Katherine Stewart deftly explains the intersection of Christian evangelism and political power in The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism. She breaks down the history, the people, organizations, goals, and the tactics. For the first time, I’m completely clear on the way billionaire power brokers are breaking through the separation of church and state. And it’s scary as hell.

Stewart begins with how this radical movement harnesses the power of pulpits around the world. Despite starting in the United States, its goal is worldwide power. And this is a political movement, as she makes abundantly clear. It’s not grassroots, but rather comes from those with plenty of money and a hunger for control.

In order for churches to maintain their IRS tax-exempt status, pastors can’t campaign for specific candidates. However, the power brokers in this movement supply massive pastor networks with “voter’s guides.” Each locally-focused guide details candidate positions. Then it separates those with “biblical values” from “liberal humanists.” Throughout, pastors make very clear to their congregations that the only righteous choice is the former. It’s a single, carefully calculated step away from a prohibited campaign for a specific candidate.

Their perspective on women and children

Women are secondary citizens in Christian nationalism. And, despite some Orwellian double speak, there’s no equality between the sexes in this world. For these men, power starts at the broadest political level and continues down to individual families. Men have power, and women are always subordinate. Even though they keep home, children, and life in order for said men. Stewart explains how these beliefs impact women’s health, reproductive rights, and their control of their own lives.

I certainly thought that the anti-choice movement was at the forefront of Christian nationalism. Stewart explains the nuanced way they included it in their platforms. Not quite as straightforward as I thought. She also explains how the religious beliefs of Catholic health systems routinely endanger women’s lives.

As for children, Stewart lays bare the deeper purposes behind the “school choice” movement, including vouchers and charter schools. Religious nationalism is beginning to inculcate their beliefs in elementary school children. And they’re using our tax dollars to do it.

Christian nationalism and the LGBTQIA+ community

Not surprisingly, pastors and power brokers in this movement demonize anyone who isn’t cis-gender, binary, and heterosexual. They fight incredibly hard against LGBTQIA+ rights. One particular pastor is a “former” gay man and now helps “convert” others. He’s a rising star in the movement, and Stewart is given access to him and his presentations.

Christian nationalism and Black oppression

The power brokers in this movement date back to pre-Civil War, slavery days. Wow, does this connection make this a relevant book for anyone desiring to be allies for the Black community. The men who head today’s Christian nationalist movement draw directly on the writings of slave owners and anti-abolitionist activists. Stewart clearly draws the connections, and I was gobsmacked.

My conclusions

To say this book shook me is a small understatement. It gives background and underpinnings to the “mysteries” of the 2016 election. And more than anything, it’s about gathering power and using people’s belief set to move your own life upward.

It’s important to say that not all Christians or evangelicals support this movement. But the people behind it have mountains of money, and they know how to use it. It’s spent in campaign contributions, from local to national races. The men behind it organize Bible study groups in the halls of most U.S. legislatures. And its slick propaganda is sent around the world.

Stewart explains that these “power worshippers” aren’t building on our founding fathers’ democratic principles. They’re twisting them to serve their own purposes, which lead far away from true citizen-centered politics. I’ll leave you with one quote from Stewart:

“Today’s Christian nationalists talk a good game about respecting the Constitution and America’s founders, but at bottom they prefer autocrats to democrats.”

Chilling, right? I recommend this book and will be telling people about it for months and years to come. If you want to understand the dark underbelly of religion and politics, this is a great place to start.

Pair it with The Handmaid’s Tale (show or book) by Margaret Atwood, for a frightening fictional vision that seems more possible every day. Or try it alongside The Soul of America by Jon Meacham for a historical perspective.