Almost 20 years ago, the Freedom From Religion Foundation inaugurated a campaign “to wake up the nation to the growing dangers of theocracy.” We ran commercials using that terminology over Air America Radio, recited by talents like Rachel Maddow and Ron Reagan, published a “Theocracy Watch” column in Freethought Today and included a special segment called “Theocracy Watch” when we first launched Freethought Radio in 2006.
Among the few individuals calling attention back then to that particular iteration of Christian nationalism under George W. Bush was Michelle Goldberg, who wrote an early-bird warning, Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism, in 2006. When we invited Michelle Goldberg to address our national convention that year, she explained about Christian nationalism: “Their idea from the beginning has been to undermine the Enlightenment.”
The Obama administration provided a reprieve that fooled many of us into thinking we had dodged the theocratic bullet. Then came the 2016 election. We invited Michelle Goldberg back to speak in 2017, where she warned us, “The Christian Right, the Christian nationalist movement that I wrote about in this book, it’s a minority of this country, but it’s now the minority that’s in charge.” I’m delighted to announce that Michelle will once again address our annual national convention this year, receiving our Clarence Darrow Award for her outstanding commentary on Christian nationalism and other threats to liberty.
Even though Joe Biden’s certification was marred by the horrifying Jan. 6 insurrection with its Christian nationalist underpinnings (as our collaborative report with the Baptist Joint Commitee for Religious Liberty documents), the 2020 election gave us yet again some breathing space. But the damage done was daunting, particularly the prior Christian nationalist capture of the federal judiciary, including one-third of the Supreme Court. President Trump’s three additions turned the court extremists into a ruthless supermajority. Next came the overturning of Roe v. Wade — and many alarming decisions or actions ever since.
As someone in my sixth decade, I’ve witnessed the political pendulum swing back and forth and forth and back. Yet, I’ve never witnessed anything quite like what we are seeing today: Open Christian nationalism is being espoused by so many at different levels in government, from school boards all the way to presidential candidates. As a minority, Christian nationalist aren’t fully in charge at the moment, but intend to be — and appear willing to do whatever it takes to gain that power, including voter suppression and even future insurrections, as a recent PRRI poll shows.
We currently have a Christian nationalist House speaker two heartbeats away from the presidency, as we and many others, including the Congressional Freethought Caucus, have pointed out. At the state level, the legislative attacks are unabated: More than 20 states have banned or almost banned abortion rights and many legislatures are going crazy targeting a small minority of trans students. We’ve seen 150 bills to ban books introduced in the past year, plus punishing assaults on teaching Black history and the alarming adoption of voucher legislation subsidizing religiously segregated schools. Outrageous legislation is being introduced at an alarming pace, as FFRF Action Fund documents.
Every day, the Christian nationalist noise machine becomes louder and more strident and that ought to alarm any American who reveres our secular democracy. Below is but a mere sampling from this year:
- “Christian nationalism? Yes, please.” The Christian Post published an op-ed in late January, “Christian nationalism? Yes, please (and thank you for the compliment”) by Alex McFarland, with American Family Radio Network, embracing Christian nationalism: “Fellow Christian, be not afraid to own the term, ‘Christian nationalist.’ We believe in and acknowledge God, and we care about the future of America.”
- “I’m wearing the armor of God.” Gina Swoboda, the new chair of the Arizona Republican Party, told Steve Bannon in late January: “I’m Wonder Woman. I’m fueled by God. … I’m wearing the armor of God.” She vows to restrict access to voting in Arizona (because Christian nationalists do not believe in democracy).
- Who else is invoking the armor of God? Beloved of Christian nationalists such as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and others, the New Testament bible verse Ephesians 6:10–11 is surfacing everywhere, including on sheriffs’ vehicles in Kinney County, Texas, a violation FFRF is pursuing. After wall-to-wall bipartisan prayers to Jesus at the Feb. 1 National Prayer Breakfast, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand shockingly invoked the same bible verse, praying for Biden to put on the “full armor of God” and the “breastplate of righteousness.”
- Christian nationalist opening prayer. House Speaker Mike Johnson invited extremist pastor Jack Hibbs (an old nemesis of FFRF) to deliver the opening prayer in the House on Jan. 30, where he prayed to Jesus to repent our “national sins” and insisted, “There is no wisdom but that which comes from you.”
- “Chaplains represent God in government.” After Texas passed a law last year to allow chaplains to serve as social workers or counselors, minus academic credentials, at least six other states are contemplating similar legislation. Texas state Sen. Mayes Middleton, author of the original bill, told Christian nationalist David Barton’s “WallBuilders Show” that the law allows for “someone to talk to from a godly perspective, because chaplains represent God in government.”
- “America’s ideal has been the religion of the bible, Christianity in particular.” So begins a piece by U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley published in First Things in January. “America has been a Christian nation. We can be again — if Christians will recover again their confidence that the gospel of Jesus Christ speaks to every facet of our common life.”
- Creationism rears its head again. “Teachers in public schools … may teach intelligent design as a theory of how the university and/or humanity came to exist,” states Senate Bill 280, introduced in January to inject “Intelligent Design” into public school science classrooms in West Virginia.
- “You don’t want an atheist in public government.” “You don’t want a materialist. You don’t want an atheist. You don’t want a Muslim. You want somebody who understands what truth is and understands the nature of man, the nature of government, and the nature of God,” contended Oregon state Rep. E. Werner Reschke, state chair of the National Association of Christian Lawmakers, on Jason Rapert’s “Save the Nation” program Jan. 17, 2024. (FFRF sent a strong public rebuke.) Ditto earlier in January with U.S. Rep. Mary Miller, who told Family Research Council President Tony Perkins that only Christians are best equipped to hold public office.
The biggest threats, however, come from the Christian nationalist political campaigns, such as the Heritage Foundation’s 2025 Project, and a new scheme to recruit conservative churches in swing states to help elect Trump president, in violation of the IRS codes.
Turning Point USA will collaborate with self-described Christian nationalist “apostle” Lance Wallnau, who sought divine intervention to keep Trump in office at the Jericho March in December 2020. A “Courage Tour” will push churches to endorse from the pulpit. Turning Point USA itself is launching a 50-state prayer tour to state capitols. Rolling Stone reports that Turning Point has already recruited 2,500 churches and will also work with Moms for America and Concerned Women for America, which is dedicated to “biblical values and constitutional principles” (a bit of an oxymoron).
The truly alarming Project 2025, overseen by the Heritage Foundation, which raised more than $150 million in 2023, would give the presidency complete control over the executive branch, dismantle civil service and put cabinets under the political control of the White House. It would eliminate federal support for public education, jeopardize health care protections and favor Christian privilege over the constitutional separation of state and church. If the Supreme Court doesn’t ban mifepristone first, its demise is called for in this 920-page document of destruction of our democracy. Project 2025 is an alliance between the Heritage Foundation,the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and Christian nationalist groups.
A whole new list of Christian nationalist utterances and campaigns will soon undoubtedly supplant or join those cited above. For that reason, FFRF is officially reviving our campaign to wake up America to the growing dangers of Christian nationalism, starting with this regular column.