Christian nationalism in America

Today’s [Christian nationalist] movement leaders have declared a new holy war against America’s ethnically and religiously diverse democracy. Yet the vision of a nation founded on hierarchies enshrined in purportedly biblical law remains now, as it was with the Confederacy and Jim Crow, the foundation of a weak society, not a strong one. If we want to guard against demagogues and theocrats who wish to ‘redeem’ America, we don’t need a new theory of American democracy. We just need to recover and restore the vision of a nation dedicated to the proposition that all men and women are created equal.

Many leaders of the Christian right like to dress up in red, white, and blue to annouce themselves as true patriots. But they are the same people who seek to pervert our institutions, betray our international alliances and make friends with despots, degrade the public discourse, treat the Constitution as a subcategory of their holy texts, demean whole segments of the population, foist their authoritarian creed upon other people’s children, and celebrate the elevation of a ‘king’ to the presidency who has made a sport of violating democratic laws and norms. We don’t need lessons on patriotism from Christian nationalists. We need to challenge them in the name of the nation we actually have—a pluralistic, democratic nation—where no one is above the law and the laws are meant to be made by the people and their representatives in accordance with the Constitution.

Stewart, Katherine. The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2020. p. 275–6

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

35 thoughts on “Christian nationalism in America”

  1. “Christian nationalism is not a religious creed but, in my view, a political ideology. It promotes the myth that the American republic was founded as a Christian nation. It asserts that legitimate government rests not on the consent of the governed but on adherence to the doctrines of a specific religious, ethnic, and cultural heritage. It demands that our lawa be based not on the reasoned deliberation of our democratic institutions but on particular, idiosyncratic interpretations of the Bible. Its defining fear is that the nation has strayed from the truths that once made it great. Christian nationalism looks backward on a fictionalized history of America’s allegedly Christian founding. It looks forward to a future in which its versions of the Christian religion and its adherents, along with their political allies, enjoy positions of exceptional privilege in government and in law.

    Christian nationalism is also a device for mobilizing (and often manipulating) large segments of the population and concentrating power in the hands of a new elite. It does not merely reflect the religious identity it pretends to defend but actively works to construct and promote new varieties of religion for the sake of accumulating power. It actively generates or exploits cultural conflict in order to improve its grip on the target population.” (p. 4)

  2. The Cost of the Evangelical Betrayal – The Atlantic

    Much of the evangelical movement, in aligning itself with Donald Trump, has shown itself to be graceless and joyless, seized by fear, hypocritical, censorious, and filled with grievances. That is not true of all evangelicals, of course, and it’s not true of all evangelicals who are Trump supporters. But it’s true of enough of them, and certainly of the political leadership of the white evangelical movement, to have done deep injury to their public witness

  3. And he finds that practising evangelicals score the highest on his index of racism. He concludes that white Christian identity is “independently predictive” of racist attitudes.

    Such claims are shocking. But, Mr Jones argues, the history of American Christianity makes this likelier than it might sound. The dominant southern strains of white evangelicalism were formed amid and sometimes in response to slavery. The Southern Baptists, America’s biggest denomination, was launched to defend it biblically—which it did by representing black skin as the accursed “mark of Cain”. Many southern pastors were cheerleaders for the Confederacy, then shaped the culture of nostalgia and lament (the “religion of the lost cause”) that precluded a reckoning with Jim Crow’s legacy. The stained-glass windows of some southern churches still sparkle with Confederate flags. Almost 90% of white evangelicals consider the flag “more a symbol of southern pride than of racism”.

    Post-war pessimism also led evangelicals to adopt a premillennialist theology, which viewed the world as irredeemable by man. Instead of wasting their time on social justice, it urged them to focus on their individual spirituality. The perverse effect, argues Mr Jones, was to imbue white evangelicals with “an unassailable sense of religious purity” that blinded them to their own behaviour. History records instances of white congregations pouring out of church to a lynching. And such scenes were not restricted to evangelicals or the South.

  4. This week, North Carolina evangelical pastor Rick Joyner, who heads MorningStar Ministries, called a civil war inevitable, and urged his followers to take up arms against Black Lives Matter, “the KKK of this time.” He said,

    “We’re in time for war. We need to recognise that. We need to mobilize. We need to get ready. I’m talking to law enforcement, I’m talking to people, and one of the things I saw in my dream about the civil war was that militias would spring up like mushrooms. And it was God! These were good militias. What I also saw in my dream was the Lord had seeded America with veterans from the Iraq War, Afghanistan, all these wars we’ve been in recently. Many who know how to fight in urban warfare are going to be a part of the leadership of these militias and help us in what’s about to unfold in our own country.”

    In his dream. That’s not good.

