A biblical death sentence. In America, in 2023, a legislator has proposed The Millstone Act, which he openly confesses “was named in reference to Matthew 18:6, ‘but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it is better for him that a heavy millstone be hung around his neck, and that he be drowned in the depths of the sea.’”
America embraced the separation of church and state as a core, fundamental value precisely to prevent religious despots from abusing government power to impose their personal religion on all of us. But Oklahoma State Senator David Bullard is a Christian nationalist out to make Oklahoma into a Christian state.
Forged in the fires of Oklahoma State Senator David Bullard’s violent Christian imaginary, this bill is one of a horde of anti-trans bills sweeping our country. Bullard’s bill purports to protect children while threatening medical professionals. It declares a state of emergency and bans gender-affirming care in the name of Bullard’s god. As with other such bills, it dehumanizes and demonizes trans people. Unlike other bills, Bullard christened his with a biblical name that threatens—that promises—violence and death.
Bullard typifies the modern genre of Christian Nationalist politician. Oleaginous facial hair—a pathetic grab at the masculinity conservative politicians are so desperate to cosplay these days—hides a weak chin, but the beard cannot camouflage Bullard’s dearth of original thought or of genuinely helpful policy proposals. He and his party lack any substantive policy positions, any original ideas that might actually help the people of Oklahoma—not to mention basic empathy. The sole concern for Bullard and his dull ilk seems to be imposing their conservative version of the Christian religion on the rest of the state by abusing a legislative power that is, constitutionally speaking, entirely secular. This is Christian nationalism.
Christian nationalist politicians have almost nothing to offer their constituents other than the bitter sectarianism of Christian nationalism. The Republican takeover in Congress, which is focused on petty retribution, pointless and performative “investigations,” and possibly cratering the global economy, proves the point. Instead of doing good, such politicians seek to strip women and minorities of every protection, support, aid, assistance, and basic dignity, and then call themselves “pro-life.”
They’ll gladly enact policies that dramatically increase infant mortality and thrust millions of children into poverty while claiming to care about children’s health. They fetishize their guns, mulishly clutching the instruments of the leading cause of death for America’s children with an unrivaled passion. They rail against life-saving vaccines and masks, and the scientific consensus behind them, while the Covid pandemic is also among the top ten killers of our children. And then, brimming with arrogance and utterly lacking self-knowledge, they have the gall to propose legislation that amounts to a death threat against those who would harm children? Another line from the Book of Matthew comes to mind: “You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye…”
Lest voters realize these feckless and vile legislators have nothing to offer in the way of promoting the general welfare, as the preamble of our Constitution demands, they put on a show. Their unmitigated lack of substance is glaring if not masked with some grand spectacle, so they demonize, distract, and disinform.
They need an enemy. Always. And so the first order of business is to flail about desperately for the next powerless group to demonize. Immigrants and minorities remain their favorite victims. They run through a litany on their televised propaganda outlet until something sticks in the fearful minds of their followers. And now they’ve set their sights on trans people.
Occasionally, like the swindlers they are, they’ll offer shiny distractions. Remember, the entire burlesque is meant to camouflage their inadequacy. Florida Gov. Ron Desantis just exempted gas stoves—appliances that may actually be harmful to human health—from Florida’s six percent sales tax. Nevermind that 92% of Floridians chose electric stoves before this was made into an issue. Now, as my colleague Annika Brockschmidt discussed recently, victims of these hucksters can buy a possibly harmful appliance and then flock to social media to proudly display their allegiance to a mob that has nothing to offer beyond this insular membership.
When not demonizing or distracting, Christian nationalists like Bullard will engage the machinery of the state to promote their disinformation. For years he has worked to inject Christian nationalist myths and disinformation (the very same kind I debunk in The Founding Myth: Why Christian Nationalism is Un-American) into the Oklahoma school curriculum. As I wrote four years ago about one of his bills, “He wants public school history classes in Oklahoma to be live versions of Hobby Lobby’s wildly misleading July 4 ads.” Those ads were crafted in collaboration with David Barton’s disinformation mill, Wallbuilders.
A virtual stroll through the Christian nationalist sausage factory that is “State Senator David Bullard’s” official Facebook page shows that he’s something of a David Barton fanboy. Barton is one of the most prolific propagandists for American Christian nationalists and Bullard’s page showcases his devotion to such men, including Glenn Beck. The page itself is a monument to conservative, White Christian men. Facebook, already a toxic cesspool of confirmation bias and disinformation, seems to have reached some peak level of Christian nationalism with Bullard. Just in the last few months, for example, Bullard has:
- Pushed “See You At the Pole,” an event that brings prayer to Bullard’s “Lord and Savior” to public schools.
- Posted photos of himself fawning over fellow Christian nationalist Sen. Ted Cruz at an event hosted by the Council for National Policy, a shadowy group that pushes the Christian nationalist agenda to which Bullard is so desperately devoted.
- Promoted a biblical voting guide that suggests his god and his Bible want you to vote Republican.
- Written about Trump taking the stage at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference—scribblings that have the feel of a teeny-bopper seeing her teen heartthrob live in concert for the very first time.
- Celebrated Christmas in predictably performative ways: “This Christmas I am thankful for a baby named Jesus, son of God, who later died on a cross for me.”
- Posted a screenshot of Bible verses—including the millstone verse, after which he named his bill—along with verses about self mutilation so that one might avoid hell (i.e., if your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away…”). Apparently, he sees no hypocrisy in naming a bill purportedly intended to prevent “child mutilation” after a verse that is immediately followed by a divine order for self-mutilation.
Bullard’s rewrite of American history is meant to suggest that to truly be an American, one must be the “right” kind of conservative Christian. Everyone else can and should then be legally treated as second class. Conservative White Christian privilege is the true goal of bills like this.
That’s all Christian nationalism is: a waning minority desperately seeking to maintain its status, power, and privilege in the face of demographic change and rising equality. Christian nationalists are nothing if not fond of abusing state power to impose their benighted identity on everyone else.
I prefer not to write angry, but I am fed up with Christian nationalists abusing power to impose their unpopular and narrow religious doctrines on us all. I am sick to death of them pretending to care for children and life and others when their policies inflict harm and hate. We are facing authoritarians. When fighting the tyranny of Christian Nationalism, light is not enough. As Frederick Douglass told us in his famous “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” speech, sometimes “it is not light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake.”