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North Adams, Williamstown Churches to Hold Jan. 6 Events to Oppose Christian Nationalism
By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires Staff
08:42AM / Wednesday, January 05, 2022
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol was a reminder for many Americans of the violence associated with extremist political movements.
For some, like Williamstown's Betsy Burris, the riot revealed a particularly disturbing undercurrent of the movement that fueled the insurrection.
"There was an obvious problem that I, personally, hadn't noticed before: this conflation of Christianity and nationalism and the idea that self-proclaimed patriotic people use Christian symbols like Jesus on the cross to justify their anti-democratic behavior.
"There were some really obvious images from the insurrection of people carrying crosses and bearing flags. There was this notion that they are acting on behalf of Jesus – even this implication, and this is a QAnon thing, that they're following some sort of deity, Donald Trump, in subverting democracy.
"The images were there. I don't think I noticed them."
But Burris and a handful of other members of Williamstown's First Congregational Church spent the last year learning about how extreme right-wing groups have co-opted the images and language of Christianity.
To raise awareness of and combat that strategy, the group plans a "standout" to oppose Christian nationalism on the steps of the Main Street church on Thursday from noon to 1 p.m.
The event will be one of more than 200 at congregations across the country, including down the road at  First Congregational Church North Adams.
Burris said this week that the committee exploring the issue at Williamstown's church came together fairly quickly in the aftermath of the Jan. 6 insurrection. The whole congregation swiftly voted to purchase a full-page advertisement in The Berkshire Eagle condemning the attack, and by mid-March, the church had pulled together an interfaith webinar titled "Christian Nationalism: How it Harms Us All."
"These actions do not represent true Christian values," the Rev. Mark Seifried of First Congregational Church said in a news release announcing the webinar. "Christians and people of all faiths must speak out against the hijacking of the basic values of all faiths and the separation of church and state in America."
The webinar featured a panel of speakers that included Christian ministers like Seifried, Imam Bilal Ansari and Rabbi Pamela Wax of White Plains, N.Y.
"Christian nationalism is not new to this moment in American history," Wax said in the March news release. "What's new is the growing recognition of its adverse repercussions, past, present and future. Our spiritual work necessitates affirming and teaching that every human being is, indeed, created in the divine image."
That message of unity, regardless of one's faith or lack thereof, is echoed in some of the messages First Congregational Church North Adams suggested participants include on signs to bring to its standout on Thursday: "God Created Our Rainbow Humanity, "All Religions Welcome in the U.S.," and "God Alone Is Supreme. Whiteness Is Not."
"We ask that you join with us in body and/or spirit to signal your belief in an inclusive God and a government of the people, by the people, and for the people," the North Adams invitation states.
Burris said that before she started looking into the issue of Christian nationalism, she was inclined to see people "doing crazy things while carrying religious symbols" as part of a fringe element. But she now believes that they are part of a larger pattern of conflating nationalist and Christian strains in American society.
She points to the Pledge of Allegiance, originally penned as a strictly civil statement in 1892 but amended in the 1950s, at the height of McCarthyism, to include the phrase "under God."
"Many people who identify as Christian don't recognize the problem," Burris said. "I'm sure a lot of people who are Jewish or Muslim are super aware of it. But for someone like me, Jan. 6 opened my eyes. My assumption of a nation with a separation of church and state is not true for a lot of people."
It is important, she said, for people who do identify as Christian to be on the front lines against the growth of Christian nationalism.
"We are Christians," Burris said. "We are a Christian church. And we have to call out this fusion and conflation that's really discouraging and frightening because it's anti everything Jesus stood for.
"Christian nationalism is a perversion of Christianity. It's our responsibility to make that point."
The standout against Christian nationalism will be held from noon to 1 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 6, at the First Congregational Church of Williamstown at 906 Main St. and First Congregational Church North Adams at 134 Main St.
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