- The Need for Mutual Forbearance
- Liberalism Starts with the Individual
- Restoring Liberalism
- Be a Fox, Not a Hedgehog
- Too Much of a Good Thing
- A Matter of Trust
- What We Share
- Liberalism and Markets
- Social and Political Trust
- Shaking Hands and Building Relationships
- Confident Pluralism
- Defending the Constitution of Knowledge
- Reaching Our Potential as a Liberal Society
- Remixed Religion in America
- Speaking Freely in American Universities
- Human Beings, Together and Alone
- Humility, Empathy and Asking the Big Questions
- Myths of American Identity
- The Democratic Dilemma
- Empathy, Dialogue and Building Bridges
- Conspiracy Theories in Contemporary Political Discourse
- The Psychology of Progress
- Classical Liberalism and Racial Justice
- Racial Classification in America
- Religion, Liberalism and Equality
- Toward Racelessness
- Having the Tough Conversations
In this installment of a series on liberalism, Benjamin Klutsey, the director of the Program on Pluralism and Civil Exchange at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, talks with Mark David Hall, the Herbert Hoover Distinguished Professor of Politics at George Fox University, about religion among the American founders, the rise of Christian nationalism, the relationship between religion and liberalism, and much more.
BENJAMIN KLUTSEY: Our guest today is Mark David Hall. He is the Herbert Hoover Distinguished Professor of Politics and faculty fellow in the honors program at George Fox University. He’s also associated faculty at the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University and a senior fellow at Baylor University’s Institute for Studies of Religion. In 2022 to 2023, he will be a visiting fellow at Princeton University’s James Madison Program and a visiting scholar at the Mercatus Center. Mark, thank you for joining us.
MARK DAVID HALL: Thank you for having me, Ben.
A Christian Founding, But Not a Christian Nation
KLUTSEY: Mark has written, edited or co-edited a dozen books on liberty, religion and the American founding, and that’s the subject of our conversation today. Mark, we’ll just dive in. Some insist that America is a Christian nation. Before we discuss what the implication of that framing is, can you tell us, based on your research, whether this is true? You wrote a book to answer this question, actually: “Did America Have a Christian Founding?” So what do you think?
HALL: One of the things I did in the book is I very carefully define what I mean by a Christian founding, and I go through a variety of possibilities which we could run through, but I’ll just land on where I landed. And that is, I argue that America’s founders were influenced by Christian ideas or ideas developed within the Christian tradition of political reflection.
So, things such as the sinfulness of humans: All humans are sinful, and therefore we need a carefully constrained government, constrained by constitutional limitations, separation of powers, checks and balances, federalism. The idea that all persons are created in the image of God, the imago Dei, and therefore should be treated with respect and dignity. And the founders’ understanding of liberty was very much informed by Christian ideas, that is, for them liberty is freedom to do what is right, not to do what is wrong. The founders distinguished, in other words, between liberty and license.
I believe firmly that America had a Christian founding. I do not like the language that America was founded as a Christian nation, because it’s very exclusive. It makes it sound as if America was founded by and for Christians. Most Americans of European descent were, in fact, Christians, but not all of them were. You had about 2,000 Jews. Article VI of the Constitution bans religious tests for office. In the ratification debates, the possibility that one day a Muslim, an atheist or a Hindu could be elected president—the founders had to say, yes, that is a possibility. They understood that they were founding a nation for all peoples and not just for Christian people.
KLUTSEY: I see. That’s great. Now, some also insist that America should rid itself of all aspects of religion, especially in the public sphere. Does this comport with your reading and studying of the American founding?
HALL: Every American founder would’ve rejected that, absolutely. I write in my book about what Jim Hudson of the Library of Congress calls the founders’ syllogism. He said—and he gives a wide range of examples of this—the founders claimed, “You cannot have a democratic government if you don’t have a moral people, and you cannot have a moral people if you do not have a religious people.” And, indisputably, America’s founders, again, were 98% Protestant. The other 1.9% are Roman Catholics. About a tiny percentage of Americans were Jews. By religion, in this context, they meant Christianity.
