.The Rise of Christian Nationalism

Local director Dan Partland teams with producer Rob Reiner

Santa Cruz filmmaker Dan Partland, an Emmy-Award winner and unflinching voice of sanity in insane times, still remembers what book he was reading over the December 2020 holiday break: Katherine Stewart’s The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism. 

And he still remembers how much the book, recommended to him by his friend actor and filmmaker Rob Reiner, was freaking him out. Partland (director) and Reiner (producer) were considering doing a film on the subject, and Partland remembers prepping for a pitch meeting sometime later in the week starting Jan. 6, 2020. Watching the attempted insurrection in Washington DC that day, Partland was even more freaked out.

“I had this experience of watching the insurrection in real time, having just done a deep dive of research into the state of this movement,” he says. “And I think had I not been so sensitized to the content, I would not have seen the myriad signs and symbols, all of the evidence that January 6th was at its core, a Christian nationalist uprising. And it was stunning to me because I was watching television news coverage on multiple channels, and no one was speaking about it. It was there plain as day for anybody to see. Anybody who was at all steeped in the political movement that is Christian nationalism would’ve seen.”

Given the very real possibility that either a Donald Trump victory–or a Trump defeat–in the upcoming November presidential election could unleash his private army of religious-extremist followers to further violence and anti-democratic agitation, Partland’s powerful new film God & Country: The Rise of Christian Nationalism, could hardly be more timely. It opens Thursday at Santa Cruz Cinema with a Q & A discussion with Dan Partland moderated by former Good Times staffer Wallace Baine,  at 7 pm.

From the time President Trump had tweeted in late 2020, about the upcoming January 6 fracas, “will be wild,” gears were turning, a network of self-described evangelical Christians was mobilizing to the cause of supporting a man many claimed to believe was a Messiah.

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“People didn’t just show up at the Capitol that day,” Partland says. “There had been weeks-long campaigns in churches and in church groups, and email lists driving the faithful to the capitol for Jericho marches on January 5th, and with the plan to stay over for the big demonstration on January 6th.”

The Christian nationalist flavor of the January 6 attempt at overturning democracy was unmistakable, and yet powerful people in a position to bring the point home to the general public colluded in keeping it quiet. 

Consider that the January 6 Committee investigating what happened never even mentioned the name “Virginia Thomas” in its voluminous report, even though, as the Washington Post reported, “Buried in the explosive news that Virginia Thomas aggressively advocated for Donald Trump’s coup attempt is a choice revelation: The spouse of Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas texted with White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows about Jesus Christ’s otherworldly role in delivering the election to Trump. Meadows texted to Ginni Thomas that the ‘King of Kings’ would ultimately ‘triumph’ in the quest to overturn the election, which Meadows characterized as ‘a fight of good versus evil.’ Thomas, a longtime conservative activist, replied: ‘Thank you!! Needed that!’”

Partland recalls his shock at seeing a video the January 6 committee put together to provide an overview of what happened that day. “I was very familiar with the footage for January 6th by this point,” he says. “And I watched their reel, and there are no Christian images, no references, no bible verses, no ‘Jesus Saves’ signs, no images of Jesus, no images of Mary, no crosses. Completely all of the Christian imagery was omitted in their reel. … There was so much of it there, you would have to very carefully cut around it. And that told me that the January 6th committee was fully aware that this was a Christian nationalist uprising and they wanted to be very careful that they didn’t want to pick that fight.”

Partland’s wish isn’t that people see his film and come away thinking just like he does–he wants people of all viewpoints, and religious faiths, to come take a look, and soak up the viewpoints of those included in the film, including many people of faith.

 “It isn’t really important what I think,” he says. “We have the very best voices from a wide spectrum of vantage points. We have a lot of prominent Christians. And that’s really important because this idea that Christian nationalism is a threat to democracy, that’s why I started on the film. But what I learned along the way is some of the people who are most concerned about this are American Christians because they see it as a real threat to the church. And I think that’s not surprising because at this point, this particular politically-charged American right-wing religiosity is becoming the dominant expression of Christianity in America. And it is so far field of what centuries of Christian teaching has said that Christianity is really about.”

Partland’s film is far from the only important contribution on this difficult but pressing subject, but it remains notable that a local filmmaker has checked in with a high-profile documentary that Hollywood Reporter hailed as a major event, quoting angry-Cajun political pundit (and one time Bill Clinton strategist) James Carville: “This is a bigger threat than al-Qaeda to this country. Let me tell you something, they got the Speaker of the House, they got probably at least two Supreme Court justices, maybe more. Don’t kid yourself … this is a fundamental threat to the United States.”

Partland, whose other work includes #Unfit: The Psychology of Donald Trump, released in 2020, tries hard in discussing the content of his new film to steer away from undue alarmism. His tone is measured, calm and thoughtful, even when he spells out the deeper threat: “There is an overwhelming opinion among a lot of American Christians that the United States itself has a kind of messianic role in human history,” he says, choosing his words carefully. “That God has chosen the United States to play a certain role that only the United States can play in human history, where it is central to God’s plan to spread Christianity around the globe,” he continues. “If you believe this and you feel like democracy is getting in the way of achieving God’s plan, then you can convince yourself that democracy is what has to go.”

Let that sink in.

