Christian Identity (also known as Identity Christianity) is a racist, anti-Semitic, and white supremacist interpretation of Christianity which holds that only Germanic, Anglo-Saxon, Celtic, Nordic, Aryan people and those of kindred blood are the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and hence the descendants of the ancient Israelites.
Christian Identity is not an organized religion, nor is it connected with specific Christian denominations; instead, it is independently practiced by individuals, independent congregations, and some prison gangs. Its theology promotes a racial interpretation of Christianity. Christian Identity beliefs were primarily developed and promoted by authors who regarded Europeans as the "chosen people" and Jews as the cursed offspring of Cain, the "serpent hybrid" or serpent seed (a belief known as the two-seedline doctrine). White supremacist sects and gangs later adopted many of these teachings.
Christian Identity holds that all non-whites (people not of wholly European descent) will either be exterminated or enslaved in order to serve the white race in the new Heavenly Kingdom on Earth under the reign of Jesus Christ. Its doctrine states that only "Adamic" (white people) can achieve salvation and paradise. Many adherents are Millennialist.
The Christian Identity movement emerged in the United States in the 1920s and 1930s as an offshoot of British Israelism. The idea that "lower races" are mentioned in the Bible (in contrast to Aryans) was posited in the 1905 book Theozoology; or The Science of the Sodomite Apelings and the Divine Electron by Jörg Lanz von Liebenfels, a volkisch writer seen by many historians as a major influence on Nazism. Adolf Hitler, however, did not subscribe to the belief that the Israelites of the Bible were Aryans; in a speech he gave in Munich in 1920 titled "Why We Are Anti-Semites", he referred to and disparaged Abraham as racially Jewish.
Relation to British IsraelismEdit
While early British Israelites such as Edward Hine and John Wilson were philo-semites, Christian Identity emerged in sharp contrast as a strongly antisemitic theology. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) describes the emergence of Christian Identity from British Israelism as an 'ugly turn':
Once on American shores, British-Israelism began to evolve. Originally, believers viewed contemporary Jews as descendants of those ancient Israelites who had never been "lost." They might be seen critically but, given their significant role in the British-Israel genealogical scheme, not usually with animosity. By the 1930s, however, in the U.S., a strain of antisemitism started to permeate the movement (though some maintained traditional beliefs—and a small number of traditionalists still exist in the U.S.)
Another source describes the emergence of Christian Identity from British Israelism as a "remarkable transition", also noting that traditional British Israelites were advocates of philosemitism which paradoxically changed to antisemitism and racism under Christian Identity. In fact, British Israelism itself had several Jewish members, and it received support from rabbis throughout the 19th century; within British politics it supported Benjamin Disraeli, who was descended from Sephardi Jews. However, Christian Identity, which emerged in the 1920s, began to turn antisemitic by teaching the belief that the Jews are not descended from the tribe of Judah (as British Israelites maintain), but are instead descended from Satan or Edomite-Khazars. The British Israel form of the belief held no antisemitic views; its followers instead held the view that Jews made up a minority of the tribes of Israel (Judah and Benjamin), with the British and other related Northern European peoples making up the remainder.
Christian Identity can be traced back to 1886 with the publication of the book Lost Israel Found in the Anglo-Saxon Race by E.P. Ingersoll. This was followed in the 1920s by the writings of Howard Rand (1889–1991).
Rand was a Massachusetts lawyer who obtained a law degree at the University of Maine. He was raised as a British Israelite, and his father introduced him to J. H. Allen's work Judah's Sceptre and Joseph's Birthright (1902) at an early age. While Rand's father was not an antisemite, nor was Rand in his early British Israelite years, Rand first added an antisemitic element to British Israelism in the 1920s. He claimed as early as 1924 that the Jews were not really descended from the tribe of Judah, but were instead the descendants of Esau or Canaanites. However, Rand never claimed that modern Jews were descendants of Satan, or that they were in any way inferior; he just claimed that they were not the true lineal descendants of Judah. For this reason Rand is considered a 'transitional' figure from British Israelism to Christian Identity, but not its actual founder.
