Christian nationalism provides cover for white supremacy, and both must be stopped by Christians concerned about religious freedom, Amanda Tyler said at the National Press Club June 26.
Tyler, executive director of the BJC in Washington, D.C., spoke at the end of a virtual luncheon viewed by more than 1,000 participants and featuring a presentation by Robert P. Jones, author of the new book White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity.
In response to Jones’ presentation, Tyler said: “To be clear, our call to action is to work to dismantle white supremacy from society, our religion, from ourselves.”
And for this, there is “no quick fix,” she added. “White supremacy is firmly lodged in us and in our system” after “centuries of ignoring, rationalizing and justifying it.”
Tyler defined Christian nationalism as “a political ideology and cultural framework that seeks to merge American and Christian identities.” It asserts that “true Christians are Americans and real Americans are Christians. It demands a privileged place for Christianity in our laws and government.”
Christian nationalism provides cover for racism and “acts a lot like racism,” she said. “It is pervasive, insidious and infects all aspects of American life. It feeds on a carefully curated white-centered version of history.”
Racism and Christian nationalism also are related because “we won’t have faith freedom for all without racial justice,” she added.
“We must guard against new efforts to co-opt American Christianity for political uses and new efforts to distort religious freedom,” she declared. “We must firmly reject Christian nationalism.”
Christian nationalism was on display in the 2015 Charleston AME church massacre and in the 2018 synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, Tyler said. And it was evident again this month when President Trump posed with a Bible in front of St. John’s Church in Washington, D.C., after authorities violently removed protestors and clergy. That event happened just a few blocks from where Tyler spoke at the National Press Club.
“The fact that peaceful protesters, including clergy and seminarians, were violently cleared from the space by the church to make room for the stunt is not only hypocritical but also intensifies the harm of the misuse of the Bible and the church,” she said.
“There was a swift and emphatic rejection” of this event by many religious leaders, Tyler noted, but added, “we cannot ignore that some religious leaders embraced and applauded the co-opting of religious symbols by the president.”
Such a witness “risks not only tarnishing Christianity’s reputation with the general public but distorting the gospel of Jesus beyond recognition,” Tyler declared. “This kind of power-broker Christianity has been used to perpetuate racial segregation for generations. It has contributed greatly to the trauma and pain in our streets right now.”
And now, “Christians have a choice about which side they will be on: the oppressed or the oppressors,” she said.
Asking such questions is a painful but necessary process, Tyler said, noting that even her own organization, the BJC, is taking inventory of its institutional history related to racism. A study group will report its findings to the board this fall.