July 4 was America’s birthday.
According to legendary preacher Billy Graham and his Evangelical Association website:
‘July 4th commemorates the day in 1776 that our nation declared itself to be an independent nation, and no longer a colony of England. On that date, a number of our leading citizens signed what is known as the Declaration of Independence, stating our determination to become a free country.’
It goes on to say:
“Our independence did not come easily; only after several difficult years of war would it finally be won. Nor were our first years as a nation free from problems and controversies (as is still true). But our forefathers were determined to establish a free and democratic system of government, and the Declaration of Independence (together with our Constitution and the Bill of Rights) became the foundation for this. They have stood the test of time, and on July 4th we give thanks for the wisdom and faith and courage of those leaders.”
Ok, a bit of artistic license, but the victors get to write history.
But there is more.
“Although it is not a religious holiday like Christmas or Easter, for many Americans July 4th is a time to reflect on God’s goodness to us as a nation. Molded into the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia (which proclaimed our independence) are these words from the Bible: “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof” (Leviticus 25:10, KJV). Our legal system reflects our Judeo-Christian roots.
While we look with gratitude to the past on this July 4th, may we also look in faith to the future, and commit it and our lives to God and His will. The ancient words of the Psalmist are still true: “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord” (Psalm 33:12).”
You see how quickly things can stray from the secular.
Now, Billy Graham lived his life preaching the Bible and interpreting world affairs through the lens of scriptures. You can understand his take on it, but there is a fair bit of dog whistle in that too.
What was worrying this July 4th was how celebrations were being hijacked by fundamentalists. What should have been a moment to celebrate a nation who threw off the yoke of oppression to create a union of states so its citizens could enjoy the right to pursue ‘Life, Liberty and Happiness’ – has increasingly been co-opted into a jingoistic rally for those who now preach intolerance.
Religious fundamentalism is probably the biggest threat to America today.
Not radical Islam, Orthodox Judaism or Krishna chanting, drum banging at airports, but Christian fundamentalism.
The religious fundamentalism shaping America today is influencing politics too, through White Christian Nationalism.
Look back at pictures of the January 6th Insurrection, when the Capitol Building – where the values established by those forefathers Billy Graham talks about are enshrined – was stormed.
Whipped up by a departing political dictator who was desperate to cling on to power by any means necessary, you will see rough-hewn crosses, Jesus flags, and people waving their Bibles like Mao’s disciples waved their little red books.
For many watching on TV and following the news, the Capitol uprising was the first time they had publicly seen the White Christian Nationalist movement in action.
It had spent many years refining its rhetoric, growing out of churches, religious universities and school board meetings. Quietly, it had been using Christian language and Biblical phrases to disguise and legitimize its sexism and hostility to non-whites and immigrants, all in the search for WCA – White Christian America.
July 4th is a celebration many Americans and those of us who live on her shores look forward to.
But in-between the hot dog eating contests, the barbeques and cook outs, the parades, military fly-bys, fireworks and days at the beach, there were other events taking place too.
In small towns across the nation, the parades included open top trucks and SUVs from local charities throwing candy and beads and flags to the cheering crowds, interspersed with vehicles flying Trump and MAGA flags, driven by grim-faced, camo-wearing angry white men, with their angry looking sons and ‘bitch-resting face’ wives.
Their presence was further blurring the lines between the secular celebration of July 4th and the political aspirations of the hard right.
One of the popular lines spouted by White Christian Nationalists is that the US was founded as a Christian nation, that the Foundling Fathers were evangelicals, and God had chosen America as his special place.
Philip Gorski an author and sociologist at Yale University debunks this: “It’s a half truth, a mythological version of American history”.
Gorski points out that The Constitution says nothing about God, the Bible or the Ten Commandments, and to prove America’s secular credentials, points to the signature of the 1797 Tripoli Agreement – ostensibly to tackle piracy – where the senate and the founding fathers declared – “the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on Christian religion.”
Even Jesus himself has even been transformed to fit the agenda of the White Christian Nationalists. They aren’t so keen on the version of him being the pacifist Jew who turned the other cheek – that doesn’t chime with the angry white men and their ambition.
They prefer the lesser read about version of the saviour in Revelations 19 – the one where ‘the Messiah – ‘king of kings, lord of lords’ – descends on a white horse, with a sharp sword, eyes like the flames of fire, and dressed in robes dipped in blood’.
This is a Rambo Jesus they can get behind.
It legitimises their calls to take up arms, adding religious validation to their “God Guns Trump” slogans.
These ideas that White Christian Nationalists are doing God’s work, has found its way into the political discourse. Back in 2008, When Sarah Palin was weeks away from potentially entering the White House, she referred to ‘Real Americans.’
That phrase has stood the test of time better than its author.
Today, the idea is that there are ‘Real Americans’, and the rest of us.
‘Real Americans’ voted for Trump, the argument goes, and their votes are worth more than the others. When they claim the ‘election was stolen’ this is the underlying concept being explored.
America’s demographic change is worrying White Christian Nationalists too.
Last year, for the first time since records began, the number of people practicing religion fell below 50%. Not good news if you are trying to raise a god-fearing Christian militia.
And in recent census, the number of people identifying as ‘White’ declined for the first time. The majority of people in America under 18 are now people of color. Again, making it tough if you’re ‘White’ and hoping for an outbreak of ‘race-war’.
But of course, under 18’s can’t vote, nor can non-citizens, and with an election and a perhaps crucial Republican Primary coming up, this rhetoric is still powerful.
Donald Trump is by far the most likely Republican nominee and has the backing of 35% of white, Christian Republicans – a number many-fold ahead of his nearest rival, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.
Looking to close that gap, DeSantis is unashamed about openly appealing to White Christian Nationalists. At a recent Texas rally he stood in front of a podium with the slogan ‘Stop The Invasion’ emblazed upon it.
This was messaging targeted at a certain voter profile.
There can be no other explanation for doing this in a state where non-white voters make up more than 60% of the electorate.
That the Governor’s chosen language was identical to the words of defence offered earlier in the day in a Texas courthouse by a mass shooter who murdered 23 Hispanics at an El Paso Walmart, is more chilling.
For me, July 4th is a celebration of everything good, quirky and hopeful about America. It is a time when families get together, communities celebrate, and your politics, colour, race or religion are secondary to the bigger connection being shared – We Are America!