Mark David Hall Shares About 1/6/21
On January 6th, 2021, I was flying home from a speaking engagement. I got a note from a reporter asking me to comment on the Christian symbols among the rioters of the US Capitol building. This was the first I heard of it, but I said, ‘Of course, I will.’ It took her about 20 minutes to send me anything. So I scrolled through all the footage and saw a sea of American flags, Maga hats, and Trump flags, but no Christian images. Eventually, a couple of photographs came my way. Two of them were literally 1.5 miles from the riots.
They were from around the Washington Monument, where there had been a prayer rally earlier that day. There were then two images from the actual rioters. One was a revolutionary-era flag with the words Appeal to Heaven on it. This could be from the book of Judges, but it could also be from John Locke’s second treatise. The flag might have been there simply because it’s a revolutionary-era flag.
I’ve been a church-going creature my whole life, and I’ve never seen anyone like that in an evangelical church. So I cautioned the reporter to be careful with the narrative she was crafting. But, unfortunately, she completely ignored my caution.
And the next day, her story came out, as did so many other stories. ‘Christian nationalists have attacked the US Capitol building.’ This piqued my interest. I started reading everything I could find on Christian nationalism.
What is Christian Nationalism?
The first thing we need to know is no one before 2022 was calling him or herself a Christian Nationalist. The phrase was more or less invented in 2006, and critics have used it ever since then to describe a bunch of theocrats who want to take over America for Christ.
It’s just a toxic mix that no one should want to embrace. And yet, where are these people? I started reading more academic literature, and it turns out that 51.9% of Americans fully or partially favor this toxic mix of Christian nationalism. I determined that almost all of it is ridiculous. Many of the authors are outright polemicists.
With all this bad press about Christian nationalism in 2022, Marjorie Taylor Green said she was a Christian Nationalist. There are a couple of books published advocating for Christian nationalism. It’s aimed at shaming Christians who desire to bring their faith into the public square to argue for conservative beliefs like abortion, religious liberty, and things of that nature.
Are We Headed Toward Puritanism?
Puritans are a great example of theocrats looking to the Bible to form laws. As I explained in my book, you could be punished for hundreds of crimes with death. In England, they eliminated almost all death penalty crimes. You could be punished for stealing a few shillings, and instead, the Puritans, looking in the Bible, said restitution is the appropriate penalty for theft.
On the other hand, they did identify 17 crimes in the Old Testament for which one could be put to death; They wrote these into their criminal codes. When you read through that, you might think it sounds horrible. However, we have to look at how these societies ran. The government put only three people throughout New England’s history to death for adultery. So although it was punishable by death, that penalty was rarely used.
Why Do People Have A Poor View of The Puritans?
People view the Puritans poorly because they’ve read things like The Scarlet Letter or A Crucible. They come away from works like that, plus what’s in your average American history text does not paint a flattering picture. On the other hand, if you read Reichen, David D. Hall of Harvard Divinity School, or Michael Winship, plenty of scholars argue that these are very advanced in protecting all citizens’ rights.
Mark David Hall Talks About America’s Founding
In between my last book and this one, the New York Times 1619 project came out. It was a series of essays that is now making its way into schools. So when children are studying history, this is what they’re studying. They want to redefine all of American history in light of slavery.
The original iteration of this project said we should replace 1776 with 1619 as our nation’s birthday, which is woefully bad history. It’s been rejected by a number of left-centric historians. In my book, I defend the American founders who are routinely called hypocrites for writing these wonderful words in the Declaration of Independence, ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.’
It is, of course, the case that some of them did own slaves. However, every founder was critical of the institution of slavery. Even those who owned slaves, like Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, came to recognize it was an evil practice, and so they voluntarily freed their slaves. Then, of course, plenty of founders never owned an enslaved person, like John Adams, Roger Sherman, and many others.
