Understanding and Countering Christian Nationalism

A Better Way Initiative

OVERVIEW

A flag pole with a U.S. flag flying above a Christian flag.

Good Faith Media is countering Christian nationalism by providing a clear understanding of this destructive ideology and advancing healthy alternatives to its divisive effects.

A proactive approach to living positively as faith communities, a nation and the world is needed to challenge and counter the damaging effects of Christian nationalism. A better way is rooted in ideals at the heart of the American experience and the teachings of Christianity and other historic faith traditions.

These resources are designed for media, government officials, educators, faith leaders and others seeking to better understand Christian nationalism and its negative impacts on both civic and religious life.

QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

WHAT IS CHRISTIAN NATIONALISM?

Christian Nationalism, at its most basic, is an ideology based upon the false belief that America was founded as a Christian nation and must remain so. 

Although many of the American colonies were founded as explicitly Christian colonies — that harshly persecuted dissenters, including many other Christians — the United States of America in its Constitutional Convention and founding documents rejected theocracy in favor of a secular* democracy.

Many Christians, who earlier had benefited from colonial government favoritism of establishment churches, in the late 1700s and early 1800s remained angry over America’s secular founding.

Other Christians — especially Baptists — and non-Christians who had been persecuted by theocratic Christian colonial governments were jubilant that America had been founded on the principle of full religious liberty —establishing what Thomas Jefferson described as a wall of separation between church and state.

In practice, Christian Nationalism is a far-right political movement clothed in Christian language. Empowered primarily by conservative white evangelicals, the movement seeks to replace America’s historic inclusive democracy — in which religious devotion and expression have thrived — with a form of exclusive theocracy somewhat similar to that of the oppressive colonial era.

Theocracy is basically defined as rule by selective biblical texts (in this case, primarily ancient purification laws) as interpreted and applied by self-appointed representatives of God.

*Secular, in this sense, doesn’t mean anti-religion, just not favoring those of any or no particular religion.

DOES CHRISTIAN NATIONALISM DIFFER FROM PATRIOTISM?

Christian Nationalism is not patriotism. Patriotism is love of and devotion to one’s country.

Patriotism does not entail, however, an unrealistic belief that one’s country is perfect. Nor does patriotism elevate one group of citizens above all other citizens.

Nationalism, on the other hand, is the overwhelming devotion to an ethnic or cultural identity. It is expressed through loyalty to a subgroup within a given nation (or in some cases, scattered across multiple nations).

Christian nationalists in the United States — overwhelmingly white — hold primary loyalty to the false construct of America first and foremost as a white Christian nation, rather than the diverse, pluralistic nation that it actually is.

The violent January 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol — waged beneath many Christian flags, banners and crosses — was a Christian nationalist attempt to undermine America’s inclusive democracy. Attracted by authoritarianism, such efforts are part of seeking to replace democracy with a form of theocracy.

Christian Nationalists — who use such force — are not patriots. Neither do they reflect the life and teachings of Jesus.

HOW DOES CHRISTIAN NATIONALISM RELATE TO RELIGIOUS LIBERTY?

Christian Nationalists reject the historical, Constitutionally-guaranteed principle of religious liberty for all persons. Yet they often use the term “religious liberty” (or “religious freedom”) to claim a right to use their own religious beliefs in discriminatory ways.

Applying the principle only to themselves, these exclusive-minded Christians seek to impose — even with deadly force — their version of religion as superior to the rights, beliefs and practices of others.

Historical examples are aplenty — including Puritans in their 17th century persecution of Baptists and witches; theocratic colonial colonies in forcing dissenters to obey their laws at the point of death; white slave-owners defending their rights to enslave Black people; white Christian terrorist organizations like the KKK in defense of terrorizing African Americans and others; white opponents of racial integration; and current-day Christians seeking laws that discriminate against LGBTQ+ persons and other minorities.

Ideally religious liberty, however, means that all persons — regardless of religious conviction or affiliation — enjoy equal freedom of conscience.

