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David French Gets All Apocalyptic About Right-Wing Extremism in Church

AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

There are times when conservative anti-Trump columnist David French makes decent, thought-provoking points. Sometimes, he writes a piece that puts forth cogent arguments worth considering.

This is not one of those times.

In an unnecessarily alarmist piece posted on his Substack, French takes his Trump Derangement Syndrome (TDS) to the church, claiming that there is a growing MAGA faith movement within evangelical Christianity that might present a dire threat if allowed to metastasize. He contends that this burgeoning movement is what led to the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol and warns that it could become even more of a problem because it is being given a platform in churches across the nation.

As an example, French brings up former national security adviser Gen. Michael Flynn. He writes:

During the Biden administration, he’s taken his show on the road, launching a “ReAwaken America” tour that features conferences that combine “elements of a tent revival, a trade fair and a sci-fi convention.” It is striking to see Flynn’s use of Christian channels and venues to spread his apocalyptic message of election corruption and national doom.

The commentator notes that Flynn’s next few stops would be at various churches:

The first thing you notice is that the tour is sponsored by Charisma News, a charismatic Christian outlet. The next thing you should notice is the list of upcoming venues: Trinity Gospel Temple in Ohio, Awaken Church in California, The River Church in Oregon, and Burnsview Baptist Church in South Carolina.

The author then wonders how media figures like himself should cover these types of fringe elements:

It is always difficult to know when and how to cover extremism. Does highlighting a fringe provide an artificial sense of their danger and strength, in much the same way that “nutpicking” works in online spaces to exaggerate the extremism of your opponents? Or does ignoring a fringe allow it to flourish outside the spotlight and shock the nation when it finally emerges?

It appears that in this particular case, French chose the former, highlighting a small, fringe contingent on the right and making it appear as if they pose more of a threat than they actually do. He then lays out the reasons why we should be alarmed at the existence of what he calls “Christian nationalism.”

He warns that “[w]hen it comes to Christian nationalism, the bar for concern has been passed by any conceivable measure,” and that “[w]hen a movement is strong enough to storm the Capitol, then it is worth continued monitoring and continued concern.”

The author begins by explaining that “MAGA Christian nationalism is emotional and spiritual, not intellectual or ideological.” He intimates that those espousing this type of belief are not capable or willing to engage in rational thought when it comes to the political landscape and that they look to Trump as a sort of savior who possesses the ability to make faith great again.

French then argues that MAGA Christian nationalism is “concentrated in the churches most removed from elite American culture” and that, in general, one is “far more likely to find the true believers in exactly the kind of nondenominational, independent, and often-charismatic churches that populate the list of ReAwaken America tour stops.”

The columnist references Pentecostal Christianity as the primary culprit in incubating this so-called movement, pointing out that the denomination “is about as far from elite American culture as Mercury is from Mars.” He notes that it is “quite distant from elite Evangelical culture as well.”

Because of this distance from “elite” culture, most mainstream Christians are not familiar with the mores of the Pentecostal church and are “almost wholly unfamiliar with the world of ‘prophets’ and ‘apostles’ who have helped fuel much of the fervor for Trump.” He continues:

It’s no coincidence that Paula White, a pentecostal pastor herself, was Trump’s spiritual adviser. Trumpism penetrated pentecostalism early. I do not mean to say that all pentecostals are Trump supporters, much less Christian nationalists. But you can’t understand the Trumpist Christian core without understanding its pentecostal connection.

Lastly, French cites a fixation on prophecy – especially in relation to former President Donald Trump – as a reason why this movement is dangerous:

Third, MAGA Christian nationalism is often rooted in purported prophecies. I’ve spent every single day of the Trump era living deep in the heart of Trump country, surrounded by Trump-supporting friends, and attending church with Trump-supporting Christians. If there’s anything I know by heart, it’s the “Christian case for Trump.” I’ve read all the essays. I’ve heard all the arguments. It’s in the air out here.

There’s the pragmatic or prudential cost/benefit analysis—he’s a bad man, but his judicial appointments are good. There’s the cultural argument about threat—the left has grown so terrible that we have to punch back. But there’s also another argument entirely, one that’s impossible to discuss rationally—that Trump is divinely anointed by God to save this nation from imminent destruction.

French cautions that the conservative movement needs to tread lightly and that “[w]hen dealing with a potentially insurrectionary subculture, it’s important to separate it from the population. Wrongly tie them to the mainstream, and members of the mainstream may wrongly see the insurrectionists as allies.”

In the end, French contends that the conservative movement is making a mistake by focusing too much on “wokeism” and exaggerating the threat of the more unsavory machinations of the hard left. But he also criticizes the “deafening silence” from Christian leaders in relation to this supposed MAGA Christian nationalist movement which seeks to encourage more political violence.

What is curious about French’s piece is that he never actually manages to tie this religious group to the Jan. 6 riot or any other type of political violence. It is almost as if he expects his audience to take his word for it that the folks who rioted on that day were part of this movement.

The points he makes about the fringe elements within conservative Christianity are not necessarily wrong, especially when it comes to the many prophecies issued by so-called prophets who made predictions that Trump would win in 2020. He rightly points out that many of these people seem to view the former president as a Messiah-like figure.

However, nobody can argue that these people represent even a significant percentage of the conservative Christian crowd. Indeed, many have condemned people like Gen. Flynn for appearing to promote a rebellion. In the end, French is actually engaging in his own form of “nutpicking,” demonizing the church and making it appear as if its adherents should be portrayed as being similar to the thugs who rioted at the U.S. Capitol.

The notion that these folks pose as pernicious a threat to America as the members of the Wokeism religion is absurd on its face. None of these people are in a position to infiltrate and influence the nation’s major institutions. Where are the MAGA Christian nationalists in education, entertainment, government, and the military?

Case in point.

Yes, as conservatives, we should make sure we distance ourselves from those on the right who make the rest of us look like insane religious reactionaries. We should distance ourselves from the QAnon movement, which has struggled since the 2020 election. But we should not fool ourselves into believing these people represent a force that threatens to take over the right, nor should we hype them up in a way that only gets them more publicity. In other words, the best way to deal with these people is by not being David French.