Seven Mountains of B.S. (with Katherine Stewart)
The dangerous rise of Christian nationalism.
There is a belief among many Christian nationalists in the so-called Seven Mountains Mandate—7M, for short. The eponymous septet refers to the seven arenas that control society: family, religion, education, business, government, entertainment, and media. If Christian nationalists can infiltrate, take over, and dominate those seven “mountains,” the thinking goes, they will be able to transform the country into a patriarchal, homophobic, Christofascist monarchy—Saudi Arabia with crosses. You know, just like Jesus would have wanted. Not only that, but vanquishing the normies on the summits of those seven mountains will usher in the long-awaited End Times. And what could be more fun than that?
The “seven mountains” idea comes from the main primary source for New Testament conspiracy theory, the Book of Revelation—specifically, Revelation 17:9: “And here is the mind which hath wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains…”
What Revelations doesn’t say, but which should be obvious, is that the seven mountains are made of bullshit. Indeed, most Christians thought it was bullshit when the concept was first advanced by a trio of evangelists in 1975, not least because the next five words of Revelation 17:9 are “on which the woman sitteth,” which kind of blows up the whole “let’s establish an extremely misogynistic patriarchy” thing.
It was only in 2008, when C. Peter Wagner, an influential missionary and proponent of spiritual warfare, published Dominion: How Kingdom Action Can Change the World, that 7M entered the mainstream. In that book, “he said that when you take control of those seven spheres, it’s taking dominion back from Satan,” explains Katherine Stewart, author of The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism and my guest on today’ PREVAIL podcast. “The idea [is] that anything that is not dominated by conservative Christians of a certain variety is, like, literally dominated by Satan. So there’s just no idea of religious neutrality, no idea of pluralism—it’s us or pure evil.”
Here is part of a recent speech by a devout Christian that invokes the spirit of 7M:
They have already moved on to the radical denial of moral, religious, and family values. . . . Let me repeat that the dictatorship of the Western elites targets all societies, including the citizens of Western countries themselves. This is a challenge to all. This complete renunciation of what it means to be human, the overthrow of faith and traditional values, and the suppression of freedom are coming to resemble a “religion in reverse”—pure Satanism.
Maybe that explains why Christian nationalists dig Vladimir Putin so much. He speaks their language!
That the manic, QAnon-esque scribblings of a bitter, self-aggrandizing lunatic exiled to the miserable isle of Patmos during the first-century persecutions of the Roman emperor Domitian comprise some sort of absolute prophesy regarding a Second Coming 20 centuries later, needless to say, strains credulity. The fact that the people who believe this are generally the same folks who deny climate change, the efficacy of covid-19 vaccines, and Biden’s victory doesn’t do the 7M argument any favors. But that only makes the Christian nationalist movement more dangerous. I think they’re silly; they think I’m in league with the Devil.
Here are seven things about Christian nationalism I learned from my discussion with Katherine Stewart:
1/ It’s about power, not culture.
As Stewart writes in the introduction to The Power Worshippers:
For too long now America’s Christian nationalist movement has been misunderstood and underestimated. Most Americans continue to see it as a cultural movement centered on a set of social issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage, preoccupied with symbolic conflicts over monuments and prayers. But the religious right has become more focused and powerful even as it is arguably less representative. It is not a social or cultural movement. It is a political movement, and its ultimate goal is power.
If you don’t think these cats mean business, look at what they’ve done with the courts.
2/ Although there are many leaders, it’s leaderless.
On these pages, I’ve written a lot about Leonard Leo, the Federalist Society, and Opus Dei. Radical Catholics also want a Christofascist America, and find the diversity of the United States intolerable. As the Opus Dei priest Rev. C. John McCloskey 3d, that movement’s spiritual godfather, told the Boston Globe years ago: “Do I think it’s possible for someone who believes in the sanctity of marriage, the sanctity of life, the sanctity of family, over a period of time to choose to survive with people who think it’s okay to kill women and children or for—quote—homosexual couples to exist and be recognized? No, I don’t think that’s possible.”
But radical Catholics like Leo, Sam Alito, and Clarence Thomas have different ideas than Evangelicals like the late Waggoner and Ralph Drollinger. And those ideas are not the same as those of “The Family,” covered so well by Jeff Sharlet. And those ideas don’t hew exactly to Mormon doctrine. But there is enough common ground that these groups tend to work in concert to broadly get what they want.
“It’s leadership driven,” Stewart tells me, speaking of Christian nationalism. “It’s not driven by the rank and file. The agenda is set by leaders. But it’s more than that. It’s organization driven. So it doesn’t rely on any one particular leader, or small number of leaders.”
Oh, and they also have a fuck-ton of money.
