A number of worshipers are watching with alarm as their churches lose focus and drift into Christian nationalism.
Donald Trump's presidency opened the door to extremism within many mainstream congregations, and some Christians have left their churches due to their discomfort with the increasingly political directions pastors have taken their sermons to promote Republican candidates and engage in partisan culture wars, reported Vice.
“It feels to me that the churches in this area are no longer true Christian churches," said Noah Jones, a 23-year-old Southern Baptist from Dalton, Georgia. "They’ve morphed into something that’s completely unrecognizable, and I don’t think a lot of people know that they’ve been radicalized.”
Jones, a former Trump supporter who intended to become a pastor himself, blames conservative media for the rightward lurch he saw in his church's leadership.
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“Something has happened to these people,” he said. “I think it’s Fox News. I think it’s social media, causing division among people, and they’re using Christianity as a means to divide people.”
Right-wing pastors have woven militaristic themes into their sermons to justify political violence, which has alarmed and driven out many worshipers -- some during the middle of services, as Pastor Ron Tucker, of Grace Church in St. Louis recently observed.
“I’ve read your emails," Tucker said in a recent sermon in which he acknowledged in a recent sermon. "I’ve watched people walk out of church as I’ve gone into the stuff."
But one of Tucker's congregants said she's had enough with his diatribes against abortion, antifa, Black Lives Matter, critical race theory, feminism, gun laws, abortion and protesters disrupting Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh's dinner at a Washington, D.C., steakhouse, as well as claiming the Jan. 6 insurrection was a hoax.
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“He’d start his sermons with this rambling 30- to 40-minute rant that sounded like it was taken straight from, like, Fox News,” said Noelle Fortman, 23. “One time we went there, he referred to the COVID vaccine as the ‘mark of the beast’ that we needed to fight against, and I was like, ‘Yo, this is crazy.’”
A recent survey found that 21 percent of Christians believe the U.S. should be declared a "Christian nation," and about a quarter of them believe the federal government should stop enforcing the separation of church and state, which has prompted calls for congregations like Grace Church to be stripped of their tax-exempt status.
“Federal law couldn’t be more clear," read a recent op-ed from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "Grace Church has stepped far beyond the boundaries and deserves a thorough review of its tax-exempt status.”
American Christians have long blurred the line between their faith and patriotism, and that has allowed Christian nationalism to take over congregations around the country -- and chased away anyone who disagrees with their views.
“Christian nationalism leads to idolatry: worship of the nation over worship of god,” said Amanda Tyler, of Christians Against Christian Nationalism. “It confuses religious authority with political authority and leads people to abandon their theological convictions in service of nationalism.”