White Christian Nationalism and the 2023 Montana Legislature

May 13, 2023 4:24 am

A yard sign denouncing white supremacy (Photo by anokarina via Wikimedia Commons | CC-BY-SA 2.0).

Earlier this month, the Montana super-majority party voted to scapegoat Rep. Zooey Zephyr because she would not submit to their tyrannical suppression of free speech and the right to peaceful assembly.

I admit Speaker Matt Regier has a different perspective on his decisions to silence an oppressed minority.

Regier was triggered when Zooey spoke against Senate Bill 99, which denies a vulnerable minority of young Montanans access to medical treatments supported by a long list of the most reputable professional medical organizations. Furthermore, the treatments SB 99 prohibits for these young people and their families are recommended and accepted by sound medical science. The likely result of this egregious bill is an increase in suicides within this oppressed minority group of young people.

The super-majority party in control of Montana politics holds a variety of ideological beliefs, but one of the dominant ideologies is White Christian Nationalism. The adherents to this ideology are not offended by the label. On the contrary, they proudly insist that their view of religion, history, culture, politics and education are superior to all other belief systems. The Regier family, Keith (father), Matt, and Amy, currently hold a great deal of power over the lives of everyday Montanans. They are perfect examples of White Christian Nationalism.

White Christian nationalism is the dangerous belief that America is — and must remain — a Christian nation founded for its white Christian inhabitants and that our laws and policies must reflect this premise. Denying the separation of church and state promised by our Constitution, white Christian nationalists oppose equality for people of color, women, LGBTQ people, religious minorities and even genuine Christians who practice the teachings of Jesus (such as feeding the poor, healing the sick, and loving your enemies).

Matt Regier and I have a few things in common.

One, we were both born in Montana.

Second, we have bachelor’s degrees in business from the University of Montana.

Third, we both left Montana for a while to attend seminary. I graduated from the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, California, with a master of divinity; Matt evidently dropped out of Dallas Theological Seminary.

Last week, Matt Regier failed to honor the wisdom contained in the gospel accounts of the life and teachings of Jesus. Instead, Regier became irate because Zooey Zephyr used words similar to those of Jesus when he was angry and frustrated with the tyranny and oppression of the dominant voices of his religious tradition. He failed to recognize Zooey as a modern-day prophet speaking truth to power.

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth. So you also on the outside look righteous to others, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawless…

Therefore I send you prophets, sages, and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town, so that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth.

Matthew 23: 27–28, 34–35.

The early Jesus movement developed within the Jewish population during the oppressive occupation of the Middle East by the Roman Empire. As is often the case in human history, the religious power holders abandoned the fundamentals of their faith in exchange for wealth and power from the empire. During the first 400 years of the Jesus movement, the empire oppressed, imprisoned and murdered the followers of Jesus.

Jesus also organized a nonviolent protest as a counter-action to the empire’s annual show of military power leading up to the Jewish Passover celebrations. Christians celebrate this event as Palm Sunday. Jesus entered the capital city of Jerusalem on a donkey through the East Gate while the Roman Governor rode in on a horse with his soldiers through the West Gate. The action offered two choices to the people, asking: Which will you choose? The kingdom of tyranny or the kingdom of God?

On April 24, representatives of the LGBTQ+ community and allies staged a nonviolent protest in the House Gallery. The Montana House of Representatives space belongs to the people of Montana, not the supermajority party’s leaders. There was no risk to the safety of the members on the House floor unless you count a flying crumpled paper cup as a danger.

The hypocrisy of Regier’s insistence on maintaining decorum is stunning given the members of his party who describe the violent insurrection in our nation’s capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, as “just a bunch of tourists.” On that day, law enforcement officers were killed and injured by White Christian Nationalists supported by many of the members of Regier’s party. They were chanting about hanging Vice President Mike Pence. Tyrannical White Christian Nationalists use violence and oppressive tactics to silence their opposition. Nothing even close to that happened in the Montana Capitol Building.

Speaker Regier and the House Republicans who voted to scapegoat Zephyr deem anything that confronts their abuse of power to violate their rules of decorum. Their definition of order is White Christian Nationalists holding power and forcing the rest of us (the majority) to submit to their ideological whims. This attitude has been present in many House and Senate Judiciary hearings this session. Keith Regier raised his children to be just as authoritarian as he is. Most opponents of their harmful bills were limited to 60 to 90 seconds of testimony. Once, when I used the word tyranny in my testimony, I was immediately cut off mid-sentence.

One of the saddest aspects of the floor debate on April 26 was watching formerly moderate Republicans condemning what was merely a nonviolent protest. I still remember when the Montana Republican party believed the government should stay out of our personal lives. There is nothing conservative about the party anymore. Dissenting voices are treated harshly by their party leaders. Any remaining small-government conservatives have submitted to tyranny out of fear of repercussions or fear of becoming the next scapegoat for the White Christian Nationalists.

Yes, the gallery intentionally disrupted the proceedings. They were shouting, “Let Zooey speak.”

During the Palm Sunday nonviolent march into Jerusalem, Jesus was criticized for the decorum of his followers. He responded, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.”

The national and international news coverage has elevated  Zephyr’s voice. The stones really do cry out. Speaker Matt Regier will fade into obscurity because he is a weak, ineffective leader, not a follower of Jesus but a tool of religious oppression.

Zooey has elevated her voice to the national stage.

Morrison lives in Helena.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.