GBTB - DFY Mendi Tackett | Christian Nationalism

What Is Christian Nationalism And How Is It Undermining Democracy With Mendi Tackett (Culture Wars)

Attention Mentions:

Mendi: The Great British Bake Off; The Crown on Netflix; and Ken Burns’ ‘The U.S. and the Holocaust documentary on PBS

 

Claire: White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity

Book by Robert P. Jones

 

Nichole: Dancing with the Stars on Disney+

 

Join us in conversation with Mendi Tackett as she walks us through her journey to unravel the mystery of what she saw happening in her school district of Granbury ISD. She wanted to understand what was happening under the surface and found herself on a learning journey to demystify Christian Nationalism. Mendi has read extensively and researched to make the connections between the Texas political climate and the practitioners of Christian Nationalism. Suppose you’re looking for a reading list. In that case, she recommends these two books to develop a core understanding: The Founding Myth by Andrew Seidel and Taking Back America for God by Andrew Whitehead and Samuel Perry.

 

Other resources and points of interest that Mendi mentioned include:

  • David Brockman studies Christian Nationalism in Texas.
  • Project Blitz is a coalition of Christian organizations that advocate for Christian Nationalism.
  • David Barton and the Wallbuilders are prominent in the Christian Nationalism movement in Texas.
  • Farris Wilks and his brother Dan are large financial contributors to the Wallbuilders and other conservative Christian Nationalist organizations.
  • Empower Texans is a powerful conservative Political Action Committee.

The important language that denotes Christian Nationalism includes:

  • Indoctrination versus education
  • No separation between church and state
  • School Choice
  • Parents’ rights

Twitter handle: @mentack

Watch the episode here

 

Listen to the podcast here

 

What Is Christian Nationalism And How Is It Undermining Democracy With Mendi Tackett (Culture Wars)

We have a great episode for you all where we interview Mendi Tackett. Nichole, tell us about Mendi and this new series that we are kicking off.

That last name Tackett might sound familiar. She is married to Chris Tackett. If you have been tuning in, he did an amazing job of educating us about how money flows through politics in Texas, and especially how it is funding a conservative far-right agenda. If you haven’t tuned in to that episode, there is a quick plug.

That is Chris Tackett, and he is married to Mendi Tackett. She has made it her mission to bring light to and expose Christian nationalism, especially the effect that it is having on Texas politics. We learned so much from her. She is kicking off our new series. If you have been tuning in and you have consumed our education series, and you found something in it that you didn’t know before, and have moved on to our election series, now join us for this new series that we have decided to title Culture Wars.

We have been a little nervous about it because it is a provocative title. It makes people get a little bit tense. We want to steer into that so that maybe we can take down that level of tension that people feel. Also, look at it from what we hope is a different point of view which is, whether there is something to feel tense about in these issues, what is real and not real, how it affects policy, and where we see that play out in Texas politics. That is what we are taking on.

We have talked about this a lot, Nichole. For us, it is about understanding these things for what they are, challenging our assumptions or moving some blinders, and helping look at this in a new light because we have many assumptions about Christian nationalism. That is a newer phrase on the scene. It has been around forever but it is emerging as something new now.

 

GBTB - DFY Mendi Tackett | Christian Nationalism

 

Some of the things we are going to talk about in our series are things that have been putting people into a tizzy. Its like let’s step back and understand what is the lay of the land. We hope you will join us and give us feedback because this is going to be a wrestling process. We are going to rumble with these difficult things, but we are going to go into it and trust that we will come out on the other end better, smarter, more prepared, and have better language to understand these complicated things.

Before we finish this intro, I do want to say a little more about Mendi Tackett because she deserves a little bit of our time. What I deeply admire about Mendi is that she saw something happening in her community. She decided to steer into that and learn. She didn’t make assumptions. She didn’t go based on her feelings. She went on a learning journey and has steeped herself in so much education about what Christian nationalism means. Stick with her and tune in to this episode.

We are so impressed with Mendi and Chris. They are both wonderful. We hope you enjoy our time sitting down and highlighting her story and journey, and what Christian nationalism is all about. Check this one out.

We are excited to dig into some more controversial issues, some more issues of the news that could use some more explaining. We are going to be talking about Christian nationalism, which is very much of the moment. We have Mendi Tackett here to talk with us about this and help explain it a little bit more. It is one of those things where we hear it but we don’t have a grounded definition. We are excited for her to share a little bit. Mendi, thank you for joining us.

Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.

We are excited about this conversation. Before we dig into all of that, we like to get to know our guests a little bit more, where they come from, and their origin story. Can you tell us where did you grow up? Are you from Texas?

I am. I grew up in a small town called Tolar, which is on the other side of Granbury, down in Hood County. I went to school in Granbury because my mother was a teacher in the school district there. We lived on a farm in Tolar. I have been a Texas girl all my life with the exception of the few years that Chris and I moved away with his career, and we came back to Texas in 2008.

What did your mom teach?

