Christians who care about America’s future will seek to increase our individual devotion to God, as well as our collective obedience to Bible teachings. But now an alarm is raised, claiming that Christians who believe this, and who act on it, are actually dire threats to society. Consider these article quotes:
- Christian nationalism demands Christianity be privileged by the State and implies that to be a good American, one must be Christian. It often overlaps with and provides cover for white supremacy and racial subjugation. We reject this damaging political ideology and invite our Christian brothers and sisters to join us in opposing this threat to our faith and to our nation.
- At first glance, these snapshots look like scenes from an outdoor church rally. But this event wasn’t a revival; it was what some call a Christian revolt. These were photos of people who stormed the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, during an attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. The insurrection marked the first time many Americans realized the US is facing a burgeoning White Christian nationalist movement. This movement uses Christian language to cloak sexism and hostility to Black people and non-White immigrants in its quest to create a White Christian America.
Is something dangerous happening here? Is a Christian revolution brewing up? Relax, nothing is happening. Nothing except a couple of scaremongers who don’t like Christian political involvement. They wrote a book and are pushing it on print and broadcast media. However, the book is only smoke and mirrors.
Instead of getting your understanding, and forming your opinions, on stories from enemies of Christ, let’s look at what the Bible says and what their book says. We’ll cover these topics:
- How obeying our call to evangelize the earth leads to Christian societies and nations.
- That America was founded as a Christian nation, and still largely is one.
- The story behind this sudden hate of Christian nationalism.
- Reviewing the so-called study of Christian nationalism and its claimed dangers.
- Don’t be ashamed of Christian evangelism, or of its outcomes.
Consistent Christian evangelism yields a Christian nation
Where does the concept of Christian nationalism come from? It is the natural long-term outcome of consistently practiced Christian evangelism. Here is my version of how this goes.
- The Great Commission calls us, Jesus’ followers, to “make disciples of all the nations… teaching them to observe all that I commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20).
- We learn to conform our desires, preferences, and activities to always honor God. Because non-Christians view us as role models, as “the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14-16), we become change agents in society – yeast, as it were (Matthew 13:33).
- The result of our preferences and role modeling is a society that prefers, and encourages, the behaviors, attitudes, and trappings of Christianity. This society also discourages ideas and activities that challenge the collective beliefs.
- A society in a particular geographical region amounts to a nation. It needs ways of ensuring justice, domestic order, and protection from external marauders. In effect, it wants a suitable government.
- A Christian society forms its government from its people. Note that this government doesn’t impose Christianity on the nation. Rather, the laws are Christian-based because the society wants it that way. The government’s laws are downstream of the nation’s culture.
America always was, and still remains, a Christian nation.
Was America formed as a Christian nation? Certainly! From the very beginning there are farms, towns, and cities filled with people accepting and advocating a Christian-based culture. We came from Europe, especially England, and brought with us the English common law, itself an expression of Bible themes of law and justice. Certainly contemporaries recognized that America was a Christian nation.
Critics claim that because certain politicians passed treaties with Muslim countries, or that because these politicians weren’t effusive Christians, that we weren’t a Christian nation. This claim is rubbish. We’re a Christian nation because the general population thought it so, and acted to make it so. Look at it from the opposite point of view. If we were a non-Christian people, then all of the Adamses and Jeffersons in the world couldn’t make us a Christian nation by edict.
Some people ask if America still is a Christian nation, with a Christian culture. Perhaps the answer is that we’re still a Christian nation, but seriously backsliding.
How did “Christian nationalism” become a hated concept?
All things considered, the term “Christian nationalism” is fairly obscure. So why has it suddenly become an term of universal scorn? Here’s another batch of this media hate:
- At Christianity Today, Morgan Lee blamed the January 6 “attack” on conservative Christians, saying: “In the aftermath of the Capitol attack, many saw a clear connection between the violence and Christian nationalism.”