Rand is known as the first person to coin the term 'Christian Identity'. Rand had set up the Anglo-Saxon Federation of America in 1933 which promoted his view that Jews were not descended from Judah; this marked the first key transition from British Israelism to Christian Identity. Beginning in May 1937, there were key meetings of British Israelites in the United States who were attracted to Rand's theory that the Jews were not descended from Judah. This provided the catalyst for the eventual emergence of Christian Identity. By the late 1930s the group considered Jews to be the offspring of Satan and demonised them, as they did non-Caucasian races. William Dudley Pelley, founder of the clerical fascist Silver Shirts movement, also promoted an anti-semitic form of British Israelism in the early 1930s. Links between Christian Identity and the Ku Klux Klan also emerged in the late 1930s, although the KKK was past the peak of its early 20th century revival.
Wesley Swift (1913–1970) is considered by the FBI to have been the most significant figure in the early years of the Christian Identity movement. Swift was born in New Jersey, and eventually moved to Los Angeles in order to attend Bible college. It is claimed that he may have been a "Ku Klux Klan organizer and a Klan rifle-team instructor." In 1946, he founded his own church in Lancaster, California. In the 1950s, he was Gerald L. K. Smith's West Coast representative of the Christian Nationalist Crusade. In addition, he hosted a daily radio broadcast in California during the 1950s and 1960s, through which he was able to proclaim his ideology to a large audience. Due to Swift's efforts, the message of his church spread, leading to the creation of similar churches throughout the country.
In 1957, the name of his church was changed to The Church of Jesus Christ Christian, which is used today by Aryan Nations (AN) churches. One of Swift's associates was retired Col. William Potter Gale (1917–1988). According to claims of unknown reliability, Gale had previously been an aide to General Douglas MacArthur, and had coordinated guerrilla resistance in the Philippines during World War II. Gale became a leading figure in the anti-tax and paramilitary movements of the 1970s and 1980s, beginning with the California Rangers and the Posse Comitatus, and helped found the militia movement.
Numerous Christian Identity churches preach similar messages. Some espouse more violent rhetoric than others, but all believe that Aryans are God's chosen race. Gale introduced future Aryan Nations founder Richard Girnt Butler to Swift. Until then, Butler had admired George Lincoln Rockwell and Senator Joseph McCarthy, and had been relatively secular. Swift quickly converted him to Christian Identity. When Swift died, Butler took over the Church, to the apparent dismay of both Gale and Swift's family. Neither Butler nor Gale rivaled Swift as a dynamic orator, and attendance dwindled under the new pastor. Butler eventually renamed the organisation "The Church of Jesus Christ Christian/Aryan Nations" and moved it to Hayden Lake, Idaho.
Lesser figures participated as Christian Identity theology took shape in the 1940s and 1950s, such as San Jacinto Capt, a Baptist minister and California Klansman (who claimed that he had introduced Wesley Swift to Christian Identity); and Bertrand Comparet (1901–1983), a one-time San Diego Deputy City Attorney (and a lawyer for Gerald L. K. Smith). But for the most part, today's Christian Identity groups seem to have been generated by Wesley Swift, through his lieutenants William Potter Gale and Richard Butler.
Rather than being an organized religion, Christian Identity ("CI") is adhered to by individuals, independent congregations and some prison gangs with a white supremacist theology that promotes a racial interpretation of Christianity. Christian Identity beliefs were primarily developed and promoted by two authors who considered Europeans to be the chosen people and Jews to be the cursed offspring of Cain, the "serpent hybrid" (or Serpent seed) (a belief known as the two-seedline doctrine). An early Christian Identity teacher, Wesley A. Swift (1913–1970), formulated the doctrine that non-Caucasian peoples have no souls and therefore can never earn God's favor or be saved. The theology was promoted by George Lincoln Rockwell (1918 – 1967), the founder of the American Nazi Party.
No single document expresses the Christian Identity belief system; there is much disagreement over the doctrines which are taught by those who ascribe to CI beliefs, since there is no central organization or headquarters for the CI sect. However, all CI adherents believe that Adam and his offspring were exclusively White and that the other pre-Adamite races are separate species, which cannot be either equated with or derived from the Adamites. CI adherents cite passages from the Old Testament, including Ezra 9:2, 12 and Nehemiah 13:27, which they claim contain injunctions by Yahweh against interracial marriages. Christian Identity believers reject the doctrines of most contemporary Christian denominations and they believe that the doctrine which advocates the view that God's promises to Israel (through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) have been expanded to create a spiritual people of "Israel", i.e., the Christian Church, is heresy.