She was a high school teacher. She started out with English, Speech and Theater. Later in her career, she moved to the junior high level. She was stuck with the junior higher age level until she retired.

I also come from a family of teachers. My grandmother, my mom, my aunt, my dad, and I did too taught school. That is a fun touchpoint.

I have a lot of teachers in my family. My hats off to everyone who goes into that profession because it is vital and difficult.

Hats off to everyone who goes into that teaching profession because it's vital and difficult. Share on X

It is only being made more difficult, unfortunately.

We appreciate our teachers and educators so much. We need you. Please stay. We can make it a safe environment. Since this is a political show, we also like to know a little bit about your political background. Was this something that you grew up with? Did your family talk about politics? What was that like at the dinner table when you were growing up?

My family was somewhat open about politics. I wouldn’t say that my family was outwardly involved in politics. They weren’t running for office. I was aware of voting. It was certainly a conversation that I heard within my household. I have always been aware of politics. I wouldn’t say I was overly involved until I was closer to a middle-aged adult in my late 20s to 30s. It was being conscientious about the community and how policy impacts families and decision-making for families. That was something that I was always aware of in those discussions that we had around me and at the dinner table with my family.

When you talk about a little bit of an awakening that you referenced in your 20s and 30s, is that what it felt like to you? Was there something in particular that made you spark a deeper interest?

Once Chris and I had our children, that began to give you a different perspective on how you look at things, looking towards the future, the choices that I’m making or we are making for our kids going forward, and how that is going to impact their future. I believe that was a big instigator. Honestly, the point in time that I got active along with Chris was when we came back to Texas around 2014. It was a private thing. I might have a private conversation about politics. I wasn’t outwardly vocal about it, but not until Chris ran for school board in 2014 that we began to see some things in our community changing, and things that seemed off and were different. That led us to both become a lot more vocal within our community about this doesn’t seem right.

What were some of those things that were changing?

Chris may have touched on when he did his interview with you guys that when he was serving on the school board, there was a newly elected House member for District 60, which was our district. I was aware of the fact that the school board was looking at issues that would benefit kids and would benefit the school district. When our house member would go to Austin, he was voting for the complete opposite.

GBTB - DFY Mendi Tackett | Christian Nationalism
Christian Nationalism: The school board looked at issues that would benefit kids and the school district. And when our house member went to Austin, he was voted the opposite.

In 2015, we had a public library book challenge that was referencing an LGBTQ book that was in the children’s section of our public library. I saw some folks from the community show up to advocate for banning these books. There were people from the faith community, some pastors and whatnot. I thought, “This doesn’t seem like what I’m used to seeing.

Granbury was always a very conservative county. It was always a very conservative area. I would never insinuate otherwise. We didn’t ever see this blurring the lines between church and state. There were some voter engagement events that went on in Hood County. I didn’t personally attend those events as they were happening, but I was aware of them.

Dave Welch come to town, who was with the US Pastor Council. He was talking to the Chamber of Commerce during the Bathroom Bill controversy and whatnot. He is advocating for the discrimination of LGBTQ individuals. Those were some things that we saw happening in our community. It seemed off, not normal, and not what we would normally see from people in leadership positions. That led us to be more vocal and question some things.

Be more vocal and question some things. Share on X

What I love about your story is that you asked questions and sought answers. This is my interpretation of how you got led down this path. It wasn’t this immediate response back. It was like, “What is happening?” Out of curiosity, asking questions took you to the next thing to the next thing. Kudos for asking questions and doing research, discovering what is happening, and trying to demystify and figure out what is going on rather than a non-educated response. I wish we saw that more.

I can’t take credit for coming up on my own with the knowledge of the language that I have. Chris began digging into the money. I began digging into the why. Why are people doing this as far as policy and these attacks on, at that point in time, the public library? It wasn’t until I found people like Dr. David Brockman at TCU.

I read an article of his. We came across Andrew Seidel, Sam Perry, and Andrew Whitehead. There were some experts that we began to find their books and research. These were folks who were experts on Christian nationalism. When I began reading these things, it was a light bulb moment. I’m like, “This is the language to define what we have been seeing happening in our own community.”

When we first started talking about it, asking questions, and being public with a little bit of our pushback, it was not always comfortable. It is a hard thing to talk about. Christian nationalism, which is what we are tackling now, has been the third rail. It has been something that when people hear you talking about religion, they can tend to get defensive because they assume that you are attacking Christianity.

That is not the goal to say, “Christian nationalism is not threatening to democracy.” It is threatening democracy at the local level and national levels. That took some time for people to eventually come around to being open to even asking some of those questions or pointing out that this doesn’t seem like behavior or action that is okay. It’s not the little democratic ways of going about running a city, a county or a state.

It sounds like you saw these things happening in your community, this push to remove some books from the library to discriminate against LGBTQ students. You started connecting the dots and tying it back to Christian nationalism. What was that journey like? How did you start putting those pieces together? Was it through finding these authors? How did you find them?