- At Time magazine, Andrew Whitehead said: “In order to understand what led to the deadly Capitol insurrection and the spate of proposed voting laws we must account for the influence of Christian nationalism, a political theology that fuses American identity with an ultra-conservative strain of Christianity. But this Christianity is something more than the orthodox Christianity of ancient creeds; it is more of an ethnic Christian-ism. In its most extreme form it legitimizes the type of violence we saw on Jan. 6 and the recent flood of voting restrictions. Violence and legislation not in service of democracy, but instead for fundamentally anti-democratic goals.”
- At New York magazine, Sarah Jones says: “An ideology is on the march. Traces of it are detectable in a racist massacre in Buffalo; in Tucker Carlson’s monologues; in Marjorie Taylor Greene’s public comments. Find it again in the right’s anti-abortion rhetoric, which poorly disguises demographic anxiety, or in the right’s response to the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, which shows it embracing God and guns with ever greater conviction. This ideology has a name, argue sociologists Samuel L. Perry of the University of Oklahoma and Philip S. Gorski of Yale University. Perry and Gorski call it white Christian nationalism, and in their view, it represents a pressing threat to democracy.”
If you search online for “Christian nationalism” you’ll be flooded with articles, almost all of them bearing the same theme of “Christian nationalism bad.” Notably, most all of the articles involve Andrew Sullivan or Samuel Perry. That is, the articles either are written by them, or interview them, or reference their book Taking America Back For God: Christian Nationalism in the United States.
It’s as though these authors are running a private campaign to generate pushback against, to suppress, politically active Christians. Because outside of the authors’ influence, there is no particular concern or alarm online about Christian nationalism.
Are Whitehead and Perry onto something? Is their book insightful research, a revelation about an undiscovered threat to American democracy? Or is it just smoke and mirrors? Deciding which it is means reading their book. I’ve taken the trouble to read it, and review it in the next section. You’ll see that the book doesn’t deliver what it promises.
- It has uncertain research using irrelevant statistics.
- It claims that Christian nationalism is merely political, never involving religion.
- It says those who want to preserve Christian culture are essentially power hungry bigots.
The book claims insights but delivers only slanders. As a consequence, Whitehead and Perry aren’t credible when they bring up Christian nationalism. Article writers who rely on their work are also not credible, for they rely on political opinions and not useful facts. Read on, through the next section, and you’ll see what I mean.
The book “Taking Back America For God” is bad scholarship
Critics maligning Christian nationalism all seem to start with the book Taking America Back For God: Christian Nationalism in the United States. A raft of quotes from this book, along with interviews and derivative articles, have brought authors Andrew Whitehead and Samuel Perry into prominence. Robert Jones, a colleague who wrote its forward, calls the book “one of the clearest portraits we have of the greatest existing threat to democracy in our fraught contemporary moment.” (page ix)
However, this “clearest portrait” doesn’t actually criticize Christian nationalism, but rather a manufactured “strawman” of non-religious political activism. This strawman empowers the authors’ argument that Christians who care about laws and politics are just power-hungry people. I’ll dissect this book in these ways:
- The authors slander Christian nationalism through a non-religious invention.
- They assert that Christian nationalism is only about political influence.
- They claim that Christian nationalism is dangerous to society.
- The authors try to make irrelevant statistics prove their case.
- Conclusion: The book is propaganda, not scholarly.
A. The authors slander Christian nationalism through a non-religious invention.
As discussed earlier, faithfully obeying the Great Commission results in a multitude having a zeal for Jesus. These people shape society into having a Bible-influenced culture. Christian nationalism is the natural outcome of consistently favoring Christian morals. Even the authors recognize this, quoting Christian Smith saying:
Twenty years ago sociologist Christian Smith argued that scholars and journalists has got white evangelicals all wrong – specifically, those evangelicals who were seemingly sympathetic to Christian nationalist rhetoric and ideals. First and foremost, Smith explained, white evangelicals are not a monolithic group. They hold diverse opinions about the nation’s Christian heritage and should not be stereotyped as staunch Christian nationalists. But more than this, Smith argued, the use of “Christian nation” language, for most rank and file evangelicals, was not intended to mobilize political action, but to shore up their identity as Christians and to mobilize religious action. Their primary interest is not to “take America back for God” through political force, but simply to live as faithful Christians, redeeming their increasingly secular society through interpersonal influence. (pages 57-58)
But having quoted Smith, and the religious origins of Christian nationalism, the authors dismiss him:
Twenty years ago, Christian Smith argued that conservative Christians’ calls to “take America back for God” were really about religious renewal and personal transformation rather than political power. We beg to differ (pages 86-87).
