On Sept. 3, the well-known televangelist Rick Joyner appeared on the Jim Bakker Show and made a frightening and treasonous statement. Even though televangelist Jim Bakker is a convicted fraudster who has spent time in prison, his show today is broadcast on over a dozen Christian TV networks across the United States. This is a sizable audience, in the millions. So, what is preached on the Jim Bakker Show is widely disseminated and has an impact on the American public.
On this show, Rick Joyner stated flatly: “The Second Amendment is linked to militias. We were meant to have militias throughout the country to defend our communities.” And further, “If Christians don’t get involved in things like that (militias) the wrong people will get in.” And concluding with a call to arms, “We are entering a time for war and we need to mobilize.”
Among other things, let me mention the most simple first: It seems quite clear to me his words constitute the legal definition of treason. Treason is a crime that occurs when a person wages war, or encourages/incites others to wage war, against one’s native country. This can be done in cooperation with a foreign power or in cooperation with a faction within one’s own country. It is a heinous abuse of free speech that a man as famous as Rick Joyner can speak this way and not be prosecuted — especially when our country is as divided against itself as it is today.
Of course, those troublesome militias referred to in the Second Amendment were not of a religious nature, but it is a stroke of genius for Joyner to join his fundamentalist Christian End-of-Days message with the famous clause: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Joyner and Bakker are both “Dominionists,” meaning they insist the only true and just form of government for the United States is one that conforms to their evangelical fundamentalist Protestant understanding of the Bible.
Joyner has now gone so far as to encourage and incite like-minded Christians to take up arms “to defend our communities.” Of course, as any first-year law school student can tell you, the line between defensive and offensive violence is often exceedingly fine and wide open to interpretation. That’s the rub.
One of the most baffling and disturbing aspects of American evangelical fundamentalist Christianity is its total lack of historical awareness. The Reformation, thrust into motion by Luther and the Electors of Saxony in 1517, gave rise to over 100 years of religious and civil wars from 1524—1648. It took the great Treaty of Westphalia, signed in 1648 in northern Germany, to bring the violence under control. At least 10 million Europeans died in those wars. It was just a little over a hundred years after Westphalia that the United States was formed. The memory of those religious wars was still fresh in our Founding Fathers’ minds. The last thing they would ever have encouraged was for armed militias to be formed for religious purposes.
Yet, here we are in 2019 with a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant man yet again calling for “Christians” (that is, his specific type of Christians) literally to take up arms. This is exactly, I repeat, exactly, how religious and civil wars start. And the way things are going in the U.S. right now, heading into the 2020 elections, this could be the spark that sets off a conflagration.
When do freedom of religion and freedom of speech cross the line? This is a question we have to ask ourselves right now, before it is to late. We happen to have a president who has proven himself to be more than willing to condone violence as long as it may please part of his “base.”
The Christian Militia Movement is the proverbial accident of epic proportions waiting to happen. To allow it any protection via the Second Amendment is suicide for our nation. People will die. Many people will die. Even worse, the End-of-Days preachers (such as Joyner and Bakker, among many others) preach that these deaths are simply necessary and fore ordained. These deaths are the necessary purging of the Earth, the Tribulation, and a Holy Battle foretold via a particular, ill educated and misguided reading of the Book of Revelation.
It is one thing to make recourse to the Second Amendment to establish the right of gun ownership for guaranteeing citizens can defend themselves against oppression from the state’s (or a foreign state’s) over reaching its authority. It is quite another thing altogether to make recourse to the Second Amendment to encourage Christians to arm themselves in preparation for a religious war — a war, it is clearly implied, against the evil secular state and against those evil people who do not share your brand of religion.
We have come to a point where our airwaves — which belong to all the citizens of the United States, by the way, and are administered by our government — are being used (or rather abused) to incite, or at least, condone, internal violence perpetrated by Christian militias. If this is not all the evidence we need to show that dominionist evangelical fundamentalism is our nation’s Taliban, I don’t know what is. At the same time, the current Republican Party and our current president seem more than willing to accommodate this extremism in order to maintain political power.
I wish I could say I don’t want to be alarmist. I cannot say that. I do want to be alarmist. I think this merging of the Christian militia movement with Second Amendment “rights” is the most dangerous thing that has happened to our nation since the Civil War.
We have to stop it in its tracks. Now.
John Nassivera is a former professor who retains affiliation with Columbia University’s Society of Fellows in the Humanities. He lives in Vermont and part-time in Mexico