In this Episode
This episode we are joined by the filmmakers of the newly released and riveting documentary, “Bad Faith: Christian Nationalism’s Unholy War on Democracy.”
Director Stephen Ujlaki has produced more than 25 feature films, made-for-television movies and documentaries, and served as dean of the Loyola Marymount University School of Film and Television. With 10 years of directing and producing experience in Hollywood, Chris Jones, co-directed the film.
“Bad Faith” offers us all an incredible lesson in the roots and fruits of Christian Nationalism in the U.S. The film follows two streams of Evangelicalism: One rooted in the thick faith that fueled the abolitionist, suffrage, civil rights, and environmental justice movements, and the other rooted in the racialized weaponization of thin fundamentalist faith. “Bad Faith” follows these two streams as they vie for the soul of American Democracy.
We’d love to hear your thoughts. Thread or Insta Lisa @lisasharper or to Freedom Road @freedomroad.us. We’re also on Substack! So be sure to subscribe to freedomroad.substack.com.
And, keep sharing the podcast with your friends and networks and letting us know what you think!
Mentioned in this Episode
Katherine Stewart The Power Worshipers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism
Lisa Sharon Harper: [00:00:00] Coming to you from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the city of brotherly love and sisterly affection. I’m Lisa Sharon Harper, president of Freedom Road, a consulting group dedicated to shrinking the narrative gap. Welcome to the Freedom Road Podcast. Each episode, we speak with national faith leaders, advocates, artists, and activists to have the kinds of conversations that we normally have on the front lines.
It’s just that this time we’ve got microphones in our faces and you are listening in. And this episode we are joined by the filmmakers of the newly released and riveting documentary, Bad Faith: Christian Nationalism’s Unholy War on Democracy. Director Stephen Ujlaki has produced more than 25 feature films made for television movies and documentaries.
And he served as the Dean of the Loyola Marymount [00:01:00] University School of Film and Television with 10 years of directing and producing experience in Hollywood. Chris Jones is the co-director of the film and Bad Faith offers us all an incredible lesson in the roots and fruits of Christian nationalism in the US.
The film follows two streams of evangelicalism, one rooted in the thick faith that fueled the abolitionist suffrage. Civil rights and environmental justice movements, and the other is rooted in the racialized weaponization of thin fundamentalist faith. So Bad Faith follows these two streams as they vie for the soul of American democracy.
We would love to hear from you. We want to hear your thoughts. So please tweet to me, thread to me. Insta to me, Facebook to me, let us know at LisaSHarper, on Twitter and also on Instagram and Threads and Lisa Sharon Harper [00:02:00] on Facebook. And also you can also let us know what you think at Freedom Road and all of those places.
It’s freedomroadus or freedomroad.us on Facebook. So keep sharing the podcast also with your friends. Our audience continues to grow and it is. We have folks listening from all over the world. Y’all. Thank you so much. Thanks for being faithful listeners. So, let’s dive in. So I would love to ask you, my first question always is kind of where do you come into this conversation with regard to your faith?
So the way that I’m going to like frame this is, you guys are both Hollywood filmmakers. One of you at least has connection to the Catholic church. So what is it that led you to invest five years of your life understanding evangelicalism?
Stephen Ujlaki: Okay. We can each answer that. I mean, I, you’re right. I did grow up, was raised Catholic.
And [00:03:00] I, after Trump was elected in a large part with the help of evangelicals, I wanted to find out more about evangelicals. It turned out that the reactionary branch didn’t want to talk to us, but the, I would say the more progressive Evangelicals did, and it turned out that I realized that they were like the social justice, liberal Catholics that I knew that there was that similarity following the teachings of Jesus that they were faithful to, um, which the reactionary evangelicals, the ones with the bad faith, were not even using Jesus other than abusing him and using him as Reverend Barber said, as though he had been a founding member of the NRA.
Lisa Sharon Harper: That’s so true.
Stephen Ujlaki: Yeah. So that’s what our path took us along. Meeting people like yourself, Reverend Barber, um, as well as conservative [00:04:00] evangelicals like Russell Moore. Mm-Hmm. , uh, who were anti-Trump from the beginning. Mm-Hmm. . And so Chris, you give us your, give your take on it.
Christopher Jones: Sure. Yeah. I mean, both of my parents were raised in the Catholic church.
I’m not sure what it was about the 90s. I was born in 1990. But they always had this connection to the decorum and the doctrine of the Catholic Church, but they gravitated towards the evangelical church. I mean, from my earliest memories, this is in Sacramento, California. They were in the choir and I mean, we were at church at least three days a week.
Lisa Sharon Harper: I can understand that.
Christopher Jones: And I guess it was just… we commuted or we drove, you know, over an hour to get to church too, because we lived out in the foothills, East of Sacramento. And…
Lisa Sharon Harper: Oh, wow.
Christopher Jones: [00:05:00] So it was just something that I embraced and accepted. It was just the way things worked. And I guess I never really challenged my faith or had any questions about my faith until I had kind of a cultural awakening going to UC Berkeley for undergrad.
And just getting exposed to all different types of perspectives. So I grew up in a very homogenous, very white, very conservative part of California. And, I had always heard these statements like, oh, you know, we are the one true religion and I started meeting like Jewish classmates, Muslim classmates who I became really close with.
And it’s like, what you’re telling me that these people are all misguided. They’re all, you know, they’re not going to make it. They’re not going to make it to heaven. And as like a 20-year-old, that was really disturbing to me. And I guess [00:06:00] a lot of the most prominent figures who I saw from the evangelical church in popular media, who I saw on popular media were always embroiled in some kind of scandal or some abuse of the church coffers or… so I was just very skeptical.
And, yeah, I don’t think it was until we started interviewing you and folks from sojourners where I guess, I kind of got attuned to a lot of people who were saying, you know, like, forget about all of the Christianity stuff. Like, let’s start with the scripture. And I think it was Randy Woodley at the Sojourners conference back in 2019.
He said something to that effect. He said, I’m, you know, there’s a period of my life where I didn’t identify as a Christian, but I am a follower of Jesus. And I thought like, what do you mean? Like it kind of broke my brain.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Yeah, [00:07:00] he will do that. Yes.
