I frequently inveigh against Christian Nationalism without explaining exactly what it is. In the wake of Marjorie Taylor Green’s recent declaration identifying herself as a Christian Nationalist, I decided I should be more explicit about what that label means–because it doesn’t simply indicate a religious identity.
Christian nationalism is a political ideology and cultural framework that merges Christian and American identities, distorting both the Christian faith and America’s promise of religious freedom. It relies heavily on a false narrative of America as a “Christian nation,” founded by Christians in order to privilege Christianity. This mythical history betrays the work of the framers to create a federal government that would remain neutral when it comes to religion, neither promoting nor denigrating it — a deliberate break with the state-established religions of the colonies.
Though not new, Christian nationalism has been exploited in recent years by politicians like former President Donald Trump to further an “us vs. them” mentality and send a message that only Christians can be “real” Americans.
An article in The Week pointed to the substantial role played by Christian Nationalists in the insurrection on January 6th. As one observer reported “Crosses were everywhere that day in D.C., on flags and flagpoles, on signs and clothes, around necks, and erected above the crowd,” Bible verses were plentiful in the crowd, and a number of rioters actually paused for prayer during the attack. One rioter recorded herself justifying her participation by saying “We are a godly country, and we are founded on godly principles. And if we do not have our country, nothing else matters.”
A 2021 survey by the Pew Research Center identified 77 percent of Republican respondents as “church-state integrationists” who hold a variety of views “consistent” with Christian nationalism. That might be overstating things somewhat. A 2017 survey found that one-in-five Americans hold such views. The scholars at Political Behavior found that “support for the Capitol attacks is a minority position among any slice of the American religious landscape.” But they also noted that 17.7 percent “of white weekly churchgoers fall into the joint top quartile of justification of violence, Christian nationalist beliefs, perceived victimhood, white identity, and support for QAnon.” That percentage — while relatively small — “would represent millions of individuals.”
The article noted that Christian Nationalism is gaining an “increasing foothold ” in Republican politics. Greene and Boebert are two of the more explicit proponents of Christian nationalism, but less well known members of the party are also adherents. “Doug Mastriano — a former Army officer who chartered buses to ferry protesters to Washington D.C. on Jan. 6, and who has declared the separation of church and state a “myth” — is the GOP nominee for governor in Pennsylvania, and is now running a close race with his Democratic opponent.”
What is truly terrifying is that Christian Nationalism is being normalized. Republicans who shared the ideology but previously denied the label are increasingly willing to admit to it: as the linked article notes, ” Marjorie Taylor Greene might have made news by openly embracing the term, but she might not be that unusual.”
As the Executive Director of the Baptist Joint Committee on Religious Liberty wrote,
I care about dismantling Christian nationalism both because I’m a practicing Christian and because I’m a patriotic American — and no, those identities are not the same. As Christians, we can’t allow Greene, Boebert or Trump to distort our faith without a fight.
We must speak loudly when our faith is used as a political tool, we must uproot it from our own churches and communities and we must form alliances with religious minorities and the nonreligious — who suffer the impact of Christian nationalism the most.
Religion, and Christianity in particular, has flourished in America not because of government aid or favoritism, but for the opposite reason: religion’s freedom from government control. Government involvement in religious affairs doesn’t aid the free exercise of religion. And as Christians, we are called to love our neighbors rather than make them feel unwelcome in their own country…
Christian lawmakers don’t need to erase their faith from politics. My fellow Baptist, Georgia Democrat Sen. Rev. Raphael Warnock, has modeled what it looks like for a pastor to serve in Congress without insisting on a privileged place for Christianity in law and society….
It’s not just Christian political leaders that need to do better, it’s all of us. Earlier this summer, I joined a group of prominent Christian leaders in launching the Christians Against Christian Nationalism campaign. More than 25,000 Christians have joined the campaign as we seek to elevate an alternative Christian public witness.
The Christian Nationalist takeover of one of America’s major political parties poses an enormous threat to us all.