Reference: Christian Nationalism

2024-06-03 · 28 min read

What Is It?

Phillip Gorski, author of American Covenant, defines the Christian nationalism movement as “a loose confederation of people and institutions that share a certain narrative about American history. In rough outline: America was founded as a Christian nation; the Founding Fathers were evangelical Christians; the Nation’s laws and founding documents were indirectly based on “biblical” principles, or even directly inspired by God, Himself. America’s power and prosperity are due to its piety and obedience.” A common tenet of Christian nationalism is that there should be Christian primacy in politics, law, and other aspects of society.

What It Is Not?

“To understand what Christian nationalism is, it’s important to understand what it is not,” writes David French in The New York Times. “It is not Cristian nationalism if a person’s political views are shaped by the individual’s Christian faith. In fact, many of America’s most important social movements have been infused with Christian theology and Christian activism (for instance, abolition, women’s suffrage, civil rights, etc.)… The problem with Christian nationalism isn’t with Christian participation in politics but rather the belief that there should be Christian primacy in politics and law…And if it were to take hold, it would both upend our Constitution and fracture our society.” (NY Times, Feb. 25, 2024)

A Variety of Meanings

In defining “Christian nationalism,” it is important not only to distinguish what it is not, but also recognize widely-varied interpretations of what it is. Ross Douthat of the NY Times offers “Four Ways of Looking at Christian Nationalism:”

  1. Definition one: The belief that America should unite religion and politics… with religious law enforced by the government… a theocratic state… an established form of Christianity with non-Christian religions disfavored.

  2. Definition two: The belief that America is a chosen nation commissioned by God to bring about some form of radical transformation in the world — the spread of liberty, the triumph of democracy — and that both domestic and foreign policy should be shaped by this kind of providential aim.

  3. Definition three: The belief that American ideals make the most sense in the light of Christianity; that Christians should desire America to be more Christian rather than less, and that American laws and policies should be informed by Christian principles to the extent made possible given the realities of pluralism and the First Amendment.

  4. Definition four: Any kind of Christian politics that liberals find disagreeable or distasteful; a way to critique religious conservatives; a label to slap on ideological enemies.

Its Emotional Content

“Actual Christian nationalism is more a visceral reaction than a rationally chosen stance,” says historian Thomas Kidd. Many self-identified Christian nationalist are not active in a faith community, nor are they necessarily scripturally or theologically conversant with Christian tenets. Numerous observers note that Christian nationalism is not as much a grassroots groundswell among Christians as it is a decades-long effort by special interest groups to co-opt Christianity by making it about nationalism, patriarchy, and power.

A glossary of terms related to Christian nationalism:

White Christian nationalism

Some observers add the word “white” to the term “Christian nationalism,” noting that some 70 percent of those who self-identify as Christian nationalists are white. For them, restoring America’s “Christian character” includes taking the country back to the days when white, native-born male conservatives held unquestioned power and control.

The American Redoubt

White nationalists fleeing the encroachment of diversity, immigration, equity, etc. have begun a “geographical consolidation and de facto secession,” described in Preparing for War — “what one might call the Make America Great Again Migration.” The author uses the term “American Redoubt” to describe the migration underway to Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, eastern Washington, and eastern Oregon. “Redoubt,” he explains, means “stronghold or fortification,” in essence “a safe place to which some White Christians are fleeing in order to take refuge from the rest of the country” and “create a theocratic democracy where White Christians have all the power (p. 200).” The movement is strongest in Idaho, where 93 percent of the population is White.

Jericho Marches

The first “Jericho marches” took place about a month before the January 6, 2021 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. Christian nationalists reenacted portions of the story of Joshua and his troops marching around a pagan city. These occurred in numerous state capitols, but the primary focus became the thousands who marched seven times around the Capitol, Supreme Court, and Department of Justice, blowing shofars and “praying for the walls of corruption and election fraud to fall down.” (Preparing for War, pp. 182-186)

Jerry Falwell, Sr.

Falwell launched the Moral Majority in 1979, a political movement with the purpose of training, mobilizing, and “electrifying” the Religious Right. That movement was eventually turned into a steadfast Republican voting bloc that forms the base of U.S. Christian nationalism today. Republican operative Richard Viguerie boasted to Jim Wallis that “We went to people like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. We offered to make them household names in America if they would just turn over their mailing lists to us for the massive direct mails that we would use to create the new “moral majority.” (The False White Gospel, p. 31).

King Cyrus

In rationalizing evangelical support for the amoral character and immoral actions of Donald Trump, Christian nationalists have found their exemplar in Hebrew scripture — one King Cyrus, who in the sixth century BCE conquered Babylon, ended Jewish captivity, and made possible Jewish return to Jerusalem to build their Temple. Cyrus did not worship the God of Israel, yet he is portrayed in the book of Isaiah as an instrument of God, a deliverer, a “vessel” used by God for divine purposes. In “vessel theology,” Trump is viewed as a “modern-day Cyrus…chosen by God to navigate in crisis.” A commemorative “Temple Coin” was struck depicting Trump and Cyrus side by side, in honor of Trump’s decision to move the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. (Vox, Tara Burton, March 5, 2018)

Replacement theory

A White nationalist conspiracy theory begun in France, and now growing in the U.S., holds that White populations are being demographically and culturally replaced by non-white peoples — especially from Muslim-majority countries — through mass migration, demographic growth and a drop in the birth rate of Whites. Demographers project that around the year 2045, Whites will no longer be a majority in the U.S. (Wikipedia). This realization has generated “white racial panic” among white nationalists who fear their “rightful” place at the top of social, political, and economic hierarchies is threatened, adding membership to the 1,250 active antigovernment and hate groups reported by the Southern Poverty Law Center in 2022.