I also point out that these individuals took a number of concrete steps to end slavery. Eight states voluntarily abolished slavery between 1776 and 1804. The Confederation Congress and the first federal Congress passed the Northwest Ordinance. This prohibited the expansion of slavery into the Old Northwest, which became Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana, and Illinois.
What Slavery is and Is Not in The Bible
As Christians today, we want to say the Bible clearly, obviously, unequivocally condemned slavery. However, this is a problematic argument. The Old Testament seems to permit slavery in certain circumstances. Now it puts dramatic limits on slavery, but it seems to permit it even when we go to the New Testament. You have the Apostle Paul telling slaves to obey their masters. He sends Onesimus, an escaped slave, back to his master Philemon.
There’s a strong hint that Philemon should free Onesimus, but he’s not ordered to do so. And so slavery seemed to be permitted by the Bible. However, some Christians were coming to recognize in the mid-18th century the dramatic difference between the slavery discussed in the Old Testament and America’s race-based chattel slavery.
I think more significantly, though, they were coming to think through the implications of the fact that we’re all made in the image of God, and therefore all humans should be treated with respect and dignity. Although it might be possible in some rare instances for a slave to be treated with respect and dignity, this is a rare occurrence.
Early American Leaders Against Slavery
Ben Franklin freed his slaves and became president of the Pennsylvania Man Mission Society, dedicated to freeing all the slaves in Pennsylvania. John Jay freed his slaves as governor of New York, signed a law putting slavery on the road to extinction, and became president of the New York Abolitionist Society.
So founders were coming to recognize this almost always for Christian reasons; I concede in the book that you had some Southerners who defended the institution of slavery and pointed to the Bible. So we have to recognize that Christians have appealed to the Bible to defend evil institutions and practices, be it slavery, racism, or sexism.
But what I’m trying to do in my book is explain that throughout American history, Christians motivated by their Christian convictions have been a dominant force for liberty and equality for all Americans.
Mark David Hall Provides Insight Into The Antebellum
Antebellum America was an interesting place, and it kind of reverses what we think of as America’s religious demographics today. So Evangelicalism dominated New England, the mid-Atlantic states, and the Midwest. The South wasn’t very evangelical in Antebellum.
America began moving in that direction in the 1850s. So the evangelicals up north were convinced that the Kingdom of God was advancing, and more people would become Christians. As more people became Christian, it would reform society.
So they founded benevolent societies to care for orphans, feed the hungry, reform prisons, and reduce alcohol consumption. But, the abolitionists, usually from the Midwest or New England, were among them. Slavery had already been eliminated or close to it in those regions, and so they started agitating to prevent slavery in new territories and abolishing it in the South.
Understanding The Separation of Church and State
I’ve come to dislike the phrase, ‘Separation of church and state,’ because it could mean many different things. I would like to think all Christians would readily accept the idea that the church and the state are separate institutions that ought not to mix.
Unfortunately, in 1947, the US Supreme Court said that the First Amendment’s establishment clause, ‘Congress shall make no law respecting establishment of religion,’ requires a strict separation of church and state. Because of this separation, we can’t have religious accommodations protecting pacifists.
We can’t have religious monuments like the Landsburg Cross on public land or permit tax dollars to go to Christian schools. This is what a lot of contemporary separatists mean by the separation of church and state.
Did America Have a Christian Founding?
In my last book, Did America Have a Christian Founding?, I think I demolished the idea that America’s founders wanted anything like that separation. Even Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, who wanted a higher degree of separation than most Americans, didn’t embrace this separation between church and state. This book addresses an interesting question: If no one in the founding era understood the establishment clause to mean that sort of separation, where did it come from?
I believe it came about because of the profound anti-Catholic animus that characterized America from 1850 to 1950. There were very few Catholics, about 2% of the population in the American founding. But we had great waves of Catholic immigration. Throughout the 19th century, we began to get public schools, as we would think of them today.
