Hobby Lobby is a successful business. Its stores are flush with craft and art supplies that cater to the enterprising scrapbooker, weaver, artist and home designer.
But the company found itself in the middle of another political controversy last week following an ad it published in several newspapers on July 4.
The ad quotes a number of historical figures from U.S. history. On the surface, it is just benign rhetoric, like many patriotic ads are during holidays.
But the ad has a deeper political meaning, say critics.
Taken together, the quotes in the ad seems to be saying that the U.S. is an exclusively "Christian nation" and should be governed only by Christians.
The ad seems to echo, perhaps indirectly, what many observers believe is a powerful political movement in the country, a movement called "Christian Nationalism."
None of this is exactly new. The role of religion in politics has long been controversial in the U.S.
There are several reasons for that.
First, many of the nation's early settlers came to the new continent in a bid to escape religious conformity and persecution in Europe and to have religious freedoms they couldn't enjoy in their homeland. Think the Pilgrims.
Second, many of the precepts found in the creation of the nation's governing laws have roots in Christian values, among other philosophical influences of the mid-1700s.
And then there was the unlikely outcome of the American Revolution and the birth of the nation. The colonies should not, at least on paper, have been able to win that war against the world's strongest military, the British.
The fact that our rebellion was successful is seen by many as nothing short of a divine act of God.
One example I've heard given several times is the 1776 Battle of Brooklyn. With his back against the East River and surrounded by superior British forces, George Washington was able to have his 9,000 soldiers escape across the river to Manhattan and live to fight another day. He had boats take soldiers across the river under the cover of darkness at night and when the sun rose the next morning, a sudden fog settled over the area to give him more time to secretly save the remainder of his forces left behind in Brooklyn. Some have argued that the fog was sent by God to allow Washington to survive and ultimately, defeat superior British forces and create a new nation.
All of this founding history eventually gave birth to the concept of "American exceptionalism."
That idea proposes that the U.S. is an exceptional country, unlike any previous country in history. With its tradition of freedom of expression, including religious expression, its successful economic model, its abundant natural resources and its unique culture, those who follow the idea of exceptionalism believe America is a special country.
This concept of exceptionalism is also linked to the idea in the 19th Century of "Manifest Destiny," a phrase that defined the nation's culture in the 1800s; that is, that Americans were destined to move and settle the western frontier, conquering hardships and expanding American culture and institutions. (This idea of expansion and rugged American individualism have become deeply ingrained in American social and political culture.)
Although the ideas of Manifest Destiny and American Exceptionalism gloss over some disturbing parts of our history — the brutal treatment of Native Americans and the anti-freedom legacy of slavery — they have advanced the idea of America as a "shining city on the hill" and a beacon of hope for the world.
It is a somewhat romanticized view of American history, but it is deeply engrained in our social and political culture.
From all of that has come the idea held by some that America is a nation created by God and by extension, Americans are God's chosen people. That is the essence of Christian Nationalism.
If being a "chosen people" sounds a little familiar, it is. It is an echo of the Biblical idea found in the Old Testament that Jews are God's chosen people and that Israel is God's chosen nation. That special bond between God and Jews has had a profound impact on the Jewish community's self-identity for thousands of years and is part-and-parcel to Judaism.
Now, the rise of Christian Nationalism in the U.S. challenges that concept by proclaiming America is God's chosen nation and Americans are His chosen people.
How much of that is anti-Semitic is impossible to measure, but Christian Nationalists have appropriated many of the symbols of Judaism for their own use.
The most glaring example of that are the Jericho Marches in Washington D.C. and other places where Christian Nationalists mimic the historical Jewish siege of Jericho, blowing the shofar (a Jewish horn) as they march around buildings.
The Jericho Marches began in the weeks after the November election and Trump's loss as a way to proclaim that the election was stolen from Trump and that God would intervene and restore him to power just as God destroyed the walls of ancient Jericho.
The Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol was in part a Jericho March.
This idea of Christian Nationalism is the vortex around which a lot of other fringe ideologies appear to be fusing.
Christian Nationalists have deified Donald Trump as a modern-day prophet sent by God to reclaim America as a Christian nation, a nation that, in their eyes, is being despoiled by evil forces, such as gay marriage, immigrants, abortion, gun control, Democrats and "liberals" in general.
This is bringing together a lot of existing right-wing groups, from white supremacy groups, anti-government militia groups, QAnon followers, anti-abortion groups and pro-gun organizations. While each of these groups have different agendas, they are being unified — to an extent — by the ideology of Christian Nationalism.
The other thing these groups have in common is a deep belief that the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump and that he should be restored to power. Christian Nationalism is the underlying current that is keeping that idea alive even months after the election is over.
All of this would only be of academic interest if the Christian Nationalist movement remained in the fringes. But it isn't. It has become increasingly mainstream, especially within the Republican Party.
Even before Trump came on the scene, some GOP leaders were proclaiming that America is a Christian nation and should be governed by Christians.
We've seen that with Georgia's 10th District Congressman Jody Hice, a former minister, who has made a number of Christian Nationalist comments, including one that says Muslims shouldn't enjoy First Amendment freedoms and that Christians have been "tricked" into believing in separation of church and state.
There is an increasing fusion of Christian Nationalist ideology and Republican political ideology. They have embraced each other and now have a common enemy around which to rally their forces, the enemy being those who "stole" the election from Donald Trump.
Christian Nationalism is mainstream.
This doesn't reflect all Christians, of course.
A lot of mainstream Christian leaders have spoken out against the movement as being a perversion of real Christianity.
Christian Nationalism is a political movement wrapped in a religious toga; it is not religion, but is the use of religion to achieve political goals.
Still, social media has given a way for the movement to unify and to spread its message. Warnings by religious leaders are, by and large, falling on deaf ears.
All of this defines the basic division of American politics as we go into the 21st century.
Christian Nationalists and those who sympathize with the movement believe the nation should be governed only by Christian leaders and that Christianity should be infused throughout the culture, from education to the legal system to the media and entertainment. They see the nation as nothing less than an instrument of God on Earth and that anything or anyone who disagrees with that view is "evil."
On the other side are the "secular progressives" who want the nation to be governed by more ethnic and religious diversity and who want to keep American institutions secular and away from overt religious control.
It is politics, but it's also the basic underpinning of the nation's ideological cultural war. Liberals are wrong to think modern American politics is governed just by racial issues — that has some impact, but this Christian vs. secular fight is much bigger.
And history shows that when you paint political disagreements with a religious brush, bad things eventually happen.