On Friday, congressional representatives screamed on the Capitol steps about Christianity, among other things. High-volume theological debates are rarely illuminating. This one, on the other hand, demonstrated how Christianity remains a moral bedrock of political debate in this country — and why that is a bad thing.
The debate erupted following the passage of a House bill that would make abortion rights legal. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., a right-wing conspiracy theorist and anti-abortion advocate, began yelling somewhat incoherently at the assembled lawmakers and demonstrators. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., an abortion rights supporter, yelled back at Greene, accusing her of being uncivil.
“You should do what you’re taught in church: respect your neighbor,” Dingell yelled. Greene retorted, “Taught in church, are you kidding me?” Try being a Christian and advocating for life!” “You try being a Christian… and try treating your colleagues decently!” Dingell responded.
Dingell believes that being a Christian entails being neighborly and civil. Greene believes that being a Christian entails attacking anyone who advocates for abortion rights. They both agree, however, that being a Christian is morally good and that Christianity is virtuous.
That framework is all too familiar to me as a Jewish atheist. It’s also depressing. Despite Dingell’s best intentions, the equation of Christianity and goodness strengthens Greene’s white Christian nationalism, as well as the politics of hatred and hierarchy that go with it.
Approximately two-thirds of Americans identify as Christians. As a result, it stands to reason that public figures would portray Christianity as a positive force. Christians may have strong disagreements about what Christian virtues are, but they all agree that Christian virtues are, well, virtues. That is part of what it means to be a Christian.
Many of us, however, are not Christian and do not wish to be Christian. To take one example, Jewish people’s experiences with Christian morality have not been universally positive, to say the least.
Some will argue that antisemitism is not a genuine form of Christianity. But you can’t simply deny a couple of thousand years of persecution and hatred. And, if Christianity equals virtue, where does that leave Jews — or Muslims, or atheists, or Buddhists?
Of course, there are good Christians, just as there are good people of all faiths and none. However, one of the defining characteristics of immoral forms of Christianity is the belief that Christianity can only be good — and that the good can only be Christian.
This is the logic of Marjorie Taylor Greene and the Trumpian politics she represents. In a 2019 article, sociologist Philip Gorski argued that evangelical white Christians loved Trump not because of his violent and scabrous language, but because he told them they were better than everyone else. Evangelicals, according to Gorski, reacted to Trump’s “racialized, apocalyptic, and blood-drenched rhetoric,” which harkened back to Christian language used to justify slavery and Native American genocide.
Trump told white evangelical Christians that they had the right and duty to impose their morality on others through force. When Marjorie Taylor Greene insults abortion supporters or attempts to seize control of people’s bodies in the name of a higher morality, she is carrying on a tradition of dispossession and cruelty.
Deb Dingell’s Christianity appears to be more inclusive — her definition of loving thy neighbor translates into policy that Marjorie Taylor Greene opposes. However, it unintentionally reinforces one of the central tenets of white Christian nationalism — the idea that Christianity has a monopoly on virtue.
Christianity is a powerful and important tradition in the United States; it should not be left solely to the Greenes and Trumps. However, refusing to accept Christian supremacy is part of contesting their hold on Christianity. It entails including non-Christians in discussions about America and about goodness.
Unfortunately, Marjorie Taylor Greene is still a Christian when she spews vile antisemitic conspiracy theories about Jewish space lasers. When she attacks her coworkers, she is still a Christian. She’s still a Christian when she tries to coerce people into giving birth because of her beliefs about souls and cell clusters. However, being a Christian does not automatically make you a good person, and being a good person does not automatically make you a Christian. When we, including Dingell, accept that, maybe we’ll be closer to defeating the evil, violent and Christian movement of which Greene is a part.