I first saw it while working the rope line at a monster-truck rally during the 2016 campaign by my husband, Tim, for Wyoming’s lone congressional seat. As Tim and I and our boys made our way down the line, shaking hands and passing out campaign material, a burly man wearing a “God bless America” T-shirt and a cross around his neck said something like, “He’s got my vote if he keeps those [epithet] out of office,” using a racial slur. What followed was an uncomfortable master class in racism and xenophobia as the man decanted the reasons our country is going down the tubes. God bless America.
I now understand the ugliness I heard was part of a current of Christian nationalism fomenting beneath the surface. It had been there all the time. The rope line rant was a mission statement for the disaffected, the overlooked, the frightened. It was also an expression of solidarity with a candidate like Donald Trump who gave a name to a perceived enemy: people who do not look like us or share our beliefs. Immigrants are taking our guns. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. You are not safe in your home. Religious freedom is on the gallows. Vote for me.
The messages worked. And in large part, it’s my faith community — white, rural and conservative — that got them there. I am a white conservative woman in rural America. Raised Catholic, I found that my faith deepened after I married and joined an evangelical church. As my faith grew, so did Tim’s political career in the Wyoming Legislature. (He served in the House from 2008 to 2017.) I’ve straddled both worlds, faith and politics, my entire adult life. Often there was very little daylight between the two, one informing the other.
What’s changed is the rise of Christian nationalism — the belief, as recently described by the Georgetown University professor and author Paul D. Miller, that “America is a ‘Christian nation’ and that the government should keep it that way.” Gone are the days when a lawmaker might be circumspect about using his or her faith as a vehicle to garner votes. It’s been a drastic and destructive departure from the boring, substantive lawmaking to which I was accustomed. Christian nationalists have hijacked both my Republican Party and my faith community by blurring the lines between church and government and in the process rebranding our state’s identity. [Continue reading…]