christian nationalist abortion

Abortion: a Christian Nationalist ‘Smokescreen’?

Collin Bastian on May 13, 2022

Politics often brings out the worst in people, leading to holding an uncharitable disposition and a dismissal of sincere concern that an opponent may hold. Political engagement can also override religious affiliation and tear the bonds of faith that all believers in Christ should share.

This phenomenon was unfortunately observable in a May 10 interview on the Facebook Live series, Just Conversations, a production of New York liberal Union Theological Seminary and its Episcopal Divinity School (EDS) featuring the Rev. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas.

The episode presented a conversation between Douglas and guest Katherine Stewart, investigative reporter and author of The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism, concerning abortion politics and its relation to the rise of the Christian nationalist movement.

Stewart began the interview by defining Christian nationalism, saying that adherents to such a view hold that “the United States was founded as a…Christian nation, and our laws should be based…on a particular kind of reading of the Bible.” 

The movement, she further commented, “is radically anti-democratic because it says that the foundation of our government is not based in…our rights,” but instead claims it “is really based in a particular religion and insists that that’s what makes us distinctive.”

The evidence for the strength of this movement and its anti-democratic activities could not be clearer when one ponders the leaked decision of the Dobbs case, per Stewart. “We’re seeing the consequences of decades of planning by religious right legal strategists to stack the courts with ideologues,” she claimed.

“The Christian nationalist movement…is led to, I think, an underappreciated degree by the legal advocacy groups, and they’ve invested for decades in stacking the courts, in picking the right cases” so as to “form the building block of decisions” which will “degrade the separation of church and state and bring about their vision of an America with laws based on…their understanding of religion,” Stewart commented.

Concerningly, Stewart did not seem to recognize the role of America’s Judeo-Christian background in the conception of the Constitution and the rights-based framework which serves as the basis of the country’s legal apparatus, or of how pro-life policies need not be tied to sectarian religion.

Douglas pressed in, questioning Stewart’s previous writings which claimed that the issue of “abortion” was “a smokescreen…to protect segregated schooling.”

Stewart confirmed this was her view, claiming that “when Roe v. Wade passed, most Protestant Republicans supported it.” She also pointed to resolutions passed by the Southern Baptist Convention “in 1971 and 1974 expressing support for abortion law liberalization,” as evidence of the view that conservative evangelicals do not think of abortion as a serious issue in its own right.

She also affirmed the contention that the protection of segregated schools was pivotal to the conservative movement’s adoption of the abortion issue. On her account, the New Right movement of the late 1970s coalesced around opposition to “the civil rights movement” as well as the “women’s rights movement,” particularly concerning the issue of protecting the “tax-exempt status of…segregated schools.”

Of course, per Stewart, the New Right could not hope to win a direct battle with calls for stopping “the tax on segregation,” and so looked for another issue to unite conservative Protestants and Catholics. “When they got to abortion, it was like a light bulb went off,” Stewart said. “It was like this identity issue, and they could use it to channel people’s anxieties around identity and family and sexuality.”

The issue of abortion, Stewart claimed, is “a modern creation, and it was created for political purposes.” Douglas concurred and wondered aloud at the relationship between “abortion and Christian nationalism,” as well as their tie to “white supremacy,” likening pro-life language to Theodore Roosevelt telling “Anglo-Saxon women, white women, to have as many children as possible.”

Still, Stewart stated that she tried to be optimistic about her opponents. Stewart noted of her experiences with members of the conservative Christian nationalist movement that many were “kind people” who “truly want what’s best for our country.” But ultimately, such people are simply “exploited in service of this agenda that’s dividing our country.”

But it is clear from the entirety of the interview that neither speaker could muster much charity for their political opponents. Nowhere was it suggested that one may truthfully believe, free of all manipulation, that abortion is a fundamentally unjust act that ought to be opposed, despite Christian protestations of the practice since at least the writing of The Didache.

Indeed, the ridiculous smearing of all conservative pro-life Christians as puppets of Christian nationalism and white supremacy fundamentally represents an attempt to shut down all debate and consign pro-life inclinations to a political category of untouchability.

May Christians on the other side of the political aisle from Kelly and Stewart exhibit a greater love for their enemies by not attributing all pro-choice sentiment to a nefarious plot to destroy American democracy, even as they necessarily and rightly defend their pro-life convictions.

  1. Comment by Dan W on May 14, 2022 at 10:31 am

    This author, Katherine Stewart, seems to specialize in anti-Christian propaganda (my opinion.)

    I know conservative Christians who want to bring back organized school prayer, or display the Ten Commandments in public spaces. A desire to return to a more civil society, based on shared values, is not Christian Nationalism.

    For the record, I believe public prayer that is not sincere is worthless. If God’s commandments aren’t written on your heart, what good are they written on the wall of a building?

  2. Comment by Van E. on May 14, 2022 at 6:58 pm

    Interesting timing. NPR also put out a piece on May 12th on “All Things Considered” claiming that the pro-life movement is aligned with Christian Supremacists, White Supremacists, and Male Supremacists. I heard it while I was driving home in the car, and I was stunned. Here is a quote from the beginning of the piece:

    “The evolution of the anti-abortion coalition in the U.S. has long been a shared project of supremacist movements.”

    There were not many real details, but a strong insinuation that prof-lifers are in cahoots with the three supremacist movements listed above. As far as I could tell, they attributed no altruistic motive to people or groups that oppose abortion. This is a very dark view of religious people who oppose abortion on moral grounds. In my parish, the majority of active pro-life folks are women, typically mothers and grandmothers.

    You can read the article and listen to the podcast here:

    NPR usually has some pretty good news coverage, although there is typically a slant. The bias in their recent Roe-v-Wade coverage has been much more blatant.

  3. Comment by John Smith on May 15, 2022 at 9:43 am

    If you cannot, on its merits, condemn the opposing view (anti-abortion in this case) reframe it as something else that is odious – racism, misogyny, etc. There is no attempt or desire to engage the other side but rather to provide fertilizer to grow one’s own base and supporters.

    This tends to apply to both sides.

  4. Comment by Star Tripper on May 16, 2022 at 7:38 am

    Let’s see, two things to point out: 1) the Founding Fathers distrusted democracy so had no interest in creating one and 2) Judeo-Christianity is a made up term from the mid-20th century to go with great melting pot and other pro-Globalist myths. Given all that, Christian nationalism as described sounds like a good thing.

  5. Comment by SDK on May 23, 2022 at 12:32 am

    Generally speaking, I find pro-life people to be extremely sincere. What they seem to be missing is a firm understanding that there may be equally religious people who hold the opposing view. When you ask people about their *beliefs* about abortion, many people are clear on what they believe theologically and why they believe it. If you then ask them if the women in their lives who have had abortions should be in prison for murder, they tend to get pretty quiet.

    The idea that fetal life begins at conception and that abortion from the first day of pregnancy is murder has very thin legal and theological precedent – until modern times. If you are a traditionalist, I guess it depends on where you choose to start your tradition! If you go all the way back – both legally and theologically – your standing is weak (and I think you probably know that).

    If you are serious about state power in the service of theology, I only ask that you start at the top rather than the bottom. When traditional churches call on Trump to be executed for adultery and when Sarah Palin’s daughter is forced to marry the father of her child – then I will accept legal attacks from churches on gay rights and abortion. Hitting the weak is child’s play – be serious.

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