One individual inside the United States Capitol Building on Wednesday, January 6, screamed in anger at ITV reporter Robert Moore, “This is our house!” I think “our house” has become a type of slogan of the Christian Right to excuse or rationalize an intolerant and totalitarian attitude. I want to look at this a bit further.

“Our house” is in contrast to “the people’s house.” Abraham Lincoln said, “government of the people, by the people, and for the people.” He never said, “government of us, by us, and for us.” Abraham Lincoln lived in an age when the idea of the common good was still important and when government was first about the people of the nation. The age of Trumpism and the age of the Christian Right is about the factions of the nation.

In one way, it is right to say that the US Capitol is “our house” because all taxpayers support the functions of government and the Capitol is the house of Congress. However, this does not mean that the government is for my group or about a private good. Factions grow out of individuals or groups who think of government as a commodity. Factions are a sign of consumerism invading politics to cancel accountability to the common good. The consumer wants to get what is paid for, but when the consumer is racist or a Christian nationalist, then accountability to the common good is severely misrepresented as fascism. This is how the slogan “our house” represents a fascism that thinks it’s defending against fascism.

The situation is certainly more complicated than I am describing. Racism in America is tied to many extended problems within economic structures, social histories, white privilege, and innumerable other expressions of a cultural divide. Nevertheless, these matters rest upon the libertarian idea that government is a commodity in service of my limited appetite for its existence.

Who, then, is the “us” when someone yells, “This is our house?”

In Christian Right circles, the “us” is the misconstrued white Christian nationalist values of the founding fathers. But like most opinions formed on narrow assumptions, the question concerning who the founding fathers are is not asked. The assumption is that they are on our side, whoever “we” happen to be. In Christian Right circles, there is an obsession with pretending the founding fathers were Christians and that, as such, Christian nationalism is about protecting the true heritage of America.

Who are the founding fathers?  This question is like asking, what are the Christian gospels?

There are no founding fathers once you start to think about the question seriously, just like there are no “Christian gospels” once the question is opened.

If the fathers are those who signed both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, that makes a total of six. What about Thomas Payne? He did not sign either document, though he is a major figure at the birth of the United States. How about Thomas Jefferson and John Adams? They were part of George Washington’s first cabinet, but they bitterly disagreed and formed opposing political parties. How about people who refused to sign the first documents of independence? Do they count as founders? It is a complete misrepresentation of history to think that all “so-called” founders agreed.

These problems are similar to those raised about the Bible and Christianity. Why are the four canonical gospels given greater voice than the many noncanonical gospels? Is it not meaningful, even striking, that neither Jesus nor Paul was a Christian? What about apostles? Who gets to count as an apostle? We can clearly see in Galatians that Paul had to defend himself and his use of this title. The Didache, a teaching document from an early Christ community, has a hard time deciding who can have or not have the authority to teach. The trouble is the Didache community’s way of asking who counts as a founder.

My comments may seem scattered, but I hope they make the appropriate points. First, there is no “our house” in the United States and other democracies of the West. The houses of Parliament in the UK and Canada, the Assemblée Nationale in France, the Bundestag in Germany, and other Western seats of government are all houses of the people. They do not belong to factions, and they are not defined by the government of the day. They represent the common good.

Secondly, no democratic government is a commodity to be purchased, and no democratic government exists to support religious ideologies like the Christian Right or constitutional ideologies like originalism and textualism (the legal equivalents of fundamentalism). The common good requires a broad and inclusive social picture.

If religion is considered similarly, the Christian Right mistakes Christianity for a consumer product. The crucifixion of Jesus offers self-assurance and self-righteousness like salvation merchandise, and the price for this commodity is fervent belief. If you happen to lose fervent belief, as many do, the product “Jesus” expires like an out-of-date cellphone. Meanwhile, religion as the picture of an alternative world for the common good is impossible to imagine inside the experience of religion as consumerism.

Deconstructive questions that follow from recognizing there are no founding fathers and no founding gospels become threats to those for whom religion and politics are consumer products. The only antidote is the deconstruction of consumerism itself, which creates an opening for the horizon of the people to displace the horizon of the self.

It is clear to me that the mixture of religion as consumerism with the toxic elements of racism and sociopathy, which combine fundamentalism with politics, results in the arrogance and violence of January 6. I am not sure how successfully the United States can overcome this extremely divisive problem. I’m not sure whether the Republican Party can maintain unity along its present trajectory. And, most tragically for me personally, I’m not sure whether Christian is a word I can use anymore to describe myself and my sense of life.

David Galston

David Galston is the Executive Director of the Westar Institut.

Publications

Academic Credentials

  • Ph.D., McGill University
  • M. Div., Vancouver School of Theology
  • B. A., University of Winnipeg
Jodi Magness