By Samuel Perry and Andrew Whitehead | | 288 pages
Published in March of 2020

SUMMARY: Depending on the places you get your news or the social circles you run in the term Christian nationalism has a positive or negative connotation. With the explosion in conversation around the term since the January 6 insurrection, it is challenging to divorce the definition, good or bad, from today’s context. This is where Taking America Back for God immensely helps. Sociologists Samuel Perry, (University of Oklahoma), and Andrew Whitehead, (Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis) draw primarily on data from the 2017 Baylor Religion Survey to provide a nuanced and constructive look at the term that has influenced American politics for decades.

First, and perhaps, foremost Perry and Whitehead are clear that there is no “no silver-bullet explanation.” For example, the word “Christian” has more to do with an ideology than with following the tenants of Christianity or the way of Jesus. Just because one identifies as a Christian nationalist does not mean they are evangelical nor does it mean they are necessarily white.

“Christian nationalism is rarely concerned with instituting explicitly ‘Christ-like’ policies, or even policies reflecting New Testament ethics at all,” the authors write. “Nearly half (45 percent) of ‘Ambassadors,’ those who are most favorable toward Christian nationalism, are not white evangelicals. More than 15 percent are black Protestants, Jewish, unaffiliated, or of a non-Christian faith.”      

To tease out the nuances the authors developed a Christian nationalism scale that consists of Ambassadors (those who fully embrace Christian nationalism), Accommodators (those who do not embrace or reject Christian nationalism but lean towards acceptance), Resisters (those who do not embrace or reject Christian nationalism but lean towards rejection) and Rejecters (those who fully reject Christian nationalism). Where an individual scores on the scale is dictated by how strongly they agree or disagree with the following six statements.

Christian nationalism scale
  1. “The federal government should declare the United States a Christian nation.”
  2. “The federal government should advocate Christian values.”
  3. “The federal government should enforce strict separation of church and state.”
  4. “The federal government should allow the display of religious symbols in public spaces.”
  5. “The success of the United States is part of God’s plan.”
  6. “The federal government should allow prayer in public schools.”

At its basic explanation, the duo defines Christian nationalism as, “an ideology that idealizes and advocates a fusion of American civic life with a particular type of Christian identity and culture…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.”

Some of this framework’s myths consist of America being a Christian nation founded by divinely inspired documents, the true religion of America being Protestant, the chosen race being white, and the correct political ideology being conservative to name a few. It is an “us” versus “them” mentality. If you don’t believe exactly what they believe then you are “woke.” If you don’t believe that America is a Christian nation nor ever was, then you are anti-American.

Taking America Back for God spends a significant amount of time analyzing the Accommodators – the extreme, but vocal part of the Christian nationalism movement. Those people would be the Marjorie Taylor Greenes, Michael Flynns, and Doug Mastrianos of the world. As established, but worthy of repeating again, the Christian part is in name only serving as a rallying cry to a specific political ideology.

“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 should always be distinctively “Christian” 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.”

In short, it is about political and cultural power.

“Christian nationalist ideology is fundamentally focused on gaining and maintaining access to power. It seeks to ensure that one particular group, with a specific vision for the country, enjoys privileged access to the halls of power and has the ability to make the culture in its own image.”

Therefore, the moral character of a candidate is rendered obsolete. The opposing side is demonized and mocked. Policies that are detrimental to society are supported or at the very least ignored. This also explains why so many Americans can reject historical facts, declare fake news for anything that goes against their narrative, and spread lies and conspiracy theories. The means always justify the end.

“It does not even matter whether the United States is or ever was a Christian nation,” Perry and Whitehead write. “What matters is that a significant number of Americans believe that it is. The particular stance people take on this issue is strongly associated with how they see the world, as well as how they act to preserve or change that world.”

What is so devious about this ideology is that it “co-opts Christian language and iconography in order to cloak particular political or social ends in moral and religious symbolism.” They equate their way of thinking with God’s way of thinking and since it is God-ordained there is no room for compromise or discussion. This should outrage Christians who are called to follow a self-sacrificing God that promotes a kingdom not of this world.

“Put simply, Christian nationalism does not encourage high moral standards or value self-sacrifice, peace, mercy, love, justice, and so on. Nor does it necessarily encourage conforming one’s political opinions to those that Jesus might have.”

“The desperate quest for power inherent in Christian nationalist ideology is antithetical to Jesus’ message. 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.”

Fortunately, there is hope. Studies show that Christians that attend church, pray, and read their Bible routinely reject the extremes of Christian nationalism. It is our duty to proclaim that America was never a Christian nation and can never be a Christian nation. As Greg Boyd, author of The Myth of a Christian Nation, says we are called to “a completely distinct, alternative way of doing life.”

KEY QUOTE: “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. It therefore seeks strong boundaries to separate “us” from “them,” preserving privilege for its rightful recipients while equating racial and religious outsiders with criminality, violence, and inferiority.”

BONUS: Don’t have time to read the book? Listen to Perry and Whitehead on For the Life of the World podcast. Skip to 4:45 to get to the interview.

DID YOU KNOW? Sunday to Saturday has a Good Reads page where we post all of the books we have read – even the ones that didn’t make the cut.

Our latest curated books on Christian Nationalism:

BOOK: The Religion of American Greatness

Many books taking on the subject of Christian nationalism identify, and rightly so, the idolatry, racism, and tribalism of the movement, but few theologically, academically, historically, and charitably dismantle the movement as well as Paul D. Miller, does in The Religion of American Greatness. But, dismantling Christian nationalism was not his sole goal in writing…

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BOOK: The Flag and the Cross

Christian nationalism is not a new phenomenon. Nor is it a fringe element of the Republican party. In The Flag and the Cross professors Philip Gorski and Samuel Perry detail the history of Christian nationalism dating back to the 1600s, define its core beliefs, how it has adapted over the centuries, and suggest ways Americans…

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BOOK: The Myth of a Christian Nation

Power of the sword versus power of the cross. Control of behavior versus transforming lives from the inside out. A tribal kingdom versus a universal kingdom. A tit-for-tat kingdom versus a returning evil with good kingdom. One set of characteristics describes a kingdom of the world while another details the distinct way of the kingdom…

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