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2006-07-07

Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism

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In her book, "Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism," author Michelle Goldberg examines how gay marriage has become "the mobilizing passion for much of the religious right." The book also charts how Christian fundamentalism is supported by Republican patronage and how under the Bush administration, it is increasingly shaping many aspects of public policy. [includes rush transcript]

We take a look at some of the larger forces that are leading the effort to ban gay marriage. In her book, "Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism," author Michelle Goldberg examines how gay marriage has become "the mobilizing passion for much of the religious right." Goldberg documents how the religious right has not only tried to stop gays and lesbians from achieving marriage rights but have attempted to strip gay people of a host of legal protections- including the right to share health insurance, adopt children and become foster parents.

"Kingdom Coming" also charts how Christian fundamentalism is supported by Republican patronage and how under the Bush administration, it is increasingly shaping many aspects of public policy.

  • Michelle Goldberg, senior writer for Salon.com. She is author of new book "Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism."

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Michelle Goldberg joins us in our Firehouse studio. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Michelle.

MICHELLE GOLDBERG: Thank you for having me.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, can you respond to the latest court decisions and put them in the context of the kind of critique that you’re offering.

MICHELLE GOLDBERG: Well, actually, I think that there is — there’s two different aspects to this. In a certain way, there might be a tiny silver lining to what happened in New York, in that the Massachusetts decision and all of these decisions legalizing gay marriage or in support of gay marriage have been this kind of fantastic recruiting tool for the right, because the right — the movement that I’m talking about, the Christian nationalists, they — it’s not just that they’re opposed to homosexuality. They offer this narrative of a giant homosexual conspiracy. They call it the homosexual agenda, and they write these books about this kind of massive plot to undermine the nation. And it’s very, very dark and frightening, but it’s also very, very effective.

When I was in Ohio in 2004, you could see these marriage issues, these ballot initiatives and constitutional amendments, allowed the churches to move huge parts of a kind of electoral apparatus inside their walls, because although churches can’t, or under IRS rules they’re not supposed to, endorse political candidates, they can take a stand on supposedly nonpartisan issues. And so, these gay marriage fights, when they get into the ballot process, into the constitutional amendment process, you’re able to have the churches move the petition drives inside, move the phone banking inside, move the get-out-the-vote drives inside. And it was very, very effective for the right.

It’s a huge loss to them when gay rights victories are established through the legislature. And so, if there’s a silver lining in the New York decision, it’s that it could prove — it could kind of spur activists and spur politicians to move this forward in the legislature in a way that doesn’t lend itself to kind of demagogic posturing about activist judges.

JUAN GONZALEZ: One of the things that you, in your studies, demonstrate is that there has been basically a polarization around religion in American society, that there has actually been a huge growth in the number and percent of Americans who profess not to be religious, at the same time that the fundamentalist Christian movement has grown and that the more moderate Christian center, I guess you would call it, is dissipating.

MICHELLE GOLDBERG: Yeah, I mean, if you look at all of the polls about religion in America, the two sections that are kind of increasing the most are people who claim no religion and evangelical or nondenominational Protestants.

And so, one of the things that I encountered in my book, especially, you know, when I traveled all around the country reporting this, is that in certain senses what we have is not even two different attitudes towards politics or policy. You have really two different realities. You know, and so there’s broad parts of the country where the conviction that there truly is a homosexual conspiracy and that it, you know, has its tentacles in schools and corporate America and government is — you know, it’s taken completely for granted. It’s almost — you know, it’s kind of just part of the general political atmosphere.

And you see it reinforced in these churches. One of the things that I write about is the way churches in a lot of these states are becoming increasingly politicized. You know, I remember going to mega-churches, especially in Ohio in 2004, and the sermon, from beginning to end, was about the homosexuals, you know, and they had everybody on their feet, pumping their fists in the air, saying how we’re going to form a mighty army and march on the voting booth and defeat the homosexual agenda.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Michelle Goldberg, who’s author of the book Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism. One of the analyses of the 2004 election was that Karl Rove was really instrumental in getting these — was it? — eleven states to vote on the issue of gay marriage. And why that related to the president is that a lot of perhaps fundamentalists would not have even come out to vote, but because they cared about that issue, even more than the president, they came out, and when they went to the polls, they also voted for George Bush as president. What about this being used as a galvanizing tool? And can you talk about what the landscape of what you call Christian nationalism is in this country?

