EDS Critically Engages White Christian Nationalism

February 26, 2024 Transition News
EDS Critically Engages White Christian Nationalism

Throughout its history, the Episcopal Divinity School (EDS) has committed itself to the work of advancing social justice. This year, among its other activities, EDS has given special attention to unpacking, interrogating, and countering white Christian nationalism. As this harmful ideology has grown in recent years, there is greater awareness of the threat it poses to democratic and religious freedoms. Through offerings including online seminars, an annual lecture, and upcoming public conversations, EDS is carving out space for progressive Christians to engage in this difficult and necessary work.

On February 3, 2024, EDS hosted “White Christian Nationalism: What to Know and How to Respond”—a day-long online seminar in partnership with the Kairos Center for Religion, Rights, and Social Justice. The seminar was led by EDS Interim President the Rev. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas and Kairos Executive Director the Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, and featured conversations with esteemed Biblical scholar the Rev. Dr. Walter Bruggemann and best-selling authors and historians Drs. Kristin Du Mez and Jemar Tisby. Dr. Douglas, Dr. Theoharis, the featured guests and seminar participants grappled with the historical, theological, and biblical underpinnings of White Christian Nationalism to the practical, pastoral and prophetic responses needed to counter it.

“White Christian nationalism is an ethnocultural ideology that uses Christian symbolism to create a permission structure for the acquisition of political power and social control,” explained Dr. Tisby in conversation with Drs. Douglas, Du Mez, and Theoharis. Dr. Bruggemann offered a similar definition and a strong call for action. “White Christian nationalism is a combination of white supremacy and of being a chosen people,” he shared. “If you put a chosen people together with white supremacy you get white nationalism that is authorized to do whatever violence it needs to do in order to maintain itself and expand its control.” The work of Christians, Bruggemann argued, is to “[expose] both the falsehood of white supremacy and the betrayal of being a chosen people.”

“I’m trying to have us see both this deconstruction of empire, the tenants of what becomes white Christian nationalism, with the juxtaposition of what God’s empire is to be, what Jesus’ instruction is for us,” shared Dr. Theoharis during her session that explored nationalist motifs in the Biblical witness. “And that’s about organizing society around those at the bottom, feeding the poor with good things, an equality amongst people.”

The day-long format offered participants a chance to explore this topic from many angles and in small discussion groups, as well as space to commit to strategize for how to take these learnings into the world. "Somehow the connection between Anglo-Saxon exceptionalism and the Episcopal/Anglican liturgies I have so loved all of my life finally hit me right between the eyes today,” shared participant Margot Critchfield. “I’ll never hear them the same way." Participant Carol Aschenbrener called the seminar “an inspiration to new action.”

The programming for EDS’ White Christian Nationalism seminar built on the themes that the Rev. Dr. Carter Heyward addressed in EDS’ 2023 Kellogg Lecture “The Master's House and the Nagging Widow: A Stubborn Call to Dismantle,” which took place at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine on December 8, 2023. “Christian nationalism has nothing to do with Jesus or God, with justice or mercy, with the Bible or the truth,” Dr. Heyward proclaimed. “White Christian nationalism is a strong, right-wing theocratic movement that seeks to turn the United States of America into an avowedly Christian nation with white male Christian leaders who use Christian scripture selectively and shape laws purposely to dictate the basis of our life together as a nation. Let our love of God and our passion for justice as Christians never be confused with white Christian nationalism. I believe Americans need to see progressive Christians and people of faith on the streets, in the picket lines, leading the way for racial, gender, sexual, economic, and environmental justice.”

This spring, EDS is continuing to engage in social justice programming that seeks to counter white Christian Nationalism. On February 26th, EDS Interim President the Rev. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas will join once again with Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis for an online seminar with the Episcopal Parish Network, “Christian Nationalism and the Church's Response.” Later this spring, President Douglas will host a live online conversation with the Rt. Rev. Allen Shin, Bishop Suffragan of the Diocese of New York, about how the House of Bishops Theology Task Force has been taking up this issue over the last six months. (The Rt. Rev. Shin is chair of the House of Bishops Theology Taskforce, and Dr. Douglas is a member.) Additionally, EDS will host its next online seminar, Spirituality for Social Justice”, on April 13, 2024. Led by Dr. Douglas and Dr. Kwok Pui Lan, the seminar will explore the practices and wisdom that sustain the work of social justice, including the continued work of dismantling white Christian nationalism.

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