Representatives of Congress argued on the Capitol steps on Friday over, among other things, Christianity. Large volume theological arguments are generally not enlightening. But this one showed how Christianity remains a moral foundation for political conflict in this country – and why it is a bad thing.
Large volume theological arguments are generally not enlightening.
The argument began after the passage of a House bill that would codify abortion rights into law. Right-wing conspiracy theorist and anti-abortion activist, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., Began to shout somewhat inconsistently at the lawmakers and the assembled protesters. Abortion rights supporter Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., Yelled at Greene that she was uncivil.
“You should practice the basic thing you are taught in church: respect your neighbor,” Dingell shouted. Greene replied, “Taught in church, are you kidding me? Try to be a Christian and support life! Dingell replied, “You are trying to be a Christian… and try to treat your colleagues decently!”
Dingell believes that to be a Christian means to be friendly and civil. Greene believes that being a Christian means attacking anyone who supports the right to abortion. But they both agree that being a Christian is morally good and that Christianity is virtuous.
To an atheist Jew like me, this setting is extremely familiar. It is also disheartening. Despite Dingell’s best intentions, the Christianity and kindness equation reinforces Greene’s white Christian nationalism and the politics of hatred and hierarchy that goes with it.
About two-thirds of Americans describe themselves as Christians. So it makes sense that people in public life see Christianity as a good thing. Christians may strongly disagree about what Christian virtues are, but they agree that Christian virtues are, well, virtues. It’s part of what it means to be a Christian.
Many of us, however, are not Christians and do not want to try to be. To take just one example: the Jewish people’s experience of Christian morality has not been universally uplifting, to say the least.
Some would say that anti-Semitism is not real Christianity. But you can’t just disown a few thousand years of persecution and hatred. And if Christianity equals virtue, where does that leave the Jewish people – or Muslims, or atheists, or Buddhists, for that matter?
Of course, there are good Christians, just as there are good people of all faiths and without faith. But one of the hallmarks of immoral forms of Christianity is the belief that Christianity can only be good – and that good can only be Christian.
This is the logic of Marjorie Taylor Greene and the rabid deceitful politics she represents. Sociologist Philip Gorski argued in a 2019 article that evangelical white Christians loved Trump not despite his violent and scabrous language, but precisely because he told them they were better than everyone else. Evangelicals, Gorski said, have responded to “Trump’s racialized, apocalyptic and bloody rhetoric.” This rhetoric came back to the Christian language used to justify the slavery and genocide of the Amerindians.
Trump told evangelical white Christians that they have the right and the duty to impose their morality, by force, on others. Marjorie Taylor Greene continues a tradition of dispossession and cruelty when she insults supporters of abortion or attempts to take over people’s bodies in the name of higher morality.
Deb Dingell’s Christianity would seem to be more inclusive – her definition of loving neighbor politically translates into a policy (same-sex marriage, abortion rights, etc.) that Marjorie Taylor Greene abhors. But nevertheless, it also inadvertently reinforces one of the main tenets of white Christian nationalism – the idea that Christianity has a monopoly on virtue.
Christianity is a powerful and important tradition in the United States; it shouldn’t be left to the Greenes and Trumps alone. But part of challenging their hold on Christianity is refusing to acquiesce in Christian supremacy. It means recognizing non-Christians in discussions of America and in discussions of kindness.
Marjorie Taylor Greene is, sadly, still a Christian when she spews ugly anti-Semitic conspiracy theories on Jewish space lasers. She is still a Christian when she attacks her colleagues. She is still a Christian when she tries to force people to give birth because of her own particular beliefs about souls and cell clusters. But being a Christian doesn’t make you a good person, just as being a good person doesn’t make you a Christian. When we, including Dingell, come to terms with this, we may be closer to defeating the evil, violent and Christian movement of which Greene is a part.