“That’s the central scary idea to it,” Partland says. “We are at a point where this idea of the role of the United States in human history as ordained by God is so central that a lot of American Christians really feel–have convinced themselves–that it is their duty as Christians to undermine democracy where they have not been successful in persuading their fellow citizens about the way forward. So they’re going to force it, either by democratic means or if necessary by undemocratic means. And at this particular point in time, they have decided that violence is an acceptable option.”

8 COMMENTS

  1. You. Are. Pathetic.
    Christian nationalism . . . whooo . . . sooo scarrryyy!
    Bottom line is you bigots simply hate people of faith.
    And to call J6 an “insurrection” is risible on sooo many levels.
    An “insurrection” w/o weapons of any kind?!?
    Oh, maybe the “insurrectionists” were armed with those little plastic knives and forks!
    Watch out! Plastic can kill! Sooo scary!
    Admittedly, a few people got out of hand, but 99.95% were peaceful (you know, just like we heard over and over again about the riots in favor of St. George Floyd? And wasn’t that the standard–mostly peaceful? So, what was your problem w/ the mostly peaceful J6?)
    Vast majority of those “cripto-Fascist” Christian nationalists inside the Capitol building that day simply walked around taking selfies!
    Ah, ha! But didn’t Karl Marx write a chapter in Das Kapital called “Revolution by Selfie?!?” Guess I missed that chapter.
    The entire “insurrection” was an act of ENTRAPMENT, engineered by Pelosi, McConnell, FBI, and the rest of the miscreants destroying our country.
    And the truth will come out as this rancid J6 onion is slowly but inexorably peeled apart, layer by bloody layer.
    As for both of you pathetic, intolerant little men: You need to quit soiling your panties over the fact that there are tens of millions of Christians of deep religious faith–something neither of you seem to be able to understand, much less tolerate. And, yes, we DO believe that America has a special mission for the entire world (isn’t that scary!?!).
    And, finally, what I see in the above article is simply a whole lot of projection–accusing decent, devoted Christians of doing what folks on YOUR SIDE are actually doing–behaving with total intolerance, cancelling people, rigging elections, trying to overthrow Trump after he was duly elected, throwing good, decent Americans in jail for YEARS (!!!) for simply walking inside the Capitol building or on the Capitol grounds on J6, while also torturing them, denying them medical care, holding them for months on end in solitary confinement 23 hours a day.
    In any other country these would be considered serious HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES.
    But none of this inhumanity keeps either of you awake at night, does it?
    But rest assured: A nationalist, partly Christian, populist movement is taking America and much of the world by storm (see, Italy, Holland, Germany, France, Belgium, etc.)
    And we will NEVER SUBMIT to Godless little miscreants like both of you.
    “On your belly you shall crawl, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life.”
    (Genesis 3:14)

    (See, Genesis 3:14)

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  2. Portland says “ There is an overwhelming opinion among a lot of American Christians that the United States itself has a kind of messianic role in human history.” Overwhelming? How about rare? I am a lifelong atheist who’s lived in three states with an enormous Urban-Left and rural-Right divides. And I don’t see any marks of “Christian Nationalism” ascendancy. The entire history Protestant Revolt and its aftermath auger’s against such fear. Christians are much too divided. (Cf, the Commie Pope from Argentina.) Or are we perhaps trapped by displaced projections? Given the body count of the Left in studies like “The Black Book of Communism” and its successors, this is much more likely.

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  3. To be a Christian in Communist China is practically a Death Wish. To publish this alarmist, self-congratulatory anti-Christian screed in that country might warrant some minor party favoritism, in Santa Cruz, “preaching to the choir,” it might get you a few bong hits, and some new “friends”, but neither requires courage, nor talent.

    Jesus said “You will be hated by all men for my name’s sake,” Matthew 10:22.

    Rob Reiner, Dan Partland, and Steve Kettman are hereby performing their sad and solemn duties in the fulfillment of this Prophecy, and they are far from alone.

    There really is a way forward, a path toward God.
    Start here: https://www.kingjamesbibleonline.org/
    Read the accompanying Matthew Henry commentary.
    See how it affects you and your life.
    You have Nothing to lose, because without God in your life, Nothing is all you have.

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  4. Went to the premier of God & Country tonight and it was chilling even though I have been aware of the American Taliban for years. Fundamentalism is fundamentalism and always the enemy of free thought and reason. The catch is that if it is espoused by “others” it is an existential threat; if it is homegrown it is “faith”. If I were a praying man I would be praying that people actually trying to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ would take their religions back.

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  5. Nikki Haley’s husband said it best of best: “the difference between humans and animals is that animals are not that stupid to let the dumbest be the leader of the pack”.
    (This is for Craig Luther)

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  6. I went to the premier of God & Country on Thursday and it was chilling despite the fact that I have been concerned about the American Taliban for years. Fundamentalism is fundamentalism and always the enemy of free thought and reason. The catch is if the fundamentalism is espoused by “others” it is an existential threat. If it is homegrown it is virtue and faith. If I were a praying man I would be praying for those actually trying to follow the teachings of Christ to take back their religion.

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  7. Thanks for a thoughtful and informative film.

    I particularly found value in the interviews with Christian Ministers, concerned with the rise of this “nationalism” movement within their faith.
    As one individual noted the focus of this movement is loud on certain issues Abortion…/ immigration) while ignoring poverty, hunger, and helping others… all paramount issues in the message of Christianity and faith-based service.
    I feel this documentary will play well in a region like Santa Cruz but I would certainly like to see it ( and have conversations with others about it) in other areas of the country.
    Thanks to the Director and production team for starting that dialog.

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