I first saw the article that Dr. Brockman had written online. I was googling some of the keywords that I was seeing at the time. It was an observer article that Dr. Brockman had written. Finding Dr. Brockman led me to find Sam Perry and Andrew Whitehead, who have been instrumental as advocates in fighting back against Christian nationalism and educating about Christian nationalism.

We read one of Kristen Stewart’s books and Andrew Seidel’s book, The Founding Myth. I would say between Dr. Brockman’s initial article and finding Perry and Whiteheads’ Taking America Back for God and then reading also The Founding Myth. Those were all key pieces of information that gave us the language to understand what we were seeing.

GBTB - DFY Mendi Tackett | Christian Nationalism
The Founding Myth: Why Christian Nationalism Is Un-American

Once Chris was looking at the money in Texas politics and finding that, we realized that the Empower Texans Group, Wilks and Tim Dunn, were behind it. Part of what led me to Dr. Brockman’s article is that he was writing about Wilks and Dunn and Christian nationalism in Texas politics. It all came full circle. I’m like, “This is who is funding our state representative. This is why we are seeing some of the choices being made by our state representative,” and one thing led to another.

As you start to dig in and read, you realize that this community of experts is all tight-knit as far as you can easily read one and find references to another. That leads you down the rabbit hole to read somebody else’s work and book. There is an absolute wealth of information. We are grateful for the people who have dedicated their careers to doing this work. It is extremely important.

I love that story. It is reminding me of a personal story I had where a charter school was coming to my neighborhood. I didn’t understand anything about the charter school. I was googling and finding this person. I was sending them a tweet and saying, “Can you tell me what’s going on here?” They were like, “Talk to this person.” Eventually, that led me to Patti Everitt. We did an episode with her about charter schools

It was that curiosity like I have to know what’s going on here that led me to put this bigger picture together. It sounds like thats what happened to you. I love it because you are a parent who was like, “This doesn’t feel right. What is going on?” You uncovered this big invisible machine that, luckily, is getting some light. Let’s get into that machinery ideology.

As I was researching for this episode, I ran across Dr. Brockman. He has done so much studying around this. He even wrote a 50-page paper titled, New Study of Christian Nationalism in Texas Should Be a Warning for the Whole Country. You will find Dr. Brockman for sure. I did and it was helpful as a great primer for understanding all of this. Let’s keep going.

Tell us, what is Christian nationalism?

Christian nationalism is a merging of political ideology and religious ideology. It argues that America was founded as a Christian nation. This ideology puts forth that Christianity deserves privilege and preference, and that American laws and policies should reflect a biblical worldview. Our founding fathers intended for America to be a Christian nation, and that there is no separation of church and state. That is a myth. I’m always careful to say that it does not reflect all Christians. It is not representative of Christianity broadly, and it is not representative of all Christians. It is an ideology that has become prominent in conservative evangelical Christianity in America. There is a push in many aspects of American society to impose a particular Christian worldview on everyone through laws and policy.

There is a push in many aspects of American society to impose a particular Christian worldview on everyone through laws and policy. Share on X

I was doing a little bit of preparation for this interview and curious about what other voices were saying about Christian nationalism. There was this man who wrote a book. I don’t remember his name but I’ll try to find it. He was featured on the Christian Broadcasting Network CBN. He said that there is healthy Christian nationalism and unhealthy Christian nationalism. I had to scratch my head. He said that healthy Christian nationalism is, I love Jesus and I love my country.” I was like, “Is that what it is?” I feel like there’s almost this movement to get in front of it and redefine it. It is a little bit fuzzier and not what you are saying that it is. Have you heard this counter-narrative coming out?

I have and not only that but we have flat-out seen some folks who are on the far-right spectrum of politics in America outwardly embracing the idea. We have seen Marjorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert, and some of these folks moving to say, “I am a Christian nationalist. I’m proud of it. We should be Christian nationalists. That is what being a good American should look like.”

There are also people’s voices out there that have tried to soften the idea to make it more palatable and make it something that isn’t a bad term, a bad phrase or a bad label. What it comes down to at the end of the day is trying to impose one particular religious ideology and interpretation. The fact of the matter is not all Christians agree with the ideas put forth within the Christian nationalist ideology.

Trying to impose one particular interpretation on all Americans is not democratic. Little deeds don’t represent American democracy. It is dangerous and a threat to our democracy. We have seen this happen in other countries. We are at a tipping point where when people are voting, they are making a choice about what our future is going to look like in this country.

I started reading The Flag and the Cross based on Chris’s recommendation. I love that Gorski and Perry give such great nuggets to hold onto. One of the things that stuck in my head was how they differentiate between patriotism and nationalism. Patriotism would be defined as a love of country and is animated by love, whereas nationalism is allegiance to a tribe and is animated by hatred. There is a big difference there.

I feel like the people that you were describing Claire, their goal is to make it seem benign, and it is about loving the Lord and loving your country. Unfortunately, that is not at the heart of Christian nationalism. It can’t be. I’m also struck by this idea of completely ignoring the Constitution and the First Amendment. It couldn’t be more clear, in my mind granted, what the founding fathers have intended, which is First Amendment, a separation between church and state. It is interesting to me that if that doesn’t fit your worldview, you simply say, “No, that is not what they intended. Maybe that is what they wrote, but that is not what they intended.”

