The Biggest Push Yet to Make the U.S. a Theocracy



Last week, Christians flooded D.C. The Faith & Family Coalition was hosting its annual Road to Majority Policy conference, the nation’s largest public policy gathering of conservative Christian activists. One stump speech after another urged them to vote, evangelize, and pass out some of the $62 million worth of political literature designed to ensure another term for President Donald Trump.

“How can this man be called a bully?” Mark Robinson, lieutenant governor of North Carolina, wanted to know. Televangelist Paula White spoke tearfully of the great personal cost to Trump as he endeavors to lead us. Speakers’ references to Christian teachings and the Ten Commandments were not applied to his life. It was enough that, when he gave the keynote address, he proclaimed, “God created two genders, male and female.” Ralph Reed, founder and chairman of Faith & Family and former executive director of Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition, observed that since 2016, Trump had proven himself a reliable ally: “Now there is total trust.”

Granted, Trump had not yet fully committed to ending abortion. But when it came to the other issues—which the speakers perceived as chaos at the southern border, immorality in education, acceptance and treatment for people who claim to be transgender, rising crime, a failing economy, a left-wing war against Christians, and a resurgence of godless Communism—Trump was their guy.


That much was obvious. But the conference held other clues, or omens. First, the line between politician and preacher had been erased. “The very first thing we’re gonna do, like always, we’re going to give thanks to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” Robinson told the crowd. He urged members of the mainstream media to write their stories, tell their lies. He did not fear them, he said. “Why? Because Jesus Christ is still on the throne…and I know whatever I need to do on this earth for Him, it will get done.

U.S. Senator Josh Hawley (R-Missouri) opened by asking the audience the most rhetorical question possible: “Do you believe that God has a plan for America?” Then he announced that he would preach to them for a minute, and he read a passage from the Bible. “This is the day the Lord has made,” opened U.S. Senator James Lankford (R-Oklahoma). He once led the largest youth summer camp in the country and watched “thousands of students come to Christ every single summer.” He went into politics hoping to expand the same transformation.

An even stronger theme—and promise—was certitude. Every issue was black and white and easily solved, with no gray areas acknowledged. “We are right,” Robinson said, playing on the political label. “We are right about every single solitary issue.” People in the audience jumped to their feet, clapping. Hawley assured the crowd, “Our faith has made this country the greatest country, the greatest democracy, in the history of the world.” Ben Carson, former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, told the crowd, “You see people talking about ‘my truth’ and ‘your truth’—what happened to the truth? Jesus said it: ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life.’”

The flat, sure assertions of truth were there to counter another theme: fear. “Our religious freedoms are under attack as never before,” said White, who is Trump’s spiritual advisor. “Everywhere you look, this country is in chaos,” said Hawley. “We have terrorists crossing [the border] every day,” said Lankford. The fear pumped adrenaline, preparing people to fight. Because “behind all of it is a radical anti-faith agenda,” Hawley insisted. “What divides America is the left’s attempt to destroy religion.”

There was urgency in the call to arms. “We are people that are setting the tone for the nation,” Lankford told the audience. Other Americans “need the opportunity to know Christ” and to “see the imprint of Christ on the plan.” And though the conference was about forging national policy, he reminded people, “Capitol Hill is not our hope…. Our hope is the Lord.”

“It is time to preach again the things that unite this country: God, family, nation,” Hawley said. “The things that hold us together.” Except they do not. We have different gods, different versions of family, and now, it seems, we have different ideas about the purpose of this nation.


“When the first forefathers came to this country several hundred years ago, they took a covenant and they pledged themselves—they pledged to each other and to God—that they would follow the ways of the Lord in this new land,” Hawley said at the conference. The “forefather” he referenced was John Winthrop, the Puritan minister who governed the Massachusetts Bay colony in 1630. His famous “City on a Hill” speech was forgotten for two centuries, put into print in 1838 and forgotten again, then resurrected and given political currency during the Cold War. It has been regularly misinterpreted to refer to the nation, when in fact Winthrop was reminding his fellow Puritans that their new Massachusetts Bay colony had to set an example.

During the Cold War, both nationalism and religion got supercharged. President Eisenhower had “In God We Trust” printed on all paper money, added to a U.S. stamp, and made the national motto. Its first use had been in 1864, when it was briefly printed on treasury notes along with the words “God and our Right.” The New York Times editorial board pleaded, “Let us try to carry our religion—such as it is—in our hearts, and not in our pockets.” Later, President Teddy Roosevelt had the phrase removed from special gold coins, calling the combination of God and Mammon vulgar. Public outcry forced him to reinstate it.