Now it’s an open question. First of all, we could ask, are they right? Were they right? Could you, in fact, have a flourishing democracy without a Christian people? Maybe Taiwan and Japan would suggest you can. Then a second question is, could religions other than Christianity generate the morals and mores necessary for democracy to flourish? I think that’s a question worth exploring. But in the context of 18th-century America, the founders indisputably thought that religion was necessary for morality, which is necessary for democracy to work.
Liberalism vs. Religion?
KLUTSEY: I often hear how liberalism and religion are at odds with one another: that liberalism, this emancipatory philosophy that says we’re one another’s dignified equals, on one hand, and religion, a set of beliefs that constrain one’s actions and attitudes, are opposing, irreconcilable forces. What do you think of that critique?
HALL: Let me actually go back a bit further in history to make an argument that may not be familiar to some of your listeners. I actually believe that most of what we call political liberalism arose out of Protestant Christianity, that is, the idea that individuals are bearers of natural rights, that government should be based on the consent to be governed, that the people have a right to resist authorities that become tyrannical. Now, some Catholic thinkers fooled around with these ideas before the Protestant Reformation. Jean de Salisbury is an example. But really, it’s within Protestantism that you see these ideas begin to flourish.
And I’ll point to just one obvious connection that if we think about it for a minute, you see how this could lead to these sorts of outcomes. The Protestant reformers absolutely believed in the doctrine of sola scriptura, the Scripture alone. They also believed in the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers. Every individual is responsible for searching the Scriptures for himself, or even herself in many cases. And what you see within Protestantism is an explosion of literacy, and almost every student of democratization thinks that literacy is necessary for countries to become democratic. As well, if every individual is on the same plane, that suggests a profound equality of all persons.
And, lo and behold, what you see developing within many Protestant countries are very flat forms of church governance, in America especially. The Congregational church, where the members of the congregation would decide for themselves who for instance would be the minister, on what terms he would be hired and so forth. And you can imagine how this might work. Your minister dies. The members of the congregation come together and they argue among themselves. They debate among themselves, and they eventually select someone. That sounds a lot like democracy, and Protestants are doing this in Europe before they come to America. They’re doing this in America before John Locke writes the “Second Treatise.”
If I just take one other line of thought, John Calvin in his “Institutes of the Christian Religion,” in the last edition in 1559, talks about how inferior magistrates may resist a superior magistrate who becomes a tyrant. John Knox, even at the same time, was saying, “No, the people themselves have a right to resist tyrannical authorities.” The author of “Vindiciae contra tyrannos”—if you read through that, you will see everything we associate with political liberalism: individuals being bearers of rights, government by the consent of the governed, the right to resist tyrannical authority.
So I would suggest a lot of what we identify as political liberalism comes, in fact, from Christianity and specifically Protestantism. And for America’s founders. there was no sense in which there was a tension.
Tensions Among the Founders’ Influences
KLUTSEY: That’s great. Does having a Christian founding put the nation at odds with claims about the influence of Lockean liberalism, classical republicanism or the Scottish Enlightenment on our founding and development?
HALL: That’s a great question. And I would hasten to say, and I say this in my book, that obviously America’s founders are influenced by a variety of streams of thought: classical republicanism, the common law tradition, the Scottish school of moral sense. Locke scholars debate—and a lot of trees have been killed—what exactly is Locke doing? Where is he coming from? In at least one interpretation, Locke, the son of a Puritan, is merely elaborating on these liberal ideas, for want of a better word, that had been long developed within Protestant traditions.
Now, there are those who argue that Locke is going a very different way, that he’s remaking liberalism, perhaps on completely secular grounds. I tend to read Locke as a natural extension of this Protestant resistance literature, and I think most Americans did as well. So I would say there are not necessarily tensions.
