(Un)Civil Religion

What is “Christian Nationalism” and how is it operating to support Donald Trump? Think Progress has an illuminating history,  and an effort to explain the continued devotion of many Evangelical Christian pastors to Trump and his Presidency.

It is notable that, in response to Trump’s moral equivocations following Charlottesville, when business executives resigned en masse from the administration’s advisory panels, only one minister followed their lead.

Others have actively defended those equivocations.

Jerry Falwell, Jr. tweeted his “pride” in the President:

Finally a leader in WH. Jobs returning, N Korea backing down, bold truthful stmt about tragedy.So proud of @realdonaldtrump

Falwell’s relationship with Trump, and his inability to see anything “unChristian” about the President’s behavior, led some graduates of Liberty University, which Falwell heads, to return their diplomas.

Chris Gaumer, a former Student Government Association president and 2006 graduate, said it was a simple decision.

“I’m sending my diploma back because the president of the United States is defending Nazis and white supremacists,” Gaumer said. “And in defending the president’s comments, Jerry Falwell Jr. is making himself and, it seems to me, the university he represents, complicit.”

The Think Progress article quotes liberally from Sam Haselby, author of The Origins of American Religious Nationalism. Haselby identifies three elements of our national history that give rise to Christian Nationalism:  Reverence for the country’s founders;  persistence of the “Jeremiad” narrative, defined as the insistence of activists (left and right) that their cause is consistent with the spirit of America’s founding; and the “undeniable prevalence of religious rhetoric or ‘God talk’ in political spaces, no matter which party is in power.”

But few groups indulge in this tradition more fervently than today’s Christian nationalists, whose repeated (and disputed) calls for America to be “restored” as a “Christian nation” mixes all three of Haselby’s elements. When leaders such as Franklin Graham say God has blessed America more than any other nation on earth, they often mean it in a very specific way: Namely, that America is somehow special to God, and has been since its founding, when it supposedly was “built on Christian principles.”

Haselby points out that today’s Christian Nationalists use these elements very differently than their predecessors.  Modern Christian nationalism—characterized by antipathy towards science, so-called “secular” institutions, and government overreach—would have confused and repelled their 18th- and 19th-century forbears.

America’s current version of Christian Nationalism bears an unsettling resemblance to the German version that enabled the rise of Hitler:

The result was broad support for Hitler’s rise to power among German Christians and their leaders, some of whom took their devotion to an extreme. Hitler’s numerous flaws were often explained away or, in some cases, replaced with complete fabrications about his faith.

Interweaving authoritarianism with American-style Christian nationalism isn’t just theoretical: it’s happened before.

“There was a widespread belief in Germany among Christians that Hitler kept a copy of the New Testament in his breast pocket, and he read from it every day—which was completely false,” Ericksen said. “[Hitler] was happy to nurture or not confront those kind of misconceptions, because he wanted that kind of Christian support. And the Christians were so willing to bend over backwards — they accepted or in some ways maybe even invented explanations of how he could be a real Christian leader.”

By the time his power crescendoed, the difference between the Hitler and religious leaders was almost nonexistent. The most extreme form of Christian nationalism had taken hold.

The article is lengthy, but well worth a read in its entirety.

It has been said that although history doesn’t repeat itself, it does rhyme. Fortunately, America’s Christian Nationalists are a decided minority within the faith community; we can take comfort in the significant numbers of American religious leaders who have forcefully rejected Trump’s endorsements of racism and various bigotries.

But we also need to learn from history, and recognize the threat posed by those who are willing to twist and deform their theologies in the service of cultural dominance.


  1. What we know at this time :
    The Republican party is “full in” behind Trump
    They do nothing to stop him.
    It is clear that:
    The REPUBLICAN PARTY is Racist
    The REPUBLICAN PARTY is Homophobic
    The REPUBLICAN PARTY is Anti Worker
    The REPUBLICAN PARTY is Anti Women
    The REPUBLICAN PARTY is Anti Environment
    The REPUBLICAN PARTY is Anti Science
    Our situation is FAR worse than just Donald Trump
    …….One of our national parties is over the edge.

  2. What should I most be worried about?

    The Political Tsunami that D.J. Trump is directing or Hurricane Irma, forecasted to be a Category 5, directed at the moment toward Jacksonville.

    Answer: The Political Tsunami that D.J. Trump is leading. I can survive Hurricane Irma. America can’t survive much more from Donald Trump.

  3. Think about what the quote from Haselby that goes: “When leaders such as Franklin Graham say God has blessed America more than any other nation on earth, they often mean it in a very specific way: Namely, that America is somehow special to God, and has been since its founding, when it supposedly was “built on Christian principles.”

