‘God & Country’ Documents the Christian Nationalist Takeover of Evangelicalism | Sojourners

‘God & Country’ Documents the Christian Nationalist Takeover of Evangelicalism

A scene from 'God & Country,' Oscilloscope Laboratories

When you watch a documentary that espouses a specific political perspective, it’s easy to wonder, “Who is this for?” Often, no matter how well they’re made, political documentaries preach to the choir, hitting talking points that make their already-on-board audience nod in shared rage or smug satisfaction, while alienating the very people whose minds they’re trying to change. The new documentary God & Country, inspired by Katherine Stewart’s book The Power Worshippers, fortunately escapes most of the major pitfalls of political documentaries as it addresses the rise of Christian nationalism.

This is largely because director Dan Partland and producer Rob Reiner understand that both progressives and conservatives are concerned about the attitudes that led people to elect Donald Trump as president and storm the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. The film, which is in theaters Feb. 16, presents a useful explanation of Christian nationalism’s takeover of evangelical culture, the loudly proclaimed lies at its heart, and hope for how socially minded Christians and concerned people from across religious and political spectrums can respond to it.

God & Country serves as a crash-course in how this hyper-conservative, white-dominant minority — one that doesn’t represent the values of most Christians or even most evangelicals according to the film’s data — came to be such an effectively vocal voting bloc. The film also analyzes the movement’s frequently espoused talking points, such as the U.S. being founded as a Christian nation, an oft-repeated line by Christian nationalists that has no basis in historical fact.

Perhaps most importantly, God & Country addresses the threats the Christian nationalist movement poses to democracy, national discourse, and the health of Christianity. More than that, it helps Christian and non-Christian viewers alike understand that this movement is one they can easily stand against, and that vocal, united opposition of the kind that defined the church during the Civil Rights Movement is more important than ever. 

Partland has assembled an impressive panel of experts to help viewers navigate these waters. VeggieTales co-creator Phil Vischer and his Holy Post Podcast co-host Skye Jethani discuss the alienation they’ve felt as evangelicals who no longer recognize their church. Jesus and John Wayne author Kristin Kobes Du Mez addresses the culture of Christian nationalism and its more recent history. Evangelical leader Rob Schenck and Christianity Today editor-in-chief Russell Moore, the former head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Comission, tackle the differences between conservatism as they’ve known it and conservatism as it manifests in the Christian nationalist movement and the leaders who identify as part of it. Authors Reza Aslan and Jemar Tisby address the movement’s origins in racism and segregation.

Activists Sister Simone Campbell and Rev. William J. Barber II share their personal perspectives on LGBTQ+ rights and caring for immigrants and refugees. They also speak to the complex nature of issues like abortion, which the most vitriolic members of the religious right have flattened into binaries. Campbell’s perspective as a Catholic sister, lawyer, and social justice advocate is particularly poignant. She discusses her experience representing a young, pregnant sexual assault victim, which helped her understand that the issue of unwanted pregnancy impacts individuals in ways that can’t be painted in broad strokes. 

For viewers already aware of Christian social justice movements, the film’s familiar faces let you know you’re in trustworthy territory. For those who aren’t, or for non-Christians whose recent exposure to the church has turned them further away, God & Country invites them in with its informative breakdown of a hot political issue — Christian nationalism — and the spectrum of public and religious leaders who oppose it.

God & Country also offers space for more conservative viewers. Leaders like Schenck and Moore, and writers and commentators like The New York Times’ David French and Bulwark editor-at-large Charlie Sykes, balance out the film’s otherwise progressive-leaning cast of experts. Schenck, a former anti-abortion activist and the subject of Abigail Disney’s 2016 film The Armor of Light, discusses in detail first using Trump as a sermon illustration in the 1990s of how a Christian ought not to be, then watching, stunned, in 2016 as his colleagues claimed Trump had been “divinely ordained” to revive the country.

There is a lot of fear-mongering in God & Country of the kind that those of us who spend any time reading the news and on social media platforms could potentially do with less of for the sake of mental health. However, it’s commendable that the film takes this problem seriously and practically, providing a sense of hope for those of us given to despair. There are solutions to create a better way forward, it tells us, and the biggest one is to get out and vote. Partland takes great pains to illustrate the ways conservative radicals took advantage of low voter turnout to advance their agendas.

As we mobilize our communities, it’s just as important to seek out and build spiritual spaces that are dedicated to protecting vulnerable people and standing against injustice. As Barber points out, there is an opportunity right now for the church to reveal itself as the beloved community that many of us were raised to believe in. “If we do this right,” he says in the film’s closing interview, “what a country we will be.”