Right-Wing Media Descends Into Theological Row Over Israel-Hamas War - Word&Way

Right-Wing Media Descends Into Theological Row Over Israel-Hamas War

(RNS) — Far-right media figures are locked in a theological war of words over whether the phrase “Christ is King” is antisemitic, highlighting widening fissures within conservatism’s right wing amid broader debate on the Israel-Hamas war.

Candace Owens in 2021, left, and Ben Shapiro in 2019, right. (Photos by Gage Skidmore/Creative Commons)

The dust-up, which crescendoed on social media over the weekend, is rooted in the recent departure of far-right influencer Candace Owens from the Daily Wire, a publication co-founded by conservative podcaster Ben Shapiro. Owens left the outlet this month after extended backlash following her criticism of Israel and its ongoing ground assault into the Gaza Strip, which has killed more than 30,000 people in the region following an Oct. 7 attack by Hamas that left 1,200 Israelis dead and hundreds taken hostage.

The debate over her remarks taps into simmering tensions within American conservatism, which has traditionally been a bastion of support for Israel, particularly among evangelical Christian and Jewish conservatives. But recent years have seen the emergence of an influential far-right wing, some of whose members have framed their opposition to Israel in ways widely decried as blatantly antisemitic.

Enter Owens, who began to voice staunch criticism of Israel late last year in addition to ramping up her rhetoric about Jewish people. According to The Guardian, in addition to arguing that American taxpayers should not “have to pay for Israel’s wars,” she sparked outcry for rants about “political Jews” and a “very small ring of specific people who are using the fact that they are Jewish to shield themselves from any criticism.”

Owens also became embroiled in a feud with Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, at one point liking a post that asked the rabbi if he was “drunk on Christian blood again,” according to Mediaite — a reference to an antisemitic conspiracy theory.

These and other remarks triggered allegations of antisemitism from Owens’ conservative critics as well as the Anti-Defamation League, which tracks hate speech. Shapiro, who is Jewish, decried her comments as “absolutely disgraceful” during a public appearance in November. (He also, separately, blasted the ADL as a “partisan hack organization.”)

As video of Shapiro denouncing Owens was shared widely on social media, she posted a cryptic pair of posts on X: one that cited the biblical call to be peacemakers from Matthew 5:9, as well as “you cannot serve both God and money.”

Owens then added another post that simply stated “Christ is King.” There is currently no record of her using the phrase on X before the post, but she has repeated it on the platform at least eight times since.

“Christ is King” has been used by Christians as a statement of faith for centuries, but the phrase has recently become a slogan — and sometimes even a chant — among emerging far-right groups fusing Christian Nationalism, White Nationalism, and antisemitism. For example, it is a recurrent tag line for Andrew Torba, a self-described Christian Nationalist and founder of the alternative social media website Gab, a known haven for extremists. Torba has long been accused of promoting a form of antisemitism that draws upon his understanding of Christian Nationalism. In his book on Christian Nationalism, Torba and his co-author argue in support of supersessionism, also called replacement theology, which contends that Christianity has replaced or supplanted Judaism.

Multiple Christian traditions, including the Catholic Church, have shifted away from supersessionism or openly repudiated it, particularly in the wake of the Holocaust. But Torba and his co-author reject this trend, arguing supersessionism is “one of the core tenets of historic Christian theology.”

“Christ is King” is also often chanted by devotees of Nick Fuentes, a vocal white supremacist and Christian Nationalist known for spouting hateful and antisemitic messages. Indeed, he heaped praise on Owens’ remarks. During a livestream, Fuentes, who is Catholic, lauded Owens for engaging in what he called a “full-fledged war against the Jews.”

Fuentes later added: “Go off, girly. … Eat them up. Eat them up. They’re filth.”

Owens was quick to distance herself from Fuentes, responding to an ADL post on X by stating “I do not know Nick Fuentes.”

Nevertheless, a debate emerged last weekend on the platform over the phrase “Christ is King,” with Jeremy Boreing, co-founder of the Daily Wire, posting about the topic at length.

“How is saying ‘Christ is King’ antisemitic? The same way anything becomes antisemitic — when it is used for the purpose of expressing antisemitism,” Boreing wrote on X.

He later added: “Additionally, saying ‘Christ is King’ for an evil purpose — like using it as a weapon to express your hatred or disdain for the Jews — is a grave sin. It plainly violates the Third Commandment “Thou shall not carry forth the Name of the Lord thy God in vain.”

Daily Wire host Andrew Klavan also spoke out about the phrase on his show.

“Christ is the King and one day every knee will bow and recognize him, because he’s not just my king, he’s king of the universe,” Klavan said. “But when you use that phrase to mean that God has abandoned his chosen people, the Jews, through whom he came into this world incarnate, and that he’s broken his promises, his covenant with the Jews, you are quoting Scripture like Satan does in the Bible.”

Torba was quick to offer a retort on Gab, penning a post with the title “Christ Is King and I Don’t Care If That Makes Me Antisemitic.”

By contrast, Allie Beth Stuckey, an author at the evangelical Christian magazine World, sought to take back the phrase, writing an article titled “’Christ is King’ is not a right-wing term.”

“Yes, Christ is King,” Stuckey wrote. “This is not just a chant or a motto. It’s not a slogan or a slam. It’s reality.”

S.A. McCarthy also penned a piece defending the phrase for The Washington Stand, a publication of the Family Research Council, a conservative, evangelical Christian activist group based in Washington, D.C. FRC’s X page posted the article underneath a separate post that read “Christ is King and every knee shall bow.”

“Christians have a responsibility, a solemn commission, to proclaim that Christ is King,” McCarthy writes. “It is not anti-Semitic, it is not a slur, it is not a ‘dialectical trap,’ as some have called it. It is a crucial tenet of the Christian faith.”

Any right-wing consensus about the phrase seems far off, but Owens defended herself on Sunday (March 24), saying on X that allegations of antisemitism against her amount to a “smear” and accusing the ADL of “sloppily attempting to correlate” the phrase Christ is King “to Nick Fuentes.”