    Graham is saying that the bond God had with the Israelites is now bestowed on America. Therefore, it follows that anyone who is not following his (either God’s or Graham’s) teachings is not favored.

    This kind of claptrap is common, and is necessary if people like Graham and Falwell are to maintain some sort of order in their flock. Joel Osteen is bad enough, but these guys are dangerous, because too many of the flock think their claptrap makes sense.

  4. Chris Gaumer’s simple statements brought three old adages immediately to my mind:

    “You are known by the company your keep.”

    “Water seeks it’s own level.”

    “Lay down with dogs, you get fleas.”

    That last one hits the closest to Trump; this country is now infested with fleas…and blood-sucking tics and we are daily nearing nuclear war. Will Congress wait till we have another Pearl Harbor to end the pissing contest between Trump and Kim Jong Un? We, as Americans, do not want to prevent that happening by allowing Trump to make the preemptive strike by pressing that button and setting off another Holocaust in the name of his, Pence’s and Jerry Falwells’ God.

  5. Christian Nationalism is a heresy, and the more orthodox and mainline Christian churches would do well to get that message out.

  6. “too many of the flock think their claptrap makes sense.” Indeed! What we are seeing, what we have been seeing for some time is nothing more than delusional thinking. And when a large enough segment of the population has become delusional, the country has reached some kind of precipice. Anyone waiting for the evangelicals to come to their senses is waiting in vain because insanity does not cure itself; it is cured only by some kind of intervention. Look what it took for Germany to come to its senses.

  7. Theresa,

    You’re absolutely right. The D.J. Trump Presidency is a disaster, not caused by nature but by humans, that wasn’t adequately prepared for. The only direction now is a MASSIVE organized clean-up campaign of the mess. There is no other alternative before the BARB-WIRED FENCES come-up. You better believe it can happen here. IT ALREADY IS.

  8. In the 1930s we put God on our currency, confusing the question to whom do we render it, God or Caesar. In the 1950s we dropped God into the Pledge of Allegiance. In the 1970s we got the Moral Majority in our politics. We have been on this slippery slope for a long time. If we want to make America great again, let’s start by going back to our original motto, “E pluribus unum” revering everything that stands for in a pluralist society.

  9. Thank you Steve Smith – you nailed it. The longer they wait to take a stand against this heresy and all it represents the more damage they will suffer too along with the country as a whole.

  10. Jerry Falwell, Jr. tweeted his “pride” in the President:

    Finally a leader in WH. Jobs returning, N Korea backing down, bold truthful stmt about #charlottesville tragedy.So proud of @realdonaldtrump

    Where does yer bible tell you you go fer lying?

  11. It is time we, all of us, confront the truth. The real truth, not the Truth. Religions of every form are cults, tools to control the masses. There is not a shred of truth to any of them. There is no real evidence for any god in all of human history. We cannot face a difficult future of complex issues as children who still believe in fairy tales.

  12. I will leave the heresy angle for others to handle. My concern is that this Christian Nationalism and all its fellow travelers are a clear and present danger to the nation and all who dwell in the world in and with it. Yes, the true believers are a small portion of the body politic, but they are strident and not afraid of being known. Those two facts have enabled them to get out in front of the rest of us, helped by lots of money from people so rich they’ll be able to continue to live however they damn well please (and I use the language intentionally because they won’t necessarily be Christian or nationalist in their lifestyles, just rich and powerful and ever becoming more so). So they are leading the politics of our day while the rich and powerful are getting further and further ahead of the rest of us thanks to their stridency and social courage. I have doubts about the likelihood of success with strident vs. strident tactics, but I am confident the rest of us MUST get over our preference for reticence and become known, have talking points, and turn this tide. I’m as reticent as anyone, and I am trying to force myself out there. Please come with me, folks. I think it’s the only forward to a world I want to live in.

  13. My apologies for the long post, everyone. Quite a lot came together for me reading your comments and this blog post.

  14. And of course we must continue to activist work. It’s not just words, but it does require our speaking out and up, too.

  15. It’s clear that a signicant portion of America has become possessed. I personally believe that the method used to accomplish that was mass media entertainment and the ongoing threat is that it will continue to be effective at distracting us.

    Our only possibility for restoring democracy is democracy but that will require patience.

    Our first job is to repeal and replace Congress next year. That will require us to get every able minded voter to the polls. That has to be our single minded focus.

    Congress has been redefined as party over country. Dysfunctional, but we can operate that way for now. We must support Ds exclusively, warts and all. We can return to sensible government later.

    That will make progress as Director Mueller does his job which won’t fix the Whitehouse but may render Trump impotent leaving only Pence to throw out. Whatever.

    2020. Democratic unity and voter turnout become the watchwords.

    First things first.

