WASHINGTON (RNS) — When Tennessee Pastor Greg Locke took the stage on the ReAwaken America Tour in Pennsylvania over the weekend, the throngs who had come out to listen to conspiracy theories and inflammatory rhetoric about Democratic candidates as an alternative heard Locke intention a few of his sharpest criticism at a stunning goal: Pope Francis.
“Should you belief anyone however Jesus to get you to heaven, you ain’t going,” Locke mentioned, his voice rising. “You say, ‘Effectively what in regards to the pope?’ He ain’t a pope, he’s a pimp … He has prostituted the church.”
It was an odd notice to strike at a rally the place maybe the most important identify on the speaker’s roster was retired Gen. Michael Flynn, a Catholic who later made it a degree to say his religion whereas voicing help for Christian nationalism. “I’m a Christian — I’m a Catholic, by the way in which,” said Flynn.
Locke had aired his anti-Catholic place a number of days earlier than in a Fb submit advocating for burning rosaries and “Catholic statues.” When one other person urged him to desert the anti-Catholic rhetoric, Locke doubled down. “Catholicism is idolatry 100%” he wrote. “I can’t be silent whether or not you observe or not. It’s a false pagan faith and so full of perversity it’s ridiculous.”
Anti-Catholic rhetoric has lengthy been a theme in nativist American thought, which incorporates some types of extremist Protestant Christian agitators such because the Ku Klux Klan. However within the present Christian nationalist surge that fuels the ReAwaken gatherings and others prefer it, the ideology has served extra as a glue holding collectively a variety of right-wing coalitions. Locke’s remarks injected an uneasy rigidity, elevating the prospect that what was as soon as a unifying pressure is now liable to inflicting potential divisions in right-wing ranks.
The theological variations among the many hardline Christian nationalist teams — some now emboldened to the purpose of embracing the Christian nationalist label — have been current from the beginning. Texas Pastor Robert Jeffress, who rose to nationwide prominence as an early supporter of then-candidate Donald Trump, is an ardent purveyor of Christian nationalism. Way back to 2018, Jeffress preached an Independence Day-themed homily titled “America is a Christian nation,” and he now sells a book of the same name.
Earlier than then, the pastor was recognized for railing against the Catholic Church. In 2010 he argued it was little greater than a “cult-like, pagan faith,” including, “isn’t that the genius of Devil?” A yr later, he additionally decried the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a “cult” and a “false faith.”
However Jeffress and different religion leaders’ sectarian rhetoric light as they made widespread trigger in help for the president. After Trump was voted out of workplace, Catholics and conservative Protestants have been unified within the Cease the Steal motion. By the point the motion culminated within the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the U.S. Capitol, a curious form of Trumpian ecumenism had taken maintain, as rioters of a number of faiths prayed collectively as they led the assault.
Within the aftermath of Jan. 6, a number of varieties of extremists gravitated towards Christian nationalism and claimed it as their own, some linking it to opposition to pandemic restrictions, masks and vaccines and others incorporating the ideology into assaults on LGBTQ individuals.
However inside this cohort, the totally different variants of Christian nationalism started to indicate themselves and develop. Whilst Locke was turning into a serious Christian nationalist voice, Nick Fuentes, the white nationalist head of the group America First, and a Catholic, was on the rise as effectively. Whereas Locke has advocated for burning rosaries, Fuentes has celebrated the concept of “Catholic Taliban rule.”
In the meantime, Andrew Torba, the pinnacle of the choice social media web site Gab, which has been broadly shamed for sharing antisemitic messages, has introduced in a brand new guide one other type of Christian nationalism, one which rails towards teams that middle on Finish Occasions theology — significantly the idea that the Second Coming is imminent. Torba and his co-author refer to those concepts as “an eschatology of defeat” and blame their advocates for an ethical decline of society.
“You can not concurrently hope for a revival of Christian faithfulness in our nation whereas anticipating the world to finish at any second,” Torba and his coauthor wrote.
Torba’s critique just isn’t more likely to go down effectively with varied evangelical, Pentecostal and Charismatic traditions which have made the Finish Occasions central to their message, amongst them Trump’s greatest supporters. Jeffress has revealed two books centered on the subject — “Countdown to the Apocalypse” and “Twilight’s Final Gleaming.”
Rep. Lauren Boebert, who made headlines earlier this yr for arguing towards the separation of church and state, additionally outlined help for the theology in a current speech.
“Many people on this room consider that we’re within the final of the final days,” she told attendees at a Republican dinner in Tennessee. “You get to be part of ushering within the second coming of Jesus.”
These variations are unlikely to have an effect on the Christian nationalists’ widespread entrance instantly or gradual their strategy to the approaching elections. Hardline Christian nationalists throughout the ideological spectrum are extra apt to deal with Democratic candidates and their supporters as a typical enemy. Nor are figures reminiscent of Locke more likely to topple a conservative Christian coalition that dates again to the Seventies, when a truce was struck between the likes of Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell and the anti-abortion Catholic proper.
If Trump runs for reelection in 2024, it’s possible many who trumpet Christian nationalism will merely set their variations apart — simply as they did the final two instances he ran for workplace.
However with many on the acute proper distancing themselves from Trump, and the pandemic and COVID-19 vaccinations now not making the headlines they as soon as have been, the trustworthy who’re drawn to rallies reminiscent of ReAwaken America could encounter new fissures as they debate new causes to rally behind — or towards. Some Christian nationalist voices, reminiscent of Jeffress, have already peeled off. “There isn’t any respectable faith-based cause for refusing to take the vaccine,” the pastor told the Associated Press final yr. He additionally declined to argue that the 2020 election was “stolen,” a typical chorus amongst many right-wing Christian nationalists.
And even when attendees and audio system on the ReAwaken America tour write off pastors like Jeffress, a query stays: How lengthy will Catholics like Flynn abide assaults on their religion from even their most stalwart Protestant collaborators?