Christopher Jones: And Jim Wallace when we interviewed him echoed similar sentiments from back when he was in the anti-war movement in the sixties.
Lisa Sharon Harper: And yeah, you know, for those who are not familiar with Randy Woodley, he’s actually… he’s a senior consultant here at Freedom Road. He’s one of my longtime mentors and he actually is Keetoowah Cherokee band and his wife is Eastern Shoshone band. And so they’ve been really doing a lot of work on decolonizing the Christian faith, understanding that since Constantine, this Middle Eastern Afro Asian faith, Hebrew faith has been co-opted by Europe and really changed.
And so, that’s a lot of his work. I don’t want to spend too much time on that, but just for a sense of reference for folks who don’t know him and we’ll have him on, certainly we’ll have him on this in the next season. So how about this in the [00:08:00] film I remember when we sat down before COVID, and you were very much in exploratory mode, by the way, you know, spoiler alert, I’m in the film y’all.
I’m actually in the film. I was like, I was totally into it. I was watching it. You know, they sent me a screener and I’m sitting there watching it and on one level, I’m like, when am I going to show up? And then another level, when I finally did, I didn’t recognize it. I was like, wait, that looks familiar.
That’s a familiar picture. Oh, wait, that’s from my high school. That’s my voice. I was like, it was really kind of fun. So anyway, you really didn’t know kind of where the story was going to take you at that time. So I’m just wondering, when was it that you began to realize this is the story?
Stephen Ujlaki: Well, I mean, to your point, I mean, the thing that was we were exploring what the film was about at the same time as the country was undergoing these changes.
Lisa Sharon Harper: That’s [00:09:00] right.
Stephen Ujlaki: So we spent the first year or two… We were, I mean, we thought that the goal of the film was to show people that Christian nationalism had the potential for violence, had the potential for terrorist… domestic terrorism. After January 6, we said, wait a minute. We’ve, that’s just been, we don’t need to prove they did it.
Christopher Jones: They did it.
Stephen Ujlaki: They did it. So now what? What is our film trying to show people that they don’t know?
Lisa Sharon Harper: Yeah.
Stephen Ujlaki: But then of course, it turned out with all the denialism and the big lie and all that, even though that had happened, there was a huge denial that it had happened. So now we had to go deeper than that to say, okay, what’s behind all that?
What is that big movement that actually doesn’t care about anything other than their version of the truth? And, so that’s, you know, and then we ended up finally, deciding, okay, when are we going to end it? How do we end it? And we chose the 2022 midterms because it was the [00:10:00] first election that showed the reaction to the overturning of Roe versus Wade.
So that showed that there was actually of the overreach on the part of the radical right–so-called religious–was happening. And so, we thought, okay, let’s end it here. And also just simply say, watch out because these people are not going to give up their goal is to overturn democracy.
Nothing short of that.
Christopher Jones: Yeah, I think the pivotal interview for us kind of on our journey was actually Jonathan Wilson Hargrove. And I don’t remember if we met him through you or I’m sure, I’m sure there was, I’m sure you had a hand and I’m sure you did.
Lisa Sharon Harper: He’s a very good friend, but I mean, a lot of us who were in the film actually have worked together over many years.
And so who knows who you, you know, it just, but there’s… it’s a network. It really is a beautiful web.
Christopher Jones: Yeah. [00:11:00] Well, Jonathan tapped us into the work of Anne Nelson, which I think it kind of took us from, this very focused look into I guess what you’d say more liberal evangelical, the more liberal evangelical community to something that was a bit broader looking at the machinery that Christian nationalism was kind of being abused by, in order to sort of, you know, fulfill their objectives. So I think that that was when we kind of… we had a little bit more of it. We had a clearer target, I think, but it made things much more complicated.
Stephen Ujlaki: But you’re right, Lisa, that there was a network once we, thanks to you, starting with you, and you turned us on to some people who turned us on to other people.
And as Chris said, it was, we realized that Christian nationalism was to some extent was just the cover story. That it was actually has been [00:12:00] harnessed by people whose economic, political interest had nothing to do with that, but they were using it and it was convenient in the same way that they use the abortion thing, as opposed to, as you pointed out in the film, as opposed to the white supremacy flag, they, they raised the abortion flag to get the, you know, so many evangelicals on their side, and it was a completely bogus issue. That’s how it expanded, and that’s how it became much deeper, and it’s became much more than about Christian nationalism because it was about the forces that were using it to achieve their own political purposes.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Yes, exactly. And I think that’s what that’s what really kind of surfaced for me as I was watching it. Um, because I really did learn, I learned, especially in the second half of the film when you really dive into the inner workings of the business model of the economic model [00:13:00] of the institutions that were built up and they’re the network that exists.
That was like, wow. Now I have seen like whispers of that. I’ve heard people talk about it, but to see it visually and also relationally to see how central Paul Weyrich was to this whole thing that basically the thing that struck me is that we’re basically all living inside of Paul Weyrich’s head. That’s what we’re doing right now.
We’re all living inside of Paul Weyrich’s head. I mean, how did that strike you?
Stephen Ujlaki: You mean when we discovered this?
Lisa Sharon Harper: Yeah. I mean, as, as you were uncovering this.
Stephen Ujlaki: I mean, it’s thanks to Anne Nelson and Anne Nelson’s book, you know, I mean, Katherine Stewart’s book was really, really good talking about Christian nationalism, but Anne went a lot deeper into it.
And I think we realized, okay, we finally, this is the real subject of the film that has to be [00:14:00] part of it, that it’s not. And Anne kept saying, just make sure you’re focusing not just on Christian nationalism, but on the forces that are harnessing it and using it and exploiting it. And that’s what we attempted to do in the film.
Christopher Jones: What Anne always says is, you know, follow the money. So, I think with, with Paul Weyrich. Um, I mean, he founded the American Legislative Exchange Council. He was a co-founder of the Heritage Foundation. He was a co-founder of the Federalist Society. Like, he was building up this network of think tanks that didn’t exist on the right, sort of, as a reaction to, um, was it the ‘64 election, Steve?
Stephen Ujlaki: Yeah, the Goldwater. Goldwater got crushed. And these extremely, extreme right-wing reactionary Republicans were devastated and, and Weyrich and Vigary and Morton Blackwell all came, [00:15:00] were part of that campaign. And they were enormously bitter that… and they figured they had to do something about it. And, they did, they did.
