In his 1935 novel, “It Can’t Happen Here,” Sinclair Lewis wrote, “When fascism comes to America, it will come wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.”

That quote has been getting a lot of play lately, with good reason. When a former president and current presidential candidate starts hawking Bibles bundled with the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, voters have every reason to be suspicious.

“Religion and Christianity are the two biggest things missing from this country,” Donald Trump declared—this coming from a self-confessed sexual predator and someone who, according to independent sources, issued more than thirty thousand false or misleading statements during his four years in office.

This impulse, which has come to be known as Christian Nationalism (although there’s nothing remotely Christian about it), has become rather popular in recent years, especially among white evangelicals. As I understand it, the central tenet is the assertion that the United States is and always has been a Christian nation.

That, of course, is demonstrably false. The founders, well aware of the wars of religion in Europe and England, explicitly specified that the new government should have no entanglement with religion. The First Amendment is abundantly clear: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

Leading the charge in this campaign of disinformation is David Barton, a faux historian who has crafted an entire career out of asserting that the founders were evangelical Christians and that the nation was explicitly founded on Christian principles. 

Barton’s “history” has been discredited, especially and most thoroughly, by Warren Throckmorton, emeritus professor at Grove City College in Pennsylvania. Barton habitually wrenches quotations out of context or fabricates quotations out of whole cloth, malpractice so egregious that his very conservative publisher, Thomas Nelson, withdrew Barton’s book, “The Jefferson Lies,” from publication in 2012.

That has not deterred Barton or his right-wing acolytes from propagating falsehoods in pursuit of Christian nationalism.

Barton also likes to assert that the founders themselves were evangelical Christians. This is so ludicrous that I’m tempted not to dignify it with a response. Jefferson himself excised references to Jesus’ divinity and miracles from the New Testament; this expurgated version, published posthumously, has come to be known as the Jefferson Bible.

Jefferson expressed his fondest hope that Americans would eventually embrace the “rational Christianity” of Unitarians, those who believe that Jesus was a moral exemplar, but not the son of God. 

Indeed, no founder, with the possible exception of John Witherspoon, Presbyterian minister and president of the College of New Jersey, or Benjamin Rush, a physician, would qualify for membership in any of the churches now advocating for Christian Nationalism.

Finally, the Treaty of Tripoli was negotiated during the George Washington administration, sent to Congress by John Adams with his endorsement, and ratified unanimously by the U.S. Senate on June 7, 1797. Article 11 of the treaty reads in part, “The government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion.”

We could, I suppose, dispense with all this nonsense about Christian Nationalism by appealing to the Bible itself. Those propagating Christian Nationalism, after all, claim to read the Bible literally, so what do the scriptures have to say about it?

Paul, the apostle, counseled the early believers to defer to civil authorities. “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established,” he writes in the letter to the Romans. “The authorities that exist have been established by God.”

Jesus himself declared, “My kingdom is not of this world,” which should be argument enough to refute Christian Nationalism. 

“My kingdom is not of this world.”

And since we are talking textual analysis here, in addition to the words of Jesus and Paul, let’s return to the Bill of Rights bundled with the Constitution in Trump’s “God Bless the USA Bible.” The First Amendment reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” 

Once again, the text is pretty clear. 

The underlying irony behind all this talk about Christian Nationalism is the fact that faith and religion have flourished in the United States as nowhere else precisely because of the First Amendment. Religious disestablishment set up a free market for religion where different groups compete with one another on an equal footing, without the interference of the state.

That has produced a salubrious religious culture unmatched anywhere in the world. Christian Nationalism, the designation of the United States as a Christian nation, would destroy that. 

In the interest of both faith and the nation, it’s long past time to put the scourge of Christian Nationalism to rest.

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