They prefer their own political formulation, where religion plays little to no part:
Simply put, Christian nationalism is a cultural framework – a collection of myths, traditions, symbols, narratives, and value systems – that idealizes and advocates a fusion of Christianity with American civic life. But the “Christianity” of Christian nationalism is of a particular sort. We do not mean Christianity here as a general, meta-category including all expressions of orthodox Christian theology. Nor will we use terms such as “evangelicalism” or “white conservative Protestantism” (to the extent that these represent certain theological-interpretative positions) as synonyms for Christian nationalism. On the contrary, the “Christianity” of Christian nationalism represents something more than religion. As we will show, it includes assumptions of nativism, white supremacy, patriarchy, and heteronormativity, along with divine sanction for authoritarian control and militarism. It is as ethnic and political as it is religious. Understood in this light, Christian nationalism contends that America has been and always should be distinctively “Christian” (reflecting this fuller, more nuanced sense of the term) from top to bottom – in its self-identity, interpretations of its own history, sacred symbols, cherished values, and public policies – and it aims to keep it that way. (page 10)
Are you among those who think that Christians should evangelize, and use the Bible to influence judges and leaders? According to the authors your religious motivations are a lie. You’re actually a bigoted person seeking to impose your biases, and maintain your privileges in society. That’s what the book’s readers are learning, and what is being repeated in recent opinion articles.
B. The authors assert that Christian nationalism is only about political influence.
Time after time, the authors show by their language, and by their choice of quotes, that they don’t like the concept of Christian society. Perhaps that’s the reason for this book, which creates a strawman of Christian nationalism and gives it serious character faults. Check out these samples:
- Christian nationalism is about power, not religion. The authors say: “Appeals to someone’s religion, in this case Christianity, may involve a plea to live out transcendent Christian values of love, mercy, or justice. Appeals to Christian nationalism, by contrast, involve either a proprietary claim or a call to arms, always in response to a perceived threat. In short, Christian nationalism is all about power.” (page 86)
By saying this, the authors try to confine actual Christianity to individual purity and holiness. They ignore that God intimately cares about national unrighteousness and injustice. (Isaiah 10:5-8,12-19; Jonah 1:1-2).
- Christian nationalism is rooted in white supremacy. The authors say: “Not only do Ambassadors prefer clear racial boundaries, but because “Christian heritage” has historically been shorthand for “white-dominated society,” Christian nationalism is also closely linked with a preference for racial subordination.” (pages 101-102)
The authors also say: “Christian nationalism idealizes a mythic society in which real Americans – white, native-born, mostly Protestants – maintain control over access to society’s social, cultural, and political institutions, and “others” remain in their proper place.” (pages 118-119)
- Christian nationalists want to enslave women. “So why would Christian nationalism still influence abortion attitudes even after the usual suspects like religiosity and political ideology have been accounted for? Ultimately, we contend the connection is found in the identity itself and in Christian nationalism’s commitment to male authority over women’s bodies.” (pages 75-76)
To the authors, it’s never about the babies and never about ethics. Rather, men want to use the babies to become masters over women’s bodies. Through their logic, we see the value that authors place on human life.
The authors assert that Christian nationalism is merely a tool for for maintaining a powerful place in society. It’s never about obeying the Great Commission, and being culture-changing yeast in society (Luke 13:20-21). But they’re looking at their invented version of Christian nationalism, and not the real thing.
