By Lawrence Journal-World |

Theologian in residence explores Christian nationalism at Haskell event

photo by: Kathy Hanks

University of Washington professor James Wellman speaks to students at Haskell Indian Nations University Monday, March 25, 2019, on the topic of "Religion, Nationalism and Violence."

University of Washington professor James Wellman stood before students at Haskell Indian Nations University Monday afternoon and asked for a show of hands of how many thought Christianity was a peaceful religion.

No one raised a hand.

Then he asked if anyone in the room thought Christianity was a violent religion.

The hands shot up, with most of the audience of Native American students agreeing that Christianity was a movement of violence.

Wellman, chairman of the Comparative Religion Program at the University of Washington in Seattle, was in Lawrence as the 2019 Theologian in Residence. He was speaking to the Haskell students about “Religion, Nationalism and Violence” and the rise of white religious nationalism.

He acknowledged that many different points of view were present in the lecture hall, where every seat was taken and some people sat on the floor. He wanted to know how the audience generally perceived religion.

One older Native American in the room said religion was forced on her as a child. She was made to go to Catholic school, which was different from the religion she was learning from her family.

“That’s coercion,” Wellman said. “That is a form of violence.”

Giving some background on how our country evolved, he explained that “Civil Religion” was a movement that grew in the 1950s. It emphasized accepting different faiths and diversity. He contrasted that to today’s growing nationalism, which he said has its roots in the Old Testament and is linked to racial separation.

Wellman also spoke about the religious climate that led up to Donald Trump’s election as president.

“A survey soon after the 2016 election showed that adherence to Christian nationalist ideology was a robust predictor of voting for Trump,” Wellman said.

From the survey came five predictors of Trump support: white working class economic anxieties, misogyny, anti-black prejudice, fear of Islamic terrorism and xenophobia.

Wellman explained how Trump played on the notion that America was once a great nation but had rapidly disintegrated under the influence of Barack Obama, terrorism and immigration.

“He promised to restore America to its past glory, a point he made most clearly with his ubiquitous slogan emblazoned upon red hats. The catchphrase has even been refashioned into a Christian hymn,” Wellman said.

Wellman, an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), warned his audience to take seriously the growing Christian nationalism that pits people against one another.

Wellman reminded the students that religion is frequently used by demagogues to push their agendas.

He urged the audience to be engaged in the civic life of the country.

“I think this is one of the most critical times in our country’s history,” Wellman said. “If you are not engaged in the conversation, it’s irresponsible.”

Kaleb Proctor, a Haskell senior from Tahlequah, Okla., said Wellman presented a lot of important ideas.

“He showed how religion can be used for control,” said Proctor, a senior majoring in social work.

Cyrelle Franklin, a freshman from Yankton, S.D., said she appreciated Wellman’s discussion of how Christianity was forced on Native Americans.

“It was a violent religion at the time,” Franklin said.

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