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  • Writer's pictureJared Cramer

'Confronting Christian Nationalism' event warns of local effects

Below is an article from the Grand Haven Tribune that touches on the ministry of our parish.

HOLLAND — A presentation on “Confronting Christian Nationalism” at the Holland Armory on Thursday was the result of many residents’ concerns of Ottawa County commissioners aligned with Ottawa Impact and their decisions since taking office in January, and the possible reasoning behind it all.

For more than two hours, leaders from the organization Vote Common Good talked about what Christian Nationalism is and the history behind it, and used examples from national politicians and county officials.

Vote Common Good is an organization that says it seeks to connect voters of faith to issues of “common good.”

Doug Pagitt, the executive director of Vote Common Good and a former pastor, said U.S. citizens have been arguing about the crossing of church and state since before the country’s founding.

“The First Amendment to the Constitution tried to solve this question by saying there will not be any establishment of any religion,” Pagitt said. “For some people, they were like, ‘Place the period, problem solved, move on.’ But for a lot of people, that was never a solved question, and it maintained as a struggle point inside our society.”

Fast forward to today, and Pagitt explained how there was a new “variant” emerging of Christian Nationalism.

The former pastor travels the country speaking on this issue and other ballot topics, and described Ottawa County as the “center of the swirl.”

“This county is really leading the nation in a lot of these conversations,” he said. “Not very often do we get to be in the center of the swirl, like we are right here in Ottawa County. I’m glad we’re here and I’m sorry that we have to be here. It shouldn’t have to be this way.”

The organization was in the county last year advocating for the incumbent commissioners who were running against Ottawa Impact candidates in the 2022 election.

Pagitt briefly mentioned the majority of commissioners who took office in January and then effectively fired the county administrator; eliminated the county’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) department; and have since been working to remove the Department of Public Heath officer. Biweekly county meetings see many residents in attendance – with supporters of the Ottawa Impact majority and others disapproving, each making their public comments known.

The Ottawa Impact commissioners ran for office after being upset over COVID-19 mask, vaccine and in-person shut-down mandates. Pagitt explained that these issues are only the “animating narrative” of the bigger idea of Christian Nationalism, where religion seeps – or flows – into politics.

“They saw that they believed was a problem, the (incumbent commissioners),” Pagitt said. “They ran against them, and they won an election fair and square. The ultimate solution to that is that they lose the next election.”

Defining Christian Nationalism

A core emphasis of the presentation was to try and understand the core beliefs of an individual who is expressing Christian Nationalism.

“Christian Nationalism is about the government using the government’s power to advocate for, derive its authority from, or grant privilege, to the Christian faith,” Pagitt said. “What’s going on so often inside Christian Nationalist conversations is a belief that Christianity is the default religion of America.

“The argument is not, ‘Should a person be motivated by Christian faith for public service?’ It’s not, ‘should churches be involved in civic life?’ It’s not about any of that,” he continued. “It is an argument about what’s the role of the government to use governmental power to give preferential treatment to, privilege for, or derive its authority from, the Christian faith.”

Several video clips were played and audience members heard national politicians, such as U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert, the Colorado Republican who said she was “sick of the separation of church and state,” among other similar statements.

New ‘variant’ of Christian Nationalism

The global pandemic quickly caused a lot of indirect and direct effects on all aspects of American life, and many people expressed their frustration at what they viewed as an infringement of their individual rights.

“When the federal government, state governments and local governments made decisions that churches were not considered essential, but liquor stores, airplanes and Home Depot were, that said something more than just, ‘Well, it’s the size of gatherings,’” Pagitt said.

The Simply American “journalism” website created by Joe Moss, the chairperson of the Ottawa County Board of Commissioners; a press conference by Commissioner Lucy Ebel; and the contract Ottawa Impact-endorsed candidates signed, were all used as examples of how Ottawa Impact has a Christian Nationalism undertone.

Ebel hosted a press conference earlier this year after the announcement of her recall. In the video, Ebel is seen saying “Jesus is Lord over Ottawa County,” and directing her audience to repeat after her, which they do several times.

“I speak life to Ottawa County,” Ebel said, followed by the audience echoing her and chanting the statement several times.

“Should someone say ‘Jesus is Lord’? If you believe it, you should shout it from the rooftops,” Pagitt said. “If you are a county commissioner (and) speaking in your role as a county commissioner, it is not an appropriate place for that personal declaration.”

Co-presenter and executive director for Vote Common Good West Michigan, Nick Brock, pointed out Ottawa Impact and the Ottawa County Republican Party’s support for the “Doctrine of the Lesser Magistrates” by Wisconsin pastor Matt Trewalla.

In a video, Trewalla explained how the “soft form of Christianity” was coming to an end.

“When you look at the apostles, they were persecuted because they were obedient to the Lord and actually preaching the Gospel, unlike most American Christians in our day,” Trewalla said in the video that featured uneasy music over photos of people in masks and getting COVID-19 vaccines. “When you look at Daniel – he was obedient, he prayed. The state said one thing, he did another. He obeyed the Lord.”

After playing the video, Brock said Trewella was essentially “slow walking Christians into a corner” in deciding if they are either simply obedient or disobedient.

In his book, Trewella writes that the lesser magistrate (local government – i.e., Ottawa County Board of Commissioners) is to step in when the higher magistrate (federal and state government) is believed to be tyrannical.

An audio clip was played from Trewella’s presentation earlier this year to the Ottawa County Republican Party where he called Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer a “psychopath,” Ottawa County Health Officer Adeline Hambley a “health director Nazi,” and the DEI department was a “pipeline for racism and homo-sex.”

“Ottawa County fired a shot,” Trewella said to an enthusiastic crowd at the event, “and may it be heard across America.”

Moving forward

After two hours of presenting, and a word from the Rev. Jared Cramer of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Grand Haven, the speakers encouraged audience members to prioritize empathy and coexisting as they move forward in understanding Christian Nationalism. Also, to become more comfortable with talking about topics of civic engagement.

“We have to know how to live in diversity even when we disagree on the serious things,” Pagitt said. “That can be an act of spiritual formation in our churches. To be clear, Christianity has not tended to do that. What have we tended to do? To separate and reform based around difference.”

“Seek to deeply pray for and understand what is motivating (those that you disagree with),” he added.

A Spring Lake couple who moved to West Michigan a year ago said they were surprised to learn about the political tension, and attended Thursday night’s event to learn more.

“We’ve been interested in getting more involved in it and, as a Christian, doing it in a way that doesn’t discriminate against other people,” said Emma Chadwick, 32.

The changing of the county motto and the elimination of the DEI department were some examples Chadwick and her husband, Matthew Chadwick, 34, said were “directly opposed ... to everything Christ teaches and everything we’re called to.”

“Christ calls us to love everyone, even the marginalized, the downtrodden of society, not to remove ourselves and try to say, ‘It’s us against them,’ make moves that actively go against them,” Matthew said.

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