A recent article in the Charleston Post and Courier reported on the results of a poll conducted by Winthrop University. It was pretty disheartening.
The Winthrop University Poll randomly dialed and questioned 969 residents in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia between Nov. 10-20 and Nov. 26-Dec. 2. Results have an error margin of plus or minus 3.15 percent.
The poll found that half of residents either agree or strongly agree that America was founded as an explicitly Christian nation.
Among white evangelicals, three-fourths agreed or strongly agreed with this belief about how the nation was founded.
The immediate question raised by such results is whether these respondents have chosen to ignore what they (presumably) learned in history class or whether they are simply uninformed. Whatever the answer, the poll results explain a number of things about Southern political culture.
The poll’s director noted that the belief in a Christian founding is central to Christian Nationalism.
“Research has shown that increases in Christian Nationalist beliefs lead to more exclusionary views on immigration and more negative views of multi-culturalism in America,” Huffmon said. “Those who hold these views care more about whether they have a strong leader who will protect their religious and cultural values than whether a leader is individually pious.”
Forgive me if I suggest that the “cultural value” they want to protect is Christian social dominance.
It is virtually impossible to reconcile this belief in a Christian Nation with American history, or with what we know about the origins of America’s constitution–or for that matter, with the plain language of the Constitution and Bill of Rights. It is one thing for Christian fundamentalists to prefer that the country affirm the superiority of their particular creed; it is another thing entirely to falsify history in order to convince themselves and others that the Founders agreed with them.
If these folks have made a conscious decision to falsify history, that’s reprehensible. But it is far more likely that they are ignorant of history, that they’ve never heard of the Enlightenment, or encountered the (then radical) political philosophy that privileged personal autonomy over religious and political beliefs endorsed and imposed by the state. The widespread belief in Christian nationhood reflected in the poll results is a stark reminder of Americans’ deficit of civic literacy, and the failure of our schools to teach history and government accurately and adequately.
It’s interesting–and telling– that this particular fantasy about America’s founding is almost exclusively a phenomenon of White Christians who consider themselves the only true Americans.
The Rev. Joseph Darby, first vice president for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in Charleston, disagreed with claims that the country was intended to be explicitly Christian.
Darby, who also pastors Nichols Chapel AME in Charleston, didn’t mince words in describing Christian nationalists and white evangelical denominations with exclusionary views on immigration and multiculturalism.
“It’s called Christian hypocrisy,” Darby said.
Darby added that the country should not be in favor of one particular religion. Rather, he said politicians and voters should “love God and love others as we would be loved.”
“If the laws reflect that, we’d be one nation under all,” he said. “If you have something that’s exclusively Christian, you’re walking a very slippery, nationalist slope. Everyone in America is not Christian.”
I suspect that White Christian Nationalists are more worried about the threat civic equality poses to their cultural hegemony than they are about America’s spiritual prospects.
Policymakers can’t do much about chosen ignorance, but polls like this should be seen as yet another reason to make civic education a national priority.