C. The authors claim that Christian nationalism is dangerous to society.
The authors think that a multi-cultural society is a fine thing, not understanding that it is by nature a cultural battleground seeking a winner (Matthew 6:24). They’re alarmed by a renewed Christian consensus. Consider their words:
- Converting people to Christ is somehow bad. The authors say “… it is Americans’ private worlds that strong Christian nationalists are most desperate to influence. This is actually the case for all reactionary movements, American Christian nationalism being a textbook example.” (page 123)
- Christian nationalism threatens society. The authors say: “Therefore, strong support for Christian nationalism is – without a doubt – a threat to a pluralistic democratic society.” (page 161)
Note how the authors label Christians as “reactionary.” That label is used only by socialist and Marxist “revolutionaries.” They’re worried about an American Christian religious revival, which thwarts their planned remaking of society. A renewed Christian culture will certainly challenge multi-culturalism.
For a closing argument, the authors look to their strawman and claim: “At its core, Christian nationalism is a hollow and deceptive philosophy that depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world, rather than on Christ.” (page 163) This is true of their invented Christian nationalism, but not true of a Christian nationalism coming out of renewed Christian devotion.
D. The authors try to make irrelevant statistics prove their case.
The authors found the 2017 Baylor Religion Survey, which asked some questions about religious belief. From this survey they created four roles regarding Christian nationalism (Ambassador, Accomodator, Resister, Rejector). Finally, they asserted things about demographics and these four roles. (page 25-38)
However, this Baylor survey is useless when describing Christian nationalism. The author’s “Four Americans” concept relies on only six questions from the survey, which are: (pages 6-8)
- The federal government should declare the United States a Christian nation.
- The federal government should advocate Christian values.
- The federal government should enforce strict separation of church and state.
- The federal government should allow the display of religious symbols in public spaces.
- The success of the United States is part of God’s plan.
- The federal government should allow prayer in public schools.
The questions say nothing about the character of Christian nationalism. The survey questions don’t suggest that Christian nationalism is wrong, or racist, or anything. They don’t even approach the concept. All of the racism and irreligious preening is imputed to Christian nationalism, or its strawman, by the authors, using their own biases and politics. Mark Hall, at Discourse magazine, comments on the vagueness of the survey’s questions.
However, there are excellent reasons to be skeptical about the survey methods Whitehead and Perry use to measure Christian nationalism. They rely upon responses to six statements to measure the extent to which one embraces the phenomenon, but two of them are ambiguous and three of the six simply measure whether one is committed to the strict separation of church and state. One may reasonably conclude, for instance, that religious monuments should be permitted to remain on public land, that voluntary prayer should be permitted in public schools, and that states should not be able to discriminate against religious institutions and not be the sort of dangerous Christian nationalist they describe.
The questions can be interpreted many ways regarding Christianity and government. Neil Shenvi reviews the book, and shreds the authors’ claim to scholarship:
Any debate over “Christian nationalism” has to begin with definitions. While the authors recognize that “Christian nationalism” is “not a single idea… but rather a more dynamic ideology incorporating a number of beliefs and values,” (p. 7) they do offer the following definition: “Simply put, Christian nationalism is a cultural framework–a collection of myths, traditions, symbols, narratives, and value systems–that idealizes and advocates a fusion of Christianity with American civil life” (p. 10). They go on to state that Christian nationalism “includes assumptions of nativism, white supremacy, patriarchy, and heteronormativity, along with divine sanction for authoritarian control and militarism….[it] contends that America has been and should always be distinctively ‘Christian’” (p. 10).
Given this definition, we must next ask “how can Christian nationalism be measured?” Most of the authors’ conclusions were based on a 2017 survey which asked participants to respond to six statements (see above) with “strongly disagree,” “disagree,” “unsure,” “agree,” or “strongly agree.” Each answer was scored on a scale from 0 to 4 and the results were totaled, so that each participant was placed on a scale from 0 (lowest support for Christian nationalism) to 24 (highest support Christian nationalism). To facilitate interpretation of data, the authors then grouped participants into four categories by total score: Rejecters (0-5), Resisters (6-11), Accommodators (12-17), and Ambassadors (18-24). Each category represented approximately one-quarter of the U.S. population (21.5%, 26.6%, 32.1%, and 19.8% respectively). Accommodators and Ambassadors were both characterized as being “supportive” of “Christian nationalism” while Resisters and Rejecters “opposed” Christian nationalism.