Lisa Sharon Harper: They really did.
Stephen Ujlaki: We’re living in a world that the Republicans have, the extreme radical Republicans have managed to move the whole country into a reactionary state. Environment, I mean, we’re living, as you said, in Paul Weyrich head right now. This is what he wanted to have happen and it’s happening. And our goal and all of our goals is to try to alert people to that.
So we can get out of it, and save our country.
Christopher Jones: I guess what’s surprising to me about, or at least working on the film and looking at Paul Weyrich, the scope of his work, I feel like the Council for National Policy is at least the least out in the open. Of the organizations that he was, you know, participated with or helped organize, which is crazy to me because I mean, that’s [00:16:00] that’s the most overtly, like, at least ostensibly religious organization.
And I guess something that we’ve always kind of struggled with in how we define our terms, and even the term Christian nationalism, which we can talk about later, which is, I don’t, is imperfect. There’s this sense that because it’s… because people are expressing it as an extension of their faith, like you therefore can’t criticize it or anything like that.
And I guess using it as a veil, um,
Lisa Sharon Harper: That’s the power of it.
Christopher Jones: Yeah.
Stephen Ujlaki: That’s right. Exactly. If masquerade, as we say, masquerading as a religion, when in fact it’s a political movement that’s, that’s anti Christian, I mean, it’s quite a… it’s a huge, it’s the big lie.
Lisa Sharon Harper: So I have a question and this is, I mean, it might feel a little bit redundant because I think you actually intimated towards it, Stephen, but I’d love to hear you guys dig a little deeper [00:17:00] into this.
Why bad faith? Now, why now?
Stephen Ujlaki: I would say why now, because now it, it has gotten closer to power than it ever has. You had people a couple of years ago like Franklin Graham denying that Christian nationalism existed. Then you had people sort of acknowledging and saying like Mayor Marjorie Taylor Greene, yes, I’m a Christian nationalist.
And that’s because they feel that they are ascendant. They feel that they are so close to power now that they don’t need to hide anything. They can flat out say exactly what they’re planning to do, and nobody’s going to stop them. And, and again, as somebody pointed out this Mike Johnson, the leader, you know, the house speaker who talks about what is his, what does he believe in the Bible?
Well, that’s, we know that that’s complete BS. That’s the cover. That’s again, using religion to conceal what the true motives are. The true goals. [00:18:00] So now why now it’s because now more than ever, especially with the risk of Trump getting reelected, more than ever, it’s time to send out the alert to save our country
Christopher Jones: As sort of an extension of what we were just talking about.
I think it’s sort of, it’s not up to us to say whether someone is an authentic believer or anything like that, because this is not an anti-faith film at all. U Which I hope was clear. But I think that’s why we focus so much on the infrastructure. We’re like, okay, well, they’re saying this over here.
They’re holding up the cross over here, but then you look at the oil and gas infrastructure that’s supporting their campaigns that’s supporting their messaging over here. And you’re like, wait a second, like. Those aren’t related, are they? How does that make sense? So I think that’s why we had to kind of dig into the infrastructure.
Because again, if you take the language at face value, you’re kind of like, well, I can’t say that they’re they they don’t believe this. I can’t say [00:19:00] that they’re not true believers. Right? That’s not up to us. But so I think that’s why we tried to focus a little bit more on the machinery. Which is, yeah, like Steve said, is…
I mean, they do feel ascendant, because they are powerful and they are building steam. And I think now that they feel that they can express these sentiments vocally, they feel more emboldened, it seems.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Yeah. I mean, talk about ascendant, they’re, they are literally now the majority of the house of representatives on the Republican side and they are the speaker of the house.
I mean, that’s utterly ascendant. Plus they have Trump up for election this year.
These are our stories. You’re listening to the Freedom Road Podcast, where we bring you stories from the front [00:20:00] lines of the struggle for justice.
So I want to come back and I want to ask you if you can tell us the story of your greatest aha moment while making the film. Like what was the time when you went, whoa, I didn’t know that. Wow. That kind of changes everything.
Stephen Ujlaki: Okay, let me take a shot at it because I love that’s a great question. And then Chris, you can follow up.
We were reading Anne Nelson’s book and on page 92, I think it was she talked about a manifesto.
Lisa Sharon Harper: What is the name of her book, by the way?
Stephen Ujlaki: The Shadow Network.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Okay, so everybody read Shadow Network.
Stephen Ujlaki: And I think, what is this tagline? I’m not, I’m not, I keep forgetting the tagline. But it’s Shadow Network, a great book.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Okay.
Stephen Ujlaki: And she talks about the fact [00:21:00] that Paul Weirich Issued a manifesto in the early 2000s, because he was absolutely convinced that the electoral system was never going to achieve its goal of delivering a Christian nation. And that therefore they could not use democracy. Democracy was in fact the enemy because the majority rule was against the quote “will of God.”
God… So we said, wait a minute, so, and the plan was to use guerrilla tactics, insurrection, destroy people’s faith in the institutions. So, wait a minute. So, in other words, that’s where we are today was the plan all along. It’s not just, it wasn’t a byproduct of the fact that there’s division in the country.
Division in the country and loss of faith was the plan. And which has succeeded incredibly well.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Yeah, you know, I [00:22:00] want to, I want to interject here because I actually, one of the things that struck me about that moment in the film was that I felt like this was… This is like, it’s not a new thing.
It’s the thing. And it’s the thing that the segregationists of the Jim Crow era did in the South, because they could not win an election numerically if everybody voted. So what did they do? They suppressed the vote. Democracy was a threat to white male supremacy in the South. So what did they do? They bombed churches in order to help in order to stop them from organizing to get people to vote.
Well, the same thing is happening now. It’s the organizing. They’ve basically gone back to the Jim Crow playbook.
Stephen Ujlaki: Yeah, there’s a famous quote, he said that they actually do well, they do better, the fewer people who [00:23:00] vote, the better they do, because they are an incredibly committed minority, and they know that an incredibly committed minority can actually win elections if you’ve got an apathetic general public.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Wow. Wow.