In early colonial America this inclusive understanding of religious liberty was advocated and fought for by Baptists, who demanded religious freedom for all persons: Christians, Muslims, Jews, and other non-Christians, including pagans.

In fact, Baptist-minded Roger Williams founded Rhode Island as the first state established upon equal religious liberty for all. In 1644, he coined the term “Wall of Separation” to describe the clear disconnect needed between government and religion in order to maintain equal religious liberty for all.

In the late 1700s advocates of equal religious liberty including most Baptists — who were harshly persecuted under colonial church-state alliances into the 1770s — allied with Thomas Jefferson and James Madison in governmentally separating church and state.

The advocacy of Baptists from their religious commitments to freedom, and the work of Jefferson and Madison from their Enlightenment perspective of human reason, resulted in the creation of a secular Constitution that enshrined equal freedom of religion for all Americans.

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE TERMS USED BY CHRISTIAN NATIONALISTS?

“Christian” – This construct of “Christian” is noticeably absent the inclusive, peaceful life and teachings of Jesus — or Christ — the actual namesake of Christianity. It is domineering religious faith primarily rooted in ancient and selective biblical laws and self-perceived to be led by an angry and warlike God.

“God” – The God of Christian Nationalism is an authoritarian deity who commands adherence to strict, often exclusive laws that must be obeyed for the blessings of a self-ordained privileged people. Christian Nationalists claim, falsely, that the God of the Bible is now one who favors America — although America is not mentioned in the Bible. And the Christian gospel is explicitly universal in its inclusion.

“Jesus” – Christian Nationalists tend to omit the life and teachings of Jesus and focus solely on this sacrificial death and resurrection. Drawing on some imagery from the apocalyptic biblical Book of Revelation, they present Jesus as not the Prince of Peace but a warrior who destroys opponents (which Christian Nationalists identify) and forces submission.

To the contrary, Jesus, as found in the Gospel accounts, rejected the evil temptation to forcefully place the world under his dominion. Rather, Jesus’ central teachings — known as the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5) — announce his earthly mission in terms of lifting the poor, weak and discriminated.

“Biblical Worldview” – Also called “Christian worldview,” these designations are used to redefine Christian identity by seeking agreement to a manufactured list of so-called “essential beliefs.” Jesus is often diminished or deleted from such essentials, apart from granting access to heaven. [For more, see GFM’s Jesus Worldview Initiative.]

“Dominionism” — Rooted in an extremist form of Calvinism of the modern era and now influential in far -right American Christianity at large, Dominionism is a false theology (or ideology) used to justify even the harshest acts of human exclusion and control.

Dominionists take great liberties with the creation story (in the biblical book of Genesis) of man being given “dominion” over all the earth. They misinterpret that account to justify conservative Christians seeking to subdue the earth and its inhabitants to their will.

These extremists designate themselves as divine agents taking control of all earthly inhabitants — beginning with the United States of America. Dominionism emerged as a formal theology in the early 1960s.

Leading Dominionists, who formulated and advanced this ideology, include: theologian R. J. Rushdooney; philosopher Francis Schaeffer; author Timothy LaHaye of the popular Left Behind series — who founded the politically extremist Council for National Policy to advance Christian Nationalism; Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade; and Loren Cunningham, founder of Youth with a Mission.

Rushdooney led in crafting the false theology which Schaeffer advanced. Bright and Cunningham created a simple way of understanding Christian dominion as conquering the Seven Mountains (or spheres) of human activity: economy, government, family, religion, media, education and arts.

LaHaye popularized the “spiritual warfare” dimension of Dominionism. Quietly allying with powerful politicians, business leaders, clergy and others, his Council for National Policy helps shape Republican policy and legislation in D.C. and beyond.

Dominionism is to modern Christian Nationalism what an engine is to an automobile: It drives Christian Nationalism’s quest for ultimate power in the name of God’s sovereignty.

Not all Christian nationalists are familiar with the term Dominionism, but the ideology of the Seven Mountain mandate is very popular in white Christian Nationalist circles.

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