Christian Nationalism is an ideology based upon the false belief that America was founded as a Christian nation and must remain so.
Christian nationalists advocate for federal, state and local governments to instill their literal interpretations of the Bible and rigid values upon all citizens through authoritarian laws and draconian policies.
In their book The Flag and the Cross: White Christian Nationalism and the Threat to American Democracy, sociologists Philip Gorki and Samuel Perry identify seven statements with which Christian nationalists strongly agree. While this list does not address every marker of Christian nationalists, it’s a good starting point.
First, they believe the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were divinely inspired.
Christians, historically, have believed Scripture to be divinely inspired while suggesting other important documents to be inspired but not divinely sacred texts.
To equate the two sets of documents means the former are on the same level as Scripture. With all due respect to the founders’ words, they are not equal to Scripture.
Second, Christian nationalists conclude that the success of the United States is part of God’s plan.
While most Americans enthusiastically believe in the success of the United States, merging U.S. achievements with God’s plan sets a dangerous precedent.
Many Americans define success differently, and U.S. history is filled with differing opinions seeking divergent outcomes.
Many times throughout our history, America got it wrong: (1) chattel slavery, (2) the Indian Removal Act, (3) Jim Crow, (4) Japanese internment camps, (5) the limiting of LGBTQ+ rights, (5) the actions taken against Iraq due to its pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and others. None of these were part of God’s plan.
Third, they contend the federal government of the United States was founded as a Christian nation.
More than any claim made by Christian Nationalism, this one is built upon an outright lie. Evidence – from the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to the Treaty of Tripoli – points to the founders wanting to construct a secular government.
The founders were not anti-religious, but they understood that the best way for religion to flourish and for the government to remain religiously neutral was for church and state to remain separate.
The first words of the First Amendment communicate this principle: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
In the 1796 Treaty of Tripoli, author Joel Barlow (an ardent Jeffersonian Republican) wrote, “The Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.” The U.S. Senate ratified the treaty, and President John Adams signed it.
Fourth, Christian nationalists think the federal government should instill Christian values.
This idea becomes extremely problematic after you scratch the surface. Often, this is a dog whistle advocating for rigid fundamentalist “values,” setting Christian nationalists over everyone else.
In many cases, these “values” provide legal protection for Christian nationalists to discriminate against others and to neglect the rights of other citizens. In other words, it sets Christian nationalists and their “values” over other citizens.
For example, companies owned by individuals opposing LGBTQ+ rights can refuse to serve them. Laws like this – supported by some current members of the U.S Supreme Court – harken back to the diners in the South refusing to serve Black Americans, based upon the business owners’ belief that Black individuals were inferior to white individuals. It was wrong then, and it’s wrong now.
Fifth, they argue the separation of church and state is a false principle created to keep religion out of the public square.
This marker demonstrates how Christian nationalists adopt current phrases and redefine them for their purposes, as they have done with the term “religious freedom.”
Traditionally, religious freedom has been defined as “everyone in the United States having the right to practice his or her religion, or no religion at all.”
However, Christian nationalists define it as the right to discriminate in the public square based upon a rigid theological ideal. Their definition means Christian nationalists have more rights than other people of faith in the public square.
In the case of the separation of church and state, they support freedom for religion but not freedom from religion. They want to practice their faith in the public square without any restraints.
If they want to use public money to support their religious causes, then they should have that right according to their thinking. Also, they should be permitted to discriminate against other citizens according to their conscience.
In other words, Christian nationalists falsely contend that they have the right to rule over others because the United States was founded as a Christian nation.
Sixth, Christian nationalists believe that the federal government should display Christian symbols in public spaces.
From their viewpoint, the government should provide special treatment for the display of Christian symbols.
Recently, state and local communities have been arguing over the display of “In God We Trust” signs in local public schools. Of course, those wanting to display the motto in public spaces require the phrase to be written out in English only. Arabic versions of the same phrase have been rejected.
The motto “In God We Trust” was adopted in 1956 as a tool by the Eisenhower administration. The new motto replaced the original, “E Pluribus Unum.” The original phrase was Latin, meaning “Out of Many, One.”
So, why the change?
Some scholars believed it was a reaction to the “godless” Soviet Union.
Others believe the term “Out of Many, One” was problematic as the civil rights movement in the South emerged. Segregationists did not believe Black citizens were equal to them. Therefore, they would not concede the “one” nation idea.
The founders knew the dangers of favoring one religion over another. This is why they included the words of the First Amendment, making certain the Constitution guaranteed freedom for religion and freedom from religion for all citizens.
Seventh, they believe that the federal government should allow prayer in public schools.
Christian nationalists point to the degradation of the U.S. beginning in 1962 when the Supreme Court “removed” prayer from public schools. The 1962 case, Engel v. Vitale, brought forth the complaint that a Jewish boy was forced to bow his head in prayer while attending a public school.
Plaintiffs argued the prayers were state sponsored, thus violating the establishment of religion clause of the First Amendment via the Fourteenth Amendment. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs 6-1.
As a person of faith, I find it appalling that government officials want to lead children in prayer. Which prayer will they use? Christian? Jewish? Muslim?
The responsibility for leading children in prayer should be left to families and faith leaders in their homes and places of worship. Unfortunately, the current Supreme Court justices have opened the door for a return of state-sponsored prayer. Christian nationalists were overjoyed, declaring it was a sign from God.
As one can see, Christian nationalism is built upon false beliefs and draconian practices.
Good Faith Media is currently working with partners to counter Christian nationalism and demonstrate a better way to be both people of faith and patriotic U.S. citizens through its A Better Way Initiative.
As a Christian organization, we advocate for a faith respecting all religions – and those who do not have a religion – based upon the belief that all humans are created equal. We contend that this was the way of Jesus, as he never judged or condemned other religions but sought to demonstrate the love of God to all people.
In addition, one can be a patriot without holding to the false claims of Christian nationalism. For example, as a citizen of the Muscogee Nation, it would be logical to despise everything about America. I only have to point to the genocide of Indigenous peoples, stolen lands and the Trail of Tears to make my point.
However, I understand that the founders – and other leaders throughout history – were flawed individuals. Being honest about our history and today’s leaders is not unpatriotic but demonstrates the true greatness of the American experience. We are striving to become a more perfect union.
As voters head to the polls next week, let us be reminded how volatile democracy is right now. The 16th president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, summed it up best, “Elections belong to the people. It’s their decision. If they decide to turn their back on the fire and burn their behinds, then they will just have to sit on their blisters.”
CEO of Good Faith Media.