Michelle Goldberg excerpts portions of her forthcoming book “Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism” at Salon.com.
A few days before Bush’s second inauguration, The New York Times carried a story headlined “Warning from a Student of Democracy’s Collapse” about Fritz Stern, a refugee from Nazi Germany, professor emeritus of history at Columbia, and scholar of fascism. It quoted a speech he had given in Germany that drew parallels between Nazism and the American religious right. “Some people recognized the moral perils of mixing religion and politics,” he was quoted saying of prewar Germany, “but many more were seduced by it. It was the pseudo-religious transfiguration of politics that largely ensured [Hitler’s] success, notably in Protestant areas.”
It’s not surprising that Stern is alarmed. Reading his forty-five-year-old book “The Politics of Cultural Despair: A Study in the Rise of the Germanic Ideology,” I shivered at its contemporary resonance. “The ideologists of the conservative revolution superimposed a vision of national redemption upon their dissatisfaction with liberal culture and with the loss of authoritative faith,” he wrote in the introduction. “They posed as the true champions of nationalism, and berated the socialists for their internationalism, and the liberals for their pacifism and their indifference to national greatness.”
Fascism isn’t imminent in America. But its language and aesthetics are distressingly common among Christian nationalists. History professor Roger Griffin described the “mobilizing vision” of fascist movements as “the national community rising Phoenix-like after a period of encroaching decadence which all but destroyed it” (his emphasis). The Ten Commandments has become a potent symbol of this dreamed-for resurrection on the American right.
Dominion theology comes out of Christian Reconstructionism, a fundamentalist creed that was propagated by the late Rousas John (R. J.) Rushdoony and his son-in-law, Gary North. Born in New York City in 1916 to Armenian immigrants who had recently fled the genocide in Turkey, Rushdoony was educated at the University of California at Berkeley and spent over eight years as a Presbyterian missionary to Native Americans in Nevada. He was a prolific writer, churning out dense tomes advocating the abolition of public schools and social services and the replacement of civil law with biblical law. White-bearded and wizardly, Rushdoony had the look of an Old Testament patriarch and the harsh vision to match — he called for the death penalty for gay people, blasphemers, and unchaste women, among other sinners. Democracy, he wrote, is a heresy and “the great love of the failures and cowards of life.”
Speaking to outsiders, most Christian nationalists say they’re simply responding to anti-Christian persecution. They say that secularism is itself a religion, one unfairly imposed on them. They say they’re the victims in the culture wars. But Christian nationalist ideologues don’t want equality, they want dominance. In his book “The Changing of the Guard: Biblical Principles for Political Action,” George Grant, former executive director of D. James Kennedy’s Coral Ridge Ministries, wrote:
“Christians have an obligation, a mandate, a commission, a holy responsibility to reclaim the land for Jesus Christ — to have dominion in civil structures, just as in every other aspect of life and godliness.
But it is dominion we are after. Not just a voice.
It is dominion we are after. Not just influence.
It is dominion we are after. Not just equal time.
It is dominion we are after.
World conquest. That’s what Christ has commissioned us to accomplish. We must win the world with the power of the Gospel. And we must never settle for anything less…
Thus, Christian politics has as its primary intent the conquest of the land — of men, families, institutions, bureaucracies, courts, and governments for the Kingdom of Christ.”
If the first thought that crosses your mind is “It can’t happen here,” that’s exactly what they were saying in Berlin in 1933.