Speak Up Against White Christian Nationalism
The United States is not God’s chosen nation.
The United States is a nation and not a church.
These truths are under attack and responding to the attack needs the attention of every person who believes these two statements are true.
White Christian nationalism is one of the greatest threats facing the U.S., and it is the greatest threat facing Christianity in America.
White Christian nationalism (WCN) is an amalgam of what is wrong with the practice of Christianity in the U.S. and with the nation. WCN is gasoline for the arson fire set to burn democracy to the ground, for providing inspiration and a moral hierarchy to impose the will of a minority on the majority of the nation—in the name of God.
Except both WCN and God will wind up smelling to high heaven—to a heaven emptied of divinity unworthy of devotion, loyalty, or respect.
Six years ago, I was concerned about the counterfeit Christianity known as Christian nationalism. I said it influenced political discourse beyond its numbers but was not an existential threat to nation or Christianity. But now, candidates are running for office—and winning primaries and offices—based on white grievance, claims that America is founded on Christian values and/or by and for Christians only, and that the U.S. is God’s chosen nation that receives blessings from God if the right people with the right laws rule. And if the right people with the right laws do not rule, the nation is cursed.
Yes, Manifest Destiny—the claim so-named in the mid-19th century that white Euro-Americans were given the continent and colonies by God to Christianize (or exterminate) the inhabitants and enjoy all the “blessings” provided by the land—has been around in an evolving way for tens of decades. And in the 1880s and the 1920s, fearful yet confident Anglo-Saxon supremacists shut down immigration for “others.” But the competing push has been to expand the franchise (voting) and who “deserves” full rights, despite the best efforts of Jim and Janes Crow politicians and supporting voters. The trend was toward enlarging the circle.
Not today. Close the borders. Narrow who votes. De-legitimize elections. Return to state’s rights arguments and threaten nullification. Turn from Christian identity as a marker between the U.S. and godless communists to a battle line drawn within the nation.
And the energy to boil this conflict into a war, to claim “alternative truths and facts,” to narrow what it means to be an American, to imagine and act on the most paranoid conspiracy theories, and to limit who belongs and who has full rights—is white Christian nationalism.
WCN does not have a doctrinal basis, as in a creed like the Nicene or Apostles. Christian nationalists don’t care, and most won’t even know, about the historical clash of “symbolics” (creeds and defining beliefs and practices). Closed or open table? Proceeding from the Father and the Son or the Father alone? Trespasses or debts?
Nonsense. Who cares?
What matters, in a creedal sense, are these: loyalty to all the laws, policies, freedoms and prejudices that favor whiteness (with white males at the pinnacle); the 2nd Amendment; America First; Christianity as an ethno-identity, optionally connected with church-going; Jesus as a law and order man, who slides with his spikes high and pitches inside, punishes his enemies through his Chosen Ones, and expects his name to be inscribed in every capitol, in every civic plaza, and somewhere in the Constitution; heterosexuality and two genders are sacred, every other claim is an abomination; inequality is God-given; freedom for “my people;” the end justifies the means; Christians, the right Christians, should rule—always and forevermore.
White Christian nationalism is destroying American democracy, and it drains the integrity of the Church that should be communities of Jesus followers dedicated to the love of God, neighbor, self, and all that God has made.
Here is my question, my plea.
On the website of the church you attend or know best, would you advocate for a message that reads something like:
Christianity is a transnational community of persons who claim to walk the path Jesus walked. Jesus’ path was paved by suffering love walked in defiance of a death-dealing empire. God offers new and abundant life to all who walk this path, who repent of the ways of empire and who seek to love one another as God loves us. We see white Christian nationalism as a false path, impossible for Jesus’ followers to walk and critically dangerous for the nation we inhabit.
If WCN is a grave danger, then shaking our heads and washing our hands are insufficient. We need to make our opposition to WCN loud, public, clear, and persistent.
Otherwise, in our silence, the hope of both a more perfect union fades, and Christianity will become simply a name associated with the empire and the violent bondage and inequality it was born to resist.
Please, speak out.
Dr. Gary Peluso-Verdend is president emeritus at Phillips Theological Seminary and is the executive director of the seminary’s Center for Religion in Public Life. The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author. Learn more about the Center’s work here and about Gary here.