Our top 5 commonly asked questions on Christian nationalism:

  1. What is Christian nationalism?
  2. What does the “Christian” mean in Christian nationalism? Is Christian nationalism a Christian movement?
  3. Is there a difference between Christian nationalism and patriotism?
  4. Was America ever a Christian nation?
  5. Does Christian nationalism have a racial component?

1. What is Christian nationalism?

Sunday to Saturday: The just of it is that it is a political movement and a cultural framework that seeks to use the Christian faith as a calling card for a specific political ideology that is concerned with power often with racist and/or exclusionary undertones.

“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 (a particular type of) Christianity with American civic life.” Samuel Perry and Andrew Whitehead, Taking America Back for God. E-book ed., Oxford University Press, 2020, Kindle.

“A political ideology that seeks to merge Christian and American identities, distorting both the Christian faith and America’s constitutional democracy.” FAQs – Christians Against Christian Nationalism. https://www.christiansagainstchristiannationalism.org/faqs

“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.”  Samuel Perry and Andrew Whitehead, Taking America Back for God. E-book ed., Oxford University Press, 2020, Kindle.

“Christian nationalists insist that the United States was established as an explicitly Christian nation, and they believe that this close relationship between Christianity and the state needs to be protected—and in many respects restored—in order for the U.S. to fulfill its God-given destiny.” Joseph Williams, “Christian Nationalism Explained: An Interview with Rutgers Professor Joseph Williams” Rutgers School of Arts and Sciences, 4 March 2021. https://sas.rutgers.edu/news-a-events/news/newsroom/faculty/3406-religious-nationalism

Amanda Tyler’s 3-minute video is an excellent start to learning about the movement.

“Christian nationalism identifies the nation with God’s will and action in the world, conflates national and Christian identity; and identifies service of the nation with service of God … Christian nationalism gives moral cover for actions, even unseemly ones, taken in pursuit of national or political goals.” Dr. David W. Scott, “What is Christian Nationalism?” The United Methodist Church, 14 January 2021. https://www.umc.org/en/content/what-is-christian-nationalism

“Promotes the myth that the American republic was founded as a Christian nation. It asserts that legitimate government rests not on the consent of the governed but on adherence to the doctrines of a specific religious, ethnic, and cultural heritage. It demands that our laws be based not on the reasoned deliberation of our democratic institutions but on particular, idiosyncratic interpretations of the Bible. Its defining fear is that the nation has strayed from the truths that once made it great. Christian nationalism looks backward on a fictionalized history of America’s allegedly Christian founding. It looks forward to a future in which its versions of the Christian religion and its adherents, along with their political allies, enjoy positions of exceptional privilege and power in government and in law.” Katherine Stewart, The Power Worshipers, E-book ed., Bloomsbury Publishing, 2022, Kindle.

“White Christian nationalism is a ‘deep story’ about America’s past and a vision of its future. It includes cherished assumptions about what America was and is, but also what it should be…it is a mythological version of history…White Christian nationalism’s ‘deep story’ goes something like this: America was founded as a Christian nation by (white) men who were ‘traditional’ Christians, who based the nation’s founding documents on ‘Christian principles.’ The United States is blessed by God, which is why it has been so successful; and the nation has a special role to play in God’s plan for humanity. But these blessings are threatened by cultural degradation from ‘un-American’ influences both inside and outside our borders.”  Philip Gorski and Samuel Perry, The Flag and the Cross, E-book ed., Oxford University Press, 2022, Kindle.

“It is both an ideology for political action and cultural movement seeking to revive lost (or imagined?) senses of national identity and national solidarity….The unique feature of Christian nationalism is that it defines America as a Christian nation and it wants the government to promote a specific Anglo-Protestant cultural template as the official culture of the country.” Paul Miller, The Religion of American Greatness (Westmont, IL: IVP Academic, 2022) 23, 59.

“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’ (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.” Samuel Perry and Andrew Whitehead, Taking America Back for God. E-book ed., Oxford University Press, 2020, Kindle.

2. What does the “Christian” mean in Christian nationalism? Is it a Christian movement?

Sunday to Saturday: The “Christian” in Christian nationalism doesn’t mean adherence to Christian teaching, but serves as a marker to signal a specific set of political ideals as listed in question 1 such as America was founded as a Christian nation and has special favor with God. Christian nationalism is not necessarily a Christian movement but can be. People who identify with Christian nationalism come from all religions and walks of life.

