The idea that the United States is based on Christianity, and, therefore, that Christianity should direct all of its policies has been a fringe belief for many decades, but the rise of far-right extremism has seemingly paved the way for the concept to become mainstream. Top-level Republicans are now echoing this ideology. “We need to be the party of nationalism,” congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene has proclaimed. “I’m a Christian, and I say it proudly, we should be Christian nationalists.”
As Katherine Stewart puts it, Christian nationalism is the belief that “the legitimacy of the United States government derives from its commitment to a particular religious and cultural heritage, not from its democratic form.” According to the Pew Research Center, only about 65% of the American population practices some form of Christianity (although Christians form 88% of the 117th Congress). Furthermore, America has never been a Christian nation. Many of the nation’s most prominent founders were deists, not Christians, and these founders established an immediate separation between Church and State in the first amendment to the U.S. Constitution – a clause the Supreme Court has a long-standing precedent of protecting.
Christian nationalism is based in bringing the U.S. back to a time when Christianity was the basis of government, but that time never existed. The Founding Fathers wanted to keep a separation between the Church and the government, hoping the people would not be oppressed under one ideology.
However, this hasn’t stopped Republicans from championing the U.S. as a superior state because of its supposed devotion to Christianity. The Christian nationalist narrative matches very closely to Donald Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again,” and played a large role in the Capitol insurrection in January 2021. Many of the insurrectionists acted on the basis that the newly-elected Joe Biden would be an anti-Christian president, a belief made ironic by the fact that Biden is a Christian where Trump only claims to be one. The insurrectionists were fed a false narrative that Biden was trying to take away the rights of Christians and white people through a rigged election. They were trying to bring America back to what they saw as the country’s traditional values.
When was America “great”? The time M.A.G.A. attempts to harken back to was littered with repressive policies, many of them made in the name of Christianity. Most of these policies were only thin masks for white supremacy.
“Christianity was proslavery,” Yolanda Pierce, dean of the historically Black Howard University’s divinity school, wrote in a Washington Post article. “So much of early American Christian identity is predicated on a proslavery theology. From the naming of the slave ships, to who sponsored some of these journeys including some churches, to the fact that so much of early American religious rhetoric is deeply intertwined … with slaveholding: It is proslavery.”
America is not a Christian nation. Christian nationalism is little more than an outcry from white supremacists who are angry at the progress marginalized groups have made towards freedom: an attempt to prop up religious discrimination and violence, as well as racial and sexual discrimination, under a veneer of religious freedom. Americans must be cautious of this extreme right ideology, lest it destroy the democratic process.
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