MICHELLE GOLDBERG: Sure. Well, Christian nationalism is a movement that I define — it’s not really synonymous of evangelical Christians. We’re talking about, when I talk about Christian nationalism, we’re talking about the 10% to 15% of the American population that rejects the idea of separation of church and state; that believes Christianity, or their version of Christianity, should be authoritative in the laws; that believes essentially that their churches should be kind of an auxiliary a political party; and that is happy to, you know — and that works in very close conjunction with the GOP.

And so, what you saw in 2004, and I think what you’ll see again in 2006, is, yeah, there’s absolutely coordination. There’s a group called the Arlington Group, which is a coalition of 53 different anti-gay organizations. They work out of Washington, D.C. They have full-time staffers that work in the office of the Family Research Council. And they, you know, also have these various kind of state connections and are devoted to putting these different ballot initiatives up for a vote. And also, we have now in 2006 the gubernatorial candidate in Ohio, Ken Blackwell, is actually a member of the Arlington Group. So this is something kind of remarkable. And that’s how intertwined they are with the Republican Party.

And, yeah, they absolutely — they do two things. I mean, again, they bring out the kind of fundamentalist vote, these initiatives. They also allow for much greater politicization of the churches. And finally, they have been effective in swaying parts of the Black churches to voting Republican. You can see in Ohio, where there was a huge effort to kind of get Black pastors out, and you saw a lot of the times they will have these rallies that are both anti-gay marriage and racial reconciliation rallies. So you have the kind of people of different races joining hands in unity, in unity in homophobia. And in Ohio, Bush’s share of the Black vote actually doubled from 8% to 16% from 2000 to 2004. And most of the analysis that I’ve seen suggested that that’s almost entirely due to this issue, due to gay marriage.

JUAN GONZALEZ: You also mentioned a geographic aspect to this, that this movement is based largely in the exurbs and has almost like an anti-urban bias. Could you expound on that a little bit?

MICHELLE GOLDBERG: Yeah, certainly. Well, one of the reasons — yeah, it definitely has an anti-urban bias and has, you know, a bias against kind of all of the things associated with cities — cosmopolitanism, intellectuals, liberalism — but more, I think, significant is just the way the very kind of structure of the exurbs makes this movement and this parallel reality possible.

If you go into a lot of these new newly developing parts of America, in many cases they were farmland 15 years ago. You know, they’ve just been put up. There’s no community infrastructure. People don’t have roots there. They don’t have parks. They don’t have promenades. They don’t have coffee shops. There’s no place for people to meet each other. And so, in these communities, the mega-churches serve a role, not just as a kind of place of worship, but as an entire social world. And so, when they are — but it’s a social world that comes with this kind of very, very radical political ideology, and so, you know, you might go to the mega-church because it has a gym or a bowling alley or an after-school program or a coffee shop. Some of them have McDonald’s, Starbucks.

But you kind of eventually, you just — the general atmosphere, the kind of air you breathe, is this parallel reality in which separation of church and state is a myth; in which there’s a kind of vast homosexual conspiracy; in which kind of the very enlightenment and the very ideas that you can understand the truth by the evidence of your senses, instead of revelation, is challenged.

AMY GOODMAN: Michelle Goldberg, we only have a minute. But I wanted to ask you about the rise of the mega-churches. A piece in the New York Times says, "On Independence Day, Lady Liberty was born again. As the congregation of the World Overcomers Outreach Ministries Church looked on and its pastor, Apostle Alton R. Williams, presided, a brown shroud much like a burqa was pulled away to reveal a giant statue of the Lady, but with the Ten Commandments under one arm and 'Jehovah' inscribed on her crown. And in place of a torch, she held aloft a large gold cross." Can you talk about the mega-churches?

MICHELLE GOLDBERG: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I couldn’t kind of ask for a better image to illustrate what I’m talking about by Christian nationalism, because the mega-churches have become really conduits for a political ideology. You know, they’re these massive buildings. They look more like shopping malls in many cases or movie theaters or something. And they are these kind of huge community centers, that — they’re growing — I think that one of the statistics I have in my book is that a new mega-church opens every two days. And they’re also networked together. I mean, while I was reporting this book, I would listen in on phone calls between the Family Research Council and many of its affiliate pastors, in which he would literally convey to them marching orders from Washington, D.C., about what their congregants need to do, what they need to write to their senators. And so, it’s a very, very effective kind of political organization.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you very much for being with us. Michelle Goldberg is our guest. Her book is Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism. Thanks so much for joining us.

MICHELLE GOLDBERG: Thank you so much.

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