Fascism And The American Church

Fascism And The American Church September 18, 2023

“Fascism will come to America wrapped in the flag while carrying the cross.” – not said by Sinclair Lewis.

There is no state or national church in the United States. We do not have one because of a freedom of religion (and from religion) value enshrined in the First Amendment to the US Constitution. But that does not stop some ambitious religious leaders. When fascism was new in the 1920’s and 30’s, the economic and social crises of the time prompted many radio preachers and evangelists to call for some sort of Christian dictator to set America right. One could almost forgive such attitudes except for fascism’s exposure during the Second World War. Why are so many American Christians leaning toward fascism today?

Fascism Does Not Compromise

Historians will look back on the 1994 Contact With America campaign as the beginning of the “never compromise” attitude of the American right-wing. Shutting down the federal government, closing national parks, laying off government employees, and holding everything hostage by budgetary brinksmanship became the strategy of the legislature to cause harm to an opposing administration. Investing the campaign into a savior-leader who claims the other side was doing everything in their power to steal American’s freedom is the means of having a face instead of a new symbol. This uncompromising champion always promises to set things back on the paths of righteousness. Fascism brings a good dose of nostalgia with it.

Church People And Propaganda

Appeals to fear are effective. Fundamentalist preachers train their audiences to be in fear of everything new and unfamiliar. But fear only goes so far. Many intelligent people fall prey to propaganda, as Jacques Ellul, argues because of what they believe they know. For instance, many clergy and lay people hold that the primary lesson of the Old Testament is Israel lost their land because they did not follow God’s ways. But there is never an analysis of what those ways might be. They think they know it has to do with certain sins. Without serious study, there is no discussion of what sins are described by the prophets.

It is easy to buy into appeals based on what we think we know. If Israel lost their land due to foreign influences or sexual practices or false gods, then the argument is America is on the edge of losing everything. Fear mixed with what we think we know is powerful. Suppose we asked instead why Israel was restored to their land? It certainly was not because they started closely following the instruction of God. It was due, if anything, to divine promise and grace.

Fascism Is About Control

Are not many of us tempted to believe we know what is best? I like knowing what to do and doing it. My problem is I do not like other people telling me what to do. Even less do I like for people to tell me what to think. Fascism is about control. It promises to punish those who we believe has tried to control us. Fascists attack institutions until they gain control of them. Fascists claim to protect people while terrorizing them. Groups such as the Proud Boys using menacing tactics against their opponents.

Another important factor is how blatantly control is used by fascists. Shutting down opponents is how weak people pretend to have strength. Over my years of church work, I saw small and weak individuals try to bully congregations into doing their will. The control fascism seeks is important because it rule by a minority. The strategy of fascists is always to cheat and bully their opposition. The lies told by WCA officials in the United Methodist Church are good examples of control-seeking.

Keep The Cross Separate From The Flag

Church leaders who seek control by political influence bow to powers other than the divine. In the American churches, that power is usually Mammon. The moneyed people tend to lean on the state for their support. If they feel their interests are threatened, the church will feel their wrath…every time. Church leaders combine church and state to demonstrate their support for Mammon and continued funding. Standing against the interest of moneyed people for the interests of non-moneyed people means we lose more than we win.

Even though Sinclair Lewis did not make the statement attributed to him, it is in the spirit of what he thought. The cross and the flag should remain separate because by doing so the power of money (Mammon) is curtailed. Fascism will not be easily supported then.



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