rights because strong vibrant communities depend upon the right of every citizen to vote, no matter their religion, race, political party, or zip code. We must push for voter protections to secure the integrity of our election process. And we must be on the front line of the freedom to worship as one chooses.
If you have a relative or are part of a church caught up in white Christian Nationalism, please let them know your concerns and invite them into an honest and respectful conversation. We must do our best to reach out to those caught up in Christian Nationalism with this message: Don’t be fooled by those who seek to eradicate certain constitutional freedoms, certain votes, and certain values. You are already next.
Lisa Sharon Harper, President and Founder, Freedom Road
Author of Fortune: How Race Broke My Family And The World—And How To Repair It All
Rev. Jen Butler, Founder, Faith in Public Life
Author of Who Stole My Bible: Reclaiming Scripture as a Handbook for resisting Tyranny
Brian D. McLaren, Author, teacher with Center for Action and Contemplation
Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS, Co-Founder, Understanding US
Author of Hunger for Hope
The Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, IX Bishop of the Diocese of New Hampshire, The Episcopal Church
Stosh Cotler, Former CEO, Bend the Arc Jewish Action
Valarie Kaur, Sikh American activist, Executive Director of Revolutionary Love Project
Author of See No Stranger
Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis, Public theologian; Senior Minister, Middle Collegiate Church
Author of Fierce Love
Otis Moss, III, Senior Pastor, Trinity United Church of Christ
CEO Unashamed Media
Wajahat Ali, Writer, commentator, Daily Beast columnist
Author of Go Back to Where You Came From
Rev. angel Kyodo williams, Senior Zen Priest; Founder, Transformative Change
Author of Radical Dharma: Talking Race, Love and Liberation
Linda Sarsour, Executive Director, MPower Change
Author, We Are Not Here to be Bystanders
Rev. Michael-Ray Mathews, Faith in Action Host, Prophetic Podcast
Rabbi Sharon Brous, Senior Rabbi, IKAR
Rev. Dr. Peter Goodwin Heltzel, Public Theologian, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Author, Resurrection City: A Theology of Improvisation
Rev. Traci D. Blackmon, Associate General Minister, Justice & Local Church Ministries, United Church of Christ
Rabbi Stephanie Kolin, Congregation Beth Elohim
Rev. Dr. Emma Jordan-Simpson, President, Auburn Seminary
About the authors:
The Auburn Senior Fellows represent six religions and many Christian denominations, dozens of organizations, and pulpits with global reach; the fellowship convened by Auburn Seminary in New York City.