If We Don’t Counter Far-Right Christianity, 1/6 Will Just Be the Beginning

Pastor Ken Peters of the Patriot Church. Image: Facebook.

For years, far-right faith groups have become increasingly intertwined with extreme conservative political beliefs like white supremacy and Christian nationalism—fundamentally changing the Republican Party and creating a fervent support network for former president Trump. Nearly one year ago, on January 6th, 2021, this growing religious and political extremism manifested itself in an unthinkable way.

Mobs of Trump backers carrying crosses, bibles, and signs with religious messages stormed the Capitol—ransacking the building, hunting down Congressmembers, and ultimately leaving multiple people dead. A man in a fur hat and horns—now infamously known as the QAnon Shaman or Q-Shaman—even led a prayer in the Senate chamber, thanking Jesus for allowing them “to send a message to all the tyrants, the communists, and the globalists.”

As a theologian, the idea that insurrectionists terrorizing the Capitol would claim the moral force of God is horrifying. The actions of those rioters were the furthest thing from the values of compassion and love that I’ve taken from the teachings of Jesus.

We cannot allow our religious institutions to continue to be fertile breeding grounds for far-right ideologies. To defeat the naked white supremacy and Christian nationalism spewed in right-wing pulpits and embraced by increasing numbers of people, we need faith leaders to step up and work rigorously to reverse the damage of this warped ideology. If we don’t, January 6th will only be the beginning.

This fusion of theology and white supremacy has a long history. Faith leaders have previously used Christianity to justify slavery, colonialism, and other brutal acts of violence. But with the more recent advent of a hard-right ecosystem led by politicians, pastors, and newscasters—and now fueled by social media—Christian nationalism has purposefully ramped up its organizing tactics, proliferated, and become far more mainstream and dangerous. This terrifying religious crusade is quickly gaining strength, and the time to aggressively push back against it is now.

Pastor Ken Peters, for example, who leads the ironically-named Patriot Church and who riled up Trump supporters in D.C. the day before the Capitol insurrection, has repeatedly spread lies and conspiracy theories supporting false claims that the 2020 election was stolen, and is preparing his congregants for a forthcoming civil war. Pastor Joshua Feuerstein, who founded the extremist America’s Church and who also spoke before the rally, proclaimed, “The Bible says that the shepherd David was on the back side of a Judean hill tending the flock when a lion and a bear came to steal the little lambs. Why did God put David there? He put him there to stop the steal!”

Christian hyper-nationalist churches once seen as fringe have gained followers by preaching white grievance politics that paint evangelicals as a small innocent minority defending the Christian way of life against all manner of liberal evil-doers.

Supporting this view, commentators like Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity, who host some of the most popular shows on television, spew this message of Christian values and white supremacy to millions every night.

This toxic brew of sermons, newscasts, and social media messaging from the far-right echo chamber has effectively weaponized Christianity. For example, polling done by the Public Religion Research Institute finds that white evangelicals, more than any other religious group, believe that Americans might have to resort to violence in order to save our country.

We’ve also seen a swell of extremist legislation in state legislatures, all under the guise of defending Christianity. Politicians claiming to be compelled by God have implemented a barrage of measures to condemn transgender people, suppress voters of color, and strip women of their reproductive freedom.

To defeat the Christian far-right and literally save our democracy, we as faith leaders and members of faith communities must actively organize to reclaim our faith as a force of good and for love. Our God is not one of hatred.

Far-right Christianity is a sickness that will continue plaguing our politics and will ultimately kill our democracy if not immediately, urgently challenged. Silence or passive liberal head-shaking is not enough. A devastating theological crisis is upon us now. Faith leaders must speak up, loudly, for equality and true justice and to expose the deadly lies of those who use theology for destruction.