From the Fringe to the Mainstream: Christian Nationalism Threatens Democracy

By Bill Berkowitz | 5 November 2022
Daily Kos

(Credit: YouTube / screengrab)

There has been lots of chatter about Christian nationalism, which has deep roots in the country, long before it featured prominently in the 2016 presidential election. From the country’s founding, Christians have often merged religious faith with national identity. And, according to a report in The Philadelphia Inquirer, “The ReAwaken America Tour is currently working its way across America to reawaken Christian nationalism.”

The Rev. Jennifer Butler, who attended a ReAwaken America tour stop in Batavia, New York, wrote: “The ReAwaken America speeches touted anti-Semitic, racist, sexist, and homophobic beliefs in the name of Christianity. Speeches were rife with apocalyptic and polarizing predictions of God’s vengeance befalling a wide range of opponents, including the founder of the World Economic Forum, President Joe Biden, and New York Attorney General Leticia James.”

Many conservative Christian evangelicals are openly embracing Christian nationalism. In August at the CPAC meeting, Republican Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene proudly declared: “I’m a Christian nationalist, I have nothing to be ashamed of. Because that’s what most Americans are.” Republican Congresswoman Lauren Boebert, in June 2022, said “the church is supposed to direct the government” and that she’s “tired of this separation of church and state junk.”

What is Christian nationalism and how does it fit within our political landscape? Does Christian nationalism speak to the real needs of people dealing with collapsing communities and economic inequality? Does it deal with massive health care inequities? Or is it the same old snake oil that have been peddled by religious charlatans for more than two hundred years?

How dangerous a threat to democracy is it?

In an August essay, Paul D. Miller is the author of The Religion of American Greatness: What’s Wrong with Christian Nationalism, wrote: “Patriotism is love of country. It is different from nationalism, which argues how to define a country.”

In his book The Many Faces of Christian Nationalism, John D. Wilsey, an associate professor of church history at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, identified strains of Christian nationalism that have been most prominent in U.S. history. Wilsey begins with what he calls Puritan Millennialism, discusses Christian Republicanism during the American Revolution, and manifest destiny, which emphasized expansion abroad as a Christian duty. Wilsey cites President A Lincoln’s use of biblical language during the Civil War, Christian interpretations by President Woodrow Wilson, and John Foster Dulles influence as Secretary of State during the administration of President Dwight Eisenhower.

In The First Amendment Encyclopedia, John R. Vile writes: “Wilsey believes that the view of what he calls ‘Christian America,’ a sixth form, emerged with the publication in 1977 of a book by Peter Marshall and David Manuel, The Light and the Glory. Those who identified with Christian Americans and their contemporary successors stressed three themes. They believed that American founders were Christians. Theologically, they believed that God had uniquely blessed America. Philosophically, they believed they could interpret the intent of the founders much as one would interpret scripture. Wilsey notes that while earlier conceptions of Christian nationalism were forward-looking, its modern iteration is more nostalgic, looking back to an imagined past and cherry-picking facts from history.”

“The shape of the Christian nationalist movement in the post-Roe future is coming into view, and it should terrify anyone concerned for the future of constitutional democracy,” Katherine Stewart, author of The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism, wrote in a July New York Times essay titled” Christian Nationalists Are Excited About What Comes Next”.

Stewart notes that 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.” No longer is that true.

In a recent column for Church and State, Rob Boston wrote: “Christian nationalism is ahistorical and un-American. To many believers of that faith, it’s also un-Christian.”

Rev. Thomas Reese, a Jesuit priest and columnist for Religion News Service, calls Christian nationalism un-Christian and divisive.

Psychologist Dave Verhaagen, author of “How White Evangelicals Think: The Psychology of White Conservative Christians” anchors Christian nationalism within a diagnosis of “collective narcissism”.

In an interview with The Tennessean, Verhaagen said: “Collective narcissism has three components: first, someone who is part of a group perceives the group as special. Second, they see those outside the group as not recognizing that their group is special and they feel disrespected by that. So, the third part is they feel justified in being hostile toward those outside the group.”

The Baptist Joint Committee sponsors the Christians Against Christian Nationalism Project. A recent statement deals with the threat of 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.”

Katherine Stewart pointed out that Christian nationalism is not “a social movement arising from the grass roots and aiming to satisfy the real needs of its base. It isn’t. This is a leader-driven movement. The leaders set the agenda, and their main goals are power and access to public money. They aren’t serving the interests of their base; they are exploiting their base as a means of exploiting the rest of us.”

As Rev. Jennifer Butler, author of Who Stole my Bible?: Reclaiming Scripture as a Handbook for Resisting Tyranny, maintained, rather than dealing with real issues affecting Americans, “politicians and pastors under the ReAwaken America tent are touring the country, preying on the fear and anger of people — often white — who feel like today’s country is leaving them behind.”

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