Home Christian News In North Idaho, Religious and Secular Activists Work To Fight Christian Nationalism

In North Idaho, Religious and Secular Activists Work To Fight Christian Nationalism

Christian nationalism
Josiah Mannion speaks during a board meeting of the Community Library Network at the library in Post Falls, Idaho, in February 2023. Video screen grab via Twitter/@IdahoTribune

COEUR D’ALENE, Idaho (RNS) — Last month, dozens of activists packed into a small room in the Post Falls library for a board meeting of the Community Library Network. Some came to defend the library, but video of the meeting suggests most were there to condemn administrators for allowing children access to what they insisted were “pornographic” books.

As at other protests, part of a nationwide conservative movement targeting public libraries, speakers at the meeting in Post Falls repeatedly intermingled their three-minute speeches with appeals to Christian faith, and to the Bible as the ultimate moral arbiter. One critic scolded the board for promoting content that affirms LGBTQ people instead of other books “such as the Bible, such as Christian things, such as American things, such as patriotic things.”

When Josiah Mannion, a local photographer and activist representing the newly formed Community Library Network Alliance, rose to speak in defense of the library, he cast his objections in terms of Christian nationalism.

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“Those leading this attack on the libraries, both locally and nationally, can be directly linked to patriarchal white Christian nationalism,” Mannion began.

Suddenly, the room erupted into insults, with one person shouting “Shut the f— up!” A board member repeatedly implored the crowd to let Mannion speak. As others followed him to support the librarians, the detractors didn’t settle down, sparking heated exchanges throughout the meeting. At some point, police were called.

Afterward, Mannion said he should have expected the outburst, but admitted, “I didn’t see it coming.”

But Alicia Abbott, a pro-democracy activist in Idaho and longtime critic of Christian nationalism, wasn’t surprised. “This is quite the common occurrence,” Abbott told Religion News Service in a message this week. “I have been given the gavel and heckled several times myself for using terms like Christian nationalism or asking questions of accountability in both local public comment and state public testimony.”

Devotees of far-right politics have flocked to this part of Idaho and the surrounding states for decades, and for as long they have met resistance — including from faith leaders. Among the broad constellation of activists, elected officials and everyday locals pushing back is Episcopal Bishop Gretchen Rehberg, whose Diocese of Spokane stretches from eastern Washington across much of North Idaho and into western Montana. Recalling her childhood in Moscow, Idaho, Rehberg told RNS she remembers locals speaking out as extremists — particularly white nationalists — attempted to establish enclaves in the past.

But recent years have seen a renewed influx of Christian nationalism to the area, particularly among some fleeing liberal politics in California and other blue states. The latest groundswell has unsettled Rehberg, in part because she sees modern Christian nationalism as overlapping with older forms of white nationalism.

“I’ve been very concerned at what I see as the very deliberate, intentional recruitment of folks into North Idaho that support a white nationalism, Christian nationalism viewpoint,” she said.

Things came to a head last September, when news broke that the ReAwaken America tour, a traveling roadshow featuring self-declared Christian nationalists and prominent members of former President Donald Trump’s inner circle, was planning an event in Post Falls. As the date neared, Rehberg published a scathing editorial in a local newspaper.

“Christian nationalism is heresy for Christians and dangerous rhetoric for all Americans,” Rehberg wrote. “To state that is not a denial of Christianity, or a denigration of patriotism, rather the call to a proper relationship between church and state.”

Rehberg teamed up with Faithful America, a national activist group, to stage a “Christians Against Christian Nationalism” protest the same day as the Reawaken America event. She was joined by a slate of faith leaders from across the region.

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“I stand in opposition to the use of the gospel for political gain,” the Rev. Sheryl Kinder-Pyle, a Presbyterian leader, told the crowd during the even

In Rehberg’s hometown of Moscow, Pastor Doug Wilson, a well-known purveyor of Christian nationalism who has helped found two churches in the area, as well as a K-12 school and a college, has talked about making Moscow “a Christian town.” With a public university campus and a tradition of independent thinkers, Moscow seems unlikely to fulfill Wilson’s vision. And some of the pastor’s biggest detractors are fellow Christians: Local Episcopal leaders, Rehberg said, have had “significant conversations” with other mainline Christian leaders about how to be an “alternative voice.”