American democracy is in danger. How do we protect it from authoritarian reactionary Christianity?
On January 6, 2021, hundreds of Americans stormed the Capitol to prevent the certification of their political opponent’s election. At the forefront were Christians claiming to act in the name of Jesus Christ and his supposed representative on earth, Donald Trump. How can this have happened?
David P. Gushee tackles the question in this timely work of Christian political ethics. Gushee calls us to preserve democratic norms, including constitutional government, the rule of law, and equal rights for all, even as many Christians take a reactionary and antidemocratic stance. Surveying global politics and modern history, he analyzes how Christians have discarded their commitment to democracy and bought into authoritarianism. He urges us to fight back by reviving our hard-won traditions of congregational democracy, dissident Black Christian politics, and covenantal theology.
Defending Democracy from Its Christian Enemies makes a robust case for a renewed commitment to democracy on the part of Christians—not by succumbing to secular liberalism, but by drawing on our own best traditions. Any concerned Christian will leave its pages with eyes wide open to the dangers of our current form of political engagement. Readers will gain insight into what democracy is truly meant to be and why Christians once supported it wholeheartedly—and should do so again.
Table of Contents
1. Defining and Defending Democracy
2. Alternatives and Threats to Democracy
3. Authoritarian Reactionary Christianity
4. Secular Revolutions and Religious Counterrevolutions
5. Reactionary Politics in France, 1870–1944
6. The Politics of Cultural Despair in Germany, 1853–1933
7. Authoritarian Reactionary Christianity in Putin’s Russia
8. Authoritarian Reactionary Christianity in the Recent Politics of Poland
9. Authoritarian Reactionary Christianity in Orbán’s Hungary
10. Authoritarian Reactionary Christianity in Bolsonaro’s Brazil
11. Authoritarian Reactionary Christianity in Trump’s United States
12. The Baptist Democratic Tradition
13. The Black Christian Democratic Tradition in the United States
14. Renewing the Democratic Covenant
“Unflinching in his analysis, David Gushee traces the sobering history of Christianity’s all too frequent complicity in authoritarian rule. Yet Gushee also shows how Christians have within their faith the tools to restore democracy at this critical juncture. Reminding readers that democracy must be fought for, Gushee equips the American church for this battle. Defending Democracy from Its Christian Enemies is an immensely important book for our present moment.”
—Kristin Kobes Du Mez, author of Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation
“David Gushee has done it again, providing clarity, calling, and comfort. The increased risk of the dangers of Christian nationalism is evident from the violent insurrection on January 6 to hostile takeovers of school boards to splits in churches. What is needed is an understanding of the attraction of Christian nationalism and a faithful call forward for those who want to engage a more faithful Christian witness. This book provides just what is needed. The struggle against Christian nationalism has been part of the United States since its founding. And that struggle is ours today. I am so grateful to have David Gushee in the mix and helping to lead the way.”
—Doug Pagitt, executive director of Vote Common Good
“David Gushee has written that rare book that combines reader-friendliness, moral clarity, and political detail. A stellar accomplishment much needed today. Gushee sets America’s sociopolitical rifts in context and guides the reader to big-picture thinking about what’s at stake in the world today, and he does it in a way that is both elegant and heartfelt. Read it and give it to everyone you know. “
—Marcia Pally, author of White Evangelicals and Right-Wing Populism: How Did We Get Here?
“Against a bewildering explosion of recent books struggling to make sense of the role of religion in the resurgence of right-wing authoritarian global politics, David Gushee enters the current fray with a signal contribution in Defending Democracy from Its Christian Enemies. Not only does he do a marvelous job of documenting the history and current state of global Christian illiberal impulses and tendencies, but he also skillfully explains its most recent incarnation in US politics in the person of President Donald Trump. Not content to merely analyze authoritarian reactionary Christianity, as he calls it, he offers a theological antidote to rising antidemocratic politics in American churches by drawing on the Baptist democratic tradition as well as the Black Christian tradition in the United States. This is a must read for anyone concerned about the current Christian threats to democracy dominating our headlines.”
—Shaun Casey, author of Chasing the Devil at Foggy Bottom: The Future of Religion in American Diplomacy
“David Gushee investigates key historical and current moments in which Christians have served as zealous guardians of reactionary political programs and authoritarian regimes. His book draws on sound biblical and theological resources to offer a timely, eloquent, and compelling apologetic for democracy. Defending Democracy deserves the close attention of ethically minded Christians during this time of political turbulence and moral confusion!”
—Hak Joon Lee, Fuller Theological Seminary
“The most persistent myth in US history is the notion that we are a Christian nation. Without denigrating the contributions of the Christian religion to the development of American society, David Gushee critiques idolatrous forms of authoritarian reactionary Christianity that actively undermine democratic institutions, which in his analysis reflects a global trend toward populist antidemocratic politics. In place of religious totalitarianism Gushee offers a Christian defense of democracy, applicable mutatis mutandis in other political and religious contexts, that aims to restore the American idea once eloquently described by Alexis de Toqueville as a ‘beacon on a hill.’”
—Rubén Rosario Rodríguez, Saint Louis University
“This is an important book. It asks about the ways in which Christians may favor autocratic politics over democracy and does not shy away from difficulties. It analyses how authoritarian regimes can legitimate their power by playing into religious sentiments. Thus, it gives a theological foundation to the need for political awareness within Christian circles. Its analysis should be read by theologians, Christians in general, and all those who are politically engaged.”
—Bert Jan Lietaert Peerbolte, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
“The bonds between Christianity and democracy are frayed as never before, not only in the United States but around the globe. In Defending Democracy from Its Christian Enemies, one of our best Christian ethicists takes on this crucial topic and charts a way forward—one that does not entail obeisance to a ‘Christian strongman.’ This is a very good and important book.”
—Randall Balmer, author of Bad Faith: Race and the Rise of the Religious Right