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April 2 marks the start of Holy Week, a time to reflect on the trials and tribulations Jesus Christ faced through crucifixion because of his care for the poor, sick, elderly and others cast aside by the power structure of Biblical times. While this week should involve much prayer, worship and reflecting on the death and resurrection of Christ, I encourage us to also consider the dangerous rise in Christian nationalism.

To be clear, Christian nationalism is simply nationalism that utilizes Christian tenets to justify its harm. We must confront it, or it will continue to gain a dangerous foothold in American society, endangering the lives of Black, brown and poor communities. This Holy Week, I encourage followers of Christ to not only reflect on the mission of Jesus Christ by working to dispel the false teachings propagated by Christian nationalist leaders and followers.

Nationalism has utilized Christian rhetoric to justify some of the most immoral, inhumane, and tragic atrocities in this country. Architects of the transatlantic slave trade used “the curse of Ham” to lay the religious justification for chattel slavery of Africans. In the book of Genesis, Noah curses his son Ham’s descendants to be slaves. Despite no mention of Ham’s ethnicity or race, European colonizers determined Ham to be Black to justify their enslavement of Africans as predestined by God. In 1823, the Supreme Court case of Johnson vs. McIntosh codified the Doctrine of Discovery (a 1493 papal decree granting European Christians the right to colonize the Americas) into law. That gave white settlers a political and religious backing to remove Indigenous people from their lands and subjugate them to harmful policies and acts. The Ku Klux Klan had deep ties to white Protestant religion. Many of those members believed it was their religious duty to enact violence and terrorism toward Black and Jewish communities, to protect the white Protestants.

Christian nationalism still permeates modern American society. In fact, Christian nationalism has recently skyrocketed across American communities.An October 2022 Public Religion Research Institute study found that 52% of white evangelicals surveyed agree that God intended and ordained the United States as a promised land for European Christians. If certain white Americans continue to believe that God ordains white supremacy, they will continue to feel justified in using unlawful and violent methods to maintain white cultural hegemony in a rapidly diversifying nation.

That radical religious doctrine fueled the insurrectionon the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. Many insurrectionist leaders and participants stated they were enacting God’s will to protect white Americans whom they perceived to be God’s chosen people. They believed God’s laws superseded their nation’s laws. They equated their conservative values with their Christian values, leading them to believe this unlawful demonstration was a religious act.


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There is also a dangerous relationship between Christian nationalism and the Great Replacement Theory— a conspiracy theory stipulating a concerted effort to remove and replace the political and social standing of white people in America. Payton Gendron, the Buffalo, New York, mass murderer who killed 13 people (11 of whom were Black), cited that a decrease in white birth rates justified the slaughter and genocide of Black people. Militant right-wing groups, like the Oath Keepers, routinely use violent terminology, such as calling for bloody wars, to show how far they will go to maintain white hegemony in American culture.

Christian nationalism may use Biblical texts, but this movement could not stray further from Christ’s teachings. Biblical texts routinely show Jesus anchored in poor communities and helping the people who were relegated as outcasts in their communities. But Jesus himself was an outsider. He came to his own and they received him not.

It is time to abandon Christian Nationalism— a version of Christ that exists through a lens of capitalistic power—and embrace Christ’s love of all humanity. As we remember the crucifixion, it’s important to also remember the marginalized people who have been killed and harmed by power structures in our society. Jesus calls Christians to love and treat others with kindness, not simply those who belong to a white European demographic. Christ knew society is only better when all of us have opportunities for successful outcomes; true followers of Christ must know this and take action to bring it into being.

Dr. Charlene Sinclair is publisher of Colorlines and chief of staff at Race Forward.


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