Now, I will point to a tension that at least might be in the minds of some of your listeners. I think the founders thought—and here, I mean the founders at the national level, the founders at the state level—although they embraced what I think we can roughly call liberal ideas, they also saw a role of governments as promoting the common good. So they had no problem with morals legislation. They had no problems with state governments, especially state governments, passing laws, saying certain things are illegal simply because they’re immoral.
For instance, adultery would be illegal. Sex outside of the bounds of marriage would be illegal. Cursing in public, committing blasphemy in public can be illegal, and these things can be punished by the state. And yet they would also say, at the same time, in the same breath, individuals are free to make a wide range of choices. Individuals have freedom of speech.
Again, the founders would distinguish between liberty and license. Committing blasphemy is licentiousness, and therefore it can be punished. Whereas saying George Washington should be president or George Washington shouldn’t be president—that speech is constitutionally protected. Now, as you advance through the 19th century, obviously you get John Stuart Mill, who makes a very robust argument for almost complete freedom of speech. Still, most societies in England and America didn’t follow John Stuart Mill until you get to the mid-20th century. In the mid-20th century, courts started embracing a more libertarian view of liberalism.
And I do think there’s a tension between the founders’ understanding of liberalism and the role of the state that they would see as appropriate, and what libertarians today would say is appropriate. The founders would certainly say it is permissible for the state to ban things that libertarians would object to.
I think these are discussions that we should have, and I’m very sympathetic to the founders, but I think they were wrong on a lot of these things. I think we’re all better off if we take a more libertarian view with respect to, say, freedom of speech. I simply don’t trust governments, either at the national level or the state level, to punish merely vice. I think what they will do is redefine things that are perfectly appropriate and necessary to say in the public square as vice and therefore will squelch speech. I would take issue with some of the views the founders held, but I don’t think there’s necessarily a conflict between the founders’ views and liberal ideas broadly; maybe between full-throated libertarianism, but not liberal ideas per se.
Christianity and Systemic Injustices
KLUTSEY: Some might hear this conversation about Christianity and be a little bit worried because they would say, “Wasn’t Christianity used to justify systemic injustices like slavery, Jim Crow, the disenfranchisement of women and minorities, and other otherwise bigoted policy?” And I wonder, doesn’t the decline of religion coincide with the country becoming more open, tolerant and otherwise liberal?
HALL: We have to recognize—I as a Christian have to recognize—that Christianity has been used to justify the worst oppression and evil and unspeakable things. You have to recognize that. On the other hand, let’s just take slavery, for instance. Slavery has been known to pretty much every country throughout all of human history. It has been practiced everywhere.
It is primarily in the West that opposition to slavery came about, usually on Christian grounds. In the American founding, you had abolitionists who were pretty powerful who were arguing that slavery should not be allowed to stand. It fundamentally goes against our political principles and our theological principles. And so you had eight states, for instance, voluntarily abolish slavery or put it on the road to extinction between 1776 and 1806.
In the 19th century, who fought slavery? It was the abolitionists, and they are profoundly motivated by their Christian convictions. They brought their Christian convictions into the public square to oppose this grave evil. Again, I concede you had people on the other side making Christian arguments to perpetuate this evil. I’m very sorry that we had to end the debate with the bloody Civil War. In most countries it was ended without a bloody civil war, and that’s to our shame that that happened.
After the Civil War, of course, you have this regime of Jim Crow legislation, restriction of voting rights, and so forth arise. Who led the opposition to that? The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., the Reverend Ralph Abernathy, the Reverend Andrew Young, the Reverend Jesse Jackson. We can go on and on. And I’m pointing to African American religious/civic leaders, but there are plenty of white Americans who joined them in fighting the evils of Jim Crow legislation.