Stephen Ujlaki: So you’re right, it goes back to that. That has always been, they have been against majority rule, because majority rule, the more people who vote, who are, don’t look like them, the less, as Anne says in the film, they were going to, they were going to lose more and more elections as the demographics of the country changed.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Yeah.
Stephen Ujlaki: So this is the panic mode. Michelle Bachman says this is the last election.
Lisa Sharon Harper: That’s right.
Stephen Ujlaki: So that’s tremendous fear that’s behind all this and Trump’s ability to stoke that fear is why we, you know, we’re, we make the point that he actually Christian nationalism created him because he was able to parlay those grievances and to make people think that [00:24:00] he represented them.
But anyway, Um, yes, minority rule is what they want, because that’s the only way they can accomplish their goals.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Now, what do we need to understand about Christian nationalism that you came to understand through the process of making bad faith?
Christopher Jones: I think primarily that I guess it doesn’t have anything to do with Christianity.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Ah, yeah.
Stephen Ujlaki: Yeah, yeah,
Christopher Jones: yeah, it’s a complete distortion of the like, beautiful tradition of the Christian faith. Um, and, um, I think. I think that’s the trouble of this term that we’ve come to embrace because it’s a term that was that was devised by sociologists, um, to sort of track this phenomenon. And it you know, it’s used very frequently in public discourse now, but I think, that’s the danger of the term though. I guess people are often like, okay, Christianity. That’s [00:25:00] great nationalism. That’s patriotism. Right? Those are the same thing. Okay. This seems good to me. We were just at the Palm Springs, uh, film festival premiering the film and my mother was there.
She posted something on Facebook about like, oh, I’m so proud. They released the film. One of our neighbors back home said, oh, my gosh, I didn’t realize Chris was an atheist and I’m like, what do you mean? Like, what about it? They’re like, well, you know, it’s called Bad Faith. And, you know, and it’s a Christian nationalism is unholy, like.
And so we’re like, no, no, no, no, no, like, um, so I’ll have to have like a study group when I go home or something.
Stephen Ujlaki: Yeah, yeah, that’s exactly right. That’s it’s, it’s not in fact, Katherine Stewart calls it religious nationalism, but it’s not religious either.
Lisa Sharon Harper: No.
Stephen Ujlaki: It’s false idols. It’s something that comes, it’s very much out of Jonathan has something near [00:26:00] the end of the film about that.
Evil has never presented itself as evil. It always presents itself as the good.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Yeah.
Stephen Ujlaki: Which is a great, a great line, you know, and I think that there’s nothing it’s using and exploiting religion to accomplish a political. Extremist political goal. And that’s… what we’re trying to show in the film.
And yeah, it is Chris point. So just the fact that it’s called Christian nationalism is almost like, say, wait a minute. How could it be your Christianity is good. This is Christian nationalism. Why is it bad? It’s like Marjorie Taylor green says, hey, I’m a Christian. And I’m a nationalist, I guess I’m a Christian nationalist.
Well, no, and that’s something that I wish we had maybe done even better. That’s going to… room for more education to explain to break down the fact that it is [00:27:00] actually some… these are false idols. These are people who pretend to speak for God, and who have nothing godly about them.
Lisa Sharon Harper: So how would you, how would you define Christian nationalism today?
Like how, how do you guys understand it now?
Stephen Ujlaki: Well, according to Sam Perry, it is the thing that people have a problem with is that, wait a minute, how could church going people accept Donald Trump, well, the reality is with Sam Perry has found out a couple of things. One, those people who are the most committed to this don’t go to church.
That’s a category they’re called the evangelicals. I mean, they’re not, a lot of them are, are not, they’re accepting that moniker. But they’re not church-going.
Lisa Sharon Harper: They’re political evangelicals.
Stephen Ujlaki: They’re political evangelicals. And as Sam says, that we, this movement has become more and more secular as it is in Europe, [00:28:00] that they are secular.
They’re using God. Yeah, they say God, but they’re not at all religious. They’re using God because that’s… what do you do when you’re trying to sell something, and you try to find something that everybody believes in and say, well, that’s us. We believe in that. But in fact, what needs to be done is to point out that it is the exact opposite of anything that Jesus ever said or wanted, or what was in any way the basis for, I would say, true Christianity.
A lot of conservatives think, look at Reverend Barber and think he’s really a radical. This is like, that’s not Christianity. So that’s… we use it in the film as an example of here’s somebody who is following Jesus and this is exactly what… and he’s following in the path of Martin Luther King, except we’re in such a reactionary period now that that, that appears very [00:29:00] radical.
It’s not radical. It was the same thing that Martin Luther King was preaching and, you know… but the country has turned so rightward that they are now castigating him as they would Martin Luther King today, were he alive.
Lisa Sharon Harper: So, what would you guys say that you found in terms of the tie between the Christian nationalism, race and white supremacy in particular, and money?
Like, because that’s the interesting kettle that you brew in your film. And the first part of the film, we see a lot of the racist, the white supremacist roots of white Christian nationalism. You have pictures of the Klan and others, other places like that. You know, all the way through, and then we kind of shift into this money [00:30:00] place.
Like, where do you, where does all this come together? How do they, how do those two things link?
Stephen Ujlaki: Well, as you said, we were showing the racism of the KKK and Christian nationalism in the fifties and sixties. And then we show, we jump to Jesse Helms, the famous segregationist, talking about all of these atheists and these… whatever other words he used.
He’s talking about the progress that has been made in the civil rights movement and how this is actually godless. This is actually, those people are… So, there’s a shift. Now they are, and then Paul Weyrich picks this up and says, hey, we’ve got to be a Christian nation. Code for, we’ve got to stop that from happening.
We got to stand in the way of it. So, at one point we were more explicitly making that where that shift takes place, [00:31:00] but we decided again to pull back and let the people speak for themselves and you can figure this out. Not everybody.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Oh, I think it’s pretty clear. I think it is clear.
Stephen Ujlaki: You know, that they did this.
Okay. Now they got a better… Okay. So then Weyrich. So, even though the basis for the religious right coming together had to do with tax exemption and refusal to accept integration, they then realized they could use this abortion. The evangelicals, I mean, the Southern Baptist Conference was very much in favor of Roe versus Wade when it came out in ‘73.
Lisa Sharon Harper: That’s right.
