What the rise of the 'Christianist' ideology is revealing: writer
With the Taliban now in control of Afghanistan, some Christian groups are calling for the U.S. and other major democracies to take in Afghan refugees fleeing Taliban oppression. But other Christian groups are vehemently opposed to that idea, and Never Trump conservative Charlie Sykes is noting that the Christians who are most likely to be hostile to Afghan refugees are White evangelical Protestant fundamentalists — or as Sykes describes them, "Christianists."
This week in his column for the conservative website The Bulwark, Sykes writes, "White evangelicals are the least sympathetic to the plight of refugees, but White Catholics are not really all that far behind. So, we are going to get a lot of this."
Sykes notes that "Hillbilly Elegy" author J.D. Vance, earlier this week, tweeted, "I'd like to hear zero about Afghan refugees until we get every single American out first." And podcast host Nick Gillespie, in response, pointed out that the U.S. Senate candidate "lists 'Christian' as his first identifier in (his) Twitter bio."
Lists "Christian" as his first identifier in Twitter bio. https://t.co/W8cQzjoYvt— Nick Gillespie (@Nick Gillespie) 1629296647.0
"Of course, White evangelicals have been the most reliable part of the Trumpian anti-immigrant base for years," Sykes observes. "In 2018, a Pew Research Center poll that year found that 68% of White evangelicals believed that America had no responsibility to house refugees — 25 points over the national average."
Sykes goes on to quote the Bible extensively, noting some of the many Old Testament and New Testament verses calling for people of faith to be charitable — for example, Romans 12:13 in the New Testament reads, "Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers." And Hebrews 13:1-3, also in the New Testament, advises, "Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that, some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured."
The Bulwark columnist stresses that many White evangelicals are ignoring that biblical message of charity, observing, "This is less Christianity than it is 'Christianism,' a term coined by Andrew Sullivan nearly two decades ago."
The 58-year-old Sullivan, originally from the U.K., is a political journalist who supported the Republican Party in the past but grew disenchanted with the GOP when it became more and more reliant on the Religious Right. And Sullivan, Sykes notes, offered a definition of "Christianist" during the 2000s when he wrote, "I have a new term for those on the fringes of the Religious Right who have used the Gospels to perpetuate their own aspirations for power, control and oppression: Christianists."
The term "Christianist" is used in much the same way as the term "Islamist." Just as the term "Islamist" or "radical Islamist" is used to negatively describe far-right extremists like the Taliban, al-Qaeda, ISIS (Islamic State, Iraq and Syria) and Boko Haram and set them apart from peaceful non-extremist Muslims, the term "Christianist" is negatively used to describe far-right White evangelical fundamentalists. Non-extremist Catholics and Mainline Protestants (Lutherans, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Methodists) don't fit Sullivan's definition of "Christianists," and he has been careful to make a distinction between extremists and non-extremists in Christianity.
Another way of looking at it: Christian nationalists are part of Christianity, but many Catholics and Mainline Protestants vehemently reject Christian nationalism.
Sykes argues, "Sullivan himself updated the concept last December, noting that 'Christianists now believe that Trump has been selected by God to save them from persecution and the republic from collapse.... This belief is now held with the same, unwavering fundamentalist certainty as a Biblical text.' As we watch the debate over refugees unfold, keep in mind this distinction: Christianism should never be confused with actual Christianity."
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