I don’t think that Christianity is necessarily in favor of, or against, oppression. In fact, I have a new book coming out, “Proclaim Liberty Throughout All the Land: How Christianity Has Advanced Freedom and Equality for All Americans,” arguing that in the American context, Christianity has far more often been a force for good than ill.
KLUTSEY: Thank you. Now I’d like to shift toward the modern-day focus on concerns over the ideology of Christian nationalism. First off, what is Christian nationalism, and why has it gained so much more attention in the mainstream media?
HALL: Prior to 2006, no one was talking about Christian nationalism. Beginning in 2006, there was a slow stream of books criticizing these Christians that conflate God and country, that want to bring America into some sort of theocracy where not just Christians, but white Christians are privileged above everyone else.
This stream became a flood with the attack on the U.S. Capitol building January 6, 2021, where Thomas Edsall of The New York Times and Samuel Perry the sociologist and others attributed this 100% to Christian nationalism: “Christian nationalists are undemocratic, they’re attacking our constitutional order, and we should be scared. We should be very scared.”
As I’ve argued in a number of places, including Discourse Magazine, I think this literature is ridiculous. I think it grossly inflates the threat of Christian nationalism and the number of Christian nationalists that do exist. First of all, I think we need to pull back from this scaremongering literature. I do think there is such a thing as Christian nationalism: people who believe, for instance, that Christianity should be favored above all other religions. People who think that Congress should declare Christianity to be the official religion of the United States; to declare America a Christian country; to return Christian prayers, explicitly Christian prayers, into the public schools. These are about 20% of Americans.
Let me first point out that this is not exactly some horrible “Handmaid’s Tale” theocracy. I think these are all bad policies, but it would return us to where we were in the 1950s, which is not the end of the world. In fact, if you look at the prayers said in public schools in the 1950s, they tend to be pretty bland, prayers that a Jew could hear, a Christian could hear, even a Muslim could hear: “Oh God, please bless this day. Help us to work hard. Amen.” Now, I’m still not in favor of those prayers, but it’s hardly this horrific theocracy.
But this 20% of Americans does exist. I think they’re ill-informed. I think they’re being imprudent. And so part of what I’m going to do as a Mercatus visiting fellow is, I’m going to critique these folks. I’m going to identify them and address them and explain to them why. I’m going to give them good prudential arguments and good theological arguments and even good biblical arguments for why these are bad policies.
Let me just give you one of the most obvious arguments in the whole world, the golden rule: Treat others as you would like to be treated. I would say to my Christian brothers and sisters, would you like your children in public schools to be led in Islamic prayers? If your answer to that is no, then you should put yourself in the place of non-Christians and say, if you were a non-Christian, would you want your children to be led in Christian prayers? And you would probably say no to that as well. You should say no to that as well.
If we simply apply the golden rule, I think that can resolve a lot of these issues. And it would tone down public discourse and hopefully make us be able to talk about issues that really matter: how our public schools should function. What is the role of critical race theory in public schools? Should we have school choice? We could have good, honest discussions about these important issues if we can get away from the fearmongering.
Christianity and White Nationalism
KLUTSEY: Yes. Do you think there is a—and this is an interesting one—but do you think there’s a connection between Christian nationalism and white nationalism? I think you alluded to the fact that some people would actually prefer to conflate the two, but do you think that there is a distinction between them?
HALL: I do. And some of the best scholars who’ve really dived into this white identity theory have argued the same. And here’s a nice experiment all of your listeners could do. Do you remember the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in the first year of Trump’s presidency? There’s a website that has pictures of images taken from that, and you could look at all the various images, and you have all sorts of white nationalists and Nazi images and so forth and so on—nothing that’s really distinctively Christian.
If you go to the January 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, although many talking heads immediately attributed that to Christian nationalism, and they could show a couple of different images—there’s this large wooden cross, there’s a lady carrying a sign saying “Jesus saves” and this sort of thing—almost all these images are not actually from the attack on the Capitol building. They were for a rally held before that, and many of the pictures are actually from about 1 to 1.5 miles away from the U.S. Capitol building.
