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Religion or politics? – Baptist News Worldwide

I am a cultural anthropologist, and I was doing a study in Cabbagetown, a predominantly white, evangelical neighborhood in Atlanta, in the 1970s when I started hearing local preachers talk about taking America back for Jesus. They argued that the Supreme Court banning segregation, prayer, and Bible reading in the schools, combined with civil rights legislation and feminism, all destroyed the God-given country that white people had built.

They called for a Christian government, a strong hand, to reverse federal decisions that they felt had stripped away their Christian way of life. While decrying the loss of Christian principles in this country, a Baptist minister exclaimed in the middle of a sermon, “Hitler and Stalin did something.” Pastors and their church members called for political power to restore the intertwined dominance of race and Christianity that was their comfort zone.

Ron Duncan Hart

After that research, I was out of the country for decades, working as an anthropologist on issues of welfare and religion in South America and North Africa. After returning to this country, the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville in 2017 brought me back to the reality I had experienced in Cabbagetown in the 1970s.

I had lived with people as they told me their life stories, their fear of black people, their conversions, healing by God, their battle between God and the devil. They feared that Jews and blacks would replace them, and they called for a strong Christian arm to support them.

I realized what I had observed Cabbagetown was the birthplace of Christian nationalism. Implicit in their call to Make America Great Again was the use of authoritarian means when necessary. They would be justified in achieving what they saw as God’s will for America.

In Cabbagetown I had observed the two faces of religion, one of spiritual quest and concern for others, and the other of faith, bigotry and bigotry. Since then I have seen these two faces of religion in Catholic South America, Muslim North Africa and other places.

Concerns about the link between religious belief and intolerance leading to violence gained attention following the attacks on the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers in 2001.

In 2007 I attended a conference at Abdelmalek Essaâdi University in Tetuan, Morocco, and one evening my wife, daughter and I were having dinner with two local professors from the university, one a sociologist and the other a professor of Islamic literature. When we talked about tolerance in religion over dinner, the literature professor noted that tolerance is dangerous and unacceptable for Islam. He further argued that Muslims should be intolerant of foreign influences that could contaminate the purity of Islam.

“Religion and intolerance often correlate, but does religion also cause intolerance?”

His comments made me think about the connection between ideological purity and intolerance in religious systems, including Christianity. Religion and intolerance often correlate, but does religion also cause intolerance?

The violent attacks on synagogues and black churches in the United States would soon refocus attention on white extremism in this country. I thought about the long history of intolerance in the name of purity of nationalism, racism or religion. We can see the suppression and extermination of the ‘other’, the unclean, repeatedly in European history, from the Crusades against the ‘infidels’ in the Holy Land in 1098 to the Inquisition that burned Jews at the stake in Spain and Portugal in the 16th century, to the more recent history of lynchings in the United States and the state-sponsored genocide that was the Holocaust.

And we don’t have to go any further then the beatings, bombings and massacres against blacks and Jews in the civil rights era. When civil rights marches were organized in black Baptist churches, white citizen councils were organized in white Baptist churches to stop them.

Remember, Southern Baptists only called on their member churches and families to stop using the Confederate battle flag in 2015. The struggle for Christian nationalism has produced a unitary belief system in which the pluralism of democracy became a threat, and Christian authoritarianism the only way to guarantee the dominance of Christian values ​​in society, even if it requires the old alliance with autocracy. was necessary.

Christian nationalism became mainstream with Ronald Reagan, who was elected president in 1980 with significant evangelical help. He promised “a great national crusade to make America great again.”

He turned it into an important slogan in his presidential campaign. Reagan built the evangelical political coalition based on the message of America as the light on the hill for democracy. He forged an alliance that elected four of the country’s next six presidents.

Since my study of religion and politics in Cabbagetown in the 1970s, evangelicals have been a major influence in getting America to where it is today, with a blend of religion and politics. The call to reclaim America for Christianity that I observed in Cabbagetown so many years ago is the acorn that grew into an oak tree.

Claude, an articulate factory worker in Cabbagetown, called for America to be returned to the Christian country where he grew up with whites as the “backbone of the nation,” as he said. Claude made no distinction between ‘white’ and ‘Christian’.

I often wonder what his children and grandchildren would say today.

Ron Duncan Hart is a cultural anthropologist from Indiana University with postdoctoral work at Oxford University in Jewish Studies. He is a former university vice president and dean of Academic Affairs at InterAmerican University. In addition to being a Fulbright Senior Scholar, he has received awards for his work from the Ford Foundation, National Endowment for the Humanities, and the National Science Foundation. He has written eight books, five of which have won or been finalists for Best Books. He is currently director of the Institute for Tolerance Studies and his latest book is Evangelicals and MAGA: The Politics of Grievance, Half a Century in the Making.