  16. The only difference between christian nationalist and militant islam is semantics. Same kinds of people. Two sides of the same coin. It’s true for extremists in all belief systems. They have more in common with each other, than they do with everyone else, although they never seem to see it, since everyone who doesn’t agree with their particular flavor of orthodoxy, is by definition, an unbeliever, heretic, or enemy. Their inflexibility often leads to major problems with hypocrisy. Sometimes their followers, and even their children, grow out of it, and leave it behind – often suffering shunning and punishment in the process. There are still more born every day, sometimes to progressive families. (Note, Stephen Miller, WH “advisor”.) True Believer is a cast of mind, strengthened by very effective peer group pressure. In a shades of gray complex world, where cooperation is critical among groups, tribes, and nations, absolutists can be a real danger. Ridiculing their hypocrisies, and outing their criminal acts might help infuse a little reality, but I’m not sure how much it really affects them, because denial is such a strong emotional force.

  17. To play the devil’s advocate – On the other hand, we did not object to “Christian Nationalism” when employed in WW I and WW II vis a vis the Kaiser and Hitler. We are selective in how we choose to favor a system that happens to accord with our political decisions, like declarations of war etc. There are Christian nationalists and there are agnostic and atheist nationalists, so let’s not lump them together into one grouping; they got to where they are for many and varying rationales, some religious, some using religion to cover their political motivations, and some as militarists seeking cover. Having opted to a different explanation, let me hasten to add that I think Jerry Falwell, Jr. is a politician and not a preacher of the gospel of the gentle Nazarene. He is a con man and worse than Trump in many ways since he is getting into the minds of the faithful with his anti-human propaganda under the shadow of the cross, making Elmer Gantry and Pat Robertson look good. There had ought to be a law, but thanks to the First Amendment, there isn’t. It is not religion per se that is the problem but rather the manner in which it is used by present day politicans with a collar to insert authoritarian rule into matters of state – a system that has survived the Florentine humanistic state of enlightenment and has been in place (more or less) with Constantine and the heyday of the medieval monks (now in a state of revisitation). Amalgamation of church and state has never worked and will not work now or in the future. Write that lesson in history down for future use. It’s akin to oil and water both of which work well in isolation but cannot mix due to their differing properties, which prevents blending and/or shoehorning one into the other. We already have a separation of church and state by lessons from experience, so let’s keep it that way.

  18. Dear Ms. Kennedy, in light of years of exposure to the ilk he represents once as a member and now as someone who educates people to their wiles and agendas, I have to say you did strike upon something that has to be addressed and quickly: the not so quiet take over of our governmental departments and offices by religiously perverse zealots with UN-Christian agendas! And they exist in the most obvious corners! Orin Hatch. The man represents a state wholly owned by the Mormon Church that has a time on the record keeping on EVERY American in our country and out. And much of that information without any granted privilege by the people involved… The ‘Church’ uses it to ritually pray it is said for the souls lost that they be counted as MORMONS… and of course it holds as ‘private’ private information even the people collected upon do not know!.. or have to pay for. Kinda like the Catholic church and its baptism of infants… who have no choice in the matter – the religious entities in this Country have their grips in various organizations and money gathering schemes… and OUR GOVERNMENT of course – Utah also houses the IRS records for the Country and has a Federal Reserve seating… all headed by… (!) These Evangelicals are all after the MONEY especially now! They know the Eagle will shit really big for them if they can get their claws in deep enough!… And this turkey is out to destroy the place so he doesn’t give one Gobble!

  19. ,..that is ‘has had for some time hold on the record keeping… (sorry! got ahead of myself!)

  20. At 91, I am determined to vote in the 2018 election to help unseat this impotent GOP Congress.
    At 93, if I make it, I will vote against the GOP in the 2020 election. I hope to witness the decay of Trumpism.
    Pray for the rescue of the Supreme Court from the threat posed by RFRA-in-Chief Pence. The urgent mantra: “Pray for the USA”.

  21. At 91 years old I am determined to live to vote in the 2018 election to help unseat “Democrat” Senator Joe Donnelly with this impotent GOP Congress.
    At 92, if I make it, I will strive to survive the 2020 election. I hope to witness the decay of Trumpism.
    My final urgent prayer will be for the rescue of the Supreme Court from the threat posed by RFRA-in-Chief “Pennies from Heaven”.and his evangelical deafs and dumbs. I’m sure Jesus didn’t expect Christianity would metastasize into this toxic cesspool abetted by the likes of Falwell and.

  22. @AgingLGrl, I’ll go a step further and propose that it’s time to end property tax exemptions for everyone, and I mean everyone. Level the playing field. If you or your group, whether profit or non-profit group, whether church or whether school, own property, then you pay the same property taxes as any other person or entity who owns property.


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