Is Christian nationalism the No. 1 threat to democracy?
Meanwhile, liberalism dominates America’s elite institutions
The recent anniversary of the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, during which ostensibly right-wing Trump supporters stormed the building to thwart the certification of the election of Joe Biden, brought with it a new wave of warnings about the imminent threat of Christian nationalism.
Paul Miller at Christianity Today defines Christian nationalism as the belief that the United States is and must be kept a Christian nation, while Kevin DeYoung writes about the problems of defining Christian nationalism. But for this column, we will accept Miller’s definition and deal with this question: Is Christian nationalism a major threat to democracy?
Samuel Perry and Andrew Whitehead argue in Time magazine that Jan. 6 was a “religious event” that shows the looming threat of Christian nationalist violence to democratic norms. Similar sentiments are echoed in The New York Times, where op-ed writer Katherine Stewart warns that Christian nationalism may succeed in making “American democracy a relic of the past.” In Christianity Today, Russell Moore, who has written about the dangerous popularity of Christian nationalism within evangelicalism, also claimed Jan. 6 represents “a threat to American democracy.”
Of course, Christians should repudiate violence and faulty theology about the United States being a modern-day Israel and God’s “chosen nation.” We cannot ignore the problematic Christian imagery we saw on Jan. 6, 2021. It is indisputably true that Christian symbolism was present at the Capitol riot—crosses and signs that read “Jesus Saves,” for example.
Even so, the claim that a Christian nationalist threat against American institutions looms near doesn’t seem to hold water when weighed against the overarching reality that liberalism is the dominant backdrop in all of America’s elite institutions. Christian nationalism, while doubtlessly problematic depending on one’s definition, cannot compare with the hegemony of liberalism. Despite decades of warnings from the intelligentsia about the imminent arrival of a Christian theocratic takeover, America has only become less Christian, more secular, and more liberal in recent years. In a chicken-or-the-egg conundrum, every single major institution in the United States today—much of the federal government, academia, the public education system, Hollywood, Silicon Valley, the country’s most powerful corporations, and most of the mainstream media—are all dominated by left-wing ideology.
Just consider how much has changed socially in the last decade. For example, just 10 years ago, most Americans opposed same-sex marriage. The unions became legal in 2015, and today, the vast majority of Americans support them. Even five years ago, the debate about “preferred pronouns” and men competing in women’s sports was not mainstream.
It simply seems far-fetched—in a country where the lives of Christian bakers and florists are nearly ruined for refusing to service same-sex weddings but a gender-confused girl can receive hormone therapy without her parents’ consent—that Christian nationalism could be considered in the running for No. 1 on the list of threats to the nation’s stability. Again, this is in no way to excuse the problematic manifestations of too strongly linking Christianity with American identity. Before I’m called to love America, I’m called to theological integrity, which means any theological error must be named for what it is. But theological integrity also requires me to name other wrongs and hypocrisies I see elsewhere, such as what transpired during the summer of 2020.
Lest one forgets, for more than six months in 2020, this country was subjected to widespread riots, arson, and looting that resulted in billions of dollars of damage, lost businesses, destroyed communities, and murdered children, perpetrated by left-wing agitators who explicitly called for the end to America. Much of this was excused by our media class as justified payback for systemic racism. If we’re keeping score: One “Christian” riot on Jan. 6, 2021, receives virtually universal condemnation while other riots in the name of “social justice” receive praise. Now tell me which ideology is more threatening to America’s fabric: Christian nationalism or left-wing social justice?
Furthermore, it is often left-wing governments—not conservative ones—that are currently hindering the rights to free speech, worship, work, and movement in the name of public health. If there is a major conservative, Christian nationalist threat to liberty out there, it must be hiding behind secular progressivism.
Christians should be fearless in obliterating bad theology and dangerous political ideologies—whether it comes from the right or the left. They should be especially bold in pushing back against the kind of ideology that actually has the power to bring about tyranny and oppression—and, for now, that is not Christian nationalism, it is aggressive secularism.
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