  5. The Capitol Riot Revealed the Darkest Nightmares of White Evangelical America | The New Republic

    For the last 150 years, white evangelicals have peddled end-times conspiracies. Most of the time their messages have been relatively innocuous, part of the broader millenarian outlook shared among most major religious traditions. But these conspiracies can have dangerous consequences—and sometimes they lead to violence.

    A Pew poll revealed that 41 percent of all Americans (well over 100 million people) and 58 percent of white evangelicals believed that Jesus is “definitely” or “probably” going to return by 2050.

  6. In its current incarnation, some of this has morphed into a form of “Christian nationalism”, which says that America has been and should always be distinctively Christian. In their book, “Taking America Back for God”, Andrew Whitehead and Samuel Perry claim roughly half of evangelicals, by some definitions, embrace Christian nationalism to some degree (and often subconsciously). This kind of nationalism, say the authors, believes that non-Christian Americans are unable ever to be “truly American”. It also presents fertile ground for conspiracies.

  7. As a result, White evangelicalism has emerged as a political and theological explainer for some liberals and progressives to understand the continuing appeal of Donald Trump. Several brilliant recent books, including Robert Jones’ “White Too Long,” Anthea Butler’s “White Evangelical Racism” and Kristen Kobes Du Mez’s “Jesus and John Wayne,” have generated important public conversations on the complicity between White evangelicalism (and White Christianity more broadly) and racism and sexism. For the most part, these authors insist that ideologies of Anglo-Saxon supremacy and misogyny are at the very core of American evangelical identity among its White adherents. Donald Trump — no matter his personal failings — embodies their deepest beliefs. He doesn’t just represent their interests. He is them.
    These analyses are pointed and on target. It is true that White evangelicals maintain strong support for Trump. And their attitudes stand in stark contrast to Black evangelicals — who did not vote for him and have been among his most vocal religious critics.

  8. The church is called Mercy Culture, and it is part of a growing Christian movement that is nondenominational, openly political and has become an engine of former president Donald Trump’s Republican Party. It includes some of the largest congregations in the nation, housed in the husks of old Baptist churches, former big-box stores and sprawling multimillion-dollar buildings with private security to direct traffic on Sundays. Its most successful leaders are considered apostles and prophets, including some with followings in the hundreds of thousands, publishing empires, TV shows, vast prayer networks, podcasts, spiritual academies, and branding in the form of T-shirts, bumper stickers and even flags. It is a world in which demons are real, miracles are real, and the ultimate mission is not just transforming individual lives but also turning civilization itself into their version of God’s Kingdom: one with two genders, no abortion, a free-market economy, Bible-based education, church-based social programs and laws such as the ones curtailing LGBTQ rights now moving through statehouses around the country.
    This is the world of Trump’s spiritual adviser Paula White and many more lesser-known but influential religious leaders who prophesied that Trump would win the election and helped organize nationwide prayer rallies in the days before the Jan. 6 insurrection, speaking of an imminent “heavenly strike” and “a Christian populist uprising,” leading many who stormed the Capitol to believe they were taking back the country for God.

  9. “In its own briefs, Maine highlights this problem by describing the policies at two schools that would presumably receive public funding if SCOTUS rules against the state, Bangor Christian School and Temple Academy. For instance:

    • Bangor Christian School expels all students who identify as gay or transgender, or who display any gender-nonconforming behavior, on or off campus. Children who profess to be gay are expelled even if they swear to remain celibate.

    • BCS compels all teachers to affirm that they are a “Born Again” Christian and an “active, tithing member of a Bible believing church.” It will not hire teachers who are gay, transgender, or gender-nonconforming.

    • BCS explicitly denounces non-Christian faiths; in social studies class, for example, ninth grade students are taught to “refute the teachings of the Islamic religion with the truth of God’s Word.” All students are instructed that men serve as the head of the household.

    • Temple Academy has a “pretty hard lined” rule against accepting non-Christian students. It will not admit students who are gay or transgender. Every student’s parents must sign a “covenant” affirming their opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage. Students must sign a “covenant” promising to glorify Jesus Christ and attend weekly religious services.

    • TA rejects any student with same-sex parents, even if the student is not LGBTQ.

    • To work at TA, instructors must acknowledge “homosexuals and other deviants” are “perverted.” The school only hires born-again Christians, even for custodial positions, and openly discriminates against LGBTQ applicants.

    Bangor Christian School and Temple Academy have a right to practice these beliefs. But if SCOTUS forces Maine to fund these schools, it will tacitly suggest that such noxious ideas have an equal place in a secular, diverse world. The court would implicitly endorse the radical theory that states may not favor the teaching of tolerance over the inculcation of hate, bigotry, and Christian supremacy. To frame Maine’s refusal to fund a school like Temple Academy as “religious discrimination” is to demean the value of a secular public education.”