It is such a convenient ignoring of what is present in a document, which I also think is emblematic of how Christian nationalism works. A lot of things are happening in the country right now. If you don’t like the evidence, the writings, or the actual empirical evidence, you simply ignore it. There is no grounding in reality that is particularly disturbing.

GBTB - DFY Mendi Tackett | Christian Nationalism
Christian Nationalism: If you dislike the evidence, the writings, or the actual empirical evidence, you ignore it. There’s no grounding in reality that is particularly disturbing.

The truth of the matter is you have someone like David Barton, who has been at the forefront of forwarding the idea of Christian nationalism and championing Christian nationalism in America. He has made an entire career out of falsifying American history. His book’s publisher was like, “We are not going to put this out because it is blatantly incorrect.” At the same time, he was at the head of the Texas Republican Party. He was influencing Texas textbooks in 2010.

For a lot of years, it has been an acceptable thing within Christian nationalist circles. You can fabricate history and tell whatever version suits your ideology. Unfortunately, there have been enough people who are willing to listen and believe those things. When we got to 2016, we were all aware the doors were opened for a lot of these ideas, the bigotry, and the othering that tends to happen within the Christian nationalist thought process or ideology. It blew the door open for people to openly say the things that maybe they were thinking but never said out loud. Trump’s getting elected was a vehicle for Christian nationalism to take off and flourish in the United States.

What would you say are the goals ultimately of Christian nationalism? It sounds like some of them are to fabricate history and tell a different story than what really is the story of America and our founding. What else are they trying to do?

We have to go a step further when we are talking about Christian nationalism and its goals. When we think about what we are seeing reflected right now in our politics, whether it is state or national and Supreme Court and all those things that have been brow-raising, we have to go a step further and talk about Seven Mountains Dominionism. That gets into an even more touchy like, “What? That sounds crazy. It is so fringe.”

Seven Mountains Dominionism is an idea that once seven pillars of society are taken over by conservative evangelical Christian nationalists, that is how you take a nation. God will return once Christians have taken these seven pillars or mountains of society, their church, government, family, education, media, arts and entertainment, and business.

When we look at what we have seen happening within, we will stick with Texas for the moment, whether it is the attacks on public education which have been relentless in 2021 or so, especially. We see the attacks on the LGBTQ community. That is the family mountain, that marriage is only one man and one woman. The legal definition of marriage should reflect this Christian definition of what is acceptable as marriage.

When we see government policy reflecting, an example would be the In God We Trust bill, which instructs schools to put up these In God We Trust posters if they are donated and meet certain criteria. We can’t just talk about Christian nationalism without looking at that additional level of Seven Mountains Dominionism and the goals of you take a nation when you have taken these seven pillars of society again.

When we look at what we have seen happening in policy, the othering of folks in our communities, and the attacks on things like voting rights and book banning, it all fits into the Seven Mountains’ goal. That ultimately is the goal for these folks who are hardliners, who are pushing this ideology behind the scenes with their money and influence. It is about power and having control. The ultimate goal of that power and control is to control the different levels or levers of society so that Christian nationalists/dominionist ideals are imposed on everyone.

As we relate this to Texas, I wanted to circle back a little bit to the Bartons because you brought up David Barton, and they run WallBuilders. If anybody wanted to look that up, it is an organization. As Mendi was talking about, David Barton rewrote history and discussed how the founding fathers did intend for the US to be a Christian nation. The WallBuilders provide the basis for all of the things that Mendi is talking about.

If you go to their website, they have all these different areas where they talk about their goals in all of these areas. On their website, it is clearly the Seven Mountains Dominionism behind it. I’m sure that is explicitly there somewhere. If you look at all the areas that they intend to influence, they fit right into these. This may be a bit more disguised and also provide the framework.

If you were a local candidate who wanted to run as a trustee for your local ISD, you could use a lot of the resources that you would find on the WallBuilders website to justify why you are doing what you are doing and explain it to people. It is an interesting model of how to empower people to use Christian nationalism to make their agenda and be at the forefront. I hope I explained that well.

He is Texas-based, which is why this is important to bring up the WallBuilders. You probably know this, Mendi, but I stumbled across that because we are tying this back to Farris Wilks. I know that the Wilks brothers are such a huge part of this. Farris Wilks gave $3 million to the WallBuilders. We are talking about money and how well-funded many of these efforts are.

The Empower Texan Circle, specifically the Wilks Brothers, have funded quite a few of these Christian nationalist propaganda outlets. Whether it is WallBuilders, BlazeTV or Glenn Beck’s outfit, they have helped fund that. They have helped fund Prager University if people are aware of that. It targets young people online and frames themselves as Prager University. It is nothing more than these online posts that are Christian nationalist infused to target young people and hook them into believing these alternative narratives that aren’t frankly aren’t true.

