Another day, another long, front-page hit-piece against Florida’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, a potential Republican presidential candidate in 2024. This one appears on the Tuesday front page of the reliably liberal newspaper Miami Herald: “DeSantis’ ‘full armor of God’ rhetoric reaches Republicans. But is he playing with fire?”
The story opened on a DeSantis speech at conservative Hillsdale College in Michigan, where reporter Ana Ceballos was freaked out when a variation on a familiar Biblical verse emanated out of the governor’s mouth.
While visiting a private Christian college in southern Michigan that wields influence in national politics, Gov. Ron DeSantis rephrased a biblical passage to deliver a message to conservatives.
“Put on the full armor of God. Stand firm against the left’s schemes. You will face flaming arrows, but if you have the shield of faith, you will overcome them, and in Florida we walk the line here,” DeSantis told the audience at Hillsdale College in February. “And I can tell you this, I have only begun to fight.”
Ceballos instantly turned the volume up to maximum distortion, warning DeSantis’s rhetoric could lead to violence.
The Republican governor, a strategic politician who is up for reelection in November, is increasingly using biblical references in speeches that cater to those who see policy fights through a morality lens and flirting with those who embrace nationalist ideas that see the true identity of the nation as Christian.
He and other Republicans on the campaign trail are blending elements of Christianity with being American and portraying their battle against their political opponents as one between good and evil. Those dynamics have some political observers and religious leaders worrying that such rhetoric could become dangerous, as it could mobilize fringe groups who could be prone to violence in an attempt to have the government recognize their beliefs.
“I think, at best, DeSantis is playing with fire,” said Brian Kaylor, a Baptist minister in Missouri who has studied the interaction between religion and politics for over two decades. “If asked, I’m sure he would tell you he is not telling people to literally go and fight. But this rhetoric in this political environment is dangerous.”
Christian nationalism for many conservatives has become a political identity, and unlike conservative politicians in the past who used their faith to inform their arguments, DeSantis is more aggressive, using war imagery to describe the political debates as a battle over who will be the better American.
The paper tried feverishly to tie Gov. DeSantis and his mainstream political views and religious beliefs to the January 6 Capitol Hill Riots.
The Herald/Times asked the governor’s reelection campaign and his executive office, which deals with his role as governor, whether the governor’s increased use of religious and biblical references was intentional, what he believed about the Christian nationalism movement since Jan. 6, 2021, and whether he was concerned that the rhetoric could exclude non-Christians.
After listing DeSantis’s accomplishments, such as “prohibiting classroom instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity in early school grades” and banning “Medicaid from covering gender-affirming treatments,” Ceballos again found paranoid sources to make her points for her.
Critics, however, say that DeSantis is in effect excluding others who do not share his viewpoints. Kaylor, the Baptist minister, said he believes eroding the separation between church and state would undermine democracy.
A photo caption of a menacing protester captured the story’s attempt to equate DeSantis with Christian nationalism and then with violence:
…a man holds a Bible as Trump supporters gather outside the Capitol in Washington. The Christian imagery and rhetoric on view during the Capitol insurrection are sparking renewed debate about the societal effects of melding Christian faith with an exclusionary breed of nationalism.