The Christian Identity movement first received widespread attention from the mainstream media in 1984, when the white nationalist organization known as The Order embarked on a murderous crime spree before it was suppressed by the FBI. Tax resister and militia movement organizer Gordon Kahl, whose death in a 1983 shootout with federal authorities helped inspire The Order, also had connections to the Christian Identity movement. The movement returned to public attention in 1992 and 1993, in the wake of the deadly Ruby Ridge confrontation, when newspapers discovered that former Green Beret and right-wing separatist Randy Weaver had at least a loose association with Christian Identity believers.
These groups are estimated to have two thousand members in the United States and an unknown number in Canada and the rest of the British Commonwealth. Due to the promotion of Christian Identity doctrines through radio and later through the Internet, an additional fifty thousand unaffiliated individuals are thought to hold Christian Identity beliefs. The primary spread of Christian Identity teachings is believed to be through white supremacist prison gangs.
Christian Identity adherents assert that the white people of Europe or Caucasians in general are God's servant people, according to the promises that were given to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It further asserts that the early European tribes were really the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel and therefore the rightful heirs to God's promises, and God's chosen people. Colin Kidd wrote that in America, Christian Identity exploited "the puzzle of the Ten Lost Tribes to justify an openly anti-Semitic and virulently racist agenda."
Two House TheologyEdit
Like British Israelites, Christian Identity (CI) adherents believe in Two House Theology, which makes a distinction between the Tribe of Judah and the Ten Lost Tribes. However the major difference between British Israelism and CI is that British Israelites have always maintained that Jews are descended from the tribe of Judah. In contrast, while also maintaining a Two House distinction, Christian Identity proponents believe that the true lineal descendants of Judah are not contemporary Jews, but are instead White Europeans whose ancestors settled mainly in Scotland, Germany, and other European nations, alongside the House of Israel. In short, Christian Identity adherents believe that instead of modern-day Jews, the true descendents of the Houses of Israel and Judah are the modern-day Anglo-Saxon, Celtic, Germanic, Nordic, and kindred peoples. Some CI scholars teach the belief that many contemporary Jews are the descendants of Cain, citing Genesis 3:15, John 8:44 and 1 John 3:12 in support of their position; they also teach that Cain was the spawn of Satan.
Identity teaches that "Israel" was the name given to Jacob after he wrestled with the angel at Penuel as described in Genesis 32:26–32. "Israel" then had twelve sons, which began the Twelve Tribes of Israel.:101 In 975 BC the ten northern tribes revolted, seceded from the south, and became the Kingdom of Israel.:101 After they were subsequently conquered by Assyria at approximately 721 BC, the ten tribes disappeared from the Biblical record and became known as the Lost Tribes of Israel.:101
According to Identity doctrine, 2 Esdras 13:39–46 then records the history of the nation of Israel journeying over the Caucasus mountains, along the Black Sea, to the Ar Sereth tributary of the Danube in Romania ("But they formed this plan for themselves, that they would leave the multitude of the nations and go to a more distant region, where no human beings had ever lived. … Through that region there was a long way to go, a journey of a year and a half; and that country is called Arzareth").:101 The tribes prospered, and eventually colonised other European countries. Israel's leading tribe, the Tribe of Dan, is attributed with settling and naming many areas which are today distinguished by place names derived from its name – written ancient Hebrew contains no vowels, and hence "Dan" would be written as DN, but would be pronounced with an intermediate vowel dependent on the local dialect, meaning that Dan, Den, Din, Don, and Dun all have the same meaning.:101 Various modern place names are said to derive from the name of this tribe::101
- Macedonia – Macedonia – derived from Moeshe-don-ia (Moeshe being "the land of Moses")
- Danube – Dan-ube, Dneister – Dn-eister, Dneiper – Dn-eiper, Donetz – Don-etz, Danzig – Dan-zig, Don – Don
Some followers claim that the Identity genealogy of the Davidic line can be traced to the royal rulers of Britain and Queen Elizabeth II herself.:102–105 Thus Anglo-Saxons are the true Israelites, God's chosen people who were given the divine right to rule the world until the Second Coming of Christ.:101
Adamites and pre-AdamitesEdit
A major tenet of Christian Identity is the pre-Adamite hypothesis. Christian Identity followers believe that Adam and Eve are only the ancestors of white people, and that Adam and Eve were preceded by lesser, non-Caucasian races which are often (although not always) identified as "beasts of the field"; for example, the "beasts" which wore sackcloth and cried unto God (Jonah 3:8) are identified as black races by Christian Identity adherents. To support their theory on the racial identity of Adam, Christian Identity proponents point out that the Hebrew etymology of the word 'Adam' translates as 'be ruddy, red, to show blood (in the face)' often quoting from James Strong's Hebrew Dictionary and from this they conclude that only Caucasians or people with light white skin can blush or turn rosy in the face (because hemoglobin is only visible under pale skin). Proponents of Christian Identity believe that Adam was only created six thousand years ago, while the other, non-Caucasian races were created during far older epochs that occurred on the other continents.
