This Holy Week, Christians devoted to the liberation of the oppressed will, quite understandably, point out the challenge that the Passion narratives present to power. Many of us will point out that the events of Holy Week entail a challenge to greed, to imperialist violence, and to anti-Semitism, particularly when these evils come wrapped in religiosity and patriotism. As we survey the rise of 21st century Christofascism, many of us will tout these elements of Holy Week as a definitive rebuke to the Christian Right—a denunciation of reactionary politics that theocrats can’t possibly hope to surmount.
Alas, the record of actual statements from Christofascists proves otherwise. Nick Adams, an account so absurdly regressive as to border on parody, recently illustrated how easily the far Right can absorb Holy Week into its obsessions: “I’m NOT comparing President Trump to Jesus Christ, BUT it is interesting to note that both men were arrested under false pretenses roughly one week before Easter.” Setting aside Adams’ questionable grasp of when Jesus was arrested, it’s clear that the Right has no trouble framing Christ as a populist messiah, unjustly persecuted by “the powers that be” (inserting triple parentheses as dogwhistle), pursued by the Deep State to a martyr’s end. Adams’ passive-aggressive exaltation of Trump matches many other instances of Christian nationalists alluding to, and embracing, key moments from Holy Week. Trump has been arrested in the Garden; affirming LGBT people amounts to a “Judas’ kiss”; and as for the cleansing of the temple . . . we probably don’t need to explain how a story about vandalizing a Jewish house of worship, stripped of context, plays into the hands of fascists.
The point is, liberationist Christians should take this as an opportunity to reflect on just how powerful Christofascist ideology is. It’s not deterred by merely pointing out how the Christ of Holy Week stands in solidarity with racial, sexual, gender, and other minoritized communities. Ever since Hitler himself, fascists have cast themselves as the persecuted herrenvolk, represented by a savior who fights for the masses, over and against a “cosmopolitan,” “globalist” ruling class. Centuries of revering rural whites as “the real America” mean that, as ludicrous as it may seem to us, the Right’s comparison between Trump and Christ is all too natural.
We should also recognize that the Christian Right framing of Holy Week is part of an array of fronts on which Christofash seek to dominate issues that are usually the purview of the “Left”. Concern for the environment, opposition to the automation of blue collar jobs, even protests against the overreach of police: we cannot take for granted the degree to which all these positions are ripe for fascistization. Recent remarks from Tucker Carlson had liberals praising him, missing the fact that fascism performs what it needs to to win. We shouldn’t be surprised if Christofascists also wind up developing a hideous parody of liberation theology—especially in light of liberation theology’s historic weakness for overlooking, or even reproducing, the legacy of anti-semitism, misogyny, and Queer exclusion in Christian thought.
In other words, don’t assume that the Holy Week narrative inherently demolishes Christian nationalist ideology. But neither should we shrug and allow the fash to bastardize Holy Week, the same way that they bastardize climate action as ecofascism, or worker’s rights as National Bolshevism. We should insist that Holy Week caps off an earthly ministry in which Christ consistently opposed the idols of blood and soil—in which he enacted an “antifa” deliverance of a man possessed by “Legion,” a spirit named for the Roman troops who hoisted the fasces. We should face head-on the antisemitic interpretations of the Passion, which after all laid the groundwork for the Holocaust. We must put to death the notion that the “Pharisees” of the narrative represent some kind of eternal dimension of the Jewish religion, or that the infamous “blood curse” of Matthew 27:25 affirms the notion of a curse on Jewish people. We should point out that the Holy Week events specifically counterpose Christ to a kind of “false” populist—Pilate, who manipulates the masses by purporting to give them what they want. And above all, we should recommit ourselves to combatting the seductive lies of right-wing populism, which gain strength so long as we wash our hands of the need to confront them.
Go and do.