Stephen Ujlaki: Okay, they didn’t care. The evangelicals did not care about this. Weyrich, who was actually this, this. Very reactionary Catholic. In fact, he left the Catholic church and joined some kind of Greek sect that was even more strict. He knew that the Catholic… he knew that the Catholics were against abortion.
And if the Catholic, the conservative Catholics and the [00:32:00] conservative evangelicals were going to come together in the moral majority, there had to be something that they all agreed with. So they got, Weyrich got these guys, Falwell, Robertson, and others to consider abortion as that link.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Right.
Stephen Ujlaki: And look how successful it is going.
And you, you say it in the film, this is one of the things that’s really, really, blows people’s minds in the film when they realize, wait a minute, I mean, they were using abortion as a cover for this real reason that, and it’s been this whole racist, white supremacist line has been absolutely consistent throughout.
And as you and other people who write about this, Jonathan Wilson Hargrove, you know, the slave-owners religion, it’s always been religion has always been used by whoever’s in power to justify their power and what they do. And so Christianity has been, you know, has been a tool, [00:33:00] as Reverend Barber says, and abused for a long time.
And it’s now happening today.
Lisa Sharon Harper: So the thing that is striking to me, and I mean, and Chris, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this as well, is that when you get into the money part, you can kind of lose the connection to race, and you can also kind of lose even the connection to abortion, because it’s no longer about one issue.
It’s kind of about all of them. It’s about supremacy. And so I think we just, I never really understood or saw so clearly the commitment of these businesses to maintain white male supremacy that’s why they’re pouring money into this network because the network is ultimately about maintaining what white Christian America, which ultimately is about white patriarchy.
Right. So what, [00:34:00] would you agree with that? Is that, did I, did I hear that right?
Stephen Ujlaki: No, absolutely right. And there actually, there was a woman who came up to me after the screening and Palm Springs and said, Listen, this is all about maintain the white patriarchy. And I said, yeah, that’s what actually Lisa Sharon Harper says in the film.
We know that’s underlying it all. She was taught how it’s ever going to change. How are people going to, she said the deepest level of it is white supremacy and the male, the white male patriarchy. But to your point about the money, the notion that people who have like very wealthy people who want tax breaks and you want no regulation that are something of their own very narrow interest.
No, it’s not in anybody else’s interest. Okay, what do you do? You’ve got to get some cover. You’ve got to be actually, quote, advocating or seem to be advocating for something that a lot of people like [00:35:00] or would benefit from. There’s a famous book, Thomas Frank, What’s the Matter With Kansas, that explains Republicans have always represented business interests, and they have been successful now more than ever before in cloaking that with this cultural issue, which having to do with abortion, the rights of the unborn, which is a joke.
I mean, it’s a complete joke, but it’s been so successful. And it’s so hypocritical because they none of them believed it, but they realized that’s what they had to say to make it work.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Right.
Stephen Ujlaki: And, and the money, as you say, the money essentially wants to make sure that their businesses can grow, that they have fewer taxes, that the deregulation takes place.
That’s why the extreme right is also in climate change denial. All these things are linked to the, to the business interest. Everything, [00:36:00] everything they say now are the Koch brothers concerned about religion or theocracy. No, that’s… no, they’re, they’re interested in the bottom line. I mean, you know, and as Steve Schmitz said, who was at our thing, and he says, is Jared Kushner interested in theocracy?
No, he’s interested in the 2 billion they got from the Saudis. Stephen Miller, what’s, is he interested in theocracy? No, he’s interested in creating concentration camps. Deporting people.
Lisa Sharon Harper: That’s right.
Stephen Ujlaki: So there are a number of people who benefit from all this, whose interests are not purely religious. And again, this goes back to our theme, religion is being used and exploited as a cover for their own very specific economic and political interest.
Christopher Jones: There’s also like cottage industries. Well, not cottage industry stuff, but you look at the like monopolistic consolidation of media entities. That’s been taking place over the [00:37:00] past several decades and Anne Nelson gets into this in the film. Where, and I think this is sort of one of the, I guess, aha moments for me when we’re making the film is just sort of how in a lot of the Midwest, the South.
You know, there isn’t exactly, uh, a lot of independent journalism happening. There aren’t a lot of not, not everywhere, but you know, you look at somewhere like rural Missouri or like rural South Dakota, you know, Fox and Sinclair kind of have like a death grip on those communities. So if, you know, if all you have is the one or like a couple of radio stations or something like the one radio station or the one, you know, weekly newspaper or something, that’s unbeknownst to these people are all owned by the same entity.
You’re like, well, yeah, I get my news here and I get it here. And I said, well, actually, it’s all coming from the same place. I [00:38:00] feel like that’s one of the things about this where I’ve developed so much empathy, I guess, for, I think a lot of people who have, you know, very inappropriately been referred to as like living in the flyover states or something like that.
I think that’s what, this is what allows someone like Trump to emerge. These people who felt like they didn’t have any agency in this sort of conversation about who we are as a people and not to say that, I mean, it’s not necessarily the most. Like I spent a lot of time in Wyoming.
It’s not exactly the most racially diverse place, but these people feel like, they’re like, hey, like, why aren’t they making movies about us in Hollywood or whatever? Like, it’s sort of like, they’re kind of like, hey, they feel that their perspective is not being heard or acknowledged. So then when someone like Trump shows up and is like, yeah, it’s not, it’s not.
I’ve got your back. And then we’re like, we know [00:39:00] it’s bold, but they’re like, Hey, something different, something interesting.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Wow. So what I’m hearing, what I’m hearing from you both is that for the folks who subscribe. To this far right Christian nationalist movement, and may not honestly may not even actually identify as a Christian nationalist, but they would vote that way.
They vote in that stream are not… they’re not necessarily motivated by hatred of people of color, right? They might be motivated now by hatred of the “libs,” right? The liberals, because the liberals have been cast as the enemy, but it’s not, they would not necessarily see themselves as being motivated by, quote, “white supremacy.”
But they are doing white supremacy. They’re doing the work of [00:40:00] white supremacy in trying to establish their own… protect themselves and establish their own, you know, economic supremacy at the expense of others. Is that what I’m hearing?
