Mark Beliles and Stephen McDowell’s America’s Providential History, which I started writing about in my pervious post, has been used in Christian schools and in the home-schooling movement since its initial publication in 1989. In American Fascists, Chris Hedges points out that the authors of this textbook define “‘liberty’ as fealty to ‘the Spirit of the Lord.’” Working towards “liberty” means freeing oneself from “secular humanism,” thus escaping the bonds of “different moral codes and belief systems, to introcude a single, uniform and unquestioned ‘Christian’ orientation.” Essentially, the “liberty” that Beliles and McDowell define “means theocratic tyranny.” We see this throughout the textbook, but it becomes abundantly clear when they detail the role that “Christians” should play in the political system.

For the authors of the textbook, America has lost its “Christian” path because it has become led by the “law” not by the “spirit.” This has occurred for many reasons, but in order to redirect the nation back on the “correct” path, Christians must show up to the polls, not just in national elections but in local elections too. They must also become involved in every step of the political process, from attending party meetings to voting in primaries because if they wait till November then they will, as the textbook says, have “to choose between ‘the lesser of two evils,’ of which really neither fulfill the Biblical requirements of rulers.”

To ensure that the “right” candidate gets elected, one must make make sure that the candidate center God’s “absolute” truth, and the candidate’s qualifications “should not be issue-oriented as much as character-oriented.” By focusing on the character of the candidate instead of the issues the candidate promotes, we can make sure that the candidate upholds “Biblical” values. Here, Beliles and McDowell argue that numerous candidates “claim to be ‘Christians’ but do not hold to a Biblical worldview.” One of these politicians, according to the authors, in President Jimmy Carter who serves as “an example of a Christian whose mind was unrenewed by Scripture and thus reasoned and governed from a ‘humanistic’ worldview.” While they judge Carter and claim he essentially not a Christian, the authors praise Ronald Reagan for his comments praising the Puritans’ and George Washington’s faith, particularly the portrait of Washington praying at Valley Forge that graces the cover of America’s Providential History.

Their judgement of Carter reflects the impact of the Moral Majority and the rise, from the 1970s to the present, of Christian nationalism within the United States. Christian nationalism does not, as Bradley Onishi points out, mean that someone attends religious services regularly or participates in Christian activities. Onishi, writing about January 6th, says that the falgs present during the insurrection “are a signal of group identity — indicators of what group they belong to and what story they are living out — rather than an indicator of their personal religious practices.”

Eddie S. Glaude points out that Black Americans knew exactly what they were getting with Reagan’s election, and “so did white America.” For Republicans to justify electing Regan, who used dogwhistles such as “Make American grate again,” they fell back on the arguments that appear in America’s Providential History, limited federal government, and “states’ rights.” Hedges points out that the textbook leans heavily into this, condemning taxes as “idolatry” and “theft” and promoting “material wealth” and “capitalism” as a sign of God’s blessings on the nation and individuals.

White supremacy and racism reside underneath all of these things, coded as “states’ rights” or limited government. Following Reagan’s campaign announcemnet at the Neshoba County Fair, the county in Mississippi where Civil Rights activists James Chaney, Michael Schwerner, and Andrew Goodman were murderd by white supremacists, Carter accused him, as Glaude writes, “of injecting hatred and racism into the campaign.” The press labeled Carter’s accusations an attack on Reagan and claimed that nothoing in Reagan’s records supported that he was racist. As Glaude puts it, Reagan’s “smile, his down-home charm, exuded exactly the opposite of the vitriol of loud, southern bigots. Reagan’s was genteel racism, and politically, he knew exactly what he was doing: playing on the fears and hatreds of white people.”

America’s Providential History traffics in “genteel racism,” pointing out the immorality and violence of chattel slavery while also championing states’ rights and arguing that the 14th Amendment is unconstitutional because it gives increased power to the federal government. The textbook uses the criminality of slavery to argue for the overturning of Roe v. Wade. When talking about chattel slavery, the authors write, that the chattel slavery was a moral issue and that it “led to corrupt legislators and corrupt courts in the South that denied the rights of black citizens.” Here, they make clear that the issue was indefensible; however, they undercut it by writing, “If the problem [of slavery] was a moral one, then working for amendments to the ‘letter’ of the Constitution which simply give power to a higher legal body to correct it, really is a dangerous mistake.” Again, they side with the Southern states, claiming that a change in the “letter” of the Constitution is “a dangerous mistake.”

Their argument flip flops, speaking out of both sides of their mouths. Before shifting to abortion, they ask, “Though another centralized body of men may gave a right moral stance at that time, what do you do when it too is morally wrong on an issue? If the problem was a lack of virtue in some of the states, is it not possible for the same lack of virtue to occur in the national government?” These questions make no sense. The latter question basically says, “Well, the Southern state governments were wrong, so that also means the national government can be wrong.” While this is true, the questions here basically say that no government official will be “morally” right unless they base their decisions on “Biblical” principles.

To rectify this, and to overturn Roe v Wade, which according to the authors goes against “Biblical” principle, one must change the “men in public office.” While I’m not going to spend time on this here, it’s worth noting the use of “men” in this sentence and throughout this section. For the authors, the problems of America’s fall lie within the spirit of the individuals in power and thus the law must be changed by having “Biblically” minded politicians elected to office. Nothing will change, they argue, “as long as few godly Americans are involved in party politics on the local level.”

Christians need to be involved in public affairs, and America’s Providential History provides a list of those minsters who took action by pointing out ministers involved in public affairs. It’s here, again, that we see the “genteel racism” at work within the textbook. The only mention of Martin Luther King, Jr. occurs in this section when the authors write, “In recent times we have seen the political leadership of Martin Luther King against discrimination and Jerry Falwell against abortion and pornography.” The pairing of King and Falwell in the same sentence, claiming they are both ministers fighting for what is “moral” glosses over the fact that Falwell, along with countless other white ministers, condemned King. On the same day that King and others marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Falwell delivered his “Ministers and Marches” speech where he stated, “preachers are not called to be politicians but soul winners.”

Even though America’s Providential History presents the history of chattel slavery as morally wrong and praises the accomplishment of King and others during the Civil Rights Movement, the textbook continues to peddle in Christian nationalism that has racism and white supremacy as its foundations. The goal is not to present history as it was, but to present history as the authors want it to be. This is one of the aspects of Christian Nationalism that Samuel Perry and Andrew Whitehead note, a presenting of America’s past as founded and ordained by God. Along with this, they provide, throughout the book, tips for bringing about this theocratic, totalitarian government through local, state, and national political action. I will pick with this in my next post.

Until then, what are your thoughts. As always, let me know in the comments below. Make sure to follow me on Twitter @silaslapham.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: