The deepening divisions that threaten our nation are not just political; You are also religious. Today we hear of “Team Jesus vs. Team Satan,” coined by the same people who believe God chose them to bring America back to its “original purity” as a Christian nation, led by white Christian men informing them and be guided to restore their literal reading of the Bible.
The goals of this group, commonly referred to as the Christian extreme right (or white Christian nationalists because of their association with racist groups and agendas), are to break down the barrier between church and state, to “Christianize” public schools and other government institutions, curtail women’s rights, deprive LGBTQ+ Americans of their basic liberties, and install a theocratic form of government in this country.
Today they are the soul of the Republican Party, helping to elect MAGA loyalists who support its political goals. While we may think that such goals are insufficient to ignite a religious war, we should remember that throughout the world’s bloody history religious conflicts have been less fought and that today the millions of Americans who believe violence are necessary to “save their country” are also among the private individuals who collectively own over 300 million guns in America.
Barbara F. Walter is Associate Professor of International Relations in the School of Global Policy and Strategy at the University of California, San Diego. In her book, How Civil Wars Start, she documents the universal conditions present at the outbreak of every civil war in modern history. One of the best predictors of whether a country will be involved in civil war is whether it is moving towards or away from full democracy. Countries in this middle zone are what experts refer to as “anocracies”. In their estimation, America slipped into the middle anocracy zone between 2016 and 2022. Since then, a host of other indicators have suggested that we may be headed for violent conflict.
A second American Civil War will not be fought in the open field by opposing armies, nor will it be merely an ideological struggle to determine who will take control. It’s far more likely to be a conflict in which numerous factions unite against a common enemy through shared distrust, shared hatred, and ingrained belief in the rightness of their beliefs. Fueled by the constant disinformation on social media, even the moderates in the ranks are being mobilized and joining the fight much as they did on January 6, 2021 when people of all stripes were sucked into the poisonous onslaught of an insurgency. Once these individuals and groups are convinced that there is no hope of solving “the problem” by conventional means, compromise will no longer be an option and conflict will become inevitable.
The January 6 riot was orchestrated and coordinated by three major militias: the Oath Keepers, the Proud Boys, and the Three-Percenters. It was blessed by white Christian nationalists who carried Bibles, Christian flags and signs that read “Jesus saves.” It was attended by tens of thousands of Americans from all walks of life, who were led to believe their country had been “stolen” from them.
As such, the January 6 “rally” was a potential harbinger of things to come. It was arguably the first mass gathering in American history at which disparate private, civic, political and religious groups representing a broad spectrum of America came together to demonstrate shared fear, hatred and determination. Threats to “hang” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Mike Pence were heard over the noise of the crowd. More than 150 police officers were injured, five of whom later died, as did two civilians involved in the melee. Authorities later revealed that protesters were in possession of thousands of guns at the time of the riot.
Founders James Madison and Alexander Hamilton believed that if American democracy were ever to die, it would be in the hands of native factions hungry for control. But who would have thought that they would carry a cross and sing “Onward Christian Soldiers” as they marched?
Don Gall is a retired United Church of Christ minister and an active member of Eugene’s First Congregational Church.