I am a big fan of letting white Christian nationalists define themselves, whether in action or word. After all, who better to do so?
January 6 defined white Christian nationalism in both action and word. On that ignoble day, several thousand white, self-identified Christians literally went to war against America.
Amid a sea of Christian flags, banners, signs, prayers, Bibles and a gigantic cross, the terrorists assaulted some 140 law enforcement officers and broke into our nation’s Capitol.
Rampaging through the Capitol with intent to kill politicians and overthrow democracy, they were determined to install (in their minds) God’s chosen one – Donald Trump, who had lost the 2020 presidential election – as the authoritarian leader of a new, anti-democratic government.
And they almost succeeded.
To this day, roughly half of Republicans – the chosen political party of white Christian nationalists – believe the lie that Donald Trump won the 2020 election. They seemingly regret that the January 6 war against America failed.
Why? For the answer, we turn to Michael Flynn, a former general and Trump’s former national security advisor – or more aptly, Trump’s former personal security advisor.
Leading up to the January 6 domestic terrorist assault on the U.S. Capitol, Flynn encouraged Trump to forcefully and illegally overturn his 2020 election loss and remain in power indefinitely.
Now, he is touring America on a so-called “ReAwaken America” tour during which he is rallying white Christian nationalists to continue the war against his – and their – nation.
Some months ago, as Flynn traveled the country selling himself to white Christian nationalists as God’s general, he proclaimed to rousing cheers: “If we are going to have one nation under God, which we must, we have to have one religion. One nation under God, and one religion under God, right?”
The absolute necessity for “one nation under God” drove Flynn to betray his country during Trump’s presidency, and now animates aggrieved Christian extremists everywhere he travels.
Who is this angry and vengeful January 6 god for whom Michael Flynn is shilling? Who does Flynn think he is in demanding the overthrow of the secular-birthed American nation for a theocratic state? Does he even know the story of the phrase “one nation under God”?
He wouldn’t have to look far to locate the origins of the phrase that is lining his pockets with earthly riches: a mere four years before Flynn was born, “one nation under God” suddenly rocketed out of nowhere into popular discourse.
The year was 1954. It was literally an explosive time.
During the Cold War, America’s largest nuclear detonation (to this day, even) occurred in a test at Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands. The 15-megaton explosion formed a cloud 4.5 miles wide and 130,000 feet high. Radioactive debris fell over some 7,000 square miles.
The end of the world seemed imminent.
Weeks later, a suddenly-defensively Congress bowed to public pressure (led by one Billy Graham, an early Christian nationalist) to take a stand against the “godless communism” of America’s nuclearized enemy, the Soviet Union, by overwhelmingly passing legislation adding the words “under God” to the nation’s secular pledge of allegiance.
President Eisenhower, not known as intently religious, declared upon signing the bill: “From this day forward, the millions of our schoolchildren will daily proclaim in every city and town, every village and rural schoolhouse, the dedication of our nation and our people to the Almighty.”
But this war-fevered breach of constitutional church-state separation did not go far enough for extremist U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin. Seemingly unhinged, he effectively tarred the whole of government and military leadership as communist lackeys. By the end of the year, he went too far and was soundly censured by his fellow senators.
Finally – and with real world consequences – a moderate U.S. Supreme Court ruled against public school segregation in Brown v. Board of Education, sending much of white American Christendom into a lather over the federal government infringing upon their religious rights to discriminate against Black people.
“One nation under God,” in short, was birthed in the pivotal year of 1954 as white Christian nationalists pushed back against godless communism and became increasingly restless as racial segregation of public schools was challenged in the nation’s highest court.
The same impulses – a self-perceived holy avenger complex and racial anxieties – drive today’s militant-minded white Christian nationalists.
January 6 was the first real-world test of the ideological nuclear bomb that modern American Christian nationalists began constructing in 1954. Under God on January 6, they went to war not against godless communism, but against a perceived godless – secular, pluralistic, human-rights oriented, liberal – democratic government.
Their first armed, domestic terrorist insurrection brought them into a whisker’s breath of installing – in their lie-filled minds – God’s chosen one on the throne of a new, theocratic-infused divided states of America.
Today, Michael Flynn is rallying and cheering white Christian nationalists for a renewed assault against our inclusive, democratic nation.
In the name of their self-serving God, they intend to succeed.
Editor’s note: This column is the first in a monthly series of articles in which Gourley will discuss Christian nationalism’s origins and manifestations. It is part of GFM’s A Better Way Initiative, which is working to expose and counter Christian nationalism and to provide an alternative voice in the public discourse regarding policy and religion.
Managing Editor for Publishing and Experiences Director at Good Faith Media. He is a historian, lecturer, public speaker, award-winning author and award-winning photographer.