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'Ohio has a particular appetite for Christian Nationalism,' group says

Doug Pagitt, executive director of Vote Common Good, speaks at Central Christian Church in Springfield
Chris Welter
/
WYSO
Doug Pagitt, executive director of Vote Common Good, speaks at Central Christian Church in Springfield

A group called Vote Common Good that targets evangelicals who are not comfortable with extreme right-wing politics held a public training at Central Christian Church in Springfield for about 20 people last week.

Their stop was part of a tour across the midwest leading up to the midterm elections where they are warning about, and telling people of faith to confront, what they consider to be the dangers of something called Christian Nationalism and its influence on US politics.

Christian Nationalism is the belief that the United States was established as a Christian nation so the government has an obligation to support the Christian faith through its laws and structures.

Some scholars say Christian Nationalists often want to preserve the historical status quo by implementing homophobic, racist and sexist laws.

Right-wing Republican Politicians like Lauren Boebert, Mayra Flores and Marjorie Taylor Greene have all embraced Christian Nationalists ideals.

That’s worrisome for Doug Pagitt–a longtime evangelical pastor from Minnesota and executive director of Vote Common Good.

“We're very convinced that Ohio has a particular appetite for Christian Nationalism and there’s a high threat level of it taking root here,” Pagitt said in an interview with WYSO after the training last week.

Vote Common Good formed in 2018 after 81% of white evangelicals cast their vote for Republican Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election— compare that to 40 years earlier in 1976 when Democrat Jimmy Carter got about half of the total evangelical vote.

Vote Common Good's tour bus
Chris Welter
/
WYSO
The Vote Common Good tour bus

Pagitt said his group is non-partisan and encourages people to vote based on their conscience instead of along party lines. With that being said, all of the Vote Common Good’s endorsed candidates in Ohio are Democrats–the group does a reverse process where candidates self-select to take to the Vote Common Good endorsement pledge.

“It's curious that no Republican candidates have selected to be endorsed by a group that wants to say no to Christian nationalism,” he said. “So we're not trying to blame them for us being partisan, but they're not picking us.”

Vote Common Good’s mission shifted from just trying to get evangelicals to vote based on their consciences to also confronting Christian Nationalism after the deadly January 6 insurrection at the Capitol. Pagitt said that some of the insurrectionists took the actions they did that day because of their Christian Nationalists ideals–he cited this video from a New Yorker reporter where some of the rioters led a prayer inside the capitol building.

Vote Common Good staff now tour the country in a van that said, “Faith, Hope & Love” on one side, “Not Insurrections and Christian Nationalism” on the other. Pagitt said the solution to Christian Nationalism is for people of faith who think it is a problem to speak up in their church communities against it.

That’s what his two hour long presentation in an evangelical sanctuary in Springfield was all about. Attendees there learned how to “empathetically engage and talk” with people who might believe in Christian nationalism.

At the end of the night, people who felt compelled by Vote Common Good’s pitch were asked to sign their name on the side of the tour bus with a sharpie. Hundreds of signatures already dotted the side of the bus.

The group’s next stop was in Hershey, Pennsylvania.

Chris Welter is a reporter and corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.

Chris Welter is an Environmental Reporter at WYSO through Report for America. In 2017, he completed the radio training program at WYSO's Eichelberger Center for Community Voices. Prior to joining the team at WYSO, he did boots-on-the-ground conservation work and policy research on land-use issues in southwest Ohio as a Miller Fellow with the Tecumseh Land Trust.