“Basic truths are just not there,” evangelical Christian publisher Thomas Nelson said of charlatan David Barton’s fake “history” book falsely claiming that America was founded as a Christian nation. This is the foundational lie of white Christian nationalism, and Barton never tires of repeating it.
If you’ve not heard of Texan David Barton, among far-right Christians, he is arguably the most popular liar – other than Donald Trump – among a seeming army of liars falsely posing as truth-tellers and filling white conservative church pews, auditoriums and rally venues across America.
A white Christian nationalist, Barton is a central figure of an epidemic of fabrication afflicting and tearing apart white American Christianity and our nation’s democratic institutions. So, too, is Eric Metaxas, another Texan, fake historian, author and white Christian nationalist.
Metaxas, a popular radio host and media provoker who received an honorary doctorate from a far-right Christian college, falsely claims to be a Dietrich Bonhoeffer historian. Actual Bonhoeffer historians – and many level-headed white evangelical Christians – scoff. Metaxas argues that Hitler was a godless liberal. In reality, Hitler and his Nazis openly voiced far-right, white Christian nationalist ideology.
“He simply does not have sufficient grounding in history, theology and philosophy” to understand Bonhoeffer, one evangelical historian says of Metaxas, deeming the Texan’s portrayal of the World War II-era theologian to be “counterfeit.”
Not that Metaxas or Barton would ever openly acknowledge the inconvenient reality that Hitler was a fellow white Christian nationalist.
Whether the distant past or near past, both Texas fraudsters enthusiastically destroy truth. In their “counterfeit” portrayals, all roads now seem to lead to Donald Trump’s ludicrous lie that he won the 2020 presidential election – a lie cherished by white Christian nationalists who want to make America a white Christian nation.
A career crook, conman, pathological liar and malignant narcissist, Trump knows his marks well. For a very good reason, he centered his 2016 and 2020 presidential campaigns – and now his 2024 presidential campaign – on blatantly racist and xenophobic lies that please and empower cruel, power-hungry, white Christian nationalists.
In 2016, the lies worked in spades, captivating Christian nationalist voters who wanted to make America white (“great”) again and sending the orange-haired conman to the White House.
In the nation’s highest office, Trump knew his base lusted for yet more lies. He obliged, spewing out more than 30,000 documented falsehoods over four years.
Christian nationalists lapped up the lies and swelled with unrighteous joy. Trump reaped what he has always sought most: ever more adoration and riches.
But that was just the beginning. Trump’s lie that he had won the 2020 election was the king of lies, a blatant falsehood on par with the lie that America was founded as a Christian nation.
Driven by these twin existential lies, thousands of cult-like Trump followers answered their dear leader’s January 6, 2021, call to violently overthrow America’s democracy, oust president-elect Joe Biden and install God’s chosen conman as king of a new, theocratic nation.
If not for the heroic efforts of overwhelmed law enforcement officers, far-right white Christian nationalist terrorists would have destroyed our democracy on 1/6, succeeding where far-right Islamic nationalist terrorists failed on 9/11.
Trump is still repeating the lie that the 2020 election was stolen from him, and white Christian nationalists are still cheering the lie. “Very conservative” Republican voters – most white Christian nationalists – today support Trump more than ever. Many regret that their insurrection failed, but fondly remember and cherish how close they came to destroying American democracy, and yet hope for a future Kingdom of Trump.
One Trump follower recently wrote a book proclaiming Trump the second coming of Christ. Ten years ago, when Trump’s con game was directed at other marks, such a book would have been dismissed by white Christian nationalists as heresy.
Today, Trump’s messiah status is well established. During his presidency Trump pronounced himself “the chosen one” and shared tweets praising him as the “King of Israel and the second coming of God.”
More recently, he shared a post praising himself as “second greatest” to Jesus. But wait, isn’t that a demotion for the man who thinks he is God?
If you are thinking all of this is nonsense, that’s exactly the point: White Christian nationalism is nonsense, as is Donald Trump. But this nonsense has crucified the inclusive Jesus of the biblical Gospels and is still on the verge of destroying our inclusive American democracy.
A 2022 Public Religion Research survey revealed that white evangelicals were the religious group most likely to agree with the statement, “True American patriots might have to resort to violence in order to save the country.”
Patriots? “True American patriots” embrace our nation’s democracy, not authoritarian wanna-be kings, tyrants or gods.
And “save the country” from what? From the truth.
The truth about Jesus, who taught and lived inclusivism and human rights. The truth about our nation’s founding as a secular nation whose Constitution separates religion and state. The truth about the evils of white supremacy. The truth that Donald Trump lost the 2020 election, and Joe Biden won.
White Christian nationalism’s blatant rejection of actual true patriotism, paired with the movement’s passionate hatred of historical truth, is indicative of a cult.
You probably have family members or friends or neighbors – or all three – who are down the rabbit hole that is white Christian Trump nationalism. Most of us do, it seems. Sadly, speaking truth to someone in a cult is like pouring water on a duck’s back.
Until a cult member lands in court for crimes committed on behalf of Trump. “It was Donald Trump’s words. It was his motivation. It was his anger that caused” January 6, declared violent white Christian nationalist Proud Boys members at their recent trial on charges of seditious conspiracy. They had marched on the Capitol to “fight like hell,” as Trump told them to do.
Many have now been convicted and are serving jail time. All because they had been caught up in a cult of lies of which “basic truths are just not there.”
Truths not only about America’s founding, but also about our nation’s history of white supremacy and privilege. Truths not only about America’s checkered past, but also about America’s checkered present. Truths about Christianity past, and truths about Christianity present.
David Barton and Eric Metaxas are admittedly onto something: few white Americans were raised to be comfortable with uncomfortable truths. No group of Americans seems more susceptible to embracing blatant but self-affirming lies than the tens of millions of far-right Christians conditioned to view themselves as holy and others as evil.
By hawking soothing falsehoods Barton, Metaxas and other liars on the “Christian Cult Circuit of Lies” have become millionaires many times over.
“Basic truths are just not there.” But for the charlatans who prop up Christian nationalism’s lie of America being founded as a Christian nation and the lie that Donald Trump won the 2020 election, there are profits to be made and democracy to destroy.
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.