This survey formed the basis for the bulk of the book’s analysis. What should we think of it?
First, many of the questions contained serious ambiguities. For example, is the statement “the federal government should advocate Christian values” in Question 2 asking about “Christian values” in general, which are often shared by other religions, or about “uniquely Christian values”? The survey doesn’t clarify, but this distinction makes a huge difference. Nearly everyone thinks that U.S. law should recognize that murder is immoral, which is surely a Christian value. But few Christians think that U.S. law should recognize that premarital sex or blasphemy is immoral, although these are also Christian values. Our answer to Question 2 will then depend on how we interpret the ambiguous phrase “Christian values.”
Or take the statement in Question 5, “The success of the U.S. is part of God’s plan.” Is this true? It depends on what the authors have in mind. A biblical view of God’s sovereignty entails that everything, whether the success of the U.S. or the rapid industrialization of China or the death of a sparrow, is part of God’s plan. What the authors really seem to be asking is whether the United States’ success is a reward for obedience.
Or what about the statement in Question 6, “The federal government should allow prayer in public schools”? Well, obviously, they should allow prayer in schools; isn’t the real question whether prayer should be mandated or led by a teacher?
Of course, participants could try to guess what the researchers meant when they asked these questions, but the necessity of this kind of guess-work is exactly what social scientists should try to prevent by asking clear questions. It’s possible that the authors were constrained in reproducing the wording of previous surveys for continuity’s sake. But because of the questions’ ambiguity, we often have no idea how they were interpreted by those who responded. Two people who “strongly agree” and “strongly disagree” with the “strict separation of church and state” might actually hold identical beliefs but might simply be interpreting “strict separation” in two different ways.
Second, because of how responses were scored, a person who marked “unsure” for all six questions, would receive a total score of 12, and would consequently be classified as an “Accommodator” who is “supportive” of Christian nationalism. That doesn’t make much sense.
The data, and the “Four Americans” roles, don’t contribute to the book’s arguments. After going through the trouble of presenting statistics from the Baylor Religion Survey, they aren’t used to shape, or advance, the book’s assertions about Christian nationalism. It’s merely filler material, meant to provide academic cover to the character slanders.
The scholarship isn’t repeatable. A rule for scholarship is that other researchers should be able to examine the same data and reasonably come to the same conclusions. But with this collection of Baylor Religion Survey questions, coming to the same conclusions on Christian nationalism is likely only if these other researchers also are similarly prejudiced towards Christian society.
E. Conclusion: The book is propaganda, not scholarly.
I judge the book to be mere propaganda dressed up as scholarship. Consider:
- Their research data doesn’t support their assertions.
- They only use quotes about Christian nationalism that demonstrate their assertions.
- Arguments for a religiously-based Christian nationalism are suppressed.
The book is an opinion piece, and not to be taken seriously. That said, the authors’ claim of scholarship is being taken seriously by journalists who already don’t like Christianity and don’t want to read the book. So in that sense the authors can be called successful political writers.
Whitehead and Perry do have one good point: don’t make governors out of your religious rulers. Even if you start out with the best of intentions it tends to end up badly, with the governors telling the people how to worship. For example, see the 1637 Scottish rebellion, fought to preserve Scottish presbyterianism against King Charles’ imposition of Anglican beliefs. It’s a better thing to let society convince its lawmakers, that they should do the “right thing” in their governance. As always, politics is downstream of society.
Don’t be ashamed of Christian evangelism, or of its outcomes
It seems that Whitehead and Perry wrote their book to discourage Christian activity regarding American politics. They’ve certainly created a buzz against Christian nationalism. But if Christian nationalism were wrong – the Bible version, not their strawman – then Christianity would be merely a personal self-improvement philosophy.
Jesus didn’t come to abolish the Law and the Prophets, but to fulfill them (Matthew 5:17-19). Among other things, this means that, just like Old Testament prophets did, Christians have a role in seeking a righteous society. It’s as though America was designed to be run by Christians.
Note that socialists aren’t ashamed to evangelize. They do it everywhere, with zeal. That’s why your children go to college and come home ruined. And that’s why public schools – staffed by teachers trained by socialists – evangelize your children, and then tell them to hide these teachings from their parents.