Nothing more than these online posts that are Christian nationalist infused to target young people and hook them into believing these alternative narratives. Share on X

It is important to understand that this stuff is well funded in millions of dollars by billionaires. We are specifically focusing on Texas. When you look at it nationally, you have the DeVos family and the Kochs who have given money towards some of these groups that have taken a hard-line Christian nationalist tangent on the policy that has influenced the Supreme Court.

Both nationally and at a state level here in Texas, they are well funded. A lot of it is very behind-the-scenes, discreet, and hard to see. That is intentional and part of what has made it difficult for the general public to understand what they are seeing and hearing, and to decipher the untruths that are being presented to them as being untruths.

Something I wanted to touch on quickly is we have referenced a few times Empowered Texans. For those who don’t know, that is a pack of the political action committee. When some people donate to candidates, they don’t give it directly. They give it to a pack, and the pack gives that money to the candidate.

In this case, you have these ultra-billionaires who do give directly at times, but who also give to the pack, and the pack gives the money. You don’t see such a strong direct connection between that particular donor and the candidate. That is another way of them making it a little less clear how they are controlling the narrative, and controlling these candidates and their agendas. I want to state that because it took me a while to catch on to what was happening with Empower Texans. You hear that on its surface and you are like, “That sounds great.” Actually, it is not what you think it is.

They do choose language, phrases, and labels that sound on their face. Yes, we would all support that. We would want to do those things, but you have to dig into the ideology that these folks are pushing to understand that this doesn’t reflect a pluralistic society. This doesn’t reflect democracy in America.

It makes me think back to that CBN video interview I saw where they were saying, “Christian nationalism is I love Jesus. I love my country.” It is very innocuous. That sounds great but at its core, it is not that. It is something a lot more rotten, not democratic, and harmful to us as a nation. You have to dig deep to understand what the ultimate goal is, which is what you are saying, Mendi, is power and control.

The people in power and control are these billionaires who have such an outside voice to us average voters, and how unfair that is. At the end of the day, we do still care collectively about fairness, and this is an unfair system and, in some cases, a harmful system to some individuals. We have to be on guard and understand what we are dealing with here because they are good at confusing us.

That is the intention, to catch people off guard. The fact of the matter is we are all busy raising our families, living our lives, and going to work. A lot of people aren’t hyper-political. They are not digging underneath the surface of what is happening in politics. It is not that they’re not paying attention at all, but people are busy, understandably so. When it is framed in a certain way, things that seem not harmful at all on their face with the labels, whatever the group names or how some of these ideas and ambitions are framed. They know that they are catching people off guard and that people are willing to support and vote for things that they don’t realize they are supporting and voting for.

Things that seem not harmful on their face with the labels, whatever the group names or, you know, how some of these ideas and ambitions are framed. Share on X

An example of that is Project Blitz when we talk about the In God We Trust bill. Project Blitz was created and put forward by the Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation, which David Barton and WellBuilders are part of. Project Blitz is a playbook that was uncovered by Frederick Clarkson, among quite a few other Christian nationalist experts on Christian nationalism.

It is a pre-written policy playbook where all a legislator or their staff has to do is copy and paste. When you look at the In God We Trust bill that Bryan Hughes put forth in Texas and you look at the Project Blitz model policy that was written, it is verbatim. You can hold them up side by side, and it is the same thing.

A lot of people will look at that and say, “It was created as our national motto. That is our national motto. There is nothing wrong with that.” The entire agenda and intention of the Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation are to push Christian nationalism into our public spaces and to public schools. We saw the court case Kennedy v. Bremerton and the prayer that the Supreme Court prayed in public schools. The Supreme Court heard and voted in favor of breaking down that wall between the separation of church and state.

Groups like the Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation are working to frame it in a way that legislators might vote for it, and they don’t even know exactly what they are voting for or where it is coming from. I’m not going to say Bryan Hughes knows. I don’t know whether he knew or not, but he is a person who has Christian nationalist tendencies and intentions when you look at the policy that he has supported and put forth.

Project Blitz starts out soft with some of the policies that they have written. It is a 50-state initiative. There were states that jumped on the bandwagon for this ahead of Texas. The intention is to push these policies nationally, and some legislators in some states will vote for these things, not knowing what it is they are voting for, where the language for that policy/law even came from, or who is behind it.

I’m glad you circled back to that In God We Trust bill because, on its surface, it feels like, “I believe in God, and most of us do in America. What is the big deal?” It’s this rewriting of history almost that we are indeed a Christian nation when that wasn’t the intention at the founding. It makes me think a lot about the Confederate monuments debate that is going on right now. A lot of these monuments were put up years after the Civil War.

It was this attempt to rewrite history and to create heroes out of these Confederate people who were trying to create a whole new nation. They were not fighting for the United States by any means, but they were effective at getting people on board. Now there is this reaction of, “We can’t take these down because they are part of our heritage and our history.” They are not. This came later. It is hard because you have to do the work to reteach history. I can see that happening here, and that is alarming.