Project 2025

“Drawn up by the Heritage Foundation and a network of more than 100 other conservative groups, the 2025 Presidential Transition Project is an elaborate and painstakingly detailed agenda for a second Donald Trump presidency. The 920-page manifesto “…calls for thousands of conservative activists to be placed in federal agencies, an aggressive expansion in presidential power, and the imposition of pro-life, anti-immigrant, anti-environmental policies on the nation.” (The Week, May 3, 2024, p. 11)

American exceptionalism

A key belief of many Christian nationalists is that America is “a unique and even morally superior country for historical, ideological, or religious reasons… Because believers in American exceptionalism have skewed Republican in the 21st century, this way of life is usually said to include a reverence for the Judeo-Christian God, advocacy of a free market, and the prioritization of individual rights over the needs of the collective.” (Britannica)

The Seven Mountain Mandate

This mandate urges “biblical” Christians to influence (or, ideally, control) the seven key “mountains” or “molders” of American society: family, religion, education, media, arts & entertainment, commerce, and government. The movement is generally supportive of the presidency of Donald Trump, with member Paula White becoming Trump's spiritual advisor. (Wikipedia)

Abortion trafficking

This is a term used by abortion opponents to pass legislation that would penalize and/or criminalize women crossing state lines to obtain legal abortions, along with people who provide those women with services or support.

Illiberal democracy

“Illiberal democracy” is is an ideological stance that rejects the necessity of independent institutions as checks on the government, and dismisses the idea of legitimate disagreement in the public sphere. Victor Orban, prime minister of Hungary, describes his authoritarian rule as “illiberal democracy,” or “Christian liberty.” Former President Donald Trump has met with, and admires, Orbán, continuing his embrace of autocratic leaders who are part of a global pushback against democratic traditions. Trump’s allies have embraced Orban’s approach, which includes restrictions on immigration and LGBTQ+ rights, and a crackdown on the press.

God and Country documentary

God & Country is a 2024 documentary film produced by Rob Reiner. The film discusses the emergence of Christian nationalism and its close relationship with far-right politics in the United States, exploring its perceived threat to democracy and the politicization of Christianity. It is showing in some theaters and is available to stream on Prime Video, Fandango at Home, and Apple TV. (Wikipedia)

For further study:

Taking America Back for God, by Andrew Whitehead and Samuel Perry, is considered by some the most authoritative study of Christian nationalism, as “the first comprehensive empirical analysis of Christian nationalism in the United States.” (Amazon)

The Faiths of the Founding Fathers, by David Holmes, examines the religious views of the founders, noting that some were non-Christian deists (like Ben Franklin), some were Christian deists (like George Washington), and some were orthodox Christians (like Samuel Adams). The founders, who crafted a secular Constitution designed to protect religious liberty, varied widely in their church attendance, approach to sacraments, level of activity, and religious language.

The Myth of a Christian Nation (Gregory Boyd) is sub-titled “How the Quest for Political Power Is Destroying the Church,” arguing that evangelical Christians who seek “power over” in their effort to bring America “back to God” are actually doing harm to the body of Christ and society, having abandoned the “power under” principles of sacrifice and service embodied by Jesus.

The False White Gospel by Sojourners’ Jim Wallis spells out how America’s original sin of racism has taken on new forms since Jim Crow, but always with the intent of white minority rule by any means necessary. He writes, “I believe that white Christian nationalism is the single greatest threat to democracy in America and to the integrity of the Christian witness.”

Preparing for War (Bradley Onishi) is a voice of warning from a former evangelical Christian who now believes that the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol was “not the last stand of a dying faction,” but “the first violent battle in what they foresee as the coming civil war.” He concludes that “many Christian nationalists are a clear and present danger to the United States of America. They are homegrown radicals who prioritize White Christian supremacy over multiracial democracy. They are not interested in pluralism. Their goal is not a model of governance based in dialogue and debate. The goal is to take back America by any means possible.”

Jesus and John Wayne is Kristin Du Mez’s account of the decades-long effort of American evangelicals to “replace the Jesus of the Gospels with an idol of rugged masculinity and Christian nationalism.” Little separates Jesus from mythical warriors like John Wayne, Mel Gibson, and Donald Trump, who assert masculine power through patriarchy and authoritarian rule. The author traces the half century of history that today upholds the image of “a new, rugged Christ” that “transformed Christian manhood, and Christianity itself.”

“One can welcome Christian participation in the public square while resisting domination, from any faith or creed.” —David French

—Collated by Jim Hannah, May 29, 2024,

Jim Hannah

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