Dual Seedline Christian Identity proponents— those who believe that Eve bore children with Satan as well as with Adam —believe that Eve was seduced by the Serpent (Satan), shared her fallen state with Adam by lying down with him, and gave birth to twins with different fathers: Satan's son Cain and Adam's son Abel. This belief is referred to as the serpent seed doctrine. According to the "dual seedline" form of Christian Identity, Cain then became the progenitor of the Jews in his subsequent matings with members of the non-Adamic races.
The serpent seed idea, which ascribes the ancestry of legendary monsters such as Grendel to Cain, was somewhat widespread in the Middle Ages. It also appears in early Gnostic Christian texts as well as in some Jewish texts, for example a 9th-century book titled Pirke De-Rabbi Eliezer. In Cain: Son of the Serpent (1985), David Max Eichhorn, traces the idea back to early Jewish Midrashic texts and he identifies many rabbis who taught the belief that Cain was the son of a union between the Serpent and Eve.
Some Kabbalist rabbis also believe that Cain and Abel were of a different genetic background than Seth. This teaching is based on the theory that God created two "Adams" (adam means "man" in Hebrew). To one he gave a soul and to the other he did not give a soul. The one without a soul is the creature known in Christianity as the Serpent. The Kabbalists call the serpent the Nahash (which means the serpent in Hebrew).
This is recorded in the Zohar:
Two beings [Adam and Nachash] had intercourse with Eve, and she conceived from both and bore two children. Each followed one of the male parents, and their spirits parted, one to this side and one to the other, and similarly their characters. On the side of Cain are all the haunts of the evil species; from the side of Abel comes a more merciful class, yet not wholly beneficial – good wine mixed with bad.— Zohar 136
A seminal influence on the Christian Identity movement's views on pre-Adamism was Charles Carroll's 1900 book The Negro a Beast or In the Image of God? In the book Carroll concluded that Adam only gave birth to the White race and the White race was made in the image and likeness of God, while Negroes are pre-Adamite beasts who could not possibly have been made in God's image and likeness because they are beast-like, immoral and ugly. Carroll claimed that the pre-Adamite races such as blacks did not have souls. Carroll believed that race mixing was an insult to God because it spoiled His racial plan of creation. According to Carroll, the mixing of races had also led to the errors of Atheism and evolutionism.
Christian Identity proponents believe that both the universe and Earth are billions of years old and that non-Caucasian races were created hundreds of thousands or even millions of years ago. However, they believe that Adam (who was the father of the white race or Caucasians) was only created around 6,000 years ago.
Wesley Swift strongly criticised Young Earth Creationism and the traditional Judeo-Christian view that Noah's flood was global. He instead believed that the flood was only local and that the Earth was billions of years old. Christian Identity adherents claim that the flood in Genesis only rose high enough to drown the region of the Tarim Basin below sea level (Gen. 7:20) and that therefore the Hebrew word "eretz" which appears in those verses should be rendered "the land" (as in a specific place) rather than "the earth."