  10. Mastriano’s position on abortion reflect his Christian nationalist worldview. Christian nationalism, the New Yorker reports, is rooted in “the idea that God intended America to be a Christian nation”. During his time as a military intelligence officer in Iraq and Afghanistan he “developed a dim view of Islam”. He has frequently “spread Islamophobic memes online”, including “a conspiracy theory that Ilhan Omar, the Democratic congresswoman from Minnesota, directed fellow-Muslims to throw a five-year-old over a balcony”.

    After retiring from the military and successfully running for office in 2019, Mastriano “began attending events held by a movement called the New Apostolic Reformation”. Members of the New Apostolic Reformation believe “that God speaks to them directly, and that they have been tasked with battling real-world demons who control global leaders”. (Mastriano says he has not “worked directly” with the group.)
    In the legislature, Mastriano has supported a bill that “would have mandated teaching the Bible in public schools and would have made it legal for adoption agencies to discriminate against same-sex couples”.”

  11. An ‘imposter Christianity’ is threatening American democracy

    Videos from the January 6 attack show a chaotic, tear-gas-soaked scene at the Capitol that looked more like a medieval battle. Insurrectionists punched police officers, used flagpoles as spears and smashed officers’ faces against doors while a mob chanted, “Fight for Trump!” The attack left five people dead and nearly 140 law enforcement officers injured.

    The incongruity of people carrying “Jesus Saves” signs while joining a mob whose members are pummeling police officers leads to an obvious question: How can White Christian nationalists who claim to follow Jesus, the “Prince of Peace” who renounced violence in the Gospels, support a violent insurrection?

    That’s because they follow a different Jesus than the one depicted in the Gospels, says Du Mez, who is also a professor of history and gender studies at Calvin University — a Christian school — in Michigan. They follow the Jesus depicted in the Book of Revelation, the warrior with eyes like “flames of fire” and “a robe dipped in blood” who led the armies of heaven on white horses in a final, triumphant battle against the forces of the antichrist.

    White Christian nationalists have refashioned Jesus into a kick-butt savior who is willing to smite enemies to restore America to a Christian nation by force, if necessary, Du Mez and others say.

    While warlike language like putting on “the full armor of God” has long been common in Christian sermons and hymns, it has largely been interpreted as metaphorical. But many White Christian nationalists take that language literally.

    That was clear on January 6. Some insurrectionists wore caps emblazoned with “God, Guns, Trump” and chanted that the blood of Jesus was washing Congress clean. One wrote “In God We Trust” on a set of gallows erected at the Capitol.

    “They want the warrior Christ who wields a bloody sword and defeats his enemies,” says Du Mez. “They want to battle with that Jesus. That Jesus brings peace, but only after he slays his enemies.”

    And that Jesus sanctions the use of righteous violence if a government opposes God, she says.

    “If you deem somebody in power to be working against the goals of a Christian America, then you should not submit to that authority and you should displace that authority,” she says. “Because the stakes are so high, the ends justify the means.”

  12. “What Weyrich also started to realize was that [Russian President Vladmiri] Putin — who was rising to power throughout the early aughts — was starting to harness the rhetoric of the Orthodox Church by talking about Russia’s spiritual heritage and its Christian values. And he was doing that as somebody who increasingly did not have to wait for Congress or courts or anyone else to make decisions. Weyrich realizes that this kind of governance structure — with a strong man at the top who uses the powers of the church — is probably the most effective way to build the kind of nation that he wants. What results is a sense that Putin — and eventually Viktor Orbán in Hungary — are examples of the kind of leaders that Christian nationalists want. There’s a sense that democracy may have to be martyred in order to save the American nation.”

  13. “While a majority of Republicans currently either adhere to or sympathize with Christian nationalism, the survey found that this remains a minority opinion nationwide.

    According to the PRRI/Brookings study, only 10% of Americans view themselves as adherents of Christian nationalism and about 19% of Americans said they sympathize with these views.”

  14. An influential think tank close to Donald Trump is developing plans to infuse Christian nationalist ideas in his administration should the former president return to power, according to documents obtained by POLITICO.

    Spearheading the effort is Russell Vought, who served as Trump’s director of the Office of Management and Budget during his first term and has remained close to him. Vought, who is frequently cited as a potential chief of staff in a second Trump White House, is president of The Center for Renewing America think tank, a leading group in a conservative consortium preparing for a second Trump term.

    Christian nationalists in America believe that the country was founded as a Christian nation and that Christian values should be prioritized throughout government and public life. As the country has become less religious and more diverse, Vought has embraced the idea that Christians are under assault and has spoken of policies he might pursue in response.

    One document drafted by CRA staff and fellows includes a list of top priorities for CRA in a second Trump term. “Christian nationalism” is one of the bullet points. Others include invoking the Insurrection Act on Day One to quash protests and refusing to spend authorized congressional funds on unwanted projects, a practice banned by lawmakers in the Nixon era.

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