‘Reclaiming Christianity’: Massachusetts churches take stand against Christian nationalism
On a frigid Jan. 6, churches and groups around the state of Massachusetts braved the cold to stand against Christian nationalism.
Bundled in parkas, groups gathered in front of multiple church buildings and public parks and held signs depicting messages like “There is nothing Christian about Christian nationalism.”
This was an effort initiated by United Church of Christ Massachusetts congregations on the third anniversary of the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection event, when supporters of then-President Donald Trump broke into the U.S. Capitol, harming officers and challenging the nation’s peaceful transfer of power.
“Christian nationalists want their beliefs to be the official national religion that governs our laws, our education and our families,” said David Langston, deacon of First Congregational Church of Williamstown. “They would end the constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion, and as Christians and as citizens, we stand in opposition to forsaking both Christian teaching as well as the Constitution.”
Building a countermovement
Langston estimated around 40 people attended the “standout” at the church, which sits amid the campus of Williams College. He and two other speakers gave talks addressing the questions and dangers of movements advocating for the United States to be a Christian nation.
Their congregation has joined others in holding a standout event every year since the first Jan. 6 anniversary.
“We need to have a countermovement in the country,” Langston said. “We want this to spread. We’d like every congregation in America to stand up and say, ‘Christian nationalism is not Christian.’”
The Williamstown church has also held a book group for the past four years and organized events like these annual standouts, teach-ins and an interfaith discussion forum to raise awareness about the threats posed by Christian nationalism. The congregation is planning a Lenten series that incorporates segments of books on Christian nationalism throughout the season.
Need for religious freedom
For this year’s Standout against Christian Nationalism event, Langston said they partnered with the United Church of Christ in Norwell and First Congregational Church of North Adams to host standouts in their respective communities simultaneously. They invited churches around Western Massachusetts from the UCC and all denominations and backgrounds to host their own events.
This is the second year that First Congregational Church of Lee held a standout event in their town.
“We are clear that Jesus condemned the use of force and violence in his name — in the garden at his arrest, at the cross — and that he did not demand that people believe in him before he taught them, healed them and ate with them,” said the Rev. Marisa Brown Ludwig, pastor at First Congregational Church of Lee. “We are Christians that cannot accept the idea of Christianity being used to exclude or force one way of being American in our land. We know that our freedom to follow Christ is only possible when other people can follow their conscience in freedom, too.
“We stand today as Christians against Christian Nationalism.”
The upcoming 2024 elections create an added sense of urgency as faith groups address this issue.
“We think the problem of Christian nationalism will get worse before the election — more militant, more dangerous,” Langston said, noting that while he hopes they are wrong, they want to be proactive.
“The threat of Christian nationalism has been growing over the past several years and has received a boost with the election of Rep. Mike Johnson as Speaker of the House,” said Betsy Burris, Williamstown church moderator. “Johnson, who is second in line to the presidency, actually claims that the separation of church and state is a misnomer and defines his ‘worldview’ as ‘the Bible.’ That may be his personal perspective, but it is wholly inappropriate for a public official serving a diverse democracy.”
The responsibility to vocalize an alternative, inclusive view of Christianity, in relation to the state, is a pressing issue within the Christian church, standout organizers believe.
“Reclaiming Christianity as a religion of love and equity, inclusiveness and justice, is the job of congregations like our own,” said Sherwood Guernsey, an activist at the Williamstown church.
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