Gordon Monson: Mixing so-called Christianity with politics is a threat to our democracy, even in Utah

“Under no circumstances should any Christian force his or her beliefs on people of other faiths, or, people of no faith. We get too much of that in Utah, where The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints wields so much political power.”

(Patrick Semansky | AP) A Christian cross is held outside the Supreme Court on Capitol Hill in Washington in July 2020. Salt Lake Tribune columnist Gordon Monson warns that Christian nationalism threatens the foundations on which the United States was built.

Christian nationalists scare the hell out of me.

Do they scare you?

They should.

Who are these people and what is their movement?

Christian nationalism “is the belief that the American nation is defined by Christianity, and that the government should take active steps to keep it that way,” Paul Miller, a professor at Georgetown University who studies matters such as global politics and security, wrote in Christianity Today. “… Christian nationalists assert that America is and must remain a ‘Christian nation’ — not merely as an observation about American history, but as a prescriptive program for what America must continue to be in the future.”

These adherents, Miller added, “do not reject the First Amendment and do not advocate for theocracy, but they do believe that Christianity should enjoy a privileged position in the public square.”

The insistence on that “privileged position” and “prescriptive program” is what freaks the mud clean off the national shovel.

It’s one thing to believe in God, to be prayerful, to be devout, to talk about that faith. Many politicians do and are. It’s another when governmental leaders zealously and specifically interject Christian prayer into the public space, and especially when they speak not to but for God and his supposed wishes for the American masses. When politicians politicize prayer and faith, seeking to make them a part of the law of the land for all Americans, it sounds an alarm for everyone who loves a free society.

That statement isn’t coming from me, it’s coming from folks who understand good government far better than I ever will. And yet, it’s happening right in front of us on the far-right edge of lunacy.

Here’s a famous quote. See what you think of it.

“Erecting the ‘wall of separation between church and state’ … is absolutely essential in a free society.”

You know who said that? Thomas Jefferson.

He also said: “History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance of which their civil as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purposes.”

(White House Historical Association) Portrait of President Thomas Jefferson by Rembrandt Peale dated 1800. “Erecting the ‘wall of separation between church and state,’" Jefferson said, " … is absolutely essential in a free society.”

Here’s another one.

“The government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.”

You know who said that? John Adams.

Another one.

“Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal with them.”

You know who said that? Barry Goldwater.

And another.

“We tolerate no one in our ranks who attacks the ideas of Christianity. Our movement is Christian.”

You know who said that? Adolf Hitler — even as he set about to destroy that very thing.

And yet, what we’re seeing too often among some in positions of governmental power now are hardcore self-proclaimed Christians, who seem to have ignored some of the basic tenets of what Christ taught, who are making bold attempts in slamming together their ideas of religion and their ideas of politics.

It’s a bad mix.

I, like a lot of Americans, like to consider myself a Christian, a believer.

But I don’t go for this stir. Do you?

Under no circumstances should any Christian force his or her beliefs on people of other faiths, or, people of no faith. We get too much of that in Utah, where The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints wields so much political power. It and its followers should teach to their heart’s content the rudiments of their religion to those who choose to believe. Preach away, all day long, inside the walls of their own cathedrals, to their own people and to prospective believers. Have at it. But keep the behavioral specifics out of the halls of government.

(Scott Sommerdorf | The Salt Lake Tribune) This 2017 photo shows Salt Lake Temple and the Utah Capitol. Tribune columnist Gordon Monson notes the political power the state's predominant faith, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, wields in Utah.

Outside the norms of civil decency, they should not have the legislative power to dictate to all citizens, those who do not share their religious beliefs, those specific ideals, and enforce them by law.

That’s un-American. Is that idea naive? It should be straight understood.

And I’m a Mormon, or whatever we call ourselves these days.

My church is (sometimes) good for me. It’s not necessarily good for my neighbor who does not worship among the Latter-day Saints, does not belong to or believe in my church, does not want to be held to its tenets.

When Christian nationalists and others of that ilk start cramming their interpretations of God’s will down the throats of citizens who think differently, who believe differently, who hope to live their lives according to their own basic views, Jefferson’s “free society” erodes in ways counter to what the United States was intended to be built upon.

It’s remarkable, really, that a sizable number of Americans now crave and want to latch onto the enforced religious dogma that the foundation of this country was made to avoid.

For those doing the spreading, the eroding, a preferred method of solidifying this established version of Christianity, blended as it is with conservative politics, is praying loud and proud in the public square, shouting those prayers out, not to the heavens, but to the heathens, or, translated, to the people who don’t think or vote the way they do.

Yeah, that’s frightening. Using God as a hammer.

Even Ronald Reagan, a God-fearing conservative president, understood this, having said: “We establish no religion in this country. We command no worship. We mandate no belief, nor will we ever. Church and state are and must remain separate. … We were founded as a nation of openness to people of all beliefs. … Our very unity has been strengthened by our pluralism.”

One last quote. See what you think of it.

“And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, they have their reward.

“But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou has shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.”

You know who said that? You do.

Praise Jesus. Or don’t.

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(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Columnist Gordon Monson.