Stephen Ujlaki: Yeah, I mean, that is, in fact, the genius of what they’re doing and why because they are able to cover their tracks so well and to make so many people feel that they are representing their interests while they’re doing such damage.
I mean, it really is up to the Democrats party or the liberals to… well, I should say this is why use the example of the Democrats as a model for what he was doing. You saw with the labor unions with the Democratic Party in the 50s and 60s. It was a machine. I mean, they had a group of people. They were going to vote one way, they were going to be supportive, and that’s what he ended up doing with the evangelicals, he turned them into this Christian political machine that was based on what the Democrats have been doing with the labor unions, [00:41:00] which of course, when Reagan came to power, they managed to demolish.
Lisa Sharon Harper: That’s right, that’s right.
Christopher Jones: I think what’s particularly insidious about this is, I think you had alluded to Gloo earlier, we have a segment in the film. Looking at how they’re tapping into, and just like organizations like I-360, um, which is funded by the Koch brothers, Gloo is able to tap into, self revealed mental health data of individuals who are attending their churches and they’re micro targeting, micro targeting them with advertisements like political advertisements, when they know that they’re in a vulnerable place, it was one of those things where…
We got this information from Brent Alpress, who’s sort of an investigative researcher, and a colleague of Anne Nelson’s, where, yeah, they’re, they’re going into these worship spaces. They’re actively engaging with pastors who [00:42:00] are willfully giving out information on their parishioners, uh, to these groups who can then use that information for whatever purposes.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Let’s see. No. So here’s the thing is that, I mean, I’ve, I have actually had intersection with Gloo. Like they actually, in 2019, I was at a retreat, I was called together with a, with a few, a handful of people of color and a handful of white folk who are leaders, in this evangelical world to talk about race.
I don’t know what, I don’t know what prompted it. I know that there were some, some of the organizations that were listed in your chart were there, including Gloo. And one of the things that they very proudly talked about was that software that you talk about, but they did not talk about it being used for political purposes at all. It was all about, [00:43:00] you know, all about church growth. It’s like how to have church growth, how to target the people who are going to be most likely to come to your church and, you know, have messages that actually resonate with them. That was the entirety of the message that we received, and that’s the pitch.
Stephen Ujlaki: In fact, Lisa, you’ve explained exactly how they succeed in getting tens of thousands of pastors to fulfill, do their programming for them by making that point. This is how you can grow your church. Follow with us. And I mean, you saw Watchmen on the Wall, that whole Perkins thing. I mean, it’s this massive organization.
I mean, the pastors are well-meaning people for the most part. I mean, of course, and they’re told, listen, we can help you do what you’re good, which we can help you do what you want to do.
Christopher Jones: Spread the good word.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Yeah. But then, but what you’re saying is, but then. What they actually do in addition to the good stuff [00:44:00] that they are, that they say they’re going to do because they do do that, right?
Like, that’s why it’s become so big because it actually works for these churches, but they are, they also, according to you and your sources, they are also pumping political messaging out that is partisan and, moves congregations in a particular partisan direction. Is that what you’re saying?
Stephen Ujlaki: Absolutely. Absolutely. It’s what Weyrich said even in 1980. He was trying to get the pastors to vote and to vote their way. I mean, it’s always been the pastors, because of the fact that, I didn’t realize this at the time, but the evangelical congregations really listen and obey their pastor, because they do believe that their pastor is speaking the words of God.
There’s that line and thing in the film when Falwell was interviewed by somebody and he said, that’s a tremendous, he’s exclaims that he said, well, they do follow. And the guy said, the reporter said, that’s a tremendous amount of power. Falwell said, [00:45:00] yeah, yes.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Walking Freedom Road from coast to coast and around the globe. This is the Freedom Road podcast.
Christopher Jones: I think it’s again, I think maybe this was evident, but I don’t… like Gloo isn’t sending, you know, advertisements to people, I think it’s just the idea that they’re making that information accessible to other entities. I just wanted to make that clear. Like, I think that’s because, like, the council for national policy, you look at our organizational chart.
A lot of these connections, like, okay, there’s board members on the council for national policy who are also the presidents of, like, you know, the faith and freedom coalition or something like that. So I think I just wanted to make that distinction.
Lisa Sharon Harper: That’s actually really helpful. So it’s not like Gloo is putting out these partisan [00:46:00] ads, but rather Gloo is offering the information they received from the pastors to other entities that are not so innocent.
Christopher Jones: Well, they’re doing what they told you they would.
Stephen Ujlaki: Gloo Gloo is not innocent either Gloo is according to Gloo is specifically created in order to accomplish that to suck as much information as possible out of these various congregations. They’re not a neutral organization.
Christopher Jones: yeah, I just mean to say that they’re, they’re not actually marketing like a candidate or something like that.
Um, but, but they make that, they make that data available to whoever is paying them, whether it’s another pastor or…
Stephen Ujlaki: Yeah, and Barna, the same thing.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Wow, you just, you messing, you are messing.
Stephen Ujlaki: I mean, this is the thing that.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Yeah, I mean, to be incredibly, I mean, incredibly, um, they’re kind of a, they’re one of those like pillar organizations, you may as well, like with Barna, you may as well name [00:47:00] Campus Crusade for Christ and Christianity Today. Like they’re, they’re pillars in the white evangelical world. Barna is one of those pillars. So I saw it on your chart. I wondered how did it get there?
Stephen Ujlaki: Well, I mean, it accomplishes a lot of this is from the research of both Katherine Stewart and Anne Nelson, who heavily went into an interview that people involved in everything we have in the film is backed up by very solid documentary evidence. Anne Nelson’s book is like 70 pages of like, at the end of all of citing all her sources.
So this is very specifically the political goals, Barna has a very definite political agenda. These are not just simply public service organizations.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Wow. Everybody, you’re going to have to go out and get Anne Nelson’s book. I’m going to have to go out and get her book. Maybe we’ll have her on here as well.
So I have to ask you guys this, on the [00:48:00] other side of making the film, what are the questions that are kind of still hanging in the air for you? Don’t you, what do you still not understand? Or that questions that were raised by making the film?
Stephen Ujlaki: Well, that’s a good question.
Lisa Sharon Harper: I try to do that.
Stephen Ujlaki: I would say the thing for us that we still are trying to figure out is how do we more fully succeed in reaching the people who need to know about this?