Racialism, or race-based philosophy, is the core tenet of Christian Identity, and most CI adherents are white nationalists who support racial segregation. Some CI adherents believe that Jews are genetically compelled by their Satanic or Edomite ancestry to carry on a conspiracy against the Adamic seedline and that Jews have today achieved almost complete control of the Earth through their claim to hold the white race's status as God's chosen people. As a general rule, Christian Identity followers adhere to the traditional Christian views on the role of women (See Biblical patriarchy), abortion, and homosexuality, and they also believe that racial miscegenation is a sin and a violation of God's law as stated in Genesis 1:24–25 which commands that all creatures should produce "kind after kind."
In addition to their strict fundamentalist racial views, Christian Identity adherents distinguish themselves from mainstream Protestant Fundamentalism in various areas of theology. Some Christian Identity adherents follow the Mosaic law of the Old Testament (e.g., dietary restrictions, the seventh-day Sabbath and certain annual festivals such as Passover). It is also commonplace for some Christian Identity adherents to follow the King James Only and Sacred Name Movements and they insist on using the original Hebrew names when referring to God (Yahweh) and Jesus Christ (Yahshua). Some Christian Identity writers criticize modern Bible editions as well as the Jews for their removal of the original Hebrew name of God from the Bible. Although their adherence to Old Testament Mosaic law may make them appear "Jewish"; they claim that the Jewish interpretation of the law has been corrupted through the Jews' Talmud. Unlike many Protestant Fundamentalists, Christian Identity adherents reject the notion of a Rapture, believing it to be a Judaized doctrine which the Bible does not teach.
Racial politics and economicsEdit
Christian Identity politics was first reviewed by Howard Rand and William J. Cameron after the Great Depression. In 1943, Rand published the article "Digest of the Divine Law" which discussed the political and economic challenges at that time. An excerpt from the article states: "We shall not be able to continue in accord with the old order. Certain groups are already planning an economy of regimentation for our nation; but it will only intensify the suffering and want of the past and bring to our peoples all the evils that will result from such planning by a group of men who are failing to take into consideration the fundamental principles underlying the law of the Lord."
While Rand never formally admitted to what groups he was specifically referring, his hatred for Jews, racial integration, and the country's economic state at the time made the direction of his comments obvious. Identifying specific economic problems was not the only goal which Rand had in mind. He began to analyze how to make these changes happen through legal changes; thus creating strategic plans to integrate the Bible into American law and economics. The first goal was to denounce all man-made laws and to replace them with laws from the Bible. The second goal was to create an economic state that would reflect teachings from the Bible. Both Howard Rand and William Cameron believed in these principles and this was because according to Christian Identity's teachings, they possessed access to knowledge about God's law that no one else does. Since they had access to more information, they were responsible for influencing current civil law in order to maintain God's standards.
While William Cameron agreed with Rand's initial argument, he focused his writings more specifically on changing American economics. One of Cameron's articles "The Economic Law of God" spoke of the Bible supporting individualism and social justice in regards to economics. He also believed that the government had no right to tax land, or other forms of property. In accordance with this doctrine, tax refunds should be applied to family vacation trips or be applied to national festivals for Christian Identity movements. Also for the betterment of the United States' economic future, no interest should be applied to accounts paid with credit, and no taxes should be imputed during the traveling time of goods from a manufacturer to the consumer.
The mutual point which both Rand and Cameron shared, was that while they may have disagreed with how the government was operating, neither of them resisted the current tax policies. Gordon Kahl was the first CI believer who took the founding principles from Rand and Cameron, and applied them in order to take action against the government. Kahl believed that they were on the right track with regard to what needed to be accomplished in order to change public policies, however he felt that without taking action against violators, no real changes would be made. In 1967 he stopped paying taxes because he felt he was paying "tithes to the Synagogue of Satan." Kahl killed two federal marshals in 1983. Before he was caught for the murders, Kahl wrote a note in which he said "our nation has fallen into the hands of alien people. … These enemies of Christ have taken their Jewish Communist Manifesto and incorporated it into the Statutory Laws of our country and thrown our Constitution and our Christian Common Law into the garbage can."
World's end and ArmageddonEdit
Christian Identity supporters believe in the Second Coming and Armageddon. Predictions vary, including a race war or a Jewish-backed United Nations takeover of the US, and they endorse physical struggle against what they see as the forces of evil.
