What is Christian nationalism?
I've just published a book called Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism, and since it appeared, I've been asked several times what Christian nationalism is, and how it differs from Christian fundamentalism. It's an important concept to understand, because the threat to a pluralistic society does not come from those who simply believe in a very conservative interpretation of Christianity. It comes from those who adhere to a political ideology that posits a Christian right to rule. Christian nationalists believe in a revisionist history, which holds that the founders were devout Christians who never intended to create a secular republic; separation of church and state, according to this history, is a fraud perpetrated by God-hating subversives. One of the foremost Christian revisionist historians is David Barton, who, in addition to running an organization called Wallbuilders that disseminates Christian nationalist books, tracts and videos, is also the vice-chairman of the Texas Republican Party. The goal of Christian nationalist politics is the restoration of the imagined Christian nation. As George Grant, former executive director of D. James Kennedy's influential Coral Ridge Ministries, wrote in his book "The Changing of the Guard:"
"Christians have an obligation, a mandate, a commission, a holy responsibility to reclaim the land for Jesus Christ -- to have dominion in civil structures, just as in every other aspect of life and godliness.
But it is dominion we are after. Not just a voice.
It is dominion we are after. Not just influence.
It is dominion we are after. Not just equal time.
It is dominion we are after.
World conquest. That's what Christ has commissioned us to accomplish."
In the Christian nationalist vision of America, non-believers would be free to worship as they choose, as long as they know their place. When Venkatachalapathi Samuldrala became the first Hindu priest to offer an invocation before Congress, the Family Research Council issued a furious statement that reveals much about the America they'd like to create:
"While it is true that the United States of America was founded on the sacred principle of religious freedom for all, that liberty was never intended to exalt other religions to the level that Christianity holds in our country's heritage...Our founders expected that Christianity -- and no other religion -- would receive support from the government as long as that support did not violate peoples' consciences and their right to worship. They would have found utterly incredible the idea that all religions, including paganism, be treated with equal deference."
The iconography of Christian nationalism conflates the cross and the flag. As I write in Kingdom Coming, it "claims supernatural sanction for its campaign of national renewal and speaks rapturously about vanquishing the millions of Americans who would stand in its way." At one rally at the statehouse in Austin, Texas, a banner pictured a fierce eagle perched upon a bloody cross. For a liberal, such imagery smacks of fascist agitprop. But plenty of deeply committed Christians also object to it as a form of blasphemy. It's important, I think, to separate their faith from the authoritarian impulses of the Christian nationalist movement. Christianity is a religion. Christian nationalism is a political program, and there is nothing sacred about it.