Lately I’ve been reading a lot of Christian Right websites from the early 21st century and I am struck by the difference between the political rhetoric of evangelical politicians then and evangelical politicians now. In the early 2000s, evangelical politicians–George W. Bush, senators, members of the House of Representatives, candidates for office–seldom used the language of spiritual warfare in the way that many evangelical politicians do today. While I think the Christian Right has always believed that the fight for American culture is a battle between the forces of God and the forces of evil, the presidency of Donald Trump and the rise of social media has allowed them to say out loud what they have long believed. This is new.
I recently talked about this shift with Washington Post religion reporter Michelle Boorstein. Here is a taste of her piece on Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano:
With his motto “Free indeed!” — an excerpt from scripture that says freedom from sin is found in Jesus — Mastriano is a hero to some in this swing state whosay they are fed up with church leaders as well as political parties they perceive as weak-willed, and with debates about religious liberty and the advantages of a diverse democracy. Fueled by a generation of religious leaders arguing that Christianity is persecuted in America, the new movement wants to see a more explicit, constitutionally approved dominance of “Christianity” — which to them means conservative politically, theologically and socially. They see themselves in a spiritual battle with Satan.
“The forces of darkness are hitting us really hard right now,” Mastriano told a few hundred people last month at a church parking lot rally in Pennsburg. “We’re going to bring the state back to righteousness, this is our day, our hour to take our state back and renew the blessings of America.”
His wife, Rebbie, then told the crowd that her husband’s opponentsare not just challenging another candidate but God. “When you’re against God’s plan, there is nothing that will stop it, and they are very worried right now that there is nothing that’s going to stop this.”
Other speakers emphasized to the crowd, which included a man in a Minuteman costume holding a flag, that this Christian vision is what the Founders intended. “The Constitution prevents the government from imposing on the church. It doesn’t say anything about religion imposing itself on the state,” Rick Crump, a Christian branding expert and community organizer, told the rally.
This ethos is very different from earlier iterations of the Religious Right who were looking to engage with — even win at — mainstream politics, some experts say.