If you turn then to the actual attack on the U.S. Capitol building, sure enough, you’ll see a Christian flag. You will also see a Confederate flag. You will also see a crazy guy dressed up like a Viking. What you’ll see the most of are MAGA hats and American flags. There’s a sea of American flags, a sea of MAGA hats and the occasional symbol here or there.
And I don’t even want to say all the attackers of January 6 are white racists. I think they were motivated by all sorts of different things. There are certainly white racists out there that conflate their white identity and their Christian identity. I think we see some of that in the relatively few members of the KKK that are still around. Obviously, if anyone’s attacking the U.S. Capitol building or harming others, we need to arrest them and prosecute them to the full extent of the law. To the extent to which they aren’t doing that sort of thing, we need to correct them; we need to chasten them. Absolutely, we do.
I run in Christian circles. I know Christians from all strides, from all regions, all socioeconomic statuses. I find very few Christians that connect racism with their faith in the way that the critics of Christian nationalism suggests basically all of us do. Whitehead and Perry, two sociologists, suggest that 51.9% of Americans are either full supporters or partial supporters of Christian nationalism, which they describe as a toxic mix of racism, sexism and militarism, and so forth and so on. I think that’s just ridiculous. There are some Americans that have those views. It’s a tiny fraction of 1%, and we shouldn’t label half of the American population with this horrible term.
One of the fun things about their study is they find 65% of African Americans are Christian nationalists. Now, this creates a problem. If Christian nationalism involves racism, how can 65% of African Americans be Christian nationalists? Well, they suggest these are good Christian nationalists that are bringing their faith into the public square in good, inclusive, appropriate ways. Only if you’re white do we need to worry about Christian nationalism. When you dive into their study, I think these claims just fall apart, and I don’t think they’re useful. I think they’re inflammatory, and they are not conducive to civic discourse.
KLUTSEY: Now, do you think that secularists merely are mirroring the same beliefs and tactics of Christians who want to see religious individuals in office, except the secularists see atheism rather than religiosity as a marker of a better intellectual morality and so on?
HALL: I think this definitely can happen. I think that secularists can sometimes decide that they have the correct belief system, all the other belief systems are flawed, and theirs should be privileged above all others. And if empowered, they might be inclined to devise speech codes and such that would keep persons of faith from speaking about their faith or acting on their faith, and so forth.
Let me give you an example of that. I think we see some of that in America. Where I really get scared is in Europe, in some of these more secularized countries of Europe. They do not give the religious liberty claims, of Muslims and Jews especially, a great deal of weight. For instance, it’s my understanding that in Scandinavian countries, it’s basically impossible to slaughter animals in a halal or kosher manner. They basically just say, “Look, we have humane slaughter laws. The law is the law. If your religious belief system tells you to do something else, too bad for you.”
You see a similar thing in France with women who desire to voluntarily wear the hijab in public, and the government of France says, “No, you can’t do that.” I think relatively secular political regimes can be just as intolerant and worse than religious regimes. And religious regimes certainly can be intolerant. We’ve seen this in Iran and in other places. I think we can look back to the American Puritans and say they were a pretty intolerant lot. Religion can lead to intolerance, indisputably, but I think a commitment to secular rationalism can as well.
KLUTSEY: I see. Now, how can religious believers better communicate with more secular people who may harbor fears about religiosity generally or Christian nationalism in particular?
HALL: I think these are largely questions of prudence. I think religious Americans have every right to make religious arguments in the public square. Such arguments might motivate their fellow believers to political action. If you’re trying to change the mind of someone who is not themselves religious, then making religious arguments, almost by definition, will not work. We need to make other sorts of arguments, and we should make it crystal clear that what we are looking for is really equality.
