I recently came across an article reporting that twenty percent of Americans are Christian Nationalists. I have no way of evaluating the accuracy of the survey research that led to that number, but even ten percent would be an absolutely chilling number.
Attention to the phenomenon and the threat it poses has spiked recently, thanks to the central role played by Christian Nationalists in the January 6th attack on the Capitol. A Google search for the term returns a large number of articles, academic analyses, and opinion pieces, most of them highly critical. Thomas Edsall rounded up a subset of the academic articles in a recent column for the New York Times opining that it would be impossible to understand January 6th without investigating the movement’s role in the uprising.
Edsall quoted from a book by Andrew Whitehead and Samuel Perry,“Taking America Back for God,” which described Christian Nationalism as a stew of “nativism, white supremacy, patriarchy and heteronormativity, along with divine sanction for authoritarian control and militarism.” Christian Nationalism, as they analyzed it, is ethnic and political as much–or more–than religious.
Understood in this light, Christian nationalism contends that America has been and should always be distinctively ‘Christian’ from top to bottom — in its self-identity, interpretations of its own history, sacred symbols, cherished values and public policies — and it aims to keep it this way.
Edsall quotes a similar sentiment from the author of another recent book, “The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism,”
It is a political movement, and its ultimate goal is power. It does not seek to add another voice to America’s pluralistic democracy, but to replace our foundational democratic principles and institutions with a state grounded on a particular version of Christianity, answering to what some adherents call a ‘biblical worldview’ that also happens to serve the interests of its plutocratic funders and allied political leaders.
Perry addressed the role of Christian Nationalism on January 6th, noting the use of religious symbols during the insurrection such as the cross, Christian flag, Jesus saves sign, etc.
But also the language of the prayers offered by the insurrectionists both outside and within the Capitol indicates the views of white Americans who obviously thought Jesus not only wanted them to violently storm the Capitol in order to take it back from the socialists, globalists, etc., but also believed God empowered their efforts, giving them victory.
There’s much, much more. It’s important to recognize that Christian Nationalists aren’t going to be defeated by secular bloggers, critical “elitist” columnists, or worried academics. The movement can only be effectively countered by those I think of as actual Christians, and fortunately, some have risen to the challenge.Their organizational statement begins by describing their concern with “a persistent threat to both our religious communities and our democracy — Christian nationalism.”
Christian nationalism seeks to merge Christian and American identities, distorting both the Christian faith and America’s constitutional democracy. Christian nationalism demands Christianity be privileged by the State and implies that to be a good American, one must be Christian. It often overlaps with and provides cover for white supremacy and racial subjugation. We reject this damaging political ideology and invite our Christian brothers and sisters to join us in opposing this threat to our faith and to our nation.
Instead, these Christians believe that:
People of all faiths and none have the right and responsibility to engage constructively in the public square.
Patriotism does not require us to minimize our religious convictions.
One’s religious affiliation, or lack thereof, should be irrelevant to one’s standing in the civic community.
Government should not prefer one religion over another or religion over nonreligion.
Religious instruction is best left to our houses of worship, other religious institutions and families.
America’s historic commitment to religious pluralism enables faith communities to live in civic harmony with one another without sacrificing our theological convictions.
Conflating religious authority with political authority is idolatrous and often leads to oppression of minority and other marginalized groups as well as the spiritual impoverishment of religion.
We must stand up to and speak out against Christian nationalism, especially when it inspires acts of violence and intimidation—including vandalism, bomb threats, arson, hate crimes, and attacks on houses of worship—against religious communities at home and abroad.
Whether we worship at a church, mosque, synagogue, or temple, America has no second-class faiths. All are equal under the U.S. Constitution. As Christians, we must speak in one voice condemning Christian nationalism as a distortion of the gospel of Jesus and a threat to American democracy.
I can only hope (and pray!) that these Christians number more than twenty percent…