“We need to be the party of nationalism,”
the U.S. Republican Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene told an interviewer earlier this year: “We should be Christian nationalists.” Green is well known in America for her far-right politics and extreme rhetoric—the Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell even once called her views a “cancer” for their party—but the idea that the United States should be a “Christian nation” appears to be moving further into mainstream American public opinion. There are cartoonish versions of this idea at play in the media, including Nick Fuentes’s—Fuentes is a white-supremacist influencer who recently made headlines for having dinner with Donald Trump and Kanye West—which is that America needs a dictatorship to enforce his vision of reactionary Catholicism. But Christian nationalism did motivate many of the Donald Trump supporters who attacked the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. And according to recent polling
from the Pew Research Center, most American adults say their country was founded to be a “Christian nation”—with 45 percent saying it should still be one. At the same time, Pew notes, “many supporters of Christian nationhood define the concept in broad terms, as the idea that the country is guided by Christian values.” How are these movements in American Christianity shaping U.S. political life?
is the founder of the Evangelical organization Redeeming Babel
, a senior fellow at Fuller Theological Seminary, and on the consulting faculty of the Duke Divinity School. To Chang, most American Christians aren’t really Christian nationalists—but it’s hard to make sense of what exactly they believe altogether about their religion’s role in the public square. Chang sees a lot of confusion and contradiction in the views of American Christians, many of whom are receptive to illiberal rhetoric—and from there, to being taken in by political tribalism—not because they’re inherently illiberal, but because they’re just not experiencing any powerful alternative messages about how to live their faith in a way that’s consistent with democracy and pluralism.
Graham Vyse: How do you understand the phenomenon of Christian nationalism in the U.S.?
Curtis Chang: I understand it as part of the broader phenomenon of nationalism we’ve seen rising globally—in which a subset of a country’s population will try to claim that its beliefs, values, and politics ought to shape the entire country … and that people who don’t share those beliefs, values, and politics should be relegated to a subordinate status in the country, if not excluded from it altogether. In this sense, nationalism contradicts the idea of pluralism—the idea that each person can have a unique set of convictions while coexisting with people who have different convictions.
America’s Christian nationalists tend to have a narrow understanding of Christianity, which they associate with the dominance of white, right-wing political power—and they tend to be hostile to differing viewpoints, including left-wing, progressive, or “woke” ideas. They tend to have a very binary, us-versus-them attitude
, based on the notion of opposing them,
who are out to get us.
Frankly, it’s a very paranoid outlook.
Vyse: How widespread do you see it being?