Christian Nationalism Debates Show Multiple Views of Society – and History – Among US ChristiansHistorians in the News
tags: Christianity, evangelicals, Christian Nationalism
As the political campaigns ahead of the midterm election have heated up, so has debate about the new political phrase. For evangelicals, the 2022 election has become, in part, a contest over what Christian nationalism is—whether just a slur used against conservative Christians voting their values or something new and malevolent.
There’s a strong link between the historical and political views, according to evangelical historian John Fea. They’re not identical, though. Pew backs this up: Sixty percent of Americans say the founders intended to start a Christian nation, but more than a quarter of those say America has changed and shouldn’t be a Christian nation now.
Christian nationalism, however, appeals to that often-accepted narrative of the founding to legitimize its political goals.
“It always uses the past to advance a right-wing agenda,” Fea wrote in an email to CT. “I see Christian nationalism as a contemporary political movement, but it ALWAYS draws upon the view that the founders created a Christian nation and we thus need to reclaim, renew, and maybe even restore that Christian founding.”
For evangelical pastors who reject Christian nationalism, though, the debate is not really about history. They remember people arguing about the founding as far back as the 1980s, when evangelical historians Mark Noll, George Marsden, and Nathan Hatch clashed with worldview apologist Francis Schaeffer. And people were still arguing about it in 2010s, when Grove City College professors Warren Throckmorton and Michael Coulter pointed out the many factual errors in popular historian David Barton’s book on Thomas Jefferson.
Christian nationalism seems like the next step in an evolution.
“I’ve heard, ‘We need a Christian nation’ and ‘America was founded as a Christian nation’ for a long time,” said Jeff Hutchinson, an ECO Presbyterian church planter in Connecticut. “But Christian nationalism—I can’t recall anyone using the term positively until this current election cycle.”