Sunday, March 1, 2020

Katherine Stewart's "The Power Worshippers"

Katherine Stewart's most recent publications have appeared in the New York Times opinion pages, New York Review of Books, The New Republic, and the Guardian. She is the author of The Good News Club (2012), an investigative look at public education and religious fundamentalism in America, as well as two comic novels about 21st century parenting.

Stewart applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism, and reported the following:
Stylistically, page 99 is perhaps not the peak of The Power Worshippers. My vanity is slightly wounded! After all, I can’t call in page 254, where the prose is so fiery hot that that it burns through the next several pages, or page 108, where the metaphors sing so loudly that you wonder if the neighbors can hear. But that said, page 99 may be more representative of the book overall.

A key point I make throughout The Power Worshippers is that the religious right is not just a “culture war”; it is a political movement. Leaders of the movement know that pastors drive votes. And so they organize pastors into networks that get them all on the same page, politically, and give them the “correct” talking points, along with sophisticated messaging and data tools, to help them turn out votes for the hyperconservative candidates the movement favors. From the perspective of movement leadership, vast numbers of America’s conservative churches have been converted into the loyal cells of a shadow political party. The movement also relies on a mythological history of America’s allegedly conservative Christian founding to promote its aims.

Sure enough, on page 99 of The Power Worshippers, we are thrown into a particular church in California where a pastor who has been recruited into a conservative network of clergy is misquoting Thomas Jefferson to rationalize the union of church and state. It’s kind of an unexpected scene, but it speaks to an aspect of the larger strategy of the movement.

Then, on page 99, we travel from California to Texas where another pastor, who established “church-school partnerships” in dozens of public schools, tells us that the idea of church-state separation is “unbiblical”: “God never intended for there to be such a separation in His world,” he says. Christian nationalists are fundamentally hostile to public education, which they see as a great adversary in the fight for control of people’s minds. They see nonsectarian education, intended to serve a diverse student body, as somehow hostile to their form of religion. And so they seek to insert their initiatives in public schools, which some activists refer to as "mission fields." And sure enough, on page 99, we see a hyperconservative pastor indicating as much.

The Power Worshippers offers a mix of storytelling, political and historical analysis, and investigative reporting, all of which show up on page 99. If you like that, just wait until you get to page 254!
Visit Katherine Stewart's website.

--Marshal Zeringue