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    Michael Lemelin’s horrific comments reflect authoritarian attitudes, not Christianity

    By Opinion Contributor,


    The BDN Opinion section operates independently and does not set news policies or contribute to reporting or editing articles elsewhere in the newspaper or on

    Rob Glover is an associate professor of political science and honors at the University of Maine. Jordan LaBouff is an associate professor of psychology and honors at UMaine. This column reflects their views and expertise and does not speak on behalf of the university or the University of Maine System. They serve as co-leaders of the Maine chapter of the national Scholars Strategy Network, which brings together scholars across the country to address public challenges and their policy implications. Members’ columns appear in the BDN every other week.

    Last week, Republican state Reps. Michael Lemelin, R-Chelsea, and Shelley Rudnicki, R-Fairfield, were censured for horrific comments made on the Maine House floor. Lemelin had asserted, and Rudnicki agreed, that the tragic mass shooting in Lewiston was God’s punishment for a Maine law extending the period in which doctors can perform medically necessary abortions.

    While it may be tempting in such challenging moments to paint political opponents with a broad brush, Lemelin and Rudnicki’s comments are not indicative of the views held by most Maine Republicans, Christians, or people of faith more generally. They stem from authoritarian attitudes, and this is what makes such sentiments so very dangerous.

    Linking the Lewiston shooting to the wrath of an angry God provoked immediate rebuke, not just from Democrats but members of Lemelin’s own party. Rep. Rachel Henderson, R-Rumford, rightly deemed the statements “reprehensible” and expressed that she was not proud to be a Republican at the close of floor debate. The following day, Rep. Nathan Carlow, R-Buxton, called the comments “an insidious butchery of Christian teachings, an insult to the lives and memories of those who were slaughtered on Oct. 25 and a true stain” on the House.

    A roll call vote, which requires a two-thirds majority, was not taken on their censure. If so, we would likely have seen Republicans and Democrats largely united in condemnation of the lawmakers. In their unequivocal rejection of these comments, Henderson and Carlow (and all who supported censure) were expressing views likely shared by a majority of Christians in Maine, even extremely conservative ones.

    The truth is only a tiny percentage of Americans understand God in this way. According to the Pew Research Center, very few believe that God delivers suffering as a form of punishment: just 4 percent of Christians and 3 percent of Republicans. And while there are many here in Maine whose Christian faith deeply informs their life, a robust majority supports abortion rights (including a majority of those who believe in God).

    Lemelin’s comments sound less like a fervent expression of Christian belief and more like Christian nationalism , the “belief that the American nation is defined by Christianity, and that the government should take active steps to keep it that way.” Thorough research shows this fringe belief invokes God and selectively appropriates scripture and religious doctrine to justify authoritarian political beliefs. It is not simply another term for Christianity.

    Christian nationalism is associated with perceptions of white and Christian victimhood and the rejection of anti-Black injustice , as well as opposition to same-sex marriage , cross-racial adoption and marriage , science and vaccines .

    But it is not merely that Christian nationalists hold these attitudes — they endorse policies that would enforce their worldview through authoritarianism . Research consistently shows that Christian nationalism threatens core democratic principles , for example, Christian nationalism is the strongest predictor that Americans view voting as a privilege , not a right.

    Carlow’s condemnation of these ideas as a corruption of Christianity is backed up by research. When we study the effects religion has on political attitudes, taking care to isolate and remove the effects of Christian nationalism and fundamentalism, we consistently find that religious beliefs are associated with greater social and political tolerance . Unlike a Christian worldview that promotes forgiveness , generosity and belonging , Christian nationalists co-opt Christian language to fuel authoritarian ideologies.

    The sentiments expressed last week have no place in our legislative body. Moving forward, we should recognize the danger of these fringe beliefs and their growth in the U.S . Such views threaten our political discourse and our institutions. Those who promote notions of an angry, vengeful God dispensing violent, divine punishment to their political opponents (and innocent bystanders) are woefully out of touch with their fellow Christians, Mainers and Americans.

    In a representative democracy, all citizens have a role to play in using our political voice, and our votes, to remove from office those who fail to represent us.

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