When I look at almost all serious Christian political activists, they’re seeking equality. Let’s take the issue of school vouchers. I don’t know of any advocate of vouchers for private religious schools that would limit them to private religious schools. Almost all of them say, “Look, states should adopt a voucher program that will apply to all private schools that are otherwise qualified. If there’s a Jewish school, a Muslim school, a Hindu school, a Protestant school, a Catholic school, an atheist school, they should all qualify.”
I do think that Christians who are in the public square—and I’m saying Christians because that’s my tradition, but it would apply to anyone—who are arguing for vouchers should make this front and center. We are not seeking special treatment. We are seeking equal treatment.
KLUTSEY: Thank you for that. Now, how can Christians who believe in the promise of our pluralistic liberal republic better communicate with fellow Christians who favor illiberal means for advancing their Christian values?
HALL: Probably the most effective way—and again, I would challenge the idea that there are a lot of Christians that are desiring illiberal outcomes, but they do exist—I think probably the most effective way is to sit down with them and make biblical arguments, make theological arguments, make prudential arguments.
Of course, an excellent way is to get, say, Christians and Muslims together talking about questions of common concern. You can imagine Christians in rural Oklahoma who have never met anyone from another faith. If they can sit down with someone from another faith and find, gosh, this is a dad who just like me cares about his wife, cares about his kid, cares that his kid doesn’t have people shoving transgenderism down his throat at school, they could find that they actually have a lot in common and can work together in a productive way.
And as well, to make it crystal clear that, again, I don’t think most Americans desire to force everyone to adopt their worldview. Maybe Christians especially need to be crystal clear about that, that we are not seeking to make Christianity the official religion of America. To the extent to which governments are going to support private entities, they should support all private entities that otherwise qualify, whether it be a Catholic charity or a Muslim charity, a Catholic school or a Hindu school. Equality should be the standard, not privilege.
The Future of Pluralism
KLUTSEY: Now, I want to step back a little bit and have you reflect on the nature of pluralism in this country, the idea that we can coexist regardless of our origins or backgrounds, our faith and so on. The trends that we are seeing in pluralism—what are you seeing? Are you concerned? Are you optimistic? What do you think the future of pluralism will be in this country?
HALL: I am a little concerned. I think Americans are becoming increasingly divided into tribes: a conservative Christian tribe, a progressive Christian tribe, an atheist tribe, different ways of slicing and dicing Americans. Then we look at the other as the enemy. I think this is profoundly dangerous. What I would hope is that we can all as Americans—and I’m speaking in the American context here; if I was speaking about France and whatnot, I would have maybe slightly different answers.
But in America, I would hope we could all come together around the principles of the Declaration of Independence. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” I believe you could embrace those principles, even if you don’t believe in a creator: the idea that we are all equal, the idea that we are all bearers of rights, that we should all be able to exercise these rights—with certain limitations, of course.
Then if we kept going through the Declaration, we could see the importance of government by the consent of the governed. Part of this, of course, implies that if you are in the minority of an election, you have to accept the election results. And then also certainly embrace the liberal value of freedom of speech. My party loses the election in whatever year, that’s fine. I’m still free to criticize a party that won, advocate for my party and then work on my neighbors and try to get my neighbors to change their minds.
I don’t think pluralism requires relativism. You don’t have to say any idea is equal. If you have a neighbor who’s a racist, you should, by all means, engage that neighbor, try to convince him that racism is wrong on whatever grounds would work for him. We don’t have to say everything goes, but we do have to have a shared set of commitments. And to the extent to which we throw those out the window and say, “Politics is just a zero-sum game where my tribe is going for power. If my tribe gains power, we’re going to impose our views, whatever those views are, on the rest of Americans,” the American experiment in self-government is going to be in great jeopardy if too many Americans embrace that idea.
Christianity as Promoter of Equality
KLUTSEY: Now, you hinted earlier on at your forthcoming book. Can you tell us about it?
