Threat of Christian Nationalism Has Reached High Tide
August 8, 2019
While summer usually means beach reads, my reading list hasn’t been so light this year.
I’ve spent these last few months studying up on Christian nationalism, as my Baptist Joint Committee (BJC) colleagues and I felt called to dig deeper into this political ideology that seeks to merge American and Christian identities.
Christian nationalism is not new. It has ebbed and flowed over many decades, but we seem to be stuck at high tide now. For Christian nationalists, to be a true American is to be a Christian.
Of course, that conclusion is at odds with our constitutional principles. The First Amendment protects religious freedom for everyone, and Article VI states that there will be no religious test for public office.
Christian nationalism threatens religious freedom for all. It asks the government to show preference for Christianity over other religions or religion over nonreligion.
Working with other Christian leaders, BJC is providing a way for individuals to stand up to this problem and make clear that not all Christians think this way.
There is a short statement, available at ChristiansAgainstChristianNationalism.org, which repudiates this political ideology as harmful to our faith and to our unity as Americans.
It is not a statement of faith – we are Baptists, after all – but rather an explanation of what Christian nationalism is, the threats it poses and a list of unifying principles that we hope will appeal to Christians of many different denominations and affiliations. Anyone who self-identifies as a Christian is invited to sign the statement online.
Initially, BJC approached this project with the idea of interfaith partnership. But we quickly learned that our partners did not have the same level of comfort in calling out Christian nationalism that we – as Christians – do.
This makes sense, though it is upsetting to think that by calling out a Christian nationalist, a Jewish or Muslim person may be placing themselves in harm’s way.
I have already learned a great deal from my conversations with other leaders and in speaking to experts for a special podcast series on Christian nationalism, which begins this week.
There are various definitions and understandings of Christian nationalism. We should not assume we have a common vocabulary or frame of reference around this topic.
I have found it helpful in conversation to ask questions to find out what people mean when people claim we are a “Christian nation.”
A majority of Americans – around seven out of 10 in most surveys – identify as Christian, so I would agree we are a majority-Christian nation.
But I don’t agree that the country was founded by Christians, for Christians, leaving other faiths to second-class status.
We also recognize the overlap between Christian nationalism and white supremacy and the fact that not all Christians will view the connection in the same way.
The deep, abiding problem of racism in this country is much larger than this project, and yet it is undoubtedly connected to this conversation.
Many see a pressing need for this kind of response right now. The Christian leaders I’ve spoken with approach this subject in ways as diverse as their theology and experience, but they are unified in their sense of urgency to counter Christian nationalism.
We have been working on this initiative for several months; it is not in response to any single event. It seems likely that persistent challenges will demand that we continue this effort. This campaign can help Christians have a place to respond.
We will learn more over the coming months as people begin to add their names and voices to ChristiansAgainstChristianNationalism.org.
If we are going to be successful in responding to this threat, we will need to join with Christians from across the ecumenical spectrum. I believe both the vitality of our faith and the enduring strength of our country depend on it.