GBTB - DFY Mendi Tackett | Christian Nationalism
Christian Nationalism: Many of the monuments are put up years after the Civil War, and it was this attempt to rewrite history to create heroes out of these confederate people who were right.

When we talk about the In God We Trust, who’s God are we talking about? Are we talking about someone who is Muslim or Hindu? Is this specifically Christian? We know the implication is generally that it is specifically Christian. There are a lot of people who think, “It is on our money. There shouldn’t be anything wrong with that.” Just like with the monuments, In God We Trust was not a motto at the founding of America, and it was something that we all know. Some of us know it came along later. It is not representative of where our country began and the separation of church and state.

It is important to highlight that all of this is about an erosion of the things that we have long held as the basic tenets of America, which is that we do have a separation of church and state. You start to pick away at that bit by bit in little ways in symbology like we are talking about seeing In God We Trust around us. It gets to a point where we have moved so far down that path.

If we try to self-correct, it is a whole new bigger battle because now that seems like the norm. If you know anything about the history of our founding, the norm is the separation of church and state. We don’t establish religions, and this is establishing religions. It is a complete misunderstanding and disinformation campaign about what we were founded on these basic principles.

Chris points out a lot about the movement of the Overton window. If your audience is familiar with the Overton window, it is a middle point that almost all of us agree with like, “This is reasonable.” Every time something extreme is proposed, we start here in the middle with what we all think is reasonable, and then there is this other idea that is outside of that. People go, “No, that is going too far.” If you go way to the other end of the spectrum, you get way out on that fringe, and you start suggesting radical wild ideas, it is easier to get people to land back at that spot that was outside of what was normal, and everybody agreed was acceptable.

Every time more extreme legislation or ideology is put out there, we move people further away from where we had started. We are moving the Overton window. What we have seen from the far-right is we see things continuing to be pushed further to the extremes on what we are even discussing and talking about. We are at a point where we are talking about librarians and teachers providing pornography to children. That is absurd. It is a coordinated effort to break public education and past vouchers, which has been a key goal within the Christian nationalist movement.

It is that education mountain that we talked about earlier. We have gotten to a point where we are saying, “Our librarians and our teachers may be providing pornography or things that are illicit to our kids. Therefore, we need to take these books out of the library.” Several years ago, we would not have entertained the idea of we are moving and trampling on First Amendment rights. Here we are at a point where there are a lot of people who are saying, “We have to do that.” It is a bizarre place to be.

With public education, would you say that the goal is to privatize it so that students are learning from this Christian nationalist narrative? Is it some children are learning that and the rest, “Sorry if you can’t afford an education? That is what I’m trying to figure out what they are doing.

The idea of vouchers and privatizing education started back with Board v. Brown. It is rooted in a component of racism, and there is no getting around that. We are still dealing with that, and we are coming around full circle. It is a two-pronged effort in my view. Number one, they want to impose or inject a conservative Christian worldview into public schools, whether it is prayer in school. How many times do we hear people like Rafael Cruz lamenting that we removed prayer in school? His words were, “America went to hell in a handbasket.” He has done a whole bit on that.

We see the In God We Trust signs that we got through talking about being put into schools. There is a desire to have a specific version of conservative Christianity injected into public schools. The other prong of that is to divert public money away from public schools and into private religious schools or charters. There are people like Tim Dunn who run private religious schools, and it benefits them. Number one, it advances the ideology they are wanting to advance, and they are sure to have kids. They want to be in those schools. Number two, they are able to make a profit off of it.

When we look at voucher money or school choice education savings accounts, however people want to label them, we hear all those buzzwords. In the end, the reality is that poor children, usually children that are coming from larger proportions, the kids who are left out are coming from minority and disadvantaged families because the idea in Texas has been $7,500 or whatever that amount is. Anybody who has researched the private school in any capacity knows that $7,500 is not going to pay your way into a private school.

There are a lot of families that even if they had the tuition money, there is no transportation. You may be dealing with families whose parents work a couple of different jobs. They may be in a rural environment where there is no option of a private school to go to. We end up siphoning money out of the public school setting, which serves all children.

Public schools have to serve every kid no matter what their socioeconomic background is, what their demographics are, or what learning challenges they might have. It siphons money away from public schools that serve all children. It diverts that money to private schools that can pick and choose what kids they want to accept. It tends to be a more White conservative Christian population. It is the reality.

In the end, it also gives a financial break to the people. They are getting a tax credit if they get a $7,500 voucher. When they were already sending or they could already afford to send their kid to private school. It breaks the back of public schools. It is a two-prong thing. It is to inject conservative Christianity into public schools and divert money into a private charter school space where the people who are promoting Christian nationalism stance benefit.

It's to inject conservative Christianity into public schools and divert money into a private charter school space where the people promoting Christian nationalism stand to benefit. Share on X

What worries me about this particular ideology or these extremist views is as you were saying, people like Rafael Cruz will say, “The reason our nation is messed up is because we are pluralistic, and we embrace these policies that are inclusive.” His alternative is this system of government that its us versus them. It is not inclusive. It is exclusionary. That is the system that is going to have the same result as what he is saying is going to happen.