Because, we in our film use Reverend Barber, for example, as an example of opposition to what was going on. He’s a through, he’s a through line of somebody In the midst of all this bad stuff that they’re, they’re doing and are succeeding with. Here’s a man in an organization that has got their number and is calling them out for being unchristian and for being violating all of God’s and Jesus’s precepts.
And [00:49:00] yet at the same time. He’s a controversial figure because of the fact that they look at him and think, okay, this is a radical, this is extreme left. And I think, so how do you actually get to people in a way in which they’re not able to dismiss who’s talking as being automatically on the wrong side?
How do you reach these people? Because it’s not just intellectually, you have to somehow, how reach people emotionally. And I think the film, certainly on a large screen with the music and the full effect, I think people were stunned, were moved emotionally by it. But at the same time, there were a number of people who probably felt, well, this is a, this is a very left version of the reality.
How do we actually come across? How is it possible to convince a lot of people? No, this we’re trying to [00:50:00] give you as As to say neutral, but as an unbiased account as possible when five years ago, when I was starting this thing just around the time or before that I hired Chris and said, hey, we started on our journey, I asked Ken Burns. I said what I wanted to do. He said, make it a history.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Right. I saw that. I saw that you did that. That was really good.
Stephen Ujlaki: Make it a history, then people, you take them through, and they kind of understand how we got here, and it’s less for them, it’s less easy for them to dismiss it. Because you can see the steps that brought us here.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Can I just say that is the most powerful thing about the structure of your film is that you literally walk us through how it happened when it happened, how it happened.
What were the decision points, who were the decision makers? I mean, it was just… that was [00:51:00] brilliant. And I have to say, also, I came out of watching it thinking. This should be a PBS documentary. One of those things that PBS takes up, and actually like a Ken Burns film, that they play all the time so that everybody in the country has an opportunity to see it.
Stephen Ujlaki: Yeah. Yeah. People have said that, that this could be this, they think that there’s a possibility. We haven’t contacted them yet, but now that the film is finished, I know we’re going to, we’re going to, because I mean, it’s a relatively unbiased film and in my opinion, we have advice all along the way from very top editors saying, let them let the, these people speak their minds.
Let’s have people hear what they have to say. You don’t have to keep hammering and saying these are bad. Let people figure that out because as soon as you tell somebody something, they’re going to react against it. But if you let somebody say something, which is, let’s say questionable or you don’t agree with that [00:52:00] causes the audience to actually have to engage and ask themselves, “Is this right or not?”
And that’s what you need to do. Nobody wants to be told, you know, and too much of, you know, television too much of media is. Certainly what they say about television, they tell people what they’re going to see, show them what they’re going to see, show it to them, and then tell them what they just saw, you know, and that again, all that does is, you know, we did not make this film to preach to the choir.
We were hoping to reach beyond. And of course, if there’s any, that’s the challenge that we have, and that I hope through getting it out through you and through many other people, we can reach beyond the natural constituency, let’s say, who would be open to it so that other people, and if we’re successful, it’ll be because they’re listening.
To the history, but to your point about what could we, what did we learn, [00:53:00] what could we do better or differently? I think if anything, if there’s a follow up, we thought if there’s anything further we can do based on this… we, I think we’d love to, to do it, but of course there’s not gonna be any time before the election, but…
Lisa Sharon Harper: Right, I was actually gonna ask you, the story is continuing. So how do you see this playing itself out in 2024?
Stephen Ujlaki: Well, some people have suggested that we should also, at the very end of the film, put that the Heritage Foundation bullet point plan for what is going to happen when Trump wins.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Right. That’s Project 2025.
Stephen Ujlaki: Yes. Project 2025 is a direct continuation of the Weyrich Manifesto. These people have been incredibly consistent and they’ve been saying for a long time what they were planning to do. Nobody listened. At least people who felt safely again, having dismissed these people [00:54:00] as not being important to pay attention to.
Well, they were wrong. We were wrong. I was wrong. I realized what a complete elitist I was to have completely dismissed him. I knew nothing. I knew really nothing. I did not know what I didn’t know.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Wow.
Stephen Ujlaki: And now I. Learned how much I, I did not know. And anyway, so I’m Chris, you give your version.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Yeah, and Chris, I wonder, would you be able to expound a little bit on project 2025, I mean, and how that is playing everything forward.
Christopher Jones: I can’t speak eloquently to Project 2025 specifically. Um, I don’t know, Steve, if you’ve how familiar you are with the document, it’s 1300 pages. So I haven’t had time to read the entire [00:55:00] document. Unfortunately. I think… I guess this movement has a voracious appetite for power. And, I guess what I’m trying to figure out, I mean, I have my Mr. Smith goes to Washington approach, which is sort of like, okay, ultimately, a lot of the destabilization that’s happening in our country is interpersonal. It is, there’s a lack of discourse at the nuclear family level, uh, I see it in a lot of my friends families like outcast relatives.
I mean, this is always going to happen, like, whatever. People need to do what’s best for their mental health. Like, I get that. Um, but I know, too, that because, like, the impact that, like, MAGA has had on the Republican Party, like, I know plenty of people who are just like, oh, like, I can’t even, I can’t even engage with them.
Or even the word evangelical, it’s like, it feels like a [00:56:00] dirty word to some people where they’re like, Oh, like I know what, I know what that’s about. Oh, I was hurt by the church or whatever. So I guess we’re just trying to figure out the best possible way to engage with people on an interpersonal level too.
Like, and I think part of it is. I mean, hopefully you can be a part of our little brain trust. We’re trying to come up with curriculum so that we can actually, if we can’t be at screenings, if we can’t have you there, if we can’t have Sam Perry there, if we can’t have Reverend Barber there, like, to have, like, a study group curriculum, or to have, like, a workbook, or worksheet or something so that there’s a little bit of framing for this discussion, because I think that one of the big dangers is like Christian nationalism just becomes another way to tar your enemy or like, even I just said enemy, like, we’re not enemies to tar people who are, you have an ideological disagreement with.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Yeah.
