In a recent webinar hosted by Baptist News Global, Mercer University ethicist David Gushee discussed his upcoming book, “Defending Democracy from Its Christian Enemies.” He explored the concerning intersection of Christianity, politics, and the erosion of democracy in the United States. Gushee noted that some Christians are increasingly hostile to democracy and have become infatuated with authoritarian regimes worldwide, often advocating for violence to achieve their political goals.
Gushee expressed concern that certain Christians find Jesus to be an inconvenience to their agenda, especially when his teachings, such as “turn the other cheek” and “love your enemy,” clash with their militant and authoritarian views. He emphasized the need for ethical and theological education to counter this shift away from democratic values within certain Christian circles.
The analysis also discussed the historical context of democracy and its imperfections in the United States, primarily linked to racism and the pursuit of commercial interests. Gushee highlighted the importance of democracy in contrast to other political systems and the dangers of abandoning democratic principles.
The conversation touched upon the radicalization of some Christians who believe violence may be necessary to achieve their goals, as seen in the rhetoric of figures like Mike Huckabee. Gushee emphasized the importance of resolving differences nonviolently through the democratic process.
The discussion also explored the rise of conspiracy theories and “Christian nation-ism,” which envisions a specific Christian-dominated America, often excluding LGBTQ+ rights and other progressive values. Despite these challenges, Gushee expressed hope in the resilience of American democracy, citing the 2020-2021 election and the defeat of extremist candidates in the 2022 elections as signs of progress. He also mentioned the involvement of young people in resisting the extremist ideologies within their communities as a source of hope for the future.
Baptist News Global:
Wingfield said he was stunned by author Russell Moore’s recent account of American pastors being labeled as ‘woke’ because they had preached from the Sermon on the Mount.
“If Jesus gets in the way of us doing what we think we want to do, then maybe we ought to reconsider what we want to do.”
Gushee agreed that’s a frightening development: “Jesus is inconvenient to Christians who want a different agenda, and that should terrify us. And that does remind me of some of the worst moments in Christian history. If Jesus gets in the way of us doing what we think we want to do, then maybe we ought to reconsider what we want to do.”
Donald Trump effectively captured the spirit of the anti-democratic impulse by engaging in nostalgia politics as expressed through his “Make America Great Again” campaign, Gushee said. “I call it authoritarian, reactionary Christianity. I like that phrase somewhat better than ‘Christian nationalism’ because the word ‘reactionary’ is really important here. Picture people you know who are mainly outraged, appalled or terrified at how America is now. A lot of them have a label for what’s gone wrong: America has gone liberal, decadent or woke. God has been pushed out of public life.”
“There are connections between Putin and Orbán and American Christian conservatives. And then there are connections with (Brazilian dictator Jair) Bolsonaro. People are learning from each other through rhetoric that is shared online. Strategies that are discussed. It is especially appealing in post-Christian countries, or in countries that are becoming post-Christian, that have a resentful Christian population that doesn’t like the changes.”
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