It is never enough. We will never do enough to get to this godly world. I don’t know if I’m making sense, but it seems like it doesn’t work. Diversity makes us empathetic, not what they are in favor of. Eventually, you are going to keep giving over more control, but it will never be enough because their system will never equal the system that they say it is going to equal, which is godly and great.

It is okay for people from other faith traditions to be there. They don’t get the same privilege as conservative Christians. There is a right kind of Christianity, and that right kind of Christianity equals good. That should be informing and leading us as a nation. It is exclusionary in that sense. When we talk about public education, especially in 2021, we think about the Bathroom bills, the transgender athlete legislation, and the anti-CRT legislation. It is determined by othering people. There is a right kind of thought, and kids shouldn’t be exposed to, be learning or have access to any other wrong thought.

Especially the attack on the LGBTQ community, there is no light on the day between the attacks on the LGBTQ community and public education. They are creating this narrative of fear. I said in a tweet that they are bludgeoning public schools with this fear that they are creating about the LGBTQ community. This frenzy of, “These horrible things are happening in our school.”

It puts LGBTQ students in grave danger. Honestly, it is already a dangerous landscape for them anyway. They are a much more vulnerable population as far as how they feel about themselves, acceptance, and community support. This amplifies and intensifies the dangerous spot that they are put into. Layer on top of that, it is making people afraid of what is happening in public schools. It is all complete nonsense. The idea of othering and excluding people and that there is a right way of thinking is a key component of the goals that Christian nationalists have.

GBTB - DFY Mendi Tackett | Christian Nationalism
Christian Nationalism: The idea of othering and excluding people, that there’s a right way of thinking, is a key component to the goals that Christian nationalists have.

It is fascinating how closed it is. I keep picturing this closed circle. Everything leads back to what they believe to be true and right. There is no questioning or evidence. There is nothing that moves that needle at all. It is such an entrenched way of looking at everything that always leads back to them. They are the inheritors of what is supposed to be. They are powerful and are meant to have power. They are the right way to be, live and think. Everything circles back to the same ideology and the same folks.

That is inherently undemocratic because democracy means that multiple thoughts, people, and populations are represented. It is frightening yet important that we shine a light here. One of the things that I would like for us to talk about next, Mendi, is for people to have their antenna up. What is the language that sounds benign, but we know underneath the surface that it is Christian nationalism language? I would love for people to have a sense of when they hear this, they know that it means that.

When we talk about public schools and we are thinking about that realm, we have heard the phrase, “Education, not indoctrination.” We have heard this phrase or this notion that our kids are being indoctrinated. That is a Christian nationalist buzzphrase. When we consider the saying that the separation of church and state is a myth. People try to explain it away that it wasn’t meant for it to be a two-way street but it is a one-way street. The government needs to stay out of the church. It was never intended to be the other way around. When we think about things like school choice, parents have always had a choice. That is a buzzword for vouchers to harm public ed.

The things that have been in the news is focusing on this idea of indoctrination choice and parents’ rights. We have heard Ron DeSantis push on a lot that there should be a Parental Bill of Rights. Parents have always had rights with their kids. I think about the whole library book-banning situation. When our school district was doing that in 2021, that was one of the things we said to them. It is already in your policy that we have a choice. I have always had the right as a parent to go and decide to say to the school, “I want my child exposed to this or I don’t. I want my kid to have the opportunity to read this book. I would like for you to make this selection of titles unavailable to my student. I don’t want them to read that.” I always have that choice.

I don’t have the power to decide for other families. That is where we are seeing the problem. We have people who have decided, “What my interpretation, my view, and my moral compass says should apply to everyone in the school. We have always had the parental choice.” Those are some of the buzzwords that have been at the forefront. When people hear it, it should make the hair on the back of their heads stand up.

The thing that makes my antenna go up a little bit as we are talking about this ideology of Christian nationalism is the fact that it is funded by billionaires. We were talking about Farris Wilks, Tim Dunn, Betsy DeVos, and the Koch brothers. I grew up in an evangelical Christian church and the messages. I heard that we want to be fearful and mindful of this love of money because that can corrupt you. Yet, we have these people who have insane amounts of money. They are the ones telling us what is and isn’t Christian. That alone should put people’s antennas up.

Be careful who is giving you this message and what their real intentions are. Maybe they truly do believe this and think that they are Christian stewards, but is it that in greed? Who knows? That alone makes me wonder what their real motivations are. If it is protecting themselves and their wealth and their power. Read your Bibles. That is all I’m going to say.

The Wilks have said they do believe that the money that they have come into was divinely inspired. They believe that God specifically chose them to have the money to forward this ideology. It sounds crazy and fringy, but it is where we are, and it is pretty frightening. It is important for people to understand who is behind. Always be questioning. Chris has said, “Follow the money.” A lot of people have said. “Follow the money.” Always be looking at who is creating and providing the messaging that you are hearing.

Any final thoughts, Nichole, before we move on to something maybe a little lighter?

