Unbaptizing America - Word&Way

Unbaptizing America

When historian Diana Butler Bass looks at mainline Protestant congregations today, she sees a lot of people holding onto a “nostalgic patriotism.” It’s a sentiment that isn’t ideologically on par with the Christian Nationalism of Trumpian White Evangelicals. But it can play out in similar ways in churches and ballot boxes.

“Nostalgia is one of the strongest emotions in mainline congregations,” explained Bass, who writes the Substack newsletter The Cottage and is the author of numerous books. “It goes along with the establishment hangover. So many mainliners look back and say, ‘Oh, remember those years when the Sunday school was filled? Remember when our pastor used to give the prayer at the city council meeting? And remember when we would hang out the flag on Memorial Day in front of the church?’ The white picket fence American patriotism that they sort of associate with being younger with full churches, with this sort of robust sense of everything was right in the world.”

Bass made her comments Monday (June 3) during a virtual conversation to celebrate the official launch today of Baptizing America: How Mainline Protestants Helped Build Christian Nationalism. Along with Bass, the panel included Rev. Adriene Thorne of The Riverside Church in New York City and sociologist Andrew Whitehead. The three took questions from Baptizing America authors Brian Kaylor and Beau Underwood as well as from paid subscribers of A Public Witness who joined the event live. But we also recorded it so everyone can now watch it.

All three panelists warned about the dangers of Christian Nationalism and talked about ways individuals, churches, and denominations can work to confront the ideology.

“Christian Nationalism is constantly trying to redefine the ‘us’ and making that a smaller circle,” argued Whitehead, author of American Idolatry: How Christian Nationalism Betrays the Gospel and Threatens the Church and the Substack newsletter American Idolatry. “But the gospel, as I try to argue and I’m sure others too believe, is for all people and abundant life for all. And so when we’re talking about Christian Nationalism betraying the gospel, it’s betraying this idea that we can have abundant life together in a common good.”

Thorne, who wrote the foreword for Baptizing America, similarly noted that while “prophetic preachers” like Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. “focus on the flourishing of life for all the people,” Christian Nationalism “is predicated on separation, it’s predicated on some people having while other people don’t.” The desire for just a few to have more power and wealth, she added, is the opposite of the prophetic vision “to make a world that works for all of God’s people.”

That’s the call for all of us today. And it’s why we wrote Baptizing America. We looked at how Christian Nationalism was and is pushed in our country so that we can work in our own churches and denominations to dismantle the ideology. So after you read Baptizing America, share a photo on Facebook, write a positive review on Amazon, tell others about it, and invite us to speak to your church. And then let’s work together on the next chapter, the work of unbaptizing America.

As a public witness,

Brian Kaylor & Beau Underwood

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