When Eisenhower picked up “In God We Trust,” he was trying to counteract godless Communism. Today’s Christian nationalists feel they are doing the same. I keep looking fast over my shoulder, trying to spot this new Communism that, to them, is an imminent danger to their faith and to the nation. At the conference, Monica Crowley, former Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs for the U.S. Department of the Treasury, talked about “the enemy within” and declared, after bemoaning the state of the nation, “This all started years ago as a KGB operation.” Carson raised the specter of one world government and listed Communist strategies in the 1940s: divide the people, destroy the fabric and morality of the people, gain control of the schools and the news media, remove God from the public square, diminish the role of the family, make sexual immorality normal. “All these things,” he warned, “are happening.”

Today’s Communism, it turns out, is the push to acknowledge and respect religious and sexual diversity. “In God we trust” is meant to restore old gender norms, traditional nuclear families, and Christian values (though, as G.K. Chesterton pointed out, they have rarely been practiced by anyone). The motto is invoked to insist that this was always a Christian country; that the U.S. is meant to be a theocracy. Nobody mentions the motto it replaced: E Pluribus Unum. We have given up on a pluralism that can make the many into one without coercion.

There is even a Christian pledge of allegiance: “I pledge allegiance to the Christian flag and to the Savior for whose kingdom it stands, one Savior, crucified, risen, and coming again with life and liberty for all who believe.” It is recited alongside the original pledge in Christian schools and organizations. I think of how many of the conference speakers emphasized that their hope was in Jesus, not in the U.S. government. Then I remember how people worried about John F. Kennedy’s Catholicism taking precedence, and for the first time, I understand.

“We ought to take the Pride flag out of schools and put the Bible back in,” Hawley said at the conference, and “over every federal building, write the words ‘In God We Trust.’” Many Southern states are now adding “In God We Trust” to their flags and seals. Mississippi tried to get “In God We Trust” on its license plates; Chesapeake, Virginia, emblazoned it on every city-owned car and truck.

Other states are pushing legislation that would ban voter registration on Sunday, the Christian sabbath. Bills are being passed to support not just prayer but Bible reading in public schools. Christian nationalists talk of a Bible-based mandate to take control of the “seven mountains”: education, media, government, arts and entertainment, religion, family, and business.

Louisiana now requires the Ten Commandments to be posted—big, in an easy to read font—in every public elementary, middle, and high school classroom and every public college classroom. “If you want to respect the law,” said Governor Jeff Landry, “you’ve got to start from the original law giver, which was Moses.” Except for the rising number of Americans whose faith is not JudeoChristian—and the 27 percent of U.S. citizens who profess no religious affiliation at all. Nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of U.S. citizens say religion should be kept separate from government policies. The first amendment to the U.S. Constitution was made to insist that the country would have no official religion.

But posting the Ten Commandments, advocates say, creates a common moral foundation. They are hard to object to—who wants kids taught, “Thou shalt kill,” or steal, or commit adultery? But there are plenty of other religious teachings that would be hard to object to, yet no one wants Buddhism’s five precepts or Islam’s five pillars posted alongside the Ten Commandments.

“By their deeds you will know them,” says the gospel of Matthew. So I looked at what else Louisiana’s legislators are doing. They have rolled back reforms of the criminal justice system; passed bills to prosecute seventeen-year-olds charged with any crime as adults and allow methods of execution beyond lethal injection; and advanced bills designating abortion pills as dangerous controlled substances and allowing judges to order surgical castration of child sex offenders. So much for forgiving seventy times seven.

At the conference, Carson called it “schizophrenic” that the nation’s currency and Pledge of Allegiance mention God (“under God” was a later add), yet “we are not supposed to talk about God.” He is right, but there is a reason for the inconsistency. For a long time, we relaxed about the God language and thought of it as symbolic, part of a civil religion with room for anyone. But now people are taking the words literally, using them to justify the injection of a certain brand of Christianity into public policy. Not the Beatitudes, mind, and not the voluntary simplicity or radical forgiveness or wariness of vast wealth. But the conservative, prescriptive Christianity that so many find calming in a time of chaos.

This seems a ludicrous project at a time when belief has drifted away from that world view. But that is exactly why conservative Christians want to tug us back.


Read more by Jeannette Cooperman here.