If somebody was like, “Let me learn more,” what would you recommend? Is there a specific book, a podcast or an article? If you recommended one thing, where would you tell them to start?

It is two. Those are the two books that I mentioned earlier in our conversation, The Founding Myth by Andrew Seidel and Taking America Back for God by Andrew Whitehead and Sam Perry. There are many others that I could tell you about. The combination of those two books is invaluable. There is data for the people who respond better. It makes more sense to them if they can see it broken down in data. That is in Perry and Whitehead’s book. Andrew Seidel digs into the story behind things and the why. Those two books are invaluable in giving people a road map to how we have gotten to where we are, and what it is we are seeing.

GBTB - DFY Mendi Tackett | Christian Nationalism
Taking America Back for God: Christian Nationalism in the United States

We like to ask why. Why is this what they are telling us? I’m going to go back to this a couple of times because this information is vast, deep, and fascinating. It is important for people to have an awareness of it because it is becoming part of the political discourse. You are hearing Christian nationalism a whole lot more now than a couple of years ago. It is coming into the mainstream. That is happening.

We will transition into the end of our show, where we like to mention something that has our attention. This can be a movie you saw, an article, another book, or anything along those lines that you would like to share with our audience, and you can’t get out of your head. Does anything come to mind for you, Mendi or Nichole?

Are we talking about pertaining to specifically Christian nationalism or something else?

It can or it can be like, “When I had too much of this, I go watch that show.”

I am always excited about British stuff. I’m a big fan of The Great British Bakeoff, and I love The Crown. I’m one of those people that love The Crown, but something that is timely and is not light watching at all but is fabulous is Chris and I started Ken Burns’s new documentary on The Holocaust. It is must-watch tv. It is informative. It gives many clues to some of the histories that we seem to be repeating at the moment. For light stuff, I like the Brits.

I will mention something that did come to mind as we were having this conversation. It is a book that I read not that long ago, but it is very much in this realm. It is called White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity by Robert P. Jones. This book was informative to me because I didn’t understand the history of White supremacy in American Christianity. I went to Wheaton College, which is the Harvard of Christian schools.

We even have a Billy Graham Museum there talking about Christianity in America. They did not talk about how complicit Christianity was with White supremacy and slavery. I read this and it made so much sense how many White evangelicals voted for Trump. Our prime for this ideology is such an important part of the conversation to have as we are reckoning with how sadly Christianity has for too long been okay with supporting White supremacy and how we need to rectify that and be honest with our history. That was a great one if you want some more knowledge on this topic.

I’m going to steer us out of this serious territory. I shockingly have started watching Dancing with the Stars. I have never been into it before, but I have started watching it. I’m going to confess because one of the most recent Bachelorettes is a contestant. That made me want to continue with her. Having watched it, the people that are on this season, the celebrities, there is such a great variety. There is Shangela, who is a famous drag queen and was on All Stars eventually. There is Daniel Durant, who is a deaf celebrity who was in CODA. It is incredible that he is dancing without being able to hear the music.

CODA was a wonderful movie.

I haven’t even seen it, so I feel inspired.

Be sure to watch that too.

There are these incredible folks that are on. I have been drawn into it and never thought that I would be.

Thanks, Nichole. I don’t keep up with it, but maybe I will have to turn it on.

It is light and your kids would love it.

They probably get a kick out of it. The family shows in my house are Cocomelon and Ninja Turtles. This could be a nice change. Thank you so much, Mendi, for sharing this information with us. This is such a big topic, and I feel like we have just scratched the surface, but luckily we have all these great books and resources. If people want to learn more, they can keep digging, educate themselves and understand what is going on here because it sounds like there are a lot of dog whistles and you don’t realize how deep it goes. Follow your curiosity and see what you can learn.

It is a big cumbersome topic with a lot of moving parts. People should not feel bad that they haven’t understood it or they didn’t see it. Always feel empowered to keep asking questions, keep digging, and look to these experts. They have offered such a wealth of information to help all of us regular Joe public people. Be confident in knowing that the whole intention is for it to have a lot of moving parts that are hard to wrap your arms around. If we are all paying attention and translating that to being intentional with our vote, we have the opportunity to make a difference in what our future looks like.

If we're all paying attention and we're all translating that to being very intentional with our vote, we have the opportunity to make a difference in what our future looks like. Share on X

It is the perfect message of hope. Thanks, Mendi.

Yes, thanks so much.

Thank you, guys.

Thank you, everybody, for joining us. Hopefully, we demystified some little of Texas politics. We hope that you will do more with us. Check out our website at www.GoBehindTheBallot.com, where you will find links to our social media and community. Let’s join together and do more. We hope you will let us know what is working, and we hope you will join us next episode. Thanks, everybody, and have a good one.

 

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About Mendi Tackett

GBTB - DFY Mendi Tackett | Christian NationalismI’m a parent who has been passionate about public education. When I saw the attacks on public ed, I began to try to understand why. That led me to a deep dive on Christian nationalism.

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