The creep of Christian nationalism

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Historically viewed as a fringe belief system, Christian nationalism has become a considerable force in American politics, particularly as it relates to the current Republican Party.

A new survey from Public Religion Research Institute and the Brookings Institution revealed more than 50% of Republicans believe the country should aspire to become a devoutly Christian nation by ascribing to the fundamentals of Christian nationalism, or, at a minimum, identifying with such beliefs.

Christian nationalism is the assumption the United States is a Christian nation, and that the nation’s laws should be deeply rooted in Christian values. Such a mindset has long been prevalent in white evangelical spheres, but has rapidly gained considerable traction within the mainstream Republican party.

Committed Christian nationalists represent only 10 percent of the population, according to a 2023 PRRI/Brookings Christian Nationalism Survey. Despite such a distinct minority, Christian nationalists have been successful in garnering additional influence by aggressively integrating themselves into a more sizable Christian electorate and declaring themselves as ordinary men and women.

Not surprisingly, support for Christian nationalism is heavily correlated to political ideology. Americans who reside in culturally conservative red states are much more likely to espouse Christian nationalist beliefs or be more inclined to harbor Christian nationalistic sympathies. More than half of Republicans also hold Christian nationalist beliefs, compared with a quarter of independents and just 16% of Democrats.

In 2022, a collection of right-wing writers and leaders published a document titled “Conservatism: A Statement of Principles.” The section on God and public religion stated, “Where a Christian majority exists, public life should be rooted in Christianity and its moral vision, which should be honored by the state and other institutions both public and private.”

That is an alarming and troubling statement, implying non-Christians should have second-class status in our country. That Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, atheists, agnostics, and others should be deprived of equality under the law. Such rhetoric is the antithesis of freedom to worship enshrined in the Constitution.

Christian nationalism is not an ideology where an individual’s belief system defines their political values. Human beings can certainly hold divergent opinions as they relate to immigration, reproductive rights, or any other political issue. Like everyone else, Christians routinely spar among one another on such issues. Debate and a diversity of viewpoints are often beneficial to both the debaters as well as the larger society.

What distinguishes Christian nationalism is not religious participation in politics but the myopic perception that Christian primacy and theology must be deeply saturated in virtually every aspect of our society. It is tied to a visceral sense that the well-being and survival of the church is closely tied to the outcome of any given political race. Christian nationalism’s supporters have little, if any, compunction about attempting to impose their personal value system upon others. Such beliefs often manifest themselves through linear ideology, a specific identity, and unbridled passion.

If Christian nationalism were successful in becoming the norm, it would abolish our current Constitution and further fragment our democracy.

Incidentally, it was the thrice-married serial adulterer and wayward (at least by traditional religious standards) former President Donald Trump who courted right-wing Christians. According to one analysis, Trump’s judicial appointees were almost universally Christian, and a majority had some kind of affiliation with a religious group such as a church or other religious foundation.

Trump also appointed three of the six U.S. Supreme Court justices who voted to overturn Roe v. Wade in 2022. Unable to garner the support of the majority of Americans for dictating American culture, Christian nationalists have mounted a legal-political crusade against all who refuse to embrace their religious worldview. The Supreme Court’s new conservative majority has steadily eroded the separation of church and state embedded in the Constitution.

Since the overturning of Roe v. Wade, these theocrats have successfully put their disdain and disregard for the life of the pregnant into law in one right-wing Republican-dominated state after another. But this is just the warm-up act.

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson and his fellow crusaders would like to inject their religious doctrine into the veins of every political aspect of federal law and public policy in an effort to establish religious hegemony. Conservative governors and legislators have arrogantly, brazenly, and shamelessly invoked God and religion as the legislative purpose behind such draconian measures.

If we value the freedom to worship in our own way, such arrogant and disingenuous proselytizing has to be combated.

Copyright 2024 Elwood Watson, distributed by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate

Elwood Watson is a professor of history, Black studies, and gender and sexuality studies at East Tennessee State University. He is also an author and public speaker.