Why Only the Church Can Truly Defeat a Christian Insurrection
David French, editor of The Dispatch and columnist for Time, talks with Matt about Christianity, conservatism, and the mob.
The following excerpt has been edited for length and clarity:
Matt: Why do you call it a “Christian insurrection”?
David: Yeah, you know, a lot of people took issue with those words, but let me let me put it like this. First, the facts of the attack on the Capitol, you had Christian imagery all over the place. In fact, there was a big wooden cross that was erected in front of the Capitol. A man waving a Christian flag breached into one of the chambers in—I can't remember either the senate gallery of the House chamber. There were people with “Jesus Saves” signs. There was Christian music blaring during the afternoon. And, you know, as I said, in my piece, if people had breached the capital screaming “Allahu Akbar,” and they had Islamic flags, if there was Islamic music, we know exactly what to say about this. And then you also combine that with the fact that several weeks before, there was an event called the Jericho March, and the Jericho March was an explicitly Christian event that called for dramatic action. And in some cases, as you know, the calls to violence were pretty explicit during this Jericho March. And so, what I said is, face facts here, that the Trump movement is saturated with evangelical Christianity, and it has been from the very beginning. There were evangelicals who are calling for dramatic action, evangelicals who are saying that they would be willing to die for this cause, evangelicals in the crowd, and evangelical symbols in the crowd, so what are we going to say? “Oh, that has nothing to do with Christianity.” I mean, come on.
Matt: You make a good point. If this insurrection had been committed by Muslims, our response would probably be different.
David: Right. You know, and, and one of the things that, you know, a point that I made, which I think is critical for people to understand is you can have a relatively small number of individuals relative to the population as a whole that you're talking about sort of Trump evangelicals. But events like this do not spring from healthy communities. They spring from communities that have real problems, and I'll give you a perfect example, it's one that popped up today. There's this charismatic prophet/evangelists named Jeremiah Johnson who achieved some notoriety back in 2015, for issuing a prophecy that Donald Trump would win the election. So of course, Donald Trump wins, and Johnson is sort of seen as a prophet of Trump World. In 2020, he prophesied Trump will win again. Well, he didn't, and so Johnson put out a statement that said that, “Well, I got it wrong. I'm very sorry. Here's why I got it wrong. Trump's being punished for his pride and arrogance, and our church has idolized Trump too much.” So he puts that out, and then he sends out a message last night or two days ago. And here's how it begins. “Over the last 72 hours, I have received multiple death threats and thousands upon thousands of emails from Christians saying the nastiest and most vulgar things I've ever heard toward my family in ministry. I've been labeled a coward, a sellout, a traitor to the Holy Spirit and cussed out at least 500 times. We have lost ministry partners every hour and counting.” This is the background reality of coming out against Trump in parts of the American Christian community. And when that's the reality, it doesn't, it shouldn't surprise anyone. That sort of a tip of the spear forms in the form of the people who stormed this Capitol. There, the nation's Capitol.
Matt: I tweeted the other day that I don’t understand why people feel so angry and aggrieved. We generally live in a time of peace and prosperity. One theory to explain this is that people have turned politics into their religion.
David: The culture war is so intense, because both sides believe they're losing. And so, you know, if you tell a Republican that the progressive left thinks they're losing, they would look at you like you'd lost your mind, “What do you mean, they're winning everywhere!” But you know, I'd heard from a million progressives in 2016 that the whole system is stacked against us? Look at this Electoral College, look at the Senate. We couldn't even beat Donald Trump. Donald Trump for crying out loud.” And they would look at specific issues that they had been in retreat on for years. For example, you know, my good friend and former colleague at National Review, Ramesh Ponnuru said several years ago, “one of the interesting things about America is it's become more pro-gun, more pro-life and more pro-gay.” And so there's a mixed bag on the culture wars. And so if you're on the left, you've seen this incredible march of gun rights. And you felt helpless with this rise of gun culture and, and you've seen the march of an increasingly in their view, radicalized Republican party that seems to be impervious to electoral accountability. And then on the right, they're like, wait a minute, what about these woke corporations? What about the academy? And what about the media? And then they the left turns around and says, what about this whole media media ecosystem that you've built up? That is totally that you've got the most powerful cable news network in the world on your site, you know, and so you go back and forth, and both sides believe the other side is losing. And then the other thing is, I think, a lot of times what happens is we have an environment where we take a slippery slope argument, which is, “well if the left wins and keeps winning and keeps winning and keeps winning, then we might have socialism and dramatically curtailed religious liberty, etc,” and treat it as if that has already happened—as if that has already been accomplished. And we have that amount of intensity of anger. What you end up having is this sense of doom, this real sense of fury, and then often is a really, really inaccurate and inaccurate sense of the extremism of your opponents. And then some of your listeners might be thinking, “What do you mean inaccurate?” Well, there's some interesting data. And this comes from the more common project that shows that those who pay most attention to political news are most wrong about the political views of their political opponents. They believe that they're far more radical than they really are, and the reason for that is partisan political news is very, very good at picking out the most radical voices and elevating them as sort of symbolic of the whole. For example, if you talk to a lot of Republicans right now, I bet they would say that The Squad is essentially fundamentally representative of the Democratic caucus in the house, that The Squad is the Democratic Caucus, whereas the reality is, The Squad has been largely marginalized and sidelined within the Democratic Caucus, and it's viewed with an enormous amount of annoyance. But you'd never know that if your entire diet is Fox News or OAN or or Newsmax.