U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert’s pattern of pushing for a religious takeover of America, spreading falsehoods about the 2020 presidential election and warning of an impending judgment day amounts to Christian nationalism, religious, political and social experts say.
Those ideals threaten the rights of non-Christian — and typically non-white — Americans but also endanger the foundation of the country’s democratic process, those experts say. The far-right Western Slope congresswoman represents a high-profile and incendiary voice in the movement, which is infiltrating virtually every level of American government and its judiciary.
Boebert leaned on those talking points Friday — in her official capacity as a member of Congress — at the Truth & Liberty Coalition’s From Vision to Victory Conference in Woodland Park.
“It’s time for us to position ourselves and rise up and take our place in Christ and influence this nation as we were called to do,” Boebert, of Silt, told the crowd, which responded with applause.
“We know that we are in the last of the last days,” Boebert later added. “This is a time to know that you were called to be part of these last days. You get to have a role in ushering in the second coming of Jesus.”
Boebert and her contemporaries, whether in Congress, state or local governments, can be expected to increase the volume and frequency of their Christian nationalist rhetoric as the November midterm elections approach and even beyond, Philip Gorski, a sociologist and co-director of Yale’s Center for Comparative Research, said.
“This is new and worrisome,” Gorski said. “There’s an increasing number of people saying ‘We’re in this battle for the soul of America. We’re on the side of good and maybe democracy is getting in the way. Maybe we need to take power and if that means minority rule in order to impose our vision on everybody else then that’s what we’re going to do.’”
Boebert’s comments Friday in Woodland Park serve as a dog whistle for violence, Anthea Butler, chair of the University of Pennsylvania’s Department of Religious Studies. Especially in the context of the congresswoman’s penchant for firearms and her framing the issue around the November elections.
“Now the apocalypse is because if we don’t get our people in, it’s an apocalypse,” Butler said. “She’s posing with guns and talking about the apocalypse.”
As of Monday, Boebert’s representatives would not say whether the congresswoman would accept the results of the upcoming election even if she loses. Instead, they assert that the congresswoman will be reelected “and her first act will be to fire Nancy Pelosi.”
“This is not compatible with democracy.”
A spokesperson for Boebert, who did not identify themselves, declined an interview request for the congresswoman but added that she doesn’t consider herself a Christian nationalist. Still, The Denver Post spoke to six social, political and religious experts from across the country who said her comments fit squarely within the belief system.
At their core, Christian nationalists believe that America holds a unique and divinely ordained purpose, Andrew Whitehead, an assistant professor of sociology at Indiana University Bloomington.
“I believe that there have been two nations that have been created to glorify God. Israel, whom we bless, and the United States of America,” Boebert said in June. “And this nation will glorify God.”
In the same address Boebert said she was “tired of this separation of church and state junk” and claimed that God “anointed” Donald Trump to the presidency.
Christian nationalists also hold a strong sense of moral traditionalism, express comfort with authoritarian control as a way of maintaining order and embrace strong ethno-racial boundaries, particularly revolving around national identities, Whitehead said.
The congresswoman told Christians at a right-wing religious conference last year to “speak up” for God and to remove “unrighteous politicians, these corrupt, crooked politicians” while installing “righteous men and women of God in their place.”
Boebert is perhaps best known for her gun-rights advocacy and said this summer that Jesus had been killed by Romans because he didn’t have enough assault rifles “to keep his government from killing him.”
She blamed a school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, which left 19 students and two teachers dead, on “godlessness that is here overtaking America” and she frequently says drug use and violent crime are on the rise because of the Latin American people illegally immigrating through the southern border.
“It’s the idea that government power should be in the hands of ‘real Americans’ and those ‘real Americans’ are defined by an ethnoreligious category that usually entails white conservative Christians,” Kristin Kobes DuMez, a professor of history and gender studies at Calvin University, said. “This is not compatible with democracy.”
The end goal for certain sects of Christian nationalism, which subscribe to so-called Dominion theory, is to conquer what are called the “seven mountains” or seven areas of influence, Gorski said. They are family, religion, education, media, entertainment, business and government.
“Once they do, that will trigger the second coming of Christ,” Gorski said, citing their prophecy.
Boebert is moving in those circles, which also have ties to militia groups, Gorski added.
“An organized quest for power.”
Religious nationalism isn’t a new concept, it’s centuries old, said DuMez, whose 2020 book “Jesus and John Wayne” focuses on the historical intersection of evangelicalism and American politics. But it’s seeing a resurgence.
Current examples of religious nationalists include Vladimir Putin, of Russia, Viktor Orbán, of Hungary and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, of Turkey, according to Katherine Stewart, an investigative journalist whose 2020 book, “The Power Worshippers”, focuses on the rise of religious nationalism. Political leaders like these bind themselves to ultraconservative religious figures in their countries to consolidate authoritarian, political power.
“These leaders use religious nationalism to bubble-wrap themselves in sanctimony, to guard against any democratic check on their power or critique of their corruption,” Stewart said.
