I am deeply concerned about the rise of Christian nationalism in this country. I say this not just as a Christian but as the president of Pacific School of Religion (PSR), a progressive Christian seminary founded in 1866.
Christian nationalism, and the ideologies that have fueled it from the very founding of our nation, have left a centuries-long trail of devastation that continues to this day. Through an alliance with White supremacy, it has served as a justification for many of our country’s sins: the genocide and dispossession of Native peoples; the establishment of chattel slavery and the structural racism that replaced it; the subjugation of women and LGBTQ+ people; and the physical and political exclusion of migrants in this country. So yes, I am deeply concerned.
Christianity began as a tiny movement trying to make sense of the life and teachings of a man killed by state violence. The core of Jesus’s story is that God is not found in the power of the state, but in the powerlessness of the One whose call for liberation led to His execution. The belief that God is with those on the margins, along with His commandment not just to love our neighbors, but to welcome the stranger, should be a guide to leaders who attempt to lay claim to the Christian tradition.
Instead, Christian nationalists twist the experience of a group who believed God was on the side of the oppressed and use it to describe the most powerful nation in the world. It denies privilege and whitewashes actions that are antithetical to the tradition they’re derived from by relying on violence, exclusion, and a hatred of the diversity God has created.
We can already see this dangerous ideology at work in our country now, from the January 6th assault on the Capitol to the countless legislative and legal efforts to restrict voting rights, turn back the clock on LGBTQ+ equality and reproductive rights, and pass xenophobic and inhumane immigration policies.
Because extremist Christian rhetoric is behind much of the leadership, financing, and rhetoric attacking equality and civil rights today, many progressive social movements have despaired over the role of religion in public life. But ceding the power of religious narratives to extremists can have serious consequences. I urge secular progressives not to discount the voices of those of us who engage in religious narratives, including progressive Christians who have historically contributed immensely to movements for social justice.
I urge my fellow Christians to engage their communities and churches to foster understanding and inclusivity across the political divide. Let’s actively challenge the narratives of exclusion and intolerance by advocating for policies that uphold justice and equality for all, embracing the true teachings of love and compassion that lie at the heart of Christianity.
At PSR, we’re working to reframe the public narrative so that a new, diverse generation can see how the transformative power of faith can be part of the solution, not the problem. Together, we can create a world where all can thrive.
Rev. Dr. David Vásquez-Levy serves as president at Pacific School of Religion (PSR) in Berkeley, CA, a progressive Christian seminary, graduate school, and center for social justice committed to a radically inclusive Gospel. PSR is accredited by both the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) and the Association of Theological Schools (ATS).