“The ‘Christian’ in Christian nationalism is more about identity than religion. It carries with it assumptions about nativism, white supremacy, authoritarianism, patriarchy, and militarism.” Amanda Tyler, “What is Christian Nationalism?” ChristiansAgainstChristianNationalism.org, 9 September 2020. https://curationproject877759241.files.wordpress.com/2023/01/4ada2-whatischristiannationalism28129.pdf

“Christian nationalism is rarely concerned with instituting explicitly ‘Christ-like’ policies, or even policies reflecting New Testament ethics at all…Americans who most enthusiastically affirm Christian nationalist ideals seem to put political power above religion.” Samuel Perry and Andrew Whitehead, Taking America Back for God. E-book ed., Oxford University Press, 2020, Kindle.

“Christian nationalism uses Christian language and symbols to demarcate and defend group boundaries and privileges. In the deliberate exclusion of ethnic and religious outsiders from American civic life is as fundamental to our history as the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution.” Samuel Perry and Andrew Whitehead, Taking America Back for God. E-book ed., Oxford University Press, 2020, Kindle.

The Flag and the Cross is a superb primer on Christian nationalism

“We use “Christian” here in a specific sense. We are not referring to doctrinal orthodoxy or personal piety. (In fact, we find some Christian nationalists can be quite secular.) Rather, the explicit ideological content of Christian nationalism comprises beliefs about historical identity, cultural preeminence, and political influence. But just as important, it also contains ideological content that is often implicit. This includes symbolic boundaries that conceptually blur and conflate religious identity (Christian, preferably Protestant) with race (white), nativity (born in the United States), citizenship (American), and political ideology (social and fiscal conservative). Christian nationalism, then, provides a complex of explicit and implicit ideals, values, and myths—what we call a “cultural framework”—through which Americans perceive and navigate their social world.” Samuel Perry and Andrew Whitehead, Taking America Back for God. E-book ed., Oxford University Press, 2020, Kindle.

3. Is there a difference between patriotism and Christian nationalism?

Sunday to Saturday: Absolutely. Christian nationalism is idolatry while patriotism is pride in one’s country.

“Patriotism is love of country that is expressed in many ways, such as waving an American flag, volunteering at a food bank, teaching in public schools, serving in the military, running for public office, or protesting policies with which you disagree. “Nationalism” is an extreme form of patriotism that demands a position of superiority and has little or no room for dissent or disagreement.” Amanda Tyler, “FAQs” ChristiansAgainstChristianNationalism.org, 9 September 2020. https://www.christiansagainstchristiannationalism.org/faqs

“Nationalism…is a juvenile love of country that ignores or denies any shortcomings. It’s infatuated with an imaginary and infallible country. Where nationalism declares, “America—love it or leave it!” godly patriotism says, “America—love it by improving it.” Skye Jethani. “MLK: The False God of Nationalism (Pt. 1)” With God Daily, 19 January 2022

“If by patriotism we mean a benign pride of place that encourages civic duty and responsible citizenship, then patriotism poses no conflict with Christian baptismal identity. But if by patriotism we mean religious devotion to nationalism at the expense of the wellbeing of other nations; if we mean a willingness to kill others (even other Christians) in the name of national allegiance; if we mean an uncritical support of political policies without regard to their justice, then patriotism is a repudiation of Christian baptismal identity.” Brian Zahnd, Postcards from Babylon, E-book ed., 2019, Spello Press, Kindle.

“To echo C.S. Lewis and George Washington, it’s a love of home and place and neighbor that does its best to fulfill the vision of peace and justice articulated by the prophet Micah so many long years ago—’Everyone will sit under their own vine and under their own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid.”’ David French, “Discerning the Difference Between Christian Nationalism and Christian Patriotism” The Dispatch, 31 January 2021. https://thedispatch.com/newsletter/frenchpress/discerning-the-difference-between/

“Is it possible for a Christian to be a patriot? Certainly. So long as patriotism is understood in terms of constitutional ideals and democratic institutions and citizenship is not based on racial, ethnic, or religious identity. But if you pledge allegiance to your own ethno-cultural tribe, and place them above the rights of your fellow citizens, then you have crossed the line into white Christian nationalism.” Philip Gorski and Samuel Perry, The Flag and the Cross, E-book ed., Oxford University Press, 2022, Kindle.

“By patriotism I mean devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life which one believes to be the best in the world but has not wish to force on other people.” George Orwell, Notes on Nationalism, E-book ed., Penguin UK, 2018, Kindle.

4. Was America ever a Christian nation?

Sunday to Saturday: No. The only nation that could ever make that claim was Israel and that time has passed. After the death and resurrection of Jesus, the “nation” of Jesus is the church.

“It becomes clear that it does not even matter whether the United States is or ever was a Christian nation. What matters is that a significant number of Americans believe that it is. And a significant number believe the opposite. 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. Therefore, the contention that the United States is a Christian nation has implications for us all, even for those Americans who reject such.” Samuel Perry and Andrew Whitehead, Taking America Back for God. E-book ed., Oxford University Press, 2020, Kindle.

