The Christian Nationalist Machine Turning Hate Into Law
Jason Rapert has likened himself to an Old Testament seer, conveying hard truths on behalf of an angry God. On his broadcast Save the Nation, the 50-year-old preacher and former Arkansas state senator calls himself a “proud” Christian Nationalist, insisting: “I reject that being a Christian Nationalist is somehow unseemly or wrong.”
Long a shadowy force in American politics, Christian Nationalism is having a coming out party. The movement seeks a fusion of fundamentalist theology with American civic life. “They believe that this country was founded for Christians like them, generally natural-born citizens and white,” says Andrew Whitehead, author of Taking America Back for God: Christian Nationalism in the United States. Whitehead emphasizes that the danger of Christian Nationalism to democracy is that the movement “sees no room for compromise — their vision must be the one that comes to pass.”
Thanks to Rapert, the Christian Nationalist movement now commands a burgeoning political powerhouse, the National Association of Christian Lawmakers. A first-of-its-kind organization in U.S. history, NACL advances “biblical” legislation in America’s statehouses. These bills are not mere stunts or messaging. They’re dark, freedom-limiting bills that, in some cases, have become law.
NACL’s impact has already been felt nationally. The group played a significant role in the legal fight that culminated in the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade. NACL member Bryan Hughes, who serves in the Texas legislature, led passage of S.B. 8, the bounty-hunter bill that all-but outlawed abortion in Texas by allowing private citizens to sue women who terminate pregnancies after six weeks, and their doctors, in civil court.
By the time that bill passed in Texas in Sept. 2021, it had been adopted by NACL as model legislation. The reproductive-rights group NARAL later tracked copycat legislation in more than a dozen states. Rapert takes substantial credit for that spread: “NACL was the first and only para-legislative organization in the country to adopt the Texas methodology as a model law,” he tells Rolling Stone, “and we promoted it to be passed in every state.”
The NACL logo is a crusader’s shield: red emblazoned with a white cross. Rapert says the red represents “the blood of Jesus Christ, shed on the cross as a sacrifice for the salvation of all humanity.” The emblem, he says, is meant to evoke the biblical “shield of faith” that promises to “extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.”
Yet far from the defensive posture suggested by its shield, NACL is unabashedly on the offense. Rapert brags that NACL is at “the forefront of the battles to end abortion in the individual states” and also seeks to drive queer Americans back into the closet. “For far too long,” Rapert insists, “we have allowed one political party in our nation to hold up Sodom and Gomorrah as a goal to be achieved rather than a sin to be shunned.”
Today, NACL has legislative members in 31 states, and touts a dozen “model laws” that its members can introduce “in legislative bodies around the country.” NACL previously made four of its model laws public — including the Texas-style anti-abortion bill and a bill to mandate the display of “In God We Trust” in public buildings.
Rapert would not share NACL’s current legislative lineup, though he promised the group’s website would soon be updated with its model bills “posted for public viewing.” Meantime, Rapert shared that NACL’s top priorities include the fight to block “radical LGBTQ indoctrination in our public schools” and to halt “radical transgender ideology and irreversible genital mutilation of minor children.”
With a national agenda and a state-by-state focus, NACL is emulating the American Legislative Exchange Council. An infamous corporate front group, ALEC pioneered the strategy of pushing for national political goals by advancing carbon-copy bills through state legislatures. But where ALEC serves far-right billionaire masters and polluting special interests, NACL sees itself as serving the Lord on high. Rapert has touted NACL as “basically ALEC from a biblical worldview.”
Founded in Aug. 2020, NACL is tied to top Christian spiritual and political leaders. The group’s advisory board includes onetime presidential candidate Mike Huckabee — the former governor of Arkansas and father of the new governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders — Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, Family Research Council president Tony Perkins, and Mat Staver, president of Liberty Counsel. (Liberty Counsel is a frequent litigant before the Supreme Court; the head of its ministry, Rolling Stone exposed, bragged of praying with SCOTUS justices.)
Rapert declares that America was founded as a “Judeo-Christian nation.” And he believes that from the moment the founding fathers “dedicated this nation to God” that “Satan and his forces [have] put a target on the United States of America, trying to take us out.”
Rapert sees America embroiled in “a spiritual struggle that is predicted and prophesied in the 66 books of the bible.” He rails against the separation of church and state as a myth, and insists that America’s struggles with debt and division are the result of straying from a Godly path. To regain heavenly favor, he says, the country must free itself from the “yoke of bondage [to] the LGBTQ movement…and the abortion movement.”
Typical of Rapert’s political views, in December, NACL called on Congress to reject the Respect for Marriage Act, which now requires all states honor the marriage licenses of same-sex couples. Rapert condemned the act as “Satan dressed up as a family man” arguing the law “demands respect for every kind of marriage except the only acceptable one — the sacred union of one man and one woman.”
Rapert accuses the current administration of using “the reigns of government to drive our nation into unrighteousness.” And he levies a warning for the White House: “I’m telling you Joe Biden, you cannot keep mocking God and expecting there not to be a consequence. There will be a consequence.”
Theologically, Rapert is a dominionist, who believes that Christians are charged by God to remake the world according to Old Testament mandates. “God told us to go out there, fill the Earth … subdue it and have dominion over everything,” he said on a recent episode of his broadcast. “The reason this country is struggling … is because the Christians in America have failed to take authority.”
