'Accelerant of polarization': Far-right 'Christian nationalists' still consider Trump their strongest ally
Donald Trump posing with a Bible in front of St. John's church (screengrab)

The Christian Right has had a stranglehold on the Republican Party ever since President Ronald Reagan allied himself with the Rev. Jerry Falwell and the Christian Broadcasting Network’s Pat Robertson in the early 1980s, and in 2022, some of former President Donald Trump’s strongest supporters are far-right white evangelicals. Those evangelicals, according to NPR’s John Burnett, believe that Trump is still their best chance to keep their movement alive.

“If anyone thought that Christian nationalism would decline with President Donald Trump out of power, they were mistaken,” Burnett reports. “Christian nationalists believe, in general, that America is Christian, that the government should keep it that way, and that Trump was — and is — their best hope to accomplish that. This movement of ultra-conservative, politicized churches is apparently on the march, though there are no firm numbers because the congregations are mostly nondenominational.”

One of the far-right evangelicals Burnett interviewed was Jim Willis, who attends the Patriot Church in Tennessee.

Burnett told NPR, “We know what (the enemy's) agenda is. Their agenda is to close down churches, to get rid of religion permanently in this country.”

Another member of the Patriot Church, Murray Clemetson, defended the January 6, 2021 rioters when he spoke to NPR.

Clemetson, who attended Trump’s “Stop the Steal” rally that day, told NPR, “The only insurrection that happened on January 6 was by the agent provocateurs, paid actors, and corrupt police and FBI.”

Clemetson described the Patriot Church as a “Trump church,” adding, “Donald Trump represented what we stand for as a nation. You go to flyover country and people have good moral values. They love the Lord and they want the best for the country. And that's what Donald Trump tapped into. That's what he represented.”

But Christian nationalism is by no means universally loved in Christianity. Some Christians, according to Burnett, have a very low opinion of the movement.

Burnett explains, “The rise of Christian nationalism is both a symptom and an accelerant of the polarization that afflicts America. And there is more and more pushback. Beginning last year, more than 24,000 national church leaders, clergy and lay people have signed a statement that condemns Christian nationalism as a distortion of the faith and idolatrous of the former president.”