Within these public schools, they routinely had the Protestant version of the Bible. Teachers would read the King James Version and lead students in prayer. The Roman Catholics did not want their kids to go to Protestant schools. Please give us our share of the tax revenue and we’ll have our own schools.’
The Protestants who controlled most cities said, ‘No, we can’t do that. We can’t fund sectarian schools. You have to go to public schools.’ So the great state of Oregon, in 1922, banned all private schools. That sounds neutral until you see that every single private school, with one exception in the state, is a Roman Catholic school.
There was an amendment proposed to the US Constitution that would prohibit states from providing any money to any religious entity. The big amendment was called the Blaine Amendment, and states had the ‘baby Blaine.’ These have been prosecuted, and the US Supreme Court ordered them resolved a couple of years ago.
Why Should You Read ‘Proclaim Liberty Throughout All The Land’?
I think having an accurate account of our country’s history is important. I think Americans need to understand American history. So one of the things I try to do is get history right, which is important in and of itself. One of the things I do hope to highlight is how Christians have been very active in the public square, fighting for liberty, equality, and justice for all.
I’m hoping this is inspirational and that we’ll continue doing so today. We shouldn’t pretend that racism has been solved in America. We still have to contend with the scourge of abortion throughout the land. Christians need to be in the public square advocating for everyone, protecting the least of these, and helping out the poor, the weak, and the dispossessed.
Sometimes this is best done without politics. But sometimes, it does take some cooperation with the state. So Christians should be involved in politics. I get tired of politics. I’m a political science professor, and I get tired of it like everyone else. But we have a duty to be involved in the public square as Christians.
Do We Have a Poor Understanding of History?
History isn’t a priority in our public schools. I think private schools do better at that. The charter schools do it best, but no more than 10% of Americans can be educated that way. So, vouchers, which enable parents to choose which school their child will attend, are great. But, I remain optimistic that most parents would say, ‘I want my child to go to a school where he or she learns science and math and reading and writing and history.’
Some parents can’t homeschool their children. They don’t have access to a good private school. Therefore, it’s incumbent upon them to read good books and try to teach some of these lessons at home. Tell them about the heroes of the faith in America and elsewhere where Christians have worked hard on behalf of others. It’s one thing to work hard on their behalf. I want to protect religious liberty. So Christians can worship God and act according to their religious convictions. But I think protecting the principle of religious liberty is also important.
Mark David Hall Describes The Importance of Protecting Religious Liberty
That’s one of the reasons I dedicate this book to five different religious liberty advocacy groups, all of which routinely advocate for Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, and others. They’re committed to religious liberty; we should all take this principled approach.
We’re committed to protecting innocent human life, regardless of race or religion. We will be out there fighting for life and religious liberty, combating racism, and fighting for equality. Christians must be doing these things.
How Should Christians Approach Current Events?
Throughout American history, the strength of Christianity has waxed and waned. It has been stronger in some periods than others. So one of the main things we can do as Christians today is pray for revival. Pray that men and women, boys and girls, will turn to Jesus Christ, put their faith in Him, and rely upon Him for the forgiveness of sins.
If more people do that, we’ll see positive societal consequences. I get frustrated when I look at Washington, DC, but then I see things going on in states like Tennessee, where parents can find the education they want for their children. I’ve been involved pretty heavily in the Florida Civics Initiative. In every place where it’s appropriate to teach about race, race is taught about. No one says you shouldn’t teach about race in America, but we don’t need to indoctrinate children. We don’t need to convince all white children that they’re guilty of racism. I remain optimistic because our God is sovereign, and he will bring about his purposes.
About Mark David Hall
Mark David Hall is the Herbert Hoover Distinguished Professor of Politics and Faculty Fellow in the Honors Program at George Fox University. He is also associated faculty at the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University and senior fellow at Baylor University’s Institute for Studies of Religion. He has written, edited, or co-edited a dozen books on religion and politics in America and is a nationally recognized expert on religious freedom.
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