“GUN ownership is a more important right than voting. Voting is not really a human right at all but a privilege that should be reserved for those who are qualified to do it properly. It should be easier to buy a gun than vote.”
– Christian right commentator Matt Walsh
“The United States of America has always had guns. It’s our history. We were built on the Judeo- Christian foundation and with guns.”
– Rep. Brian Babin (Texas Republican)
A RIGHT-WING authoritarian president of a large industrial nation, with a large black population continuously goes on verbal rampages attacking minorities and his enemies with virulent language. Though adept at manipulating the media, the president is not overburdened with intellectual acumen and empathy.
The president was initially highly dismissive of the COVID-19 pandemic. He loudly supports various right-wing positions to buttress his support with conservatives and the business elite of his country. He favoured loosening laws governing gun-ownership.
He plays fast and loose with various democratic norms. Questions of corrupt practices pervade his administration. Resignations of top officials are rife in his government. His environmental policies have been regressive and his record on climate change is paltry.
He is bolstered in office by evangelical Christian nationalists. This includes a good number of blacks and women, who vote for him and like his so-called pro-family rhetoric and initiatives, despite his caustically racist and misogynistic attitude and language.
No, this is not Donald Trump. Welcome to Brazil and the presidency of the highly volatile Jair Bolsonaro, whom some have referred to as, “the Trump of the Tropics”. For reference, Brazil has the largest black population outside of Africa.
He once declared to the Brazilian newspaper, Zero Hora, his explanation as to why he told the legislator, Maria do Rosario, “I wouldn’t rape you, you don’t deserve it.”
Bolsonaro told the journal: “She [do Rosario] doesn’t deserve to be raped because she’s very ugly. She’s not my type, I’d never rape her. I’m not a rapist, but if I was, I wouldn’t rape her because she doesn’t deserve it.”
He once stated: “I have five children. Four were boys, on the fifth I got weak and had a daughter.”
He spoke in a 2017 speech about a visit to a quilombolo, a settlement founded by people of African origin: “Look, the lightest African descendant there weighed 100 kg. They don’t do anything. They don’t even serve for reproduction.”
And yet, many black women flock to his banner because of his stance on abortion and other issues, and his deep-seated racism and vulgar misogyny.
In his contempt for gays, the rabidly homophobic president was emphatic in an interview with Playboy: “I wouldn’t be able to love a gay son. I wouldn’t be a hypocrite, I’d prefer a son to die in an accident than appear with a moustacho.”
Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro won the respective presidencies of their country in great measure because of the support of evangelical Christians, many of whom are Christian nationalists.
Christian nationalism is mostly resident in evangelical churches and among the religious right, moreso than in other Christian churches. Importantly, not all evangelicals are Christian nationalists. The two groupings should not be conflated. There is diversity among evangelicals in many areas.
Rutgers Professor Joseph Williams offers this definition of such nationalism in the US, though it is applicable to other nations: “Christian nationalists insist that the United States was established as an explicitly Christian nation, and they believe that this close relationship between Christianity and the state needs to be protected – and in many respects restored – in order for the US to fulfill its God-given destiny.
“Recent scholarship underscores the extent to which these efforts to secure a privileged position for Christianity in the public square often coincide with efforts to preserve the historical status quo on issues of race, gender, and sexuality.”
He also notes: “The practical ramifications of such views involve everything from support for laws that codify specific interpretations of Christian morality, to the defense of religious displays on public property, to nativist reactions to non-white, non-Christian immigrants.”
Christian nationalism is a subset of religious nationalism, the blending or merging of state power with a specific religion of religious grouping, privileging these groups, while failing to promote the same privileges and protections to typically smaller religious groups.
Religious nationalism is an ancient phenomenon with contemporary examples. Today, in a number of Islamic states in the Middle East, some Muslim sects are granted more state support and largesse than others.
In India, a nation in which approximately 79 percent of its population is Hindu, some in the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP Party) and other nationalists, promote intolerance and even hatred toward Muslims and other religious minorities.
Modern India was founded on the values of pluralism and secularism in order to guarantee the rights of all in one of the most diverse countries in human history.
Christian and other religious nationalists are consumed by alleged threats to the nation, including the so-called threats from ethnic, religious and sexual minorities. Both nationalisms are highly racist and chauvinistic, typically led by men with toxic and often puerile machismo.