HALL: What I do in the forthcoming book is, I look throughout American history from the early Puritans to the present day, and I suggest ways in which I think Christianity has encouraged Americans to embrace greater and greater liberty and equality. Now, I’ve already conceded that the Puritans seem intolerant when we look at them from our vantage point in 21st-century America. Let me suggest that any society you could possibly find on Earth in the early 17th century, in England, France, Spain, Morocco and China, would seem very illiberal.
What’s striking, then, is the Puritans were really quite liberal. You had a widespread democracy. Almost every white male who desired to could vote. Now, you immediately say, “What about the white females?” Yes, they were disenfranchised just as they were everywhere else throughout the globe. So we could focus on that, or we could focus on the fact that really the world had never seen—not in ancient Greece, nowhere—as widespread a democracy. Important protections were passed. The Massachusetts Body of Liberties contains almost every right later protected in the American Bill of Rights—not as fully worked out, of course, but it’s there, double jeopardies prohibited, so forth and so on.
The Puritans initially banned slavery. Unfortunately, they caved eventually on that. But they recognize there’s fundamental problems with institutions like slavery, and they made it very clear that slavery was only justified as a result of a just war, which would not include the stealing of Africans from their home and shipping them to America, as was very much the practice throughout the Caribbean and South America.
Again, I’m not trying to excuse them at all, I’m just trying to provide some context. If you go on up to the American founding era, I’ve already suggested the American founders were far more anti-slavery than is oftentimes recognized. Many didn’t own slaves. Many of those who did own slaves freed their slaves. They passed the Northwest Ordinance that banned slavery in the Northwest Territory, Ohio, Michigan, in that area. Eight out of the 13 states banned slavery or put it on the road to extinction voluntarily. This extends also to the abolitionist movement into the 19th century.
Throughout, I focus on religious liberty and show how oftentimes Christians have been at the forefront of fighting for the freedom of all Americans to worship God and act according to their religious convictions, whenever possible. Now, I’m not saying it’s only Christians. I know some fine Islamic scholars and attorneys who are advocating for the religious liberty of Christians today in America right now. I’m not saying you have to be a Christian to advocate for these things, but I think you can show throughout American history, lots of citizens motivated by their faith brought their faith into the public square to argue for greater equality and greater liberty for all Americans.
Getting Rid of the Labels
KLUTSEY: Mark, in closing, do you have any call to action for those who might be interested in pluralism more broadly, and who are interested in following your work and some of the things that you’ve been working on?
HALL: Sure. Well, Jesus in the New Testament talks about being as innocent as doves and as wise as serpents. I think we do have to recognize there are really, I’ll even say, evil people out there. There are people with horrendous ideas, and we ought to be aware of those, and we ought to fear them and we certainly should not follow them. And to the extent to which we have the ability to cut down their platform by maybe not following them on Twitter and not retweeting them, we should do so.
Otherwise, I think, and I hope this does not sound too willy-nilly, but I think we should give our fellow citizens a chance. We should assume that our neighbors, the people that live in our town, the other parents, that they care about their children, and they care about the community, and we all want healthy communities. If we can get beyond throwing labels at each other—secular humanists, Christian nationalists—and just sit down and talk together, to have serious discussions where we are open about our disagreements, and where we make arguments and respond to arguments in a civil manner, I’m optimistic that many of our communities can find ways in which we can work together and get to understand each other better. I’m sure it’s better than demonizing the other.
With respect to those Americans who still call themselves Christians, I would say this is required of the Bible. We’re to love our neighbor; we’re to be a light in the city. And we certainly have excellent reasons for treating other people with dignity and respect. I think many religious traditions could make that same argument, and those who have no religion at all can at least see the prudential reasons for why we would want to treat other people with dignity, respect and to try to engage them in a fruitful conversation.
KLUTSEY: Well, Mark, thank you very much for taking the time to join us. I really appreciate it.
HALL: Thank you very much, Ben.
KLUTSEY: My pleasure.