Over the past few months, several of us at Religion Dispatches have tried to spark a conversation about the threat of white Christian nationalism, and why discussions about white nationalism must include its religious roots.
While some Christian leaders have pushed back on this, others are finally coming around to this reality, particularly in the wake of the synagogue attack last week in which a woman was killed by a white Christian nationalist who opened fire during Passover service. As the Washington Post reported, the shooter, John Earnest appears to have written a seven-page letter spelling out his core beliefs: that Jewish people, guilty in his view of faults ranging from killing Jesus to controlling the media, deserved to die. That his intention to kill Jews would “glorify God.”
Earnest’s manifesto mirrors other white Christian nationalists who have couched their hatred in theology or symbolism. His actions further underscore how white Christian nationalists see their only option to restore an imagined past glory is through violence.
It’s difficult for any religious group to acknowledge or own the extremists within their broader community. But for white Christians, understanding—and acknowledging—how racial and religious privilege in the West have manifested into backlash and violence against Others (see South Carolina church massacre, New Zealand mosque attack, and synagogue shootings) is an important first step.
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Taking ownership of an ideology that has spawned—and will continue to spawn—extremist groups or lone wolves might be the best to way to eradicate it. Otherwise, white Christian leaders will continue to exist in denial about the way their racial and religious identities have contributed to an ideology bent on preserving privilege through violence.