A new report on Christian nationalism analyzes the role and influence this ideological movement had on the U.S. Capitol insurrectionists and how Christians have responded since Jan. 6, 2021.

Published and sponsored jointly by BJC, the Freedom From Religion Foundation and the Christians Against Christian Nationalism initiative, the report seeks to offer “the most comprehensive account to date of Christian nationalism and its role in the January 6 insurrection.”

The report’s contributors are Anthea Butler, Samuel L. Perry, Andrew L. Seidel, Katherine Stewart, Jemar Tisby, Amanda Tyler and Andrew L. Whitehead.

Its release and findings were announced during a webinar on Wednesday, featuring all the contributors save for Butler, with Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-founder and co-president, offering remarks as well.

Amanda Tyler headshot

Amanda Tyler

“Christian nationalism is a political ideology and cultural framework that seeks to merge American and Christian identities,” Tyler writes in the report’s introduction. It “relies on the mythological founding of the United States as a ‘Christian nation,’ singled out for God’s providence in order to fulfill God’s purposes on Earth.”

While there is a connection between Christianity and Christian nationalism, the report explains that the two should not be viewed as synonymous.

“Christian nationalism is not Christianity, though it is not accurate to say that Christian nationalism has nothing to do with Christianity,” Tyler writes. “To oppose and work against Christian nationalism is not to oppose Christianity.”

Samuel L. Perry headshot

Samuel L. Perry

This point was emphasized throughout the webinar, with Perry noting that many Christians do not support Christian nationalism and that some non-Christians affirm this ideology. He also pointed out that outside of Christian nationalists, “religious practice oftentimes is associated with pro-social attitudes and tolerance.”

Whitehead, associate professor of sociology and director of the Association of Religion Data Archives at the Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture at IUPUI, and Perry, associate professor of sociology at the University of Oklahoma, offer a deeper dive into Christian nationalism in their essay for the report.

Andrew L. Whitehead headshot

Andrew L. Whitehead

Calling white Christian nationalism a “cultural framework” during his webinar remarks, Whitehead explained that it is “a collection of myths, traditions, symbols, value systems that utilize and advocate for a fusion of Christianity with America civic life,” adding that it is a “conservative ethno-cultural political orientation” more than an orthodox set of religious beliefs.

Butler, Geraldine R. Segal Professor of American Social Thought at the University of Pennsylvania, focuses on white Christian nationalism in her essay, offering a brief overview of how this ideology has been used to support slavery and the “Lost Cause” view of the Confederacy as well as to oppose the civil rights movement.

Jemar Tisby headshot

Jemar Tisby

Under the guise of patriotism, white Christian nationalism promotes an agenda that is “racist, xenophobic, patriarchal and exclusionary,” Tisby, author or The Color of Compromise and How to Fight Racism, notes in his portion of the report, explaining how the patriotism espoused by the Black church tradition stands in sharp contrast to that of white Christian nationalism.

Responding to a webinar question about ongoing expressions of Christian nationalism, Tisby noted that Christian nationalists seek “to use legitimate democratic processes and co-opt them to create their version of a Christian America.” A few examples that he offered beyond the Jan. 6 insurrection were “the manufactured controversy over critical race theory” and the silencing or shaming of those speaking out against Christian nationalism from within houses of faith by labeling them as critical race theorists, Marxists, communists and so forth.

Katherine Stewart headshot

Katherine Stewart

Stewart, author of The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism, considers how Christian nationalism contributed to the Jan. 6 insurrection in her essay, explaining that Christian nationalism “is first and foremost a political movement” focused on obtaining and maintaining power and influence.

During the webinar, she shared three conditions that were used to garner support among Christian nationalists for what led to the Jan. 6 insurrection: creating an information bubble that separated adherents from objective facts, promoting a sense of persecution and resentment of perceived enemies among adherents, and fostering a belief that the legitimacy of the U.S. government derives not from its democratic form but adherence to a particular religious tradition.

Andrew L. Seidel headshot

Andrew L. Seidel

Seidel, a constitutional attorney at the Freedom from Religion Foundation and author of The Founding Myth: Why Christian Nationalism Is Un-American, penned two essays for the report. The first builds on that of Stewart by focusing on specific leaders and post-election events which sought to frame opposition to the 2020 election results as “spiritual warfare” and contributed to the Capitol insurrection, while the second focuses on evidence of Christian nationalism at the Jan. 6 rallies and during the subsequent insurrection.

Calling Christian nationalism “an existential threat to the America republic” during his webinar remarks, he shared multiple examples of times that the Christian nationalistic rhetoric and ideology was present at events leading up to Jan. 6 and manifest on the day of the insurrection.

“Christian nationalism created a permission structure that gave the insurrectionists the moral and mental license that they needed to attack our government in an attempt to overturn a free and fair election,” Sleidel stated. “If we ignore the ideology that justified this attack in their minds, we are inviting future attacks.”

An essay by Tyler concludes the report, providing examples of Christian individuals and organizations who spoke out against Christian nationalism before, during and after the insurrection.

“The Christian response to Christian nationalism must not only be widespread to be effective; it also must be prolonged,” she writes. “The ideology of Christian nationalism, which has become deeply entrenched in American society over centuries, will take generations to dismantle.”

Seidel echoed Tyler’s emphasis on the need for sustained opposition during the webinar, emphasizing the importance of uniting in opposition to Christian nationalism by fighting the disinformation that fuels the movement and recommitting to church-state separation.

“America will never be the Christian nation that Christian nationalists want, because the moment it becomes a Christian nation it would cease to be America,” Seidel stated. “Those two things cannot peacefully coexist; one is going to triumph. And that is the choice we face as a nation: Christian nationalism or America, because we can’t have both.”

The full report is available here. A recording of the Feb. 9 webinar is available here.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to include a link to a recording of the webinar.

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