White Christian Nationalism Is Out in the Open

Some on the right have grown comfortable being labeled “Christian nationalists”.

13 September 2022

(Photo: Robert Thivierge / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0)

There was a time when far-right figures wanted to avoid being called “Christian nationalists”. However, we are entering a new phase, one in which some people are proudly claiming to be Christian nationalists, and writing apologetics explicitly in defense of the label and its ideology. Bulwark+ reports:

Witness Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who openly proclaims herself a Christian nationalist on Twitter and in interviews and on t-shirts. Or the Federalist, which on August 11 published an article entitled “Christian Nationalism Is Biblical And America-First, But It’s Not White.” The author, Carina Benton, is a regular contributor to the Trump-loving right-wing outlet and not someone with apparent expertise in theology or political philosophy—but the article is a useful indicator of how the debate is shifting, and because similar arguments have popped up elsewhere, it is worth at least a quick dissection.

Benton asserts that the criticism of Christian nationalism relies on “straw man arguments that misrepresent both Christianity and nationalism, and phony attempts to depict the movement as white,” before going on to prove Godwin’s Law halfway through.

Benton’s article is not the first case of apologetics for Christian nationalism in the Federalist. In 2019, it published “We Need Christian Nationalism Because Religious Neutrality Has Failed,” which argues that religious neutrality should be rejected in favor of “a conviction that a Christian understanding of the world should predominate over other worldviews in American civic life.” And a 2021 article called “Stop Smearing Christians As ‘Christian Nationalists’ Just Because They Value Both Faith And Freedom” includes this line apparently intended as a defense of January 6th insurrectionists: “You think Big Tech and bureaucrats rigged an election that will result in your rights being infringed, so you fly to D.C. with your family and your flags? You’re a Christian nationalist.” We tend to agree with this sentence, if not the author’s analysis—she views the label “Christian nationalist” as an unjust smear on both the insurrectionists and on “Christian Trump supporters.”

In The Flag and the Cross, a new book by two professors, white Christian nationalists undergo careful scrutiny. Intelligencer reports:

An ideology is on the march. Traces of it are detectable in a racist massacre in Buffalo; in Tucker Carlson’s monologues; in Marjorie Taylor Greene’s public comments. Find it again in the right’s anti-abortion rhetoric, which poorly disguises demographic anxiety, or in the right’s response to the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, which shows it embracing God and guns with ever greater conviction. This ideology has a name, argue sociologists Samuel L. Perry of the University of Oklahoma and Philip S. Gorski of Yale University. Perry and Gorski call it white Christian nationalism, and in their view, it represents a pressing threat to democracy.

In The Flag and the Cross, their new book from Oxford University Press, white Christian nationalists undergo careful scrutiny. Combining research with data analysis, Gorski and Perry argue that white Christian nationalists share a set of common anti-democratic beliefs and principles. “These are beliefs that, we argue, reflect a desire to restore and privilege the myths, values, identity, and authority of a particular ethnocultural tribe,” they write. “These beliefs add up to a political vision that privileges the tribe. And they seek to put other tribes in their proper place.”

Katherine Stewart also believes that Christian nationalism is on rise stating that “breaking American democracy isn’t an unintended side effect of Christian nationalism. It is the point of the project.” She writes in The New York Times:

A good place to gauge the spirit and intentions of the movement that brought us the radical majority on the Supreme Court is the annual Road to Majority Policy Conference. At this year’s event, which took place last month in Nashville, three clear trends were in evidence. First, the rhetoric of violence among movement leaders appeared to have increased significantly from the already alarming levels I had observed in previous years. Second, the theology of dominionism — that is, the belief that “right-thinking” Christians have a biblically derived mandate to take control of all aspects of government and society — is now explicitly embraced. And third, the movement’s key strategists were giddy about the legal arsenal that the Supreme Court had laid at their feet as they anticipated the overturning of Roe v. Wade.

It is not a stretch to link this rise in verbal aggression to the disinformation campaign to indoctrinate the Christian nationalist base in the lie that the 2020 election was stolen, along with what we’re learning from the Jan. 6 hearings. The movement is preparing “patriots” for the continuation of the assault on democracy in 2022 and 2024.

The intensification of verbal warfare is connected to shifts in the Christian nationalist movement’s messaging and outreach, which were very much in evidence at the Nashville conference. Seven Mountains Dominionism — the belief that “biblical” Christians should seek to dominate the seven key “mountains” or “molders” of American society, including the government — was once considered a fringe doctrine, even among representatives of the religious right. At last year’s Road to Majority conference, however, there was a breakout session devoted to the topic. This year, there were two sessions, and the once arcane language of the Seven Mountains creed was on multiple speakers’ lips.

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