Pat Robertson's Christian Nationalist Extravaganza
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Fri Apr 27, 2007 at 11:33:40 PM EST
There is a Christian nationalist extravaganza going on this weekend in Virginia Beach, Virginia. It's a radical effort to capture American history in a way in which Christian rightists cast themselves as the protagonists of America's story. And people like you and me are but interlopers in God's grand scheme.  

The occasion is the 400th anniversary of Capt. John Smith's landing at Jamestown. While the state of Virginia is hosting its own party, televangelist Pat Robertson will lead an alternative for those who, like its stage manager John Blanchard, say:  "We want to reaffirm our Christian roots - we are a Christian country."

The Assembly 2007, being held April 26-29th, is technically part of the official festivities. Yet not all Americans are invited to attend. The Robertson wing of the religious right i seeking to rally people who have come to see themselves as the True inheritors of the once and future Christian Nation. Speaker after famous evangelical speaker will say so. What God intended. What the Founding Fathers intended. What great things are expected of ordinary people in these extraordinary times. As Blanchard told The Virginian-Pilot newspaper, "They did come ashore dragging a cross... We were started as a Christian nation and I feel it's God's purpose we stay a Christian nation."

The event looms large in the imagination of a growing dimension of the religious right that doesn't get much media attention: Christian nationalism. The idea that America was founded as a distinctly Christian nation, and that Christians of a particular sort should, as Robertson once put it, "rule and reign," has been a central animating idea of this part of the Christian right for a generation.  Followers regularly consume a growing body of counter-cultural literature and films and see that their children are indoctrinated in this revisionist rendering of American history. They will also get to watch coverage of Assembly 2007 on Christian TV. And The Landing, (a film that treats the Jamestown landing as a Christian story), produced by Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network, will air on ABC's mainstream Family Channel as part of the Jamestown extravaganza.

Those traveling to Virginia can attend a "Consecration Conference" at a local megachurch, which will weave worship services with politics and indoctrination in Christian historical revisionism. Or they can go to the beach for a costumed reenactment of the landing and plant white crosses in the sand -- the crossbars emblazoned with One Nation Under God, are available for $14.95 for planting at home as well.

This dramatic ritual is intended to show that "you dedicate your church, family, and nation to God!"  in commemoration of "April 29, 1607, [when] a young Anglican chaplain, Robert Hunt, planted a cross on what is now known as Cape Henry, dedicating the new land for the purposes of God."

Despite the historical revisionism, the colony was far from a Christian mission to Virginia. The London Company, which was behind the venture, pooled investors interested in making money. For years, it floundered badly. Eventually, the company gave up the commercial charter and control reverted to the Crown. The gauzy view of Christians claiming the land for Christ and King is clarified by history.

And far from creating a haven for religious liberty, as Joe Conn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State notes after pulling out his history books, "the London Company's November 20, 1606 'Articles, Instructions, and Orders' did, indeed, demand that the prospective American colony 'provide that the true word, and service of God and Christian faith be preached.' But the charter added that the 'true word' must be 'according to the doctrine, rights, and religion now professed and established within our realme of England.'"

Thus, the business venture was made in cooperation with the England's established Anglican Church, which was headed by the King. The colonial government was to enforce religious conformity - sometimes with the death penalty -- not religious freedom.

More than a century and half later, Thomas Jefferson, himself a member of an Anglican parish, summarized this bitter history in his book Notes on the State of Virginia :  "The poor Quakers were flying from persecution in England," Jefferson wrote -- only to be persecuted in the New World, their assemblies and books banned, and neighbors prosecuted for invited Quakers into their homes. There was even a three strikes and you're out death penalty provision for "any master of a vessel to bring a Quaker into the state."

Given Jefferson and other revolutionaries' concern about government sanctioned churches, they ensured the Constitution of the United States in no way declares a covenant with God, acknowledges a god, or in any way infers America as a distinctly Christian nation. The founders were very clear in the need for religious freedom and equality under the law.

And yet the Assembly blurs that history: "We acknowledge that the Bible is itself the government of the People, by the People, and for the People" the organizers proclaim in their official document American Covenant. "We realize, however, that we are a nation of differing and often competing faiths, a body politic comprised of freemen, rather than a religious dictatorship imposed upon the unwilling."  

To say the least, these claims stand in dramatic tension with one another. What's more this group ignores the more than 150 years of overt religious persecution in Virginia that stands as the clear context of how and why the Constitution and the First Amendment were written the way they were. One cannot learn the lessons of a history ignored or indeed, whitewashed.

[This post is adapted from my article, "History is Powerful," in the Spring issue of The Public Eye].

-- or if they do, it  will probably be stenographic in its approach rather than offering any understanding of the historical revisionism and the stakes involved.

On the other hand, it would be nice to be surprized.

by Frederick Clarkson on Sat Apr 28, 2007 at 12:25:17 AM EST

of the various American television networks will not show up for this, for sure. What I am trying to figure out is, how exactly is this gathering less newsworthy than the paternity of Anna Nicole Smith's baby, or the outcome of "American Idol"?

by nogodsnomasters on Sat Apr 28, 2007 at 09:19:49 AM EST

For some time, I have been following the "Jamestown 400" celebration of the 400th anniversary of the settlement, proposed and promoted by Vision Forum Ministries (  

If you follow that link, you'll see that the 400th anniversary of the Jamestown settlement represents the founding of a Christian nation and, indeed, a key point in America's "providential history." If you also look at some of the prices they're charging, it's easy to see that the Jamestown settlement anniversary offers a providential opportunity for some money-making in addition to whatever spiritual value might be gained by participants.

It's funny, though, that I haven't seen any mention of Robertson's jamboree -- I wonder if the Vision Forum people are worried about it cutting into their profit margins!

by wahineslc on Sat Apr 28, 2007 at 01:51:19 AM EST

Jerry Falwell is having his own version of the Jamestown quadrennial complete with David Barton, Christian Dominionist history revisionist.

by JerrySloan on Sat Apr 28, 2007 at 08:14:16 PM EST

That's the story of my life.

My first Virginian ancestor didn't land there until 1610, and it was another 200 years before the family spawned its first preacher. Maybe that's why nobody invited me to their Christian nation parties -- not Pat Robertson, not Doug Phillips, not even my Texas homeboy David Barton.

I feel so ... rejected.

by moiv on Sun Apr 29, 2007 at 12:06:00 AM EST

Hey, you're not alone.
They didn't invite me either, and some of my ancestors were here when their ancestors first arrived from Europe.... uninvited.

by CynthiaGee on Fri May 04, 2007 at 01:17:17 PM EST
Parent under newsletter has up my latest article on Pat.  It appears at times as if he and Falwell must hold contests to see who is further out in comments.

by wilkyjr on Sun Apr 29, 2007 at 05:56:41 PM EST

it looked so easy, our heritage beckoned the nation was, after all, christian and so they began their crusade marching toward theocracy and as they plodded the children wailed "are we there yet?" and god whispered back "you're going the wrong way"

by tom cady on Sat May 05, 2007 at 09:18:11 AM EST

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