There is a difference, Lynerd writes,
between searching out the implications of the Christian gospel for politics and leveraging this gospel to advance the social position of American Christians. When evangelicals disguise the latter in the robes of the former, not only do they engage in dishonesty, but they also give fuel to the cynical view that there really is no difference — that the theological is nothing more than a cloak for the political.
Jones, the founder of P.R.R.I., made a related point in an email:
While many media outlets focused on decoding the myriad white supremacist signs and symbols, they too easily screened out the other most prominent displays: the numerous crosses, Bibles, and signs and flags with Christian symbols, such as the Jesus 2020 flag that was modeled on the Trump campaign flag.
Those religious symbols, Jones continued,
reveal an unsettling reality that has been with us throughout our history: The power of White supremacy in America has always been its ability to flourish within and be baptized by white Christianity.
Many of those I contacted for this column described Whitehead and Perry’s book, “Taking America Back For God,” as the most authoritative study of Christian Nationalism.
The two authors calculate that roughly 20 percent of adult Americans qualify, in Perry’s words, as “true believers in Christian nationalism.” They estimate that 36 percent of Republican voters qualify as Christian nationalists. In 2016, the turnout rate among these voters was an exceptionally high 87 percent. Whitehead wrote that “about 70 percent of those we identify as Christian nationalists are white.”
A small percentage of African-Americans qualify as Christian nationalists, but Perry pointed out that “it’s obvious Black and White Americans are thinking of something completely different when they think about the nation’s ‘Christian heritage.’ ”
To ask white Americans about restoring America’s Christian character, Perry continued,
is essentially to ask them how much they want to take the country back to the days when they (white, native-born, conservatives) were in power. To ask Black Americans about America’s Christian past is more likely to evoke thoughts of what we’ve traditionally thought of as “civil religion,” our sacred obligation to being a “just” nation, characterized by fairness, equality, and liberty.
Samuel P. Perry, a professor of communications at Baylor — and no relation to Samuel L. Perry — argued on Jan. 15 in an essay, “The Capitol siege recalls past acts of Christian nationalist violence,” that the confrontations with federal law enforcement officials at Ruby Ridge, Idaho in 1992 involving white supremacists and Waco, Texas in 1993 involving an extremist Christian sect, together marked a key turning point in uniting white militias with the hard core Christian right:
Christian fundamentalists and white supremacist militia groups both figured themselves as targeted by the government in the aftermath of the standoffs at Ruby Ridge and Waco. As scholar of religion Ann Burlein argues, “Both the Christian right and right-wing white supremacist groups aspire to overcome a culture they perceive as hostile to the white middle class, families, and heterosexuality.”
In an email, Perry followed up on this thought:
“The insurrection or assault on the Capitol involved unlikely coalitions of people in one way. You do not necessarily think of religious evangelicals and fundamentalists being in line with Three Percenters or Proud Boys,” but, he continued, the
narrative of chosenness and superiority made for broader group of support. I would not attribute Jan. 6 to Christian Nationalism alone, but I would not underestimate the involvement of the contingent of Christian Nationalists and the way the rhetoric of Christian Nationalism became a standard trope for Trump.
The emergence of Christian nationalism has in fact prompted the mobilization, in 2019, of a new group, Christians Against Christian Nationalism. The organization has lined up prominent religious leaders to serve as “endorsers,” including the Rev. Dr. Paul Baxley of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, Sister Simone Campbell, the executive director of NETWORK and Tony Campolo, founder and leader of the Evangelical Association for the Promotion of Education.
More than 16,000 ministers, pastors and parishioners have signed a statement that reads in part:
As Christians, our faith teaches us everyone is created in God’s image and commands us to love one another. As Americans, we value our system of government and the good that can be accomplished in our constitutional democracy.
Christian nationalism seeks to merge Christian and American identities, distorting both the Christian faith and America’s constitutional democracy. Christian nationalism demands Christianity be privileged by the State and implies that to be a good American, one must be Christian. It often overlaps with and provides cover for white supremacy and racial subjugation. We reject this damaging political ideology and invite our Christian brothers and sisters to join us in opposing this threat to our faith and to our nation.
There is evidence, Robert Jones argues, that even though both Christian nationalists and, more broadly, white evangelicals, are in decline as a share of the electorate, the two constituencies may become more, not less, assertive. Jones noted that his data suggests that the more a group believes it is under siege from the larger culture, the more activated it becomes.
Some of the clearest evidence of this phenomenon lies in the continually rising level of Election Day turnout among white evangelicals, even as they decline as a share of the electorate.