Over the weekend, thousands of conservative evangelical Christians gathered in Washington for the annual Values Voter Summit. That label leads to a natural question: What values were actually encouraged by the speakers and attendees at this event?
The answer is clear. Bigotry, intolerance, hypocrisy, divisiveness, dishonesty and violence.
Donald Trump, the first sitting president to attend the event, was a featured speaker. He is a man who almost literally embodies the Seven Deadly Sins as explained by the Bible. Yet the so-called Christians at the summit gave him a 20-second ovation and repeatedly interrupted his speech with cheers. He told them, "We don't worship government, we worship God," and proclaimed, "We are stopping all our attacks on Judeo-Christian values."
Roy Moore, the Republican senatorial nominee in Alabama, was also a featured guest. He told attendees: "When you forget God, you can forget politics. When you forget God you forget, just like it says, your heritage, your rights, your freedoms."
We forget that what they really want to do in this land is remove the knowledge of God. That won’t happen, as far as I can see, because I think the people of God are rising up in this land today. In 2016 we were given a new lease, a new reason, and it’s upon us now. This is not complicated.
For Moore, the commandment to "follow God's law" is allied to his belief that gays and lesbians are committing blatantly immoral acts akin to bestiality.
Former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, who has since returned to his role as the head of Breitbart News (which a recent investigative report by BuzzFeed has revealed to be a white nationalist and "alt-right" propaganda clearinghouse) told the audience, "This is not my war. This is our war. And y'all didn't start it. The establishment started it. But I will tell you one thing — you all are going to finish it."
Even in this swamp of radical right-wing talking points and political con artists who confuse some version of revanchist conservatism with "God's will" and "Christian values," former Trump adviser Sebastian Gorka's comments were perhaps the most dangerous.
In a speech on Saturday, Gorka included the following threat: "The left has no idea how much more damage we can do to them as private citizens, as people unfettered." On the surface, this comment suggests that right-wing Christian evangelicals do not need the help of the United States government in order to win their war against liberals, Muslims or whoever else they identify as the enemy. But the context of Gorka's speech -- and what is known about his values -- highlights a deeper and more sinister intent.
Gorka is an apparent Nazi sympathizer who has proudly worn a medal given to his father by the Hungarian far-right anti-Semitic group Vitézi Rend. In an interview with the far-right propaganda site World Net Daily, also over the weekend, Gorka said that "radical leftists" were among the three greatest threats to America along with "radical Islamic jihadists" and China.
Bannon also shares many of Gorka's beliefs. Trump's former strategist has a nihilistic vision of destroying the cosmopolitan and multicultural society of the United States (and the West) in favor of a majority white Christian empire where nonwhites, Muslims and other "non-desirables" are not welcome.
Viewed in isolation, Gorka's threats against "the left" are another example of the eliminationist rhetoric and direct threats of violence made by Trump and his political and media allies against Democrats, liberals and progressives broadly defined.
When placed in a broader context, however, Gorka's comments -- along with those made by Trump, Bannon, Moore and others -- signal at how white Christian evangelicals are being folded into a broader fascist movement.
In 2007, Chris Hedges explained this danger in an interview with Democracy Now!:
When you follow the logical conclusion of the ideology they preach, there really are only two options for people who do not submit to their authority. . . . Either you convert, or you’re exterminated. That’s what the obsession with the end times, with the rapture, which, by the way, is not in the Bible, is about. It is about . . . saying, ultimately, if you do not give up control to us, you will be physically eradicated by a vengeful God. And that lust for violence . . . is very common to totalitarian movements, the belief that massive catastrophic violence can be used as a cleansing agent to purge the world. And that’s, you know, something that this movement bears in common with other despotic and frightening radical movements that we’ve seen . . . throughout the past century.
In her 2007 book, “Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism,” former Salon reporter Michelle Goldberg communicates a similar warning about the threat to American society posed by the Christian right. She describes a New York Times interview from a few years earlier with Fritz Stern, a refugee from Nazi Germany who became a historian at Columbia University:
It quoted a speech [Stern] had given in Germany that drew parallels between Nazism and the American religious right. "Some people recognized the moral perils of mixing religion and politics," he was quoted saying of prewar Germany, "but many more were seduced by it. It was the pseudo-religious transfiguration of politics that largely ensured [Hitler's] success, notably in Protestant areas."
It's not surprising that Stern is alarmed. Reading his forty-five-year-old book "The Politics of Cultural Despair: A Study in the Rise of the Germanic Ideology," I shivered at its contemporary resonance. "The ideologists of the conservative revolution superimposed a vision of national redemption upon their dissatisfaction with liberal culture and with the loss of authoritative faith," he wrote in the introduction. "They posed as the true champions of nationalism, and berated the socialists for their internationalism, and the liberals for their pacifism and their indifference to national greatness."
Fascism isn't imminent in America. But its language and aesthetics are distressingly common among Christian nationalists. . . . Speaking to outsiders, most Christian nationalists say they're simply responding to anti-Christian persecution. They say that secularism is itself a religion, one unfairly imposed on them. They say they're the victims in the culture wars. But Christian nationalist ideologues don't want equality, they want dominance.
When discussing the Values Voter Summit (and the evangelical right), journalists and pundits should always deal in specifics. Language such as "Christian" and "values" must be interrogated. Unstated assumptions must be exposed to the light of critical inquiry.
For example, "Christian" does not necessarily mean good or benign. The white supremacist terrorist group the Ku Klux Klan was and is a Christian organization. White Christian evangelicals overwhelmingly supported Jim and Jane Crow and its campaign of racial terrorism against black Americans. White evangelicals have also backed the racist policies of the Republican Party during the post-civil rights era, and have consistently opposed equal rights for women and gays and lesbians, as well as other marginalized groups. Like Republicans and conservatives in general, white evangelicals apparently possess little empathy for poor and working-class people.
Ultimately, the Bible ought not to be a shield -- especially when too many people are willing to wield it as a cudgel against their fellow Americans in a quest to replace the rule of law under a secular constitution with a fascist theocracy.