There is more and more talk of “Christian nationalism” – but what does this term really mean? | Kiowa County Press

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Will the midterm elections gauge support for Christian nationalist ideas? selimaksan/E+ via Getty Images

Eric McDaniel, The University of Texas at Austin College of Liberal Arts

According to a May 2022 poll from the University of Maryland, 61% of Republicans favor declaring the United States a Christian nation – although 57% acknowledged that it would be unconstitutional. Meanwhile, 31% of all Americans and 49% of Republicans believe “God intended America to be a new promised land where European Christians could create a society that would be an example to the rest of the world,” according to one recent survey by the Public Religion Research Institute found.

These statistics underscore the influence of a set of ideas called “Christian nationalism,” which held sway until the November 2022 midterm elections. openly identified as a Christian nationalist and called on the Republican Party to do the same. Others, like Colorado Representative Lauren Boebert and Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano, have not claimed the label but embraced its tenets, such as rejecting the separation of church and religion. State.

Few Americans use the term “Christian nationalist” to describe themselves, but many others have embraced aspects of this worldview. There is widespread confusion over what the label actually means, making it important to explain it clearly. My work on how race and religion shape Americans’ attitudes toward government led me to study Christian nationalism and co-write a book detailing how it shapes Americans’ view of themselves. , their government and their place in the world.

Christian nationalism is more than religiosity and patriotism. It is a worldview that guides how people believe the nation should be structured and who belongs in it.

mission of God

The phenomenon of white Christian nationalism has been studied by historians, sociologists, political scientists, religious scholars and many others. Although their definitions may differ, they share some elements.

Christian nationalism is a religious and political belief system that holds that the United States was founded by God to be a Christian nation and to complement God’s worldview. In this view, America can only be governed by Christians, and the mission of the country is directed by a divine hand.

In my recent book “The Everyday Crusade: Christian Nationalism in American Politics,” written with fellow political scientists Irfan Nooruddin and Allyson Shortle, we demonstrate that this worldview has existed since the colonies and played a central role in the development of American identity. During the American Revolution, political and religious leaders associated independence from the British with God’s plan to restore the world.

A black-and-white drawing shows a man with outstretched arms reaching towards a celestial light.
“Apotheosis of Washington”, by John James Barralet, imagining the first president rising from his grave. Heritage Art/Heritage Images via Getty Images

From then on, the belief of many Americans that God favors their nation guided their view of crucial events – such as support for Manifest Destiny, the idea that the United States was destined to expand westward across the North America ; or framing the “war on terror” as a conflict between Christians and non-Christians in the 21st century.

Today, only about 4 in 10 people in the United States are white Christians. The idea of ​​no longer being in the majority has led some of them to see Christian nationalism as the only way to put the nation back on the right track. Christian nationalism generally restricts adherents’ view of who can be considered a “true” American, limiting it to people who are white, Christian, and born in the United States, and whose families have European roots.

Dissidents, disciples and lay people

The majority of Americans do not embrace Christian nationalism. Even so, its echoes appear everywhere, from American flags in church pulpits, to the pledge of allegiance, to “In God We Trust” on government money, license plates and vehicles.

My book co-authors and I argue that Christian nationalist ideas exist on a spectrum. For our book project, we developed a measure we call “American Religious Exceptionalism” and used it to analyze nationally and state-level representative surveys from 2008 to 2020. Based on this data, we ranked American citizens into three groups: dissenters, laity and disciples.

The “dissenters” reject the idea that the United States has a divine foundation and plan and express a more open understanding of what it means to be American. Among nationally representative samples, the proportion of dissidents ranges from 37% to 49% of the population.

At the other end of the spectrum, “followers” firmly believe in the divine foundation and direction of the United States and express more restrictive ideas about who can be a “real” American and who should be allowed into the United States. country. Followers, who make up between 10% and 14% of the population, are more likely to see immigrants as a threat to American culture and to worry about the declining percentage of white Americans and Christians.

The “secular” community represents between 37% and 52% of the population. They demonstrate support for many of the same views as followers, such as anti-immigrant, anti-black, and anti-Muslim attitudes, but less intensely.

master seller

Politicians can be seen as entrepreneurs constantly looking for new consumers. Some of them have found a devoted following among followers, who tend to be politically engaged and eager to vote for a candidate who will advance their vision for the nation.

Former President Donald Trump has been particularly successful in attracting voters sympathetic to Christian nationalist ideas, portraying himself as a defender of “besieged” Christians. In June 2020, amid upheaval caused by police killings of unarmed black Americans, tear gas was used to disperse protesters to allow President Trump to have his photo taken holding a Bible outside the church St. John’s Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C. His open animosity toward Muslims also helped bring Christian nationalists from the margins into the mainstream.

Someone draped in a flag that says
Supporters of then-President Donald Trump pray outside the US Capitol on January 6, 2021 in Washington, DC Win McNamee/Getty Images

Images linking Christianity to the nation and to Trump, as part of a larger divine mission, were on full display during the attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2021. In the most extreme Christian nationalist views, the government must be aligned. with this ideology – even if force is necessary.

Our research found that 68% of followers agree that strength may be necessary to maintain the traditional American way of life. Most followers express strong support for representative democracy; however, 48% of followers support the idea of ​​military rule, compared to 6% of dissenters.

On the way to the polls

The movement of Christian nationalism into the mainstream is evident halfway through 2022, as several candidates have announced their support for Christian nationalism or made statements entirely consistent with it. Not only does such rhetoric mobilize followers, it has the potential to persuade lay people that these candidates will best represent their interests. An atmosphere of growing partisan polarization, where political debates are sometimes portrayed as between angels and demons destroying the country, provides a fertile environment.

What this means for American democracy is unclear. But while some white and Christian Americans fear a loss of status, I believe Christian nationalism is coming back – trying to reclaim its “holy ground.”

The conversation

Eric McDaniel, Associate Professor of Political Science, The University of Texas at Austin College of Liberal Arts

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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