To join NACL, legislators must agree to a “statement of faith” that anchors them on the fundamentalist fringe. It calls the bible the “supreme and final authority” and proclaims belief in the ”imminent return of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” as well as the “bodily resurrection of the just and the unjust” and the “everlasting conscious punishment” of the latter.
NACL legislators must also agree to a mission statement that inveighs against the “spiritual decay of our culture (including churches).” It blasts the aggression of “atheists and anti-Christian groups” and it blames these “godless” entities for “trampling on the Christian liberty we have enjoyed in this country for centuries.” Despite this decried downfall, it proposes that “the fervent prayer and action of the Christian remnant in America can make a positive difference.”
As a matter of policy, NACL members must pledge to “uphold the sanctity of human life” from the “moment of conception” to “natural death”; to define marriage as the “sacred union exclusively between one man and one woman”; and to oppose “unhealthy influences such as alcohol abuse, drug addiction, pornography, prostitution, violence, gambling and crime.” Ironically, NACLs website is “Powered by GoDaddy,” a web service firm that sells .sex and .porn domains.
NACL is a natural outgrowth of Rapert’s own history as a member of the Arkansas state Senate from 2011 until he retired this year, due to term limits. Rapert has a nose for controversy — and intolerance. At the beginning of his career, he was caught on tape ranting that then-President Obama “didn’t represent the country that I grew up with” and vowing to his constituents: “We’re not going to let minorities run roughshod over what you people believe in.” (Today, Rapert insists that NACL stands “publicly against racism and antisemitism.”)
In 2013, Rapert spearheaded passage of what was then the nation’s first “heartbeat” anti-abortion legislation, prohibiting the procedure after fetal cardiac activity is detectable. (That law was ruled unconstitutional). In 2015, Rapert successfully got a revolutionary war banner, featuring a pine tree and the words “An Appeal to Heaven,” raised over the state Capitol in Little Rock. The flag-raising was nominally an homage to George Washington. But the Appeal To Heaven banner’s revolutionary and Godly sentiment have been adopted by Christian Nationalists who believe a Christian America is fated to remake the world, biblically, in advance of Jesus’ Second Coming.
Taking a page out of Roy Moore’s handbook, in 2017 Rapert passed a bill to install a 10 Commandments monument at the state Capitol in Little Rock. (The monument was almost immediately destroyed by a vandal driving a Dodge Dart, but later rebuilt.) Last year, Rapert settled a related legal case, after being sued for blocking atheist constituents on his official social media accounts.
The June 2022 Supreme Court decision Dobbs legalized direct limits on reproductive freedom. That decision, in turn, activated previously-passed, state-level legislation known as “trigger laws.” These bills specified that if Roe were to fall, abortions would immediately be banned. The lead sponsor of the trigger law in Arkansas was one Jason Rapert, and he brags: “Now the Little Rock surgical abortion clinic has completely shut down.”
Rapert founded NACL because, he believes “ungodly leaders have led to ungodly results.” He calls his organization “the strongest force for good this nation has seen since the American Revolution.” Even the group’s acronym is biblical: NaCl is the chemical composition for salt. It is meant as an allusion to the biblical instruction that Christians should act as the “salt and the light” to preserve and purify holiness on Earth. To Rolling Stone, Rapert insists: “I am simply a child of God who understands that Psalm 33:12 says, ‘Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.’”
In a sign that NACL is not just targeting state legislatures, but also governors’ mansions, a top member of the group’s governing board, Hunter Lundy, recently launched his bid to become the governor of Louisiana, promising to be a fighter for “Faith, Family and Freedom.” (Lundy, in a legitimate excuse for a man from Southern Louisiana, was unavailable to be interviewed due to Mardi Gras.)
Apart from his leadership of NACL, Rapert has recently made waves seeking friends in high places — and even on the high court. During a recent trip to Tallahassee, Rapert visited with Florida state legislators and left a a hand-written note on the desk of Ron DeSantis, telling the GOP governor, “We’re proud of your stand for God and Country.” (Rapert later praised DeSantis as “one of the best governors in America,” calling him a “Proven leader” with a “Backbone of steel.”)
While in Florida, Rapert also bragged about meeting Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts. Rapert said he approached the justice “after a dinner meeting,” saying he “shook his hand” and told the conservative justice “we have been praying for them” before telling Roberts about the National Association of Christian lawmakers and handing the justice “our NACL card.” (A spokesperson for Roberts has described the encounter as a passing greeting of a stranger.)
Rapert is a paradoxical figure, a man who wraps himself in language of Christian love while preaching a doctrine that sounds a lot like hate. Rapert calls gay marriage a “stench in the nostrils of God.” He sees the growing rights of trans Americans, whom he calls the “transgenders,” as a mortal threat: “Now is the time to fight to save the country,” he’s said. “Do you think that America is going to be free with a bunch of drag queens running this place?”
On Twitter, Rapert often seems possessed of the Trolly, rather than the Holy, Spirit. Last week he praised a headline-making exchange in the Arkansas legislature, where a GOP senator demanded that a trans witness identify the makeup of her genitals before the body:
“You said that you’re a trans woman,” the legislator asked.
“A trans female, yes sir,” replied the witness.
The senator then probed, to horrified gasps in the room: “Do you have a penis?”
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Rapert was equal parts pleased and amused. “The Arkansas Senate is in good hands!” he tweeted, offering “congratulations” to his former colleague for “refusing to play the crazy LGBTQ games and demanding truth.”
The head of NACL added, for good measure: “It was a fair question!”