3/ It’s puritanical in its theology.
“For many of them, demons are real,” Stewart tells me. “And I heard, at these conferences, Democrats and democratic organizations referred to as ‘demonic organizations,’ ‘pure evil.’” This is not like the Christian Democrats in Germany, who work with other political parties to govern. “This is a movement that actually demonizes its political enemies.”
As she writes in her book, Christian nationalism
does not seek to add another voice to America’s pluralistic democracy but to replace our foundational democratic principles and institutions with a state grounded on a particular version of Christianity, answering to what some adherents call a “biblical worldview” that also happens to serve the interests of its plutocratic funders and allied political leaders.
Christian nationalists brook no compromise, because compromise, to them, would literally be a deal with the Devil.
4/ It wants to eradicate the barrier between church and state.
The eminent theologian and legal scholar Lauren Boebert said it best: “The church is supposed to direct the government. The government is not supposed to direct the church. That is not how our Founding Fathers intended it. . . .I’m tired of this separation of church and state junk that’s not in the Constitution. It was in a stinking letter, and it means nothing like what they say it does.”
5/ It wants to eliminate public schools in favor of religious schools.
“I think to a largely underappreciated degree,” Stewart says, “a lot of the calls for religious liberty that we hear today are really a desire to claim a share of the public treasury.” Christian nationalists “want those church schools to be funded by you and me.”
These would be American madrassas. And the federal government—that is, the taxpayer—would underwrite them.
6/ It views Trump as God’s instrument.
Of the poster boy for the Seven Deadly Sins that occupied the White House for four years, Christian nationalists are remarkably chill. “You find very little wrangling with conscience,” Stewart says, because Christian nationalists think Trump was sent here by God. “So this idea that he’s kind of a paradoxical choice or a compromise is just wrong.”
“He didn’t just give them some goodies that they wanted,” she continues. “What made him powerful and compelling is that he was a big recruiter to this movement. A lot of his supporters frankly don’t have a whole lot of history of church attendance or religious observation, and now they’re calling themselves evangelical.” Christian nationalists, she says, equate Trump with the Biblical King Cyrus.
7/ It’s connected to the insurrection.
A large swath of Christian nationalists went all-in on the Big Lie, most notably Jim Garlow, a big wheel in the New Apostolic Restoration movement, who led a prayer service a week before January 6, 2021, for MAGA to “seize power.” As Rolling Stone reported:
In late 2020, Garlow saw the effort to overturn Joe Biden’s election to the presidency as divinely inspired. “This is good versus evil,” he said on a Dec 20 call featuring special guest Steve Bannon. “This is righteous people versus unrighteous people. This is a biblical theological situation we’re facing,” Garlow insisted. He argued that those seeking to return Trump to the White House were “following truth, righteousness, holiness, [and] biblical justice.”
Too, the non-criminals in Trump’s orbit who stuck around after the insurrection—most notably Pat Cipillone and Eugene Scalia—had a distinctly Opus Dei flavor. The Washington prayer service run by the influential Ralph Drollinger, which Stewart cites in her book, featured some of the most egregious traitors in the Trump administration: Alex Azar, who was nominally in charge of the catastrophic pandemic response; Alex Acosta, who led Jeffrey Epstein get off with a slap on the wrist; Jeff Sessions, a key early figure who reportedly met with Russians during the campaign; Rick Perry, who was all up in the shenanigans Trump was pulling in Ukraine; full-on traitor Mike Pompeo; the odious Betsey DeVos; and Mike Pence. And then there’s all the Ginni Thomas stuff.
But this paragraph in The Power Worshippers, which came out in 2019, really jumped out at me:
At a 2018 event at the Museum of the Bible…Representative Barry Loudermilk of Georgia exulted, “How many of you know that we have a church service every Wednesday night right here in the Capitol building?” Conference-goers, who filled the auditorium, nodded their heads and beamed back at him. “We have dozens of Bible studies that happen throughout the week,” Loudermilk continued. “We have ministers that do nothing but walk the halls of the office buildings and drop in and pray with members.”
It was Loudermilk, remember, who gave a tour of the Capitol the night before the insurrection.
The devil is in the details.
After sharing his thoughts about the Paul Pelosi attack and the election, Greg Olear talks to Katherine Stewart, author of “The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism,” about the organizational structure of the Christian nationalist movement, why Evangelicals love Trump, Leonard Leo, Ralph Drollinger, Seven Mountains Dominionism, and how to stop the fascist takeover. Plus: a song about Elmo.
Visit her website:
And thanks to @mommymouse007 for “Melon Husk.”
Photo credit: John on the Island of Patmos (f. 3r). “The Cloisters Apocalypse,” 1330.