Yesterday I pulled up Miroslav Volf’s For the Life of the World podcast because it was interviewing Jemar Tisby. I am very familiar with Jemar (and his book Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism). But I thought this was still a good interview and especially if you are not familiar with his book and work.
Because I was driving, I let it keep playing to last week’s podcast because I had not heard it. Volf was interviewing Andrew Whitehead and Samuel Perry, sociologists of religion, talking about their recent book “Taking America Back for God”. The book is about Christian Nationalism. And the podcast gives a very good overview but doesn’t delve deeply into the argument. I immediately bought the audiobook and just finished listening to the book.
Short version: these two have developed a measure of Christian Nationalism and have used it in large scale surveys in 2007 and 2017 as well as compared it to other measures of Christian Nationalism. They believe that Christian Nationalism is the best predictor of voting for Trump in 2016 and will also be a good predictor for 2020. They also believe that White Evangelicals is not a good predictor of voting for Trump because many while many Christian Nationalists are evangelicals, not all evangelicals are Christian nationalists.
Christian nationalists and those that lean in that direction make up a majority of Evangelicals, and there are many factors in why that is true, but Christian Nationalists are present in many parts of the Christian church and even some that do not identify as Christian, but who view Christian nationalism as a type of American identify. Where I find the argument interesting is in the other associations with Christian nationalism, that overlap with (but are not necessarily the same as voting for Trump).
According to the authors, there are three aspects of Christian nationalism, power, boundaries, and order. (These are tendencies, so not every person that is a Christian Nationalist is deterministically someone that agrees to all of the following and those that follow any or all of the following are not necessarily Christian Nationalists, but they do hold explanatory power). Christian Nationalists tend to see political power as important and are primarily interested in the results of nationalism’s expression, not as much in the means to get there. So using Trump as an example, they don’t care that much about the ‘pussy-grabbing’ and racist language, although they may find it distasteful, as long as the judges are appointed and the power is wielded.
Secondly, (White) Christian Nationalists draw boundaries. They are not in favor of immigrants, especially refugees, who they see as likely to be Muslim or in other ways counter to their view of what it means to be an American. They distrust Muslims in particular because they are afraid of terrorism and violence, but also other immigrants from places like Central or South America (who tend to be Protestant Christian at fairly high rates) because they are still “other”. And within the US, Christian Nationalists tend to have a White normative view of what it means to be American, so Black and other racial minorities in the US are still ‘other’ and not ‘real Americans’.