During the Jan. 6 breach of the U.S. Capitol, many of the protesters sported Christian signs, slogans and symbols. They belong to a group who professed to believe in what has been labeled Christian nationalism. Is Christian nationalism patriotic? Is it Christian?
Before these questions can be answered, terms must be defined.
Patriotism is defined as love of one’s country. Nationalism is a bit harder to define, according to a Feb. 3, 2021, “Christianity Today” article entitled “What is Christian Nationalism?” The author is Paul D. Miller.
“Most scholars agree that nationalism starts with the belief that humanity is divisible into mutually distinct, internally coherent cultural groups defined by shared traits like language, religion, ethnicity, or culture.”
What is Christian nationalism? According to Miller, it is the belief that “the American nation is defined by Christianity, and that the government should take active steps to keep it that way.”
In other words, Christianity should have a “privileged position in the public square.” That brand of Christianity is defined as “Anglo-Protestant,” meaning white and coming from an English heritage.
There are four reactions to Christian nationalism as argued by Andrew L. Whitehead and Samuel L. Perry in their sociological study “Taking America Back for God.”
The first reaction is what the authors call the Rejecters. These people deny any connection between Christianity and politics. The Constitution makes no mention of God. “We are founded on a godless and secular Constitution.” Christian values should not shape our social policies in any way. To Rejectors, there should be no prayers in public schools nor any display of Christian symbols on public property. To Rejectors, “the wall of separation between church and state is high and impenetrable—or at least should be.” They made up 51 percent of the study group.
Resisters reject the notion that we are a Christian nation or that public prayer should be allowed in public schools. They are undecided as to whether there should be public displays of Christianity like the Ten Commandments on public property. Two-thirds of this group identify with Christian beliefs with 30 percent being Catholic and 18 percent being connected to an evangelical Protestant denomination. Twenty-two percent were unaffiliated. From this group, we can plainly see that not all who deny Christian nationalism are nonreligious.
Accommodators, like Resistors, are also undecided, but they lean toward accepting Christian nationalism. This group admires Christian values and believe Christianity has had a positive influence on American society, but other world religions also contain these same values.
Accommodators are comfortable with accepting America’s Christian foundations and want a society where Christianity is conspicuous. They do not necessarily favor Christianity alone as the favored national religion.
Ambassadors strongly favor Christian nationalism. According to Miller and Perry, this group declared, “our country was definitely founded on Christian principles… I believe the Constitution was following Christian principles and that our laws should follow the same principles.” As other Ambassadors stated, “We are a Christian nation…. Most of the founders had strong Christian beliefs.” The founders were establishing a Christian nation, they just refrained from favoring any one denomination.
From a historical perspective, there are major errors in the understanding on both extremes, the Rejectors and the Ambassadors.
For the Rejectors: While there is no mention of God in the Constitution, there is the mention of “Nature’s God” at the beginning of the Declaration of Independence. Thomas Jefferson also clearly stated that “they (humans) are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
In the Declaration’s concluding sentence, the signers appealed to the “Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions….” Jefferson ended by stating “a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”
The Declaration of Independence is also undeniably a foundational document which cannot be ignored as the Rejectors did.
For the Ambassadors: Many of the leading framers of the Constitution were not Christian. They were deists. That would include George Washington, James Madison, Benjamin Franklin and John Adams. They believed God had created the universe and then left the running of our world to humans, like a great clockmaker who designed and created the watch and then left it ticking, allowing us to decide how to govern it.
The other two groups will be left alone for the readers to decide.
Those professing Christians who breeched the U.S. Capitol cannot accurately argue they were following Christ’s commandment to “love others as I have loved you,” especially when they attacked Capitol police, destroyed public property and disrupted counting of the electoral ballots. They were lawbreakers acting out of ignorance or stupidity. In a few instances, they were evil, wanting to hang the vice-president and assassinate the speaker of the house.
Some of those protestors could safely be categorized under Hilary Clinton’s term: “deplorables.” They are an embarrassment to both Christianity and to the definition of patriotism.