UPDATE (May 25, 2022, 10:00 a.m. EST): Kandiss Taylor lost her primary on Tuesday night to incumbent Gov. Brian Kemp.
This weekend, ahead of her GOP primary race on Tuesday, rabid Trumpist and current Georgia gubernatorial candidate Kandiss Taylor was filmed giving a confused but fiery speech. She claimed that the Constitution states that traitors must be put to death by firing squad (which it very much does not.) She also said she is ready to “handcuff” local sheriffs who are insufficiently conservative or betray the Constitution. As she delivered her spiel, Taylor stood in front of a van emblazoned with the words “Jesus Guns Babies.”
The “Jesus Guns Babies” slogan provoked a good bit of mockery, for obvious reasons. The whole thing seems like a ludicrous parody.
Taylor’s message is grotesque, but it’s not original, contradictory, or very surprising. As Thomas Lecaque, a professor of history at Grand View University, said on Twitter, Taylor’s message is “just incredibly overt, loud, and clear Christian nationalism.”
In mainstream discourse, there’s a tendency to frame white Christian nationalism as an outlier, or a puzzle: Christianity is a religion of love and humility, so how can Christians see guns as a sacrament or Trump as a savior? Elizabeth Bruenig (a former evangelical convert to Catholicism) summed up the perceived contradiction when she noted that “Trump’s less-than-Christian behavior seemed, paradoxically, to make him a more appealing candidate to beleaguered, aggravated Christians.”
But is Trump’s behavior really “less-than-Christian”? That depends. Christianity in many places throughout history, and certainly in the U.S., has been used as an instrument of violence and dominion, rather than as a force for liberation and healing.
Is Trump’s behavior really “less-than-Christian”? That depends.
White colonists in the Americas used Biblical verses to justify the practice of slavery, interpreting the story of the curse of Ham as justification for enslaving Black people. Similarly, white people believed that their Christian religion made them superior to Indigenous people and entitled to their land.
Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall specifically codified this idea in the Discovery Doctrine. In his 1823 majority opinion, Marshall argued that “the character and religion of [Native Americans] afforded an apology for considering them as a people over whom the superior genius of Europe might claim an ascendency… To leave them in possession of their country was to leave the country a wilderness.” (Added emphasis mine.)
Georgian GOP hopeful Kandiss Taylor is repeating Marshall’s logic in even more horrific form. In another campaign speech, she claimed that the Founding Fathers took Native American land and destroyed Native American homes in order to grant people (i.e. Christians) the right to “worship Jesus freely.” Genocide is framed here as a necessary Christian process; Native American “sacrifice” is a blood offering. There is no contradiction between “Jesus” and “Guns” when genocide is a holy origin myth.
The Christian worship of “Babies” also has an ugly legacy. Evangelical right-wing Christian identity in the U.S. is today closely tied to opposition to abortion. But historians have documented that when Roe was passed in 1973, conservative white Christians weren’t especially mobilized around abortion. The issue that really fired them up was school segregation.
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At the time, the government was threatening to strip tax-exempt status from segregated religious schools like Bob Jones University. They saw government integration as an attack on religious liberty, just as conservative evangelicals today claim that baking cakes for a gay wedding is an attack on their “freedoms.”
An open Christian fight for segregation was viewed as too unpopular and ugly in the mid-70s. So instead conservative Christian nationalists decided to organize around the “right to life.”
But an open Christian fight for segregation was viewed as too unpopular and ugly in the mid-70s. So instead conservative Christian nationalists decided to organize around the “right to life” to build a voting bloc. Saving fetuses via abortion was seen as a more acceptable way of keeping white children safe from contamination. “Babies,” as a white Christian nationalist principle, is inseparable from racist purity.
Christianity and white nationalism remain intertwined in the current conservative movement’s politics of childhood. On the one hand, conservatives celebrate the imminent end of abortion rights and the chance to force pregnant people to carry to term under penalty of law. On the other hand, conservatives like Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green have been attacking the Biden administration for daring to provide baby formula to immigrant children detained at the border.
This is not how you show your love for all God’s children. It’s a white Christian nationalist philosophy of eugenic dominance.
“Jesus Guns Babies” is not a joke and not a sign of confusion. It’s simply a summation of one powerful strand of religious belief in the United States, which stretches from John Marshall to Bob Jones University to Trump himself. Taylor is not doing well in polls for the governor’s race, thankfully. But the theology she embraces retains outsize cultural and political influence. And as long as it does, Christianity in the U.S. will unfortunately, for many, symbolize not mercy and love, but violence and power.