Miscegenation, homosexuality, and anti-SemitismEdit
Identity adherents assert that disease, addiction, cancer, and sexually transmitted infections (herpes and HIV/AIDS) are spread by human "rodents" via contact with "unclean" persons, such as "race-mixers".:85 The apocrypha, particularly the first book of Enoch, is used to justify these social theories; the fallen angels of Heaven sexually desired Earth maidens and took them as wives, resulting in the birth of abominations, which God ordered Michael the Archangel to destroy, thus beginning a cosmic war between Light and Darkness.:85 The mixing of separate things (e.g., people of different races) is seen as defiling both, and it is also considered a violation of God's law.:86
Identity preachers proclaim that, according to the Bible, "the penalties for race-mixing, homo-sexuality, and usury are death.":86 The justification for killing homosexuals is provided from Leviticus 20:13 "If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them." Exodus 22:25, Leviticus 25:35–37 and Deuteronomy explicitly condemn usury.:92 Ezekiel 18:13 states "He who hath given forth upon usury, and hath taken increase: shall he then live? He shall not live: he hath done all these abominations; he shall surely die; his blood shall be upon him" and is quoted as justification for killing Jews.
Identity followers reject the label "antisemitic", stating that they cannot be antisemitic, since the true Semites "today are the great White Christian nations of the western world", with modern Jews being considered descendants of the Canaanites.
Identity doctrine asserts that the "root of all evil" is paper money (in particular Federal Reserve Notes), and that usury and banking systems are controlled by Jews.:87 The creation of the Federal Reserve System in 1913 shifted control of money from Congress to private institutions and violated the Constitution. The money system encourages the Federal Reserve to take out loans, creating trillions of dollars in government debt and allowing international bankers to control America. Credit/debit cards and computerised bills are seen as the fulfillment of the Biblical scripture which warns against "the beast" (i.e., banking) as quoted in Revelation 13:15–18. Identity preacher Sheldon Emry claims that "Most of the owners of the largest banks in America are of Eastern European (Jewish) ancestry and connected with the (Jewish) Rothschild European banks", thus, in Identity doctrine, the global banking conspiracy is led and controlled by Jewish interests.:91
Christian Identity is a major unifying theology for a number of diverse groups of white nationalist Christians. It is a belief system that provides its members with a religious basis for racial separatism. Herbert W. Armstrong is inaccurately described by some of his critics, as well as by supporters of Christian Identity, as having supported Christian Identity, due to his belief in a modified form of British Israelism, and the fact that during his lifetime, he propounded observances favoured by many Christian Identity groups, such as seventh-day Sabbatarianism and biblical festivals. The Worldwide Church of God which Armstrong founded did not subscribe to the anti-Semitism commonly espoused by the Christian or Israel Identity groups but instead adhered to the traditional beliefs of British Israelism; i.e., the belief that modern day Jews are descendants of the Tribe of Judah whereas the Anglo-Saxons, Celts, Danes, etc. are descendants of the remaining Ten Tribes of Israel formerly known as the Northern Kingdom.
Christian Identity groups include "The Covenant, The Sword, and the Arm of the Lord", the Phineas Priesthood, the Oklahoma Constitutional Militia, also known as The Universal Church of God. Christian Identity is also adhered to by other groups such as Aryan Nations, the Aryan Republican Army (ARA) and the Patriots Council, Church of Jesus Christ Christian, Thomas Robb, LaPorte Church of Christ, Mission To Israel, Folk And Faith, Jubilee, Traditionalist Youth Network, Yahweh's Truth (James Wickstrom), Church of Israel, The Shepherd's Chapel, and Kingdom Identity Ministries.
Other Christian Identity groups include the Heritage Christian Church, Legion for the Survival of Freedom, and the White Camelia Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. Christian Identity groups in the United Kingdom include The New Ensignand the Christian Order of the British Isles/Church of Britain.
Other related topics
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- Roberts, Charles H. (2003). Race over Grace: The Racialist Religion of the Christian Identity Movement, Omaha, Nebraska: iUniverse Press. ISBN 0-595-28197-4.