In recent years, the United States has witnessed the emergence of a dangerous ideology known as White Christian nationalism. This movement, rooted in a distorted interpretation of American history and Christian beliefs, poses a significant threat to democracy and social cohesion. White Christian nationalists espouse the idea that the US was founded as a Christian nation and view themselves as the protectors of a perceived threatened white Christian identity. This article delves into the origins, beliefs, and impact of white Christian nationalism, highlighting its implications for American democracy.
Origins of white Christian nationalism
White Christian nationalism finds its roots in a narrative that developed over three centuries, revering the myth that America was established as a Christian nation by white Christians. This ideology asserts that the laws and institutions of the US are based on Protestant Christianity and that the country has been divinely favoured with a mission to spread religion, freedom, and civilisation. The origins of this ideology can be traced back to the 1690s when early settlers in New England saw themselves as a chosen people, akin to the Israelites claiming the Promised Land. The ideology was further shaped by the belief in the Second Coming of Jesus, where Christians in America saw themselves on the side of good in a final showdown between good and evil.
Beliefs of white Christian nationalism
1. America as a Christian Nation
A central belief of white Christian nationalism is the notion that America was founded as a Christian nation, with the Founding Fathers being orthodox, evangelical Christians. However, historical evidence contradicts this claim, as the Founding Fathers represented diverse religious beliefs, including atheism, Unitarianism, Deism, and liberal Protestantism. The Constitution itself says nothing about God, the Bible, or the Ten Commandments, and the idea of America as a Christian nation is a mythological version of history. Despite this, white Christian nationalists cling to the belief that the US is divinely favoured, often rejecting the separation of church and state.
2. Warrior Christ
White Christian nationalists have reimagined Jesus as a “Warrior Christ” who wields a bloody sword and is willing to use violence to restore America to a Christian nation. This distorted interpretation of Jesus is based on passages from the Book of Revelation, portraying him as a figure leading armies in a triumphant battle against the forces of the antichrist. While warlike language has traditionally been interpreted metaphorically in Christian sermons and hymns, white Christian nationalists take it literally, justifying their involvement in violent acts. This belief in a warrior Christ is a significant departure from the teachings of Jesus and promotes a dangerous form of religiously motivated aggression.
3. Division of “real Americans” and others
White Christian nationalists foster a divisive worldview that categorises individuals as either “real Americans” or those who do not deserve the same rights and privileges. They perceive themselves as the true patriots and guardians of American values while viewing minorities, immigrants, and non-Christians as threats to their perceived racial and religious order. This division is often fueled by a fear of change and a desire to maintain a hierarchical social structure where white Christians are positioned at the top. The rhetoric of “real America” is used to draw a contrast between their supporters and those who oppose their ideology.
Threats to American democracy
White Christian nationalism poses significant threats to American democracy and social cohesion. This ideology undermines the principles of religious freedom, equality, and inclusion by promoting a distorted view of history and religion. The following are key concerns regarding the impact of white Christian nationalism:
1. Erosion of separation of church and state
One of the fundamental pillars of American democracy is the separation of church and state. White Christian nationalists seek to erode this separation, advocating for the infusion of Christian beliefs into governmental policies and institutions. This threatens religious freedom and undermines the principle that the government should not favour any particular religion.
2. Attacks on voting rights
White Christian nationalists actively support policies and actions that restrict voting rights, particularly for marginalised communities. They often claim that voter fraud is rampant, using this to justify imposing voter ID laws, limiting early voting, and gerrymandering districts. These efforts undermine the democratic principle of equal representation and disproportionately affect minority communities.
3. Resistance to racial and social justice
White Christian nationalists resist efforts aimed at achieving racial and social justice. They view movements like Black Lives Matter as threats to the racial order they seek to preserve. By opposing progress towards equality and justice, white Christian nationalists impede the growth and inclusivity of American society.
4. Authoritarian leanings
White Christian nationalism exhibits authoritarian tendencies, prioritising order and control over democratic principles. This mindset promotes a “don’t tread on me” mentality and justifies violence to defend their perceived values and privileges. The Capitol insurrection on 6 January 2021 serves as a stark example of the potential consequences of this ideology, with individuals invoking Christ’s name as they engaged in violent acts.
Countering white Christian nationalism
Combating white Christian nationalism requires concerted efforts from various sectors of society. Education plays a vital role in dispelling myths and promoting accurate historical narratives. Promoting religious literacy and dialogue can foster a better understanding of diverse beliefs and challenge the exclusivity perpetuated by white Christian nationalists. Additionally, strengthening democratic institutions and protecting voting rights is crucial in safeguarding democracy from the encroachment of this ideology.
White Christian nationalism represents a significant threat to American democracy, religious freedom, and social cohesion. Its distorted beliefs, rooted in a mythological understanding of history and religion, undermine the principles upon which the United States was founded. Recognising the dangers posed by this ideology, it is essential to actively challenge and counter white Christian nationalism through education, dialogue, and the protection of democratic institutions.