American Republicans welcomed Orbán to the stage of the Conservative Political Action Conference in August shortly after he said that Hungary must not become a “mixed race” country, Politico reported.
“Christian nationalism is a means of persuading a large subsection of the American public to vote for the political candidates that the movement favors, and thus empower movement leaders and enshrine the policies they want in our laws and society,” Stewart said. “Movement leaders want power and political access, policies that favor certain ‘approved’ religious and political viewpoints and access to private and public money.”
“It is a political phenomenon that involves the exploitation of religion for political purposes,” Stewart added. “I think of it as combining two things. On the one hand, it is a set of ideas or an ideology. On the other hand, it is a political movement, an organized quest for power.”
Stewart added that former president Donald Trump also capitalized on the movement.
The movement is also evolving, DuMez said. Christian nationalists aren’t as subtle as they once were. Some, like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, of Georgia, publicly identify as Christian nationalists.
Other contemporaries mentioned by the experts include Sen. Rick Scott and Gov. Ron Desantis, both of Florida, Rep. Louie Gohmert, of Texas, and gubernatorial candidates Kari Lake and Doug Mastriano, of Arizona and Pennsylvania, respectively.
The list goes on and spans every level of American government, DuMez said.
Christian nationalists and the politicians that espouse their values have strong ties to voter suppression efforts, Whitehead said.
More specifically, Christian nationalists look to restrict voting to a “worthy” few, Whitehead said, citing a 2022 study he conducted with two other experts, Sam Perry, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Oklahoma and Joshua Grubbs, an associate professor of psychology at Bowling Green State University. The “worthy” are inevitably only those who subscribe to a specific set of Christian beliefs.
They’re also likely to spread conspiracy theories, like those embraced by QAnon, Gorski said, and to deny the results of the 2020 presidential election, which President Joe Biden legitimately won.
Another often-cited Christian nationalist is retired Army general and former national security advisor under former President Donald Trump, Michael Flynn, who frequently spreads baseless conspiracy theories about the election.
Boebert has continued to avoid saying whether she believes Biden won his race in the same election that gave her a seat in Congress.
“This is potentially a really serious problem.”
Not all Christians exhibit nationalistic beliefs, Melissa Deckman, CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute, a nonpartisan and nonprofit organization, said.
Multiple Christian and other faith-based organizations like Vote Common Good, Faithful America, Christians against Christian Nationalism and the National Council of Churches denounce the movement.
But Christian nationalism clearly resonates within what Deckman called the “target audience” of white evangelical Protestants.
The movement gains momentum through fears of white Americans who believe they’re losing ground in the country, according to Butler, whose 2021 book “White Evangelical Racism” focuses on the history of evangelical racism. There are also non-white Americans who support the movement. They’re motivated by a “promise of whiteness” or the promise of “being American,” she said.
“This is a very white movement, I don’t think you can get away from that,” Butler said.
On the whole, 43% of Americans believe that being Christian “is somewhat or very important to being truly American,” according to a 2021 PRRI survey, which questioned 2,508 people across the country. That number increases to 76% for white evangelical Protestants, the data shows.
At the same time, about 78% of white evangelical Protestants agree that “America is in danger of losing its culture and identity,” the data shows. Sixty percent of them believe the election was stolen from Trump and they’re the most likely religious group to agree that “true American patriots might have to resort to violence in order to save our country,” with 26% in agreement.
“Clearly those that embrace the idea that God intended America to be this promised land are more likely to believe that they might have to resort to violence to save the country,” Deckman said.
Those findings, combined with a willingness to spread conspiracy theories and deny the results of the 2020 election, is where the danger lies for America, Deckman said.
Deckman pointed to the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection in the U.S. Capital as an example of the risk.
Boebert reportedly met with then-President Trump’s White House officials before the riot and discussed what options the vice president had when faced with certifying the 2020 election, a high-level aide testified in April.
Deckman also mentioned the swathe of election deniers running for secretary of state across the country, a position essential to certifying future votes and seating electors in the Electoral College.
“This is potentially a really serious problem,” Deckman said.
“You can definitely expect more of the same.”
There is little or no indication that Boebert will temper her rhetoric as she heads into a likely second term, Whitehead said. Especially since the incendiary comments regularly garner national attention.
The same goes for other officials espousing the same ideals, he said.
“If they aren’t losing elections there’s no reason for them to reevaluate how they operate,” he said. “You can definitely expect more of the same.”
So one way to push back against the anti-democratic message would be for conservative Republicans and Christians to denounce those comments from Boebert and her contemporaries, Gorski said.
“Call her out on her views and say ‘Look, this is not Christian. Certainly, it’s not democratic,’” Gorski said.
Butler expressed concern that the country will see widespread election denial after the November elections if these far-right candidates lose their elections.
“The alarm has not really struck and we’re careening toward disaster in November,” she said.
There’s also a reason why Christian nationalist voices seem to be shouting louder now, Deckman said. They’re compensating because younger generations are less Republican, less religious and more diverse. With time, perhaps a decade, Christian nationalist voices might weaken.
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