Stephen Ujlaki: Let me I just want to answer your [00:57:00] thing about 2025. I mean, I have read the bullet points of it. I mean, what they’re planning. It’s essentially the dismantling of the democracy. Those pieces that make our democracy have been targeted, singled out, and each one of them is going to be dismantled. So that whoever is in power as the president, becomes essentially the dictator, you know, that’s the essence of it.
And that is the direct continuation of the fact that this movement has been anti-democratic for as long as it’s been around and it would be the culmination and the dominance of the success. Of minority rule, so that is, it’s something, an answer to your question, but what 2025 is [00:58:00] and what the danger is and, you know, as Chris was saying that the difficult part is, how do you engage in people in a way that doesn’t just reinforce their, their antipathy.
To a certain group, and just strengthen the division as opposed to reaching out. When we first started this thing. The goal was to figure out how can we reunite the different wings of the evangelicals? How can we get we thought? Wait a minute. If we could somehow get them all together in some instances, it’s naive, not having a clue about what was, this is before I got into it.
The idea was, how can we reunite these wings around the teachings of Jesus? Of course, then we figured out that they were actually, they don’t even listen to the teachings of Jesus. They’re, you know, that’s an inconvenience. That’s the inconvenient truth of what Jesus actually said. The gospels, none of this, they don’t use that.
So, at [00:59:00] any rate, that was the very naive beginning thought about what the film could do and what the problem was. But, of course, the problem is not the evangelicals per se. It’s, you know, how they’ve been used. And now what they become more radicalized in many cases than their pastors
Lisa Sharon Harper: So true. So true. You know, you guys, you didn’t mention Israel, which I thought was really interesting given our current moment. And you know, obviously you got it, you know, you have to end the film sometime, but this is really the moment now is this question of Zionism, and I was listening to the Christian nationalists talk, and you guys describe Christian nationalism, it struck me. I hear a lot of the same sentiments in hard Israeli Zionism. And I’m wondering, you know, some evangelical Trump voters in the course of the primaries have actually said the reason [01:00:00] why they want to vote for Trump is because he moved the American embassy to Jerusalem. You know, as that’s like one of the big reasons that, that they are naming as the reason why they are voting for him.
And so, you know, has that intersection of Christian nationalism and Zionism crossed your mind or your consciousness since this Gaza, ethnic cleansing, um, now South Africa has charged them with genocide since that has actually come to the fore.
Stephen Ujlaki: Well, we had basically blocked the film before all this happened.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Right, right.
Stephen Ujlaki: But it’s a continuation of the notion of power that uses the religious element for its, to convince people. And yes, I mean, certainly we know that that [01:01:00] hard core that the extreme right in Israel, does envisage a theocratic Jewish state. So it is the same thing.
And I think that it’s not anything that our film touches upon, but it’s, it’s an example of, you’re right. I mean, it is an example of that. And it is obviously completely a denial of the rights of the Palestinians. And I think that… But it’s a very tough issue because it’s yet one more thing where people are so misinformed that it’s very hard to talk about without getting involved in, in really complicated feelings.
Lisa Sharon Harper: A whole ball of wax there.
But I do want to just say the thing that made me go, whoa, was the question of population. Right? [01:02:00] So population control. And that is absolutely one of the things that Hetzel, um, Herzl, said has to happen in order for the Zionist project, Israel to succeed. is that you have to have a majority Israelis there.
Now, what I heard you saying in your film about Christian nationalism is there’s this aha wake up moment around that time that Michelle Bachman says, this is the last election saying that the demographics, they can’t control the demographics per se, unless they control immigration. But even then it’s like, it’s not, we’re already on track.
So now they have to go toward the illiberal, I mean, basically, end democracy so that you can maintain white rule. So I don’t want to, I don’t want to belabor that, but that really did strike me, especially in this current moment. Any other thoughts on that before I ask my next question? [01:03:00] Okay.
Stephen Ujlaki: Yeah, not really.
It’s hard to very briefly say anything about it because there’s so much to it other than to say, you’re right, the analysis is correct, that that is an example of what we were… that’s a further example of what we’re talking about.
Lisa Sharon Harper: So given what you’ve learned about Christian nationalism.
What do you believe is the one thing that America needs to focus on as we head into the 2024 election season. We’re there. We’re here now. We just had our first caucus, the Iowa caucuses. And so, we’re now headed into, next is New Hampshire and then South Carolina and so on. What do we need to be focused on?
Christopher Jones: Well, I think there’s a, there’s a dearth of education on how to discern misinformation or disinformation from reality. And I know, like, we’ve got [01:04:00] deep fakes and stuff, like, it’s becoming harder to do that. Yeah. And maybe it’s, it’s too late in the game, to make, resources accessible to the general public as we, as we go into the primaries.
Stephen Ujlaki: The thing we want to leave people with as much as possible and what is missing is the understanding that attacks on democracy, if you think, hey, I’m among the protected, I’m the ones who are going to benefit from the fact that we lose democracy. What they don’t realize is that once you have an authoritarian regime that systematically excludes certain people from power, you’re going to be one of those people at some point.
What makes you think that that democracy is a protection is your protection. You take it away. You have no protection. You may think you’re among. Hey, we’re going to benefit because we’re white and we’re Christian. No, if you don’t [01:05:00] have a democracy, you have no protection. And it’s classic that revolutions eat their young.
In other words, it just, as they become more radical. And so that’s, if anything, people have to realize how precious democracy is and how they are really have, they have no rights if there’s no democracy. And what do they really feel good about leaving it to somebody like Donald Trump to decide about their own personal lives?
I don’t think so.
Lisa Sharon Harper: The conversations leaders have on the road to justice. This is the Freedom Road Podcast. Thank you for joining us today. The Freedom Road Podcast is recorded in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and this episode was engineered and produced by Corey Nathan of Scan Media. Freedom Road podcast is executive [01:06:00] produced by Freedom Road, LLC.
We consult, coach, train, and design experiences that bring common understanding, common commitment, and lead to common action. And you can find out more about our work at our website, freedomroad. com. So stay in the know by signing up for our updates on Substack. Somebody say Substack. We promise we will not flood your inbox, but there’s a really a lot of great content over there.
And we have a special treat now for our paid subscribers, paid Substack subscribers, and also our Patreon patrons. We’re going to have a special backstage conversation with Stephen and Chris over on those channels. So hey, join the conversation on Freedom Road.