Josh Hawley goes full Christian nationalist at conservative conference
Republican senator Josh Hawley. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP)

MIAMI — Republican politics may be about to get a lot more churchy than they already are. On Monday, the second day of the National Conservatism conference here, conference organizer Yoram Hazony, chair of the Edmund Burke Foundation, called on conservatives, repeatedly, to "repent." This chastisement was focused in large part on what Hazony — also the author of "The Virtue of Nationalism" and the recent "Conservatism: A Rediscovery" — considers excessive squeamishness on the political right to discuss what he sees as the Christian roots of the United States.

This might come as a surprise to many Americans who have watched the increasingly overt and forceful alliance between the Republican far right and Christian nationalism. But Hazony envisions something on a broader societal level: the restoration of Christianity as the "public culture" of America, meaning that Christian values and observances are assumed to reflect the will of the majority, and while non-Christians should not face active discrimination they also should not expect to see their values reflected in the public square. Hazony himself is Jewish, but has argued for the past several years that only such a restoration of public Christianity — through things like a return to Bible instruction in public schools — can stave off the threat of "woke neo-Marxism." Toward that end, he argued, Republicans need to be even more explicit than they already are.

"When politicians come and stand on this stage," he asked, "do they mention the Bible? No, never." He continued, seeming to directly reference a quote from the speech that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis had delivered on the opening night of the conference: "Do they mention God? Yes, yes they do. They'll always say the same thing: 'Well, our rights come from God, not government.' OK, fair enough. Can you tell me, when did God give you those rights?" There was an answer to that question, he continued: "We got these rights from God in the Bible."

An hour later, when Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley took to the stage, he eagerly obliged, delivering a speech that might as well have been a sermon.

In 2021, when Hawley last spoke at NatCon, he drew nationwide headlines for his declaration that "the Left" sought to "unmake manhood" and create "a world beyond men," and widespread mockery for his contention that feminist critiques of masculinity had led to a generation of young men addicted to video games and pornography.

This year, Hawley said, he was focused on the left's "efforts to unmake history." But after the standard conservative reference to 1776 and the contention that "the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God," Hawley went a step further, saying that notion "comes from the Bible" and that, in fact, America's founding had only been possible because of the Bible.

"We are a revolutionary nation precisely because we are the heirs of the revolution of the Bible," Hawley said, in a clear response to Hazony's challenge that was echoed by other speakers throughout the day. "This was a revolution that began with the founding of the nation of Israel at Sinai and continued with the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth in the days of ancient Rome."

"Without the Bible, there is no modernity. Without the Bible, there is no America," Hawley claimed. "And now our biblical inheritance is again at the center of our politics. It is the question of the age." The "woke left's" campaign to "remake" the country, he continued — from the "1619 Project" to trans rights — was actually targeting "the inheritance of the Bible."

"What they particularly dislike about America is our dependence on biblical teaching and tradition," Hawley said. "What they particularly dislike about our culture is the Bible. And now they want to break that influence for good."

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If the tone of that speech seems unusual for a U.S. senator, it fit in at NatCon, which included other talks with titles like "How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Christian Nationalism," "How Christian Conservatives Beat the UN and How You Can, Too," "A Christian Case for an 'America First' Government," and four separate panels considering the respective roles of both the Protestant and Catholic versions of faith within the movement. On Tuesday morning, Daily Wire media host Michael Knowles delivered a plenary address making the case that "the traditional definition of the United States" is inarguably "Christian nationalism."

Hawley went on to speak at length about scripture, invoking biblical stories of Abraham and Jesus, and told a story about early Christians in the Roman empire who drove an axe into the head of a statue of a "pagan" god, supposedly leading to "thousands of rats…surging out of the rotten insides." That, he continued, was akin to NatCon's political enemies today.

"The woke left, they seem powerful, and maybe they are," Hawley concluded. "Opposing them might cost us much, but the truth is worth any cost." Invoking the biblical through-line that, "though the God of the universe could have accomplished his purposes entirely on his own, he chose instead to call us to do his work with him," Hawley exhorted the audience to "count the cost and take our stand, and we will turn the tide."