This is a guest post by Matt Boedy that looks closer at the Christian nationalism of Charlie Kirk of Turning Point USA. This post looks at the problems of Kirk’s Christian nationalism and the twisting of scripture to get to his intended result.
“Politics is when you say you are going to do one thing while intending to do another. Then you do neither what you said, nor what you intended.”
He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?
Romans 8:32 NIV
Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C.
Matt Boedy noticed the other day some more detail about the Christian nationalism of Charlie Kirk of Turning Point USA. Matt wrote a post about the problems of Kirk’s Christian nationalism and how he is twisting scripture to get to the end results of his beliefs. This is another post by Matt on the issues with Charlie Kirk which keep coming forward. In this case this was revealed from an interview with James Dobson recently. James Dobson who left Focus on the Family, though he founded the organization. This blog did an overview of Focus on the Family that was written a couple of years ago and that can be read in, “An Overview of Focus on the Family and Questions The Wondering Eagle Would Like to Answer in Time.”
I have written about Charlie Kirk’s Christianity before for this blog. In that post, I talked about Kirk’s connection to the Chicagoland megachurch formerly led by James MacDonald.
Kirk has moved on from that place and now calls California megachurch pastor Rob McCoy his pastor though Kirk has been mainly living in Phoenix, Arizona during the pandemic near the HQ of Turning Point USA.
Kirk recently appeared (August 18 and 19) on the radio show of evangelical stalwart James Dobson. Their chat is in two parts and Dobson’s ministry was kind enough to post transcripts of both parts. These are what I am quoting from: Part I and Part II.
After the introductory pleasantries, we get from Kirk the origins of Turning Point USA that we have heard, the influence of Bill Montgomery, who recently died, and the growth and impact of Kirk’s organization.
Most importantly, both conversations reveal the details of Kirk’s Christian nationalism.
Kirk tells Dobson he started TPUSA after noting the “crisis” in American culture. And the answer to that crisis in Kirk’s words are to spread the gospel but also “harmonizing” the gospel with “first principles” of the Constitution such as freedom of speech, dialogue, and religious liberty.
Kirk repeats this phrase “first principles” many times in the interview.
What are its origins?
Many libertarian or conservative outlets use it. For example, the Cato Institute’s Roger Pilon notes that “First Principles that are the very foundation of civilized nations” and “America was founded on philosophical principles — First Principles, coming from the Enlightenment…”
First principles are generally ideas or moral concepts or rights that are “known a priori” or known outside or not from experience. They are deduced or known “by nature.”
While Kirk names some – for example, freedom of speech – it is not clear the origins of his own understanding of the phrase.
He names “American First Principles” in his book, Time for a Turning Point (viii) and he has a chapter title about their timeliness. [Note he does not mention the phrase in his book MAGA Doctrine or Campus Battlefield.] But he never names these principles.
The Heritage Foundation argues America has drifted from its first principles and those are generally the idea that “Christian ideas underlie some key tenets of America’s constitutional order. For instance, the Founders believed that humans are created in the image of God, which led them to design institutions and laws meant to protect and promote human dignity. Because they were convinced that humans are sinful, they attempted to avoid the concentration of power by framing a national government with carefully enumerated powers. As well, the Founders were committed to liberty, but they never imagined that provisions of the Bill of Rights would be used to protect licentiousness. And they clearly thought moral considerations should inform legislation.”
That said, how or why does Kirk want to “harmonize” them with the gospel? I don’t think he answers that fully but warns if we don’t, if the US doesn’t succeed in reasserting “biblical principles,” we will face disintegration.
One way Kirk tries to “harmonize” the gospel with his Constitutional principles is what he does with Galatians 3 or the phrase “the law is a school master.”
“And in a lot of ways, Galatians 3 is what we’re doing at Turning Point, which is that the law can be a schoolteacher,” Kirk said.
Here Kirk is quoting the KJV of Galatians 3:24: “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.”
However, Kirk uses Galatians 3 from a different ground or starting point – here a political one. He says that he speaks to college students about “natural rights” and then they ask about the creator of that nature, God. [See my fact check of that phrase and Kirk here.]
Kirk is not in any fashion applying Galatians 3 to politics. He is rewriting it to fit his Christian nationalism.
He is revising the “law” here – the moral code of the commandments – into a political or philosophical concept called “natural rights.”
However, in Paul’s mind it is sin and our breaking of the law that brings us to Christ. This is why the NIV translates 3:28 this way: “So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith.”
Kirk replaces moral “law” as described in the commandments with rights. And rights that are not explicitly given by God but only inferred and “deduced” from nature, to paraphrase “a priori” thinking.
It is a bastardization of the verse. Dobson should be ashamed he let it on his show.
That is not the only Bible verse Kirk revises in the interview.
In his continual reference to a coming renewal or awakening in this country, Kirk argues Christians need to stop being passive or silent in the face of government “tyranny.”
This thesis is grounded in Kirk’s interpretation of Romans 13, he notes in Part II.
Romans 13: 1-7 reads in the NIV:
“Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. 4 For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. 6 This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. 7 Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.”
Kirk first offers the traditional understanding that Christians should obey their national leaders. Then Kirk insists that “we the people” are the sovereign in the United States:
“It’s tough, because I never want to insult the bride of Christ. And some of these churches, I think use Romans 13, which of course is to submit to all rulers of authority as a reason not to gather. I look at it differently which is, first, we are the sovereign in our country, and so we, the people, it’s a different recognition than if we lived under an autocrat. But I do. As I think about it and I pray about it, I think too many of these pastors have abdicated their role and their responsibility to shepherd their flock and to create disciples, not just converts of all nations. I think it’s long past time now that the church rise up, reopen their doors safely and correctly and be able to give people ecclesia, the gathering of believers.”