“America is not Israel: the church is. Americans are not God’s chosen people; those who trust in Jesus from every tribe, tongue, people and nation are. The divine mission of God’s chosen people is not to spread political liberty, national sovereignty, or capitalism; it is to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ. America is not a ‘Christian nation,’ except in the descriptive sense that most Americans have always been professing Christians and Christianity has shaped much of our culture and history. The church is the one and only true Christian nation.” Paul Miller, The Religion of American Greatness (Westmont, IL: IVP Academic, 2022) 130.

Greg Boyd’s book makes a strong argument why America never was nor can ever be a Christian nation.

“The myth of America as a Christian nation, with the church as its guardian, has been, and continues to be, damaging to the church and to the advancement of God’s kingdom. Among other things, this nationalistic myth blinds us to the way in which our most basic and most cherished cultural assumptions are diametrically opposed to the kingdom way of life taught by Jesus and his disciples. Instead of living out the radically countercultural mandate of the kingdom of God, this myth has inclined us to Christianize many pagan aspects of our culture. Instead of providing the culture with a radically alternative way of life, we largely present it with a religious version of what already is. The myth clouds our vision of God’s distinctly beautiful kingdom and thereby undermines our motivation to live as set-apart (holy) disciples of this kingdom.” Greg Boyd, The Myth of a Christian Nation, (Grand Rapids, MI : Zondervan, 2007) 13.

“Symbols, rhetoric, and words matter. Words are both the primary tool and substance we work with in constructing our social reality…When we say that America is a Christian nation, we are employing words to construct a national identity that erases the non-Christian (and often, implicitly, the non-White) component of our history and our identity—which is a profoundly uncharitable, unloving, and even unchristian thing to do, besides being inconsistent with a republican commitment to the equality of all citizens. When nationalists argue that America is a Christian nation, they are implicitly asserting that there is a hierarchy of Americans and that Christians are on top. They are saying that being a Christian is a privileged worldly status, which is theologically false, and they are arguing that Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and Sikhs (most of whom are non-White), as well as Jews, atheists, and agnostics, are not true or real Americans, or at least not as truly American as their Christian counterparts.” Paul Miller, The Religion of American Greatness (Westmont, IL: IVP Academic, 2022) 178.

5. Does Christian nationalism have a racial component?

Sunday to Saturday: Not always, but oftentimes it does. The Christian nationalist ideology espouses an “us versus them” mentality and oftentimes the “us” is white, native-born Americans while the “them” are non-native-born people of color.

“Christian nationalists demonstrate a greater willingness to restrict the civil liberties of religious ‘others.’ They also frequently question the existence of unjust racial disparities in the criminal justice system, and embrace nativist restrictions on immigration. Simply put, Christian nationalists discern numerous threats to the (Christian) body politic, and for many, these threats are highly racialized.” Joseph Smith, “Christian Nationalism Explained: An Interview with Rutgers Professor Joseph Williams” Rutgers School of Arts and Science, 9 March 2021. https://sas.rutgers.edu/news-a-events/news/newsroom/faculty/3406-religious-nationalism

“The link that connects the deep story and political vision of Christian nationalism is whiteness. When that link is missing, as it is among Black Americans who score high on our Christian nationalism measure, the connection to the political vision is broken.” Philip Gorski and Samuel Perry, The Flag and the Cross, E-book ed., Oxford University Press, 2022, Kindle.

“White Christian nationalism is not just a problem among white American Christians. There are secular versions of white Christian nationalism that claim to defend ‘Western Culture’ or ‘Judeo-Christian civilization.’ And there are secular white Americans who know how to leverage white Christian nationalist language. For such Americans, the ‘Christian’ label simply signals shared tribal identity or veils political values that would otherwise be socially unacceptable.”  Philip Gorski and Samuel Perry, The Flag and the Cross, E-book ed., Oxford University Press, 2022, Kindle.

“White Christian nationalism is our term for the ethno-traditionalism among many white Americans that conflates racial, religious, and national identity (the deep story) and pines for cultural and political power that demographic and cultural shifts have increasingly threatened (the vision).” Philip Gorski and Samuel Perry, The Flag and the Cross, E-book ed., Oxford University Press, 2022, Kindle.

“White Christian Nationalism is an ethnocultural ideology that uses Christian symbolism to create a permission structure for the acquisition of political power and social control.” Jemar Tisby. “White Christian Nationalists Are Scrambling to Respond to Public Criticism of their Ideology” Footnotes with Jemar Tisby, 24 October 2022. https://jemartisby.substack.com/p/white-christian-nationalists-are

More curated resources 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…

Read more

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…

Read more

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