Could a religious war happen in America?
The deepening divisions threatening our nation are not only political in nature; they are also religious. Today we hear about “Team Jesus vs Team Satan,”coined by the same people who believe that God has chosen them to restore America to its “original purity” as a Christian nation under the governance of white Christian men who are informed and directed by their literal reading of the Bible.
Commonly referred to as the Christian Far Right (or aswhite Christian Nationalists due to their association with racist groups and agendas), the goals of this group are to tear down the wall of separation between church and state, “Christianize” public schools and other government institutions, roll back women’s rights, strip LGBTQ+ Americans of their basic freedoms and install a theocratic form of government in this country.
Today, they are the soul of the Republican Party and are helping to elect MAGA loyalists who support their political goals. While we may think such goals are insufficient to ignite a religious war, we should remember that religious conflicts have been fought over less in the bloody histories of the world, and that today the millions of Americans who believe violence may be necessary to “save their country” are also among the private citizens who collectively own over 300 million guns in America.
Barbara F. Walter is the Rohr Professor of International Relations at the School of Global Policy and Strategy at the University of California, San Diego. In her book “How Civil Wars Start,” she documents the universal conditions that have been present at the outbreak of every civil war in modern history. One of the best predictors of whether a country will engage in a civil war is whether it is moving toward or away from full democracy. Experts refer to countries in this middle zone as “anocracies.” In their judgement, America slipped into the middle anocracy zone between 2016-2022. Since then, a host of other indicators suggest we may be headed toward a violent conflict.
A second American civil war will not be fought by opposing armies on an open field, nor will it be solely over an ideological struggle to determine who gets to rule. It is much more likely to be a conflict in which numerous factions align themselves against a common enemy through shared suspicions, common hatreds and deeply held beliefs in the correctness of their beliefs. Fueled by the constant disinformation on social media, even the moderates within the ranks will become mobilized and join the fray, much as they did on Jan. 6, 2021 when people of all stripes were swept up into the toxic rush of an insurrection. Once these individuals and groups become convinced that there is no hope of fixing “the problem” through conventional means, compromise will no longer be an option and conflict will become inevitable.
The insurrection of Jan. 6 was orchestrated and coordinated by three major militias: the Oath Keepers, the Proud Boys and the Three-Percenters. It was blessed by white Christian nationalist who carried Bibles, Christian flags and signs that said “Jesus Saves.” It was attended by tens of thousands of Americans from every walk of life who were deceived into believing that their country had been “stolen” from them.
As such, the Jan. 6 “rally” was a potential harbinger of things to come. Arguably, it was the first mass gathering in American history in which disparate private, civic, political and religious groups representing a broad spectrum of America aligned themselves with each other in a demonstration of common fear, hatred and determination. Threats of “shooting” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and “hanging” Vice President Mike Pence were audible over the noise of the crowd. More than 150 police officers were injured, of whom five later died, as did two civilians caught up in the melee. Authorities later disclosed that thousands of weapons had been in the possession of the protesters at the time of the insurrection.
Founders James Madison and Alexander Hamilton believed that if American democracy were ever to die, it would be at the hands of domestic factions ravenous for control. But who would have guessed they’d be carrying a cross and singing “Onward Christian Soldiers” as they marched?
Don Gall is a retired minister of the United Church of Christ and an active member of Eugene’s First Congregational Church.
This article originally appeared on Register-Guard: Retired minister asks: Could a religious war happen in America?