I am not sure what Kirk means by “it’s a different recognition than if we lived under an autocrat.”
Then what are we to make of Kirk’s thesis that “we the people” are the sovereign of the United States? Is he refusing God as the sovereign of this “Christian” nation? How does this contrast or compare with mob rule? If “we the people” don’t want to wear masks, driving the speed limit, sell drugs, or whatever – can we just ignore the law?
This kind of comment is the key to Kirk’s Christian nationalism, implicitly tied to his libertarianism, which values “personal freedom” above all.
Yet this is not individual freedom – but a collective freedom. A “we the people” acting as a unit.
And this unit would include non-Christians and yet Kirk specifically limits it to Christians when he notes that this “we” should refuse the government’s order not to gather.
[Note: No government is banning gathering by churches. County and state health officials are saying churches in California can’t meet indoors, especially in the megachurch model of thousands at once, if you can’t social distance and wear masks. Many, many conservative churches around the nation are meeting in small groups outside. And they don’t see the government oppressing them.]
Nevertheless, Kirk makes clear just before this who or what he thinks is pressing the churches into faithless obedience.
Kirk notes: “The authoritarians will never allow a power to exist greater than their own. And by definition, the church and the gathering of believers, they recognize there is a higher power than the elected officials or the state, and it’s Christ, it is God almighty. So the authoritarians, and this is a pattern that they did all throughout the 20th century, they need to remove the church in order to implement a massive, totalitarian power grab… So this is a crisis, doctor, and Christians right now, I believe we have to become much more active and vocal in this time of national crisis. I am worried that the statists and the collectivists and the atheistic activists, they are getting very close to knowing that they can push Christians almost with no backlash at all whatsoever. So I believe it is more ample time than ever to stand for truth and especially with courage.”
The “statists” or the “collectivists” are the authoritarians to Kirk. They are making a power grab.
Not Donald Trump, mind you, but the “state.”
Kirk has practiced this rhetorical reversal on many occasions. Its basic move is to take the key argument or label made by your opponents for you and reverse it so it is on them. We know the autocratic, authoritarian Trump and here we see Kirk saying it is the government trying to end a pandemic being totalitarian.
This rhetorical reversal also is seen when Kirk and Dobson talk about the “left’s” goals. Kirk notes: “I get asked the question a lot “Well, what do they want?” They really don’t know. They don’t. All they know is that the current arson of America, the current disintegration, gives them purpose. There really is no end goal, there isn’t a blueprint that they’re trying to achieve. Some of them have some form of a utopia that they think they can get to. But a vast majority of them that are going on this path are either doing it because they want to assume unilateral political power or that they themselves actually find momentary meaning in convincing themselves that they’re doing something moral by trying to disrupt and destroy Western society.”
Dobson calls it a goal of chaos. Then Kirk says: “They want to make themselves God. They want ultimate power. Chaos is a gateway drug to authoritarianism. When you are able to establish disorder or disunity, it gives license for singular power to be able to control. So, if you look at all the great power grabs in human history, in Cuba or Venezuela or in China or in Russia, especially in the 20th century, you must sow discord, form a civil war, turn people against each other, because at that moment then people want stability. Even if that stability means a total autocracy, fine, just get me out of that piece of momentary chaos that we might be in.”
Mind you, again, the chaos president is Trump. He is the autocrat who said he could fix it. He is the one who is using divisive “civil war” rhetoric and then offering a “stable” law and order end. He is the one who has been made into God or God’s messiah.”
Kirk reverses all that to plant the label on the “left.” The truth is not something Kirk cares about.
Then Kirk aims his Christian nationalism at socialism and makes a claim I have never seen from him: “socialism violates two out of the 10 commandments. We’ll start with that. Thou shall not covet and thou shall not steal.”
This idea of socialism breaking the commandments is not original to Kirk.
Here are some links:
Socialism: Unbiblical, Unconstitutional, and Unworkable [from the American Family Association]
Kirk and his organization have long said “taxation is theft,” so I will assume the second “thou shall not” refers to that. Of course, that ignores the fact that capitalistic nations like the US, which have taxes, are then also breaking the commandment.
The author of the second link tries to get around that fact: “We are not talking here about every form of taxation, but specifically, the forms of taxation which takes money from one’s man wallet only to put it in another man’s pocket in the form of direct welfare, food stamps, or subsidies.”
What then about the coveting?
The author addresses it this way: “The wellspring of government charity, the involuntary transfer of wealth, is an odious and grasping greed for other people’s money. You can almost feel the fingers of lawmakers twitching and trembling in anticipation of coming up with another way of confiscating more of the wealth of productive Americans. But there is nothing moral about that.”
It is the government who is coveting, it seems.
Again, a rhetorical reversal. Christianity has spent much of its history criticizing greed by individuals, not states. [Though it also has decried fascists, authoritarians, autocrats.] Yet Kirk sees not the greed of individuals, but that of a government who wants to tax that rich individual more.
Lastly, the Christian nationalism of Charlie Kirk comes into stark relief when he argues: “I’ve mountains of evidence to push back off people that actually came to Christ through politics.”