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Williamstown Church, Four Freedoms Coalition Holding Interfaith Panel On Christian Nationalism

A crowd of people with American flags and Trump signs stand in front of the capitol.
Pro-Trump protesters gather in front of the U.S. Capitol Building on Jan. 6, 2021 in Washington, D.C.

The First Congregational Church of Williamstown and the Berkshire County progressive citizens’ group the Four Freedoms Coalition are cosponsoring an interfaith panel discussion Thursday called “Christian Nationalism: How it Harms Us All.” WAMC spoke with attorney Sherwood Guernsey – who represents both the church and the coalition – about the panel, and why the chaotic events in Washington on January 6th inspired it.

GUERNSEY: It's very clear that on the January 6th, 2021 day of infamy, when a mob of insurrectionists sacked the Capitol, that those same insurrection is carried crosses, signs, flags and they were praying to Jesus, all symbols of Christianity, and followed by acts that were really destructive, obviously to our country, and actually to the symbol of our democracy. So that brought this issue of Christian Nationalism, as it was displayed to everyone in the country in the world- That is what brought this to a head. And that's why our church is trying to take a lead in naming it, calling it and asking people to come together to stand up against it.

WAMC: The event is being hosted by the First Congregational Church of Williamstown, the United Church of Christ. Can you sort of break down for me how this denomination of Christianity perceived those Christian messages on that day?

Well, with grave concern, because the issue here is that Christian Nationalism perverts Christian faith and ideology. It seeks to, really to merge Christian and American identities. To put it simply, it attempts to create an ideology that unites a one religion state. And that is something, of course, that this country from the very beginning has stood against, it's fought against. The revolution in part was to make sure there freedom of religion, freedom of worship. So this is a long standing and important issue for this country. And it was very much revealed in the in the sacking of the Capitol on January 6th, we all need to just know more about it. So this discussion is going to both educate people and also formulate a plan of action going forward.

There's an interfaith panel put together to discuss the issue. What are you hoping emerges from this conversation on Thursday?

Well, the very first thing is to make sure that everyone understands what Christian Nationalism means, both to people of faith and people who don't have any faith, because it’s a danger to all of us. So it's a matter of recognizing it, naming it and then coalescing around an outreach plan, because what we need to do is make sure that everybody understands it and realizes the danger, and that it's a real danger to this country, and that is promoted in a lot of pulpits around the country. So we have to figure out a way to do an outreach plan to a lot of those people in pulpits. We need to engage people who aren't seeing this as a danger and keep calling out this kind of Christian Nationalism as a matter of patriotism. It is false patriotism. So we want to go forward with an outreach plan. That's what we're going to be developing

Outside of just the interfaith community, what kind of conversations is the church community having throughout the area – Williamstown, the Berkshires – about these concepts and as it pertains to life here in Western Massachusetts?

Well, it's interesting because one of the things that we've done here with this interfaith discussion is to make sure right from the beginning that this is not just something for Christianity to deal with, because every religion is affected and harmed if there is a one Christian nation-state. And that's why this is so important. And the conversations revolve around, there are people in this in this area that certainly are proponents of Christian Nationalism. We need to help people to understand that, and as a matter of faith, to realize what the real values are, and try to work with people so that we can engage with them and move forward knowing that in Christianity, as in all faiths, we recognize the strength of each individual and the and the protection of each individual and how they believe and how they worship.

As researcher Michael Edison Hayden of the Southern Poverty Law Center told WAMC in January, the Northeast is no stranger to violent right-wing activity.

“We have seen, particularly in the aftermath of the 2016 election, a proliferation of far-right groups that no longer feel like they are tethered to this kind of sort of old Confederate way of seeing things. Groups like League of the South have been heavily damaged in terms of recruitment in the aftermath of Charlottesville, it seems. But, look along the Rust Belt in the Northeast, we have seen people cropping up. A lot of people, the most active people in the so called Alt-Right movement, which was really just an internet friendly rebrand of white supremacy, had been people from the Northeast.”

For more information on Thursday’s interfaith panel discussion “Christian Nationalism: How it Harms Us All,” click here.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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