At the end of Preparing for War: The Extremist History of White Christian Nationalism and What Comes Next, Bradley Onishi details the American Redoubt movement, a movement that calls upon white Christian nationalists to build enclaves where they can control politics and culture, thus enacting dominion over society. As Onishi told Religion News Service, he knows about “100 church people of high school friends” from his home in Southern California who have left for Redoubt communities in Idaho and other states such as Montana and Wyoming. The goal for many people in this movement, as Onishi puts it, “is to prepare for the next civil war and to rebuild this country in their own image, which is theocratic.” This “rebuilding” has long been a thread in Christian nationalism, which Onishi traces throughout his book. It can be seen, as well, in history textbooks such as America’s Providential History, which I have been looking at over the past few posts.
For Mark Beliles and Stephen McDowell, Christians have a “scriptural duty” to engage in politics and to usher in God’s law on earth and in the United States. To support this, they provide an erroneous quote from James Madison:
We have staked the whole future of American civilization, not upon the power of government, far from it. We have staked the future of all our political institutions upon the capacity of mankind for self-government; upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves; to control ourselves, to sustain ourselves according to the the Ten Commandments.
Beliles and McDowell use this quote as the foundation for their argument that the people must adhere to “Biblical” principles to succeed and that the United States’ foundation rests on these very principles. The problem arises, though, when we discover that we have no evidence that Madison said or wrote the above quote. It comes from David Barton’s The Myth of Separation, and as Robert Ally points out, even with research that shows the quote may be completely made up, that knowledge “has not dampened the ardor of those who privately would have Madison affirm their own distorted version of American history.” This is what we see with America’s Providential History because the textbook holds the Madison quote at the forefront of its section on its section laying out every Christian’s “scriptural duty” in the United States.
Following the Madison quote, Beliles and McDowell turn to the Bible, specifically Exodus 18: 19–23 where Jethro tells Moses to “represent the people before God” and to “choose able men from all the people, such that fear God, men who are trustworthy and who hate a bribe; and place such men over the people as rulers.” If Moses does as God commands, then, as Jethro tells him, “you will be able to endure.” The textbook places in bold the phrase “God so commands you,” linking ones participation in the democratic process to directly to God’s commands. To drive this home, they write, “The freedom to choose one’s representative is not an American invention, but a Divine plan for a godly government.” This assertion, with the movement to Exodus and Moses, continues the thread of God’s providence over the founding of the United States by stating that American democracy directly arose from God’s providence.
While the textbook bolsters and calls upon Christians to become actively engaged in politics, it diminishes the role of “non-believers” in the democratic process. The authors write, “For most Americans, to neglect consistent involvement in local politics is to neglect a great privilege. But for Christians to do so is far worse.” Christians who do not “use what God has given them” and commanded them to do through scripture, the authors argue, “will not only suffer in this life, but also give an account in the one to come.” When “non-believers” do not participate in democracy, the textbook posits, they mere neglect to partake in privilege bestowed upon them not by the founding of the nation but by God. The contrasting of Christians and non-Christians in these sentences diminishes a vast majority of Americans of other faiths and belief systems, thus placing them in a subordinate position to Christians.
When Christians go to the polls and engage in local, state, and national politics, they must examine candidates through the lens of their beliefs. Thus, “[t]he qualifications of a candidate should not be issue-oriented as much as character-oriented.” This assertion goes back to the authors’ reading and use of Exodus 18: 19–23. For them, those verses mean that the people must choose “Biblical” individuals for their representatives, and those representatives must adhere to “Biblical” principles that include doing away with state sponsored services and taxes that support could support entire communities. The authors want a “Biblical free-enterprise system” where Christians engage in a “compassionate use of wealth.” “Scripture makes it clear,” they write, “that God is the provider, not the state, and that needy individuals are to be cared for by private acts of charity.” Systems such as socialism or any government program goes against this principal they argue.
In Exodus 18: 21, Jethro tells Moses to choose judges “who are trustworthy and who hate a bribe.” Rambam, a twelfth century Torah scholar, argues that here Jethro calls upon to Moses to choose individuals “who do not become overly concerned about their own money” and who choose to not “pursue the accumulation of wealth.” The “men of power” that Jethro mentions are individuals who, according to Rambam, “implies that they should have a courageous heart to save an oppressed person from the one oppressing him” and “men of truth” means that the individuals should “pursue justice because of their own inclination.” America’s Providential History, while appearing to match some with Rambam’s explication, relies heavily on individualistic capitalism and the accumulation of wealth at the expense of others.
We see this when they provide an example from the Pilgrims. The authors argue that the first two years in the United States the Pilgrims, because of their land grant contract, farmed communally and produced lackluster crops because no one had an “individual incentive.” When William Bradford shifted and had the community participate in “an individual enterprise system where every family farmed their own parcel of land, and ate the fruit of their own labor,” the crop yield increased. This leads the authors of the textbook to state, that communal actions do “not make people happy of cause them to flourish, as many ancients, such as Plato, or modern men, such as Marx, have espoused.”
This stance argues that even taxes, except for one’s tithe to their church or a tax on each male over 20 (Exodus 30:11–16), is not “Biblical.” Thus, no one should be taxed to support programs that would benefit themselves or others. They argue that even Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s programs, specifically Social Security, “set up the State as provider rather than God” and that the 1913 federal tax amendment “destroys personal property rights.” While our taxes in the United States do not go to support social welfare programs such as those in other nations such as Norway and other nations, they go to services that assist individuals. In essence, America’s Providential History calls upon Christians to support candidates and policies that allow for the accumulation of wealth and for individuals to be willing to distribute their wealth to those who need support. However, we know that is not the case, as we constantly see in our society.
“Private charity” helps individuals here and there, but it does not help to uplift everyone and society as a whole. It does not address systemic issues that cause people to be oppressed in the first place. It serves as a balm to white evangelical Christians allowing them to feel good about themselves for “adhering” to “Biblical” principles while ignoring systemic injustices that create these issues. It serves as a cop out to continue on with the same old same old because the myth of the nation wraps Christianity tightly in with the individualism of the American Dream and each person for themselves.
I thought this would be my final post on America’s Providential History, but obviously that is not the case. There is a lot here, and there are a few more things I want to look at in the next post. So, stay tuned. Until then, what are your thoughts. As always, let me know in the comments below. Make sure to follow me on Twitter @silaslapham.