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The trouble with Christian Nationalism

Updated: Jul 20, 2023

What’s troubling about Christian Nationalism is not only its arrogance, but also its withdrawal from reality. At least that seems to be the conclusion of Pamela Cooper-White. She admits in her book, The Psychology of Christian Nationalism, that even though she tried to resist the notion of “two Americas,” her research led her to change her mind (p.27). She is not alone in concluding that unity is not only impossible, but also disrespectful of the truth.

Cooper-White relies on the extensive research by Andrew Whitehead and Samuel Perry on Christian Nationalism, whose work she quotes in her book:

It [Christian Nationalism] idolizes relations marked by clear (metaphorical or physical) boundaries and hierarchies both in the private and public realms. It baptizes authoritarian rule. It justifies the preservation of order with religious violence, whether that be carried out by police against deserving (minority) criminals, by border agents against presumptively dangerous (minority) immigrants, or by citizen “good guys” with guns against rampaging “bad guys” with guns. And it glorifies the patriarchal, heterosexual family as not only God's biblical standard, but the cornerstone of all thriving civilizations (p. 13).

We do live in different worlds, or what could be called different social microclimates. The Bay Area has its “weather microclimate” as well as its “social microclimates,” as does Redding or Orange County. What we should not forget, however, is that all these social microclimates exist in a larger social context that has its origin in the Atlantic trade of people and land, which has never been adequately corrected. This larger social climate belongs to multiple social trends swinging back and forth between exposing our legacy of injustices and denying them.

Although the white Christian mythology of domination—domination of land and people—has been exposed as a violation of human dignity and the Earth’s gift-giving (see Kimmerer’s book, Braiding Sweetgrass), it continues to hold sway among Christian Nationalists. So, how should we deal with this?

We could start by deciding on an interpretation of the connection between the social climate of injustice and the social climate of justice. Do they exist side by side in two separate social worlds? Does one follow the other, or is one the context for the other?

One could propose that the social climates of injustice and justice exist side by side as the free and slave states did before the Civil War. Until the war, and after reconstruction, these two sides were held together through political compromises for the sake of American Prosperity, as I argued in “White Compromises and American Prosperity” in A Climate of Justice. If we refuse to discard the hard-won gains in human rights and equality, then such compromises are no longer possible.

It’s tempting to apply more classical frameworks here such as the model of innocence—fall from grace—and redemption, but this framework doesn’t fit our history. Virginia began as a slave colony. We started with a climate of injustice. The Virginia plantations, even Jefferson’s Monticello, existed in a climate of injustice, as did the city of Philadelphia. This social climate has never been adequately changed.

The third option is that our separate social microclimates—our different worlds—exist in a larger social climate—a climate of injustice. It’s true that you can change the social context by changing the stories, but not just any story. The stories must be coherent.

The test for coherency is simple enough: If you cannot understand black Americans without understanding white Americans, then you cannot understand white Americans without understand black Americans. Good stories do not leave out what happened. They make it make sense, especially to those who experienced it.

One may assume that true believers love the Christian Nationalist’s story. Maybe Cooper-White is right. It’s a waste of time to try to get them to include the experiences of others in their story. It’s not a waste of time, however, to change the trajectories of our context from injustice to justice, and we may not have a lot of time. We should not let the hollowing of Christian Nationalists distract us from the work that requires our attention.

1 Comment

Nancy Southern
Nancy Southern
Jul 21, 2023

Thanks for the insight Marvin. I find the intolerance of the Christian Nationalists very disturbing. Has there always been a belief that those who do not hold the same values and beliefs and thus take actions aligned with those values and beliefs cannot be Christians? I don’t know how prominent that stance is in their community but I have been shocked to see it voiced on a few recent PBS programs. I would like to further understand if it has been a religious orientation that has been growing for a long time or a more recent shift as a result of perceived threat of the progressive movement toward greater equity and inclusion.

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