In a prayer in the US Senate chamber during the January 6, 2021, invasion, Jacob Chansley, dressed as a so-called shaman, offered this “prayer” as he thanked his “heavenly father” that he was able to: “Send a message to all the tyrants, the communists, and the globalists, that this is our nation, not theirs, that we will not allow the America, the American way of the United States of America to go down.”
His racialist prayer continued as he deployed God and Christ in the service of a violent racist agenda: “Thank you divine, omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent creator God for filling this chamber with your white light and love, with your white light of harmony. Thank you for filling this chamber with patriots that love you, and that love Christ.”
Such nationalisms are profoundly anti-democratic and an attack on religious pluralism and freedom, which ironically, the nationalists say they are seeking to preserve.
The truth is they mostly seek to preserve their freedom and not that of those who are supposedly not entitled to such liberty including: blacks, religious minorities, Jews, migrants, Haitians, name any easily demonised or castigated group.
Neither the United States nor The Bahamas are theocracies, though some religionists seem to believe that their particular and often fundamentalist worldviews should reign supreme in a democracy.
This includes those Christian nationalists who believe that their specific notions of Christianity should reign supreme in public policy in areas ranging from gay rights to various social policies.
The Bahamas Constitution does not protect or advance any notion of Christendom, in which Christianity is the state religion, nor does it grant any religion the right to force its doctrines or force its will on other citizens.
As a secular state, we enjoy freedom of expression and conscience. We enjoy freedom of religion, a pivotal freedom historically in the advancement of democracy.
In a secular democracy, religious freedom is a part of a charter of rights and freedoms from which citizens ought not to be excluded because of a circumstance of birth. Freedom of religion is a critical element of pluralism, both of which emerged as central democratic themes following the French and American revolutions.
Some are still learning the lessons of the democratic revolutions beginning in the 18th century.
It is one of those ironies that it is typically through secular states and constitutions and democratic pluralism that human rights and social justice are more greatly advanced than by those who claim to love their neighbours as themselves, but who fail to guarantee to their neighbours the same rights they so dearly cherish.
In the United States, the chokehold of the religious right, other right-wing groups and various gun conglomerates and lobbies on mostly the Republican Party is killing Americans.
Samuel Perry is an associate professor of sociology at the University of Oklahoma. His books on Christian nationalism include: Taking America Back for God: Christian Nationalism in the United States (with Andrew Whitehead) and White Christian Nationalism and the Threat to American Democracy (with Philip Gorski).
Writing in Time yesterday after the massacre of innocents at Texas primary school by a young killer using “a handgun, a military-style rifle and high-capacity magazine,” he wrote: “As we show in our recent book The Flag and the Cross, white Christian nationalism is ultimately about controlling who gets access to cultural and political power, and thus is fundamentally anti-democratic.
“Access to guns is about protecting the freedoms of white conservatives to suppress disorder. This is why, among white Americans who believe the United States should be a Christian nation, 82% believe ‘The best way to stop bad guys with guns is to have good guys with guns.’
“The goal isn’t to rid the world of gun violence. The goal is to suppress ‘bad guy violence’ with righteous violence – our violence. And that requires guns.”
Where in Scripture does Rep Brian Babin find a warrant from Jesus Christ for his theologically blasphemous statement: “The United States of America has always had guns. It’s our history. We were built on the Judeo-Christian foundation and with guns.”
Of course the recent massacre in Texas may not be about race. But it is about America’s gun fetish and culture and the easy access to such brutal weaponry no matter the motive or circumstance, though such guns are used to brutalize minorities with deadly and precise regularity.
Thank God, that here in The Bahamas we have sensibly, like most other nations in the world, restricted access to gun ownership. This is one instance of American insanity and permissiveness from which we have been restrained in the promotion and protection of the preciousness of human life.
Christian and religious nationalism is fundamentally not about adoration and love of the Creator of us all, made wonderfully in God’s image and likeness.
Such debased nationalist ideologies are about – dangerously and conceitedly – making God in the image and likeness of a so-called pure race.
And also the concomitant dehumanisation of those not made in the same supposed image of a so-called master race, to whom God has decidedly not singularly given heaven and earth.