Over time, whose yeast, whose evangelism, will be more effective? Will it be that of society-preserving Christian evangelism, or that of those who seek to overturn our values and our society? I know that you don’t beat something with nothing. If Christians won’t evangelize and prophesy, if we just coast through life and ignore opponents of Christian culture, that the yeast from busy socialists will win out.
We must not be cowed by the opinions of our enemies. After all, if we’re not to be afraid when they arrest us for our faith (Mark 13:9-11), certainly we shouldn’t be afraid when we can still do as we please in Christ’s name. So don’t be worried about offending the enemies of Christ. Instead, let them worry about you, as you feast in the presence of your enemies (Psalm 23:5-6).
Christians Against Christian Nationalism, https://www.christiansagainstchristiannationalism.org/statement ↑
Blake, John, An ‘imposter Christianity’ is threatening American democracy, CNN, July 24, 2022, https://www.cnn.com/2022/07/24/us/white-christian-nationalism-blake-cec/index.html ↑
Flick, Dr. Stephen, Supreme Court declares America a Christian nation, Christian Heritage Fellowship, February 26, 2022, https://christianheritagefellowship.com/supreme-court-declares-america-christian ↑
Edwards, Mark, Was America founded as a Christian nation?, CNN, July 4, 2015, https://www.cnn.com/2015/07/02/living/america-christian-nation/index.html ↑
Lee, Morgan, Christian Nationalism Is Worse Than You Think, Christianity Today, January 13, 2021, https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/podcasts/quick-to-listen/christian-nationalism-capitol-riots-trump-podcast.html ↑
Whitehead, Andrew, The Growing Anti-Democratic Threat of Christian Nationalism in the U.S., Time magazine, May 27, 2021, https://time.com/6052051/anti-democratic-threat-christian-nationalism/ ↑
Jones, Sarah, White Christian Nationalism ‘Is a Fundamental Threat to Democracy’, New York Intelligencer, June 4, 2022, https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2022/06/white-christian-nationalism-is-a-threat-to-democracy.html ↑
Taking America Back For God : Christian Nationalism in the United States
Andrew L. Whitehead and Samuel L. Perry
Oxford University Press
Copyright Oxford University Press 2020, 2022
Paperback edition 2022
ISBN 9780197652572 ↑
Page numbers are from the cited edition of the book. ↑
The quote is from:
Smith, Christian, Christian America? What Evangelicals Really Want, University of California Press, Berkeley, CA, 2000 ↑
Strom, David, Daily Beast: White supremacy is racially diverse, Hot Air, December 12, 2022, https://hotair.com/david-strom/2022/12/12/daily-beast-white-supremacy-is-racially-diverse-n517136 ↑
Perry, Oliver, Yeast Wars: Rebuilding an American Christian Consensus, Fix This Culture blog, January 7, 2020, https://fixthisculture.com/religion/yeast-wars-rebuilding-an-american-christian-consensus/ ↑
Hall, Mark, Is Christian Nationalism an Existential Threat to America?, Discourse, September 19, 2022, https://www.discoursemagazine.com/culture-and-society/2022/09/19/is-christian-nationalism-an-existential-threat-to-america/ ↑
Shenvi, Neil, God and Country: A Short Review of Whitehead’s and Perry’s Taking America Back for God, Neil Shenvi – Apologetics, 2021, https://shenviapologetics.com/god-and-country-a-short-review-of-whiteheads-and-perrys-taking-america-back-for-god/ ↑
Perry, Oliver, American Christians, Tyranny, and Resistance, Fix This Culture blog, April 28, 2021, https://fixthisculture.com/freedom/american-christians-tyranny-and-resistance/ ↑
Perry, Oliver, Yeast Wars: Rebuilding an American Christian Consensus ↑
Shaw, Jazz, When teachers say “don’t tell your parents” there’s a big problem, Hot Air, July 27, 2021, https://hotair.com/jazz-shaw/2021/07/27/when-teachers-say-dont-tell-your-parents-theres-a-big-problem-n404821 ↑