Republican congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene made headlines early this week for expressing her belief that Christian nationalism will be essential to the success of the Republican Party in America moving forward.
“I think Republicans really need to recognize the people they represent, okay? Their voters—not the lobbyist donors, not the corporate PACs, not those people. That’s not who the Republican Party should represent,” Greene said in an interview over the weekend. “We need to be the party of nationalism. And I’m a Christian, and I say it proudly: we should be Christian nationalists.”
In a speech given that same weekend, Greene said, “Now if the Republican Party becomes a party that actually does the things we say we’re about, then we are going to be a party for nationalism…So, you see, I also call myself a Christian nationalist. And that’s not a bad word. That’s actually a good thing, right?”
Greene’s straightforward and explicit affirmation of Christian nationalism is striking. Not because it’s necessarily surprising that she affirms and aligns herself with Christian nationalist ideals, but that she would so candidly own up to it.
This is what the kids refer to as “saying the quiet part loud.”
What is Christian Nationalism?
Christian nationalism, as a term, is a bit difficult to define. Much like the term “evangelical Christian,” its definition largely depends on who you ask. Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean that we can’t put some parameters around the word’s meaning and usage.
Christian author and historian Jemar Tisby recently offered a helpful definition: “Christian Nationalism is an ethnocultural ideology that uses Christian symbolism to create a permission structure for the acquisition of political power and social control.”
In other words, Christian nationalism is a means by which white culture in America can maintain a position of power and supremacy. By wedding white culture to Christian imagery and equating the two as equally essential aspects of the tradition, the struggle for political power is portrayed as a fight for godly morals to prevail in our society, rather than a transparent belief in white superiority.
It also paints any opposition as an existential threat, which means that Christian values can be shed if it means securing power, even as Christian imagery and language remain the central focal point.
Christian Nationalism in the Wild
To this point, the term “Christian nationalist” has been used almost exclusively as a pejorative—other than by actual neo-Nazis. However, that doesn’t mean that Christian nationalist ideology has had no influence over mainstream Republican politics.
For example, Republican Congresswoman Lauren Boebert recently told a Colorado church that she is “tired of this separation of church and state junk that’s not in the Constitution.”
“The church is supposed to direct the government,” Boebert said in that address. “The government is not supposed to direct the church. That is not how our founding fathers intended it.”
While the separation of church and state does not appear in the original text of the Constitution, it has been derived as an American legal value from the First Amendment and has been reaffirmed by no less than three Supreme Court cases in the last 100 years. Further, the broader American evangelical movement has historically sought to protect and preserve religious liberty for all faiths, not only Christians.
Even apart from First Amendment legal protections for freedom of religion, Boebert’s remarks raise questions about exactly which expression of the American church she thinks is “supposed to direct the government.”
Given her policy stances and rhetoric on any number of issues, American congregations whose membership consists primarily of immigrants or Christians of color may not only find her vision for a “Christian America” disagreeable, but fundamentally foreign from and incongruent with their Christian faith.
Christian churches and denominations that are outside the evangelical stream likely also would have something to say here.
Thus, when Boebert talks about “the church” directing the government, the subtext is that the white, evangelical, Republican church should be directing the government. This is the essence of what it means to be a Christian nationalist in America.
Rejecting the Term
Though shades of Christian nationalism have found their way into political rhetoric, to this point, most have shied away from the term, if not completely rejected it.
For example, in an Independence Day weekend sermon titled “America is a Christian Nation,” Texas megachurch pastor Robert Jeffress argued that upholding separation of church and state has been a key contributor in the American moral crises of gun violence, racism, and abortion.
Nevertheless, he has repeatedly denied that he is a Christian nationalist.
Even after arguing extensively that evangelical Christianity should enjoy legal protections in America not afforded to other faith traditions, Jeffress expressed in his sermon that this is not tantamount to Christian nationalism, saying, “God is no respecter of people or nations. God says, ‘Any nation that reverences God will be blessed by God. And any nation, including the United States, that rejects God will be rejected by God. Blessed is the nation—any nation—whose God is the Lord.”
This sentiment has been widely held among those accused of advocating for Christian nationalism. That is, until now.
Greene’s Pivot and Looming Trouble
Greene’s remarks about embracing Christian nationalism as a central tenet of the Republican Party platform represent a marked pivot regarding the term—and perhaps even an unveiling of intentions previously too taboo to speak about openly.
What remains to be seen is whether other Republican politicians and high profile Republican pastors and Christians will follow suit. If they do, more overtly white supremacist rhetoric is certain to follow, as many leaders, both within and without the church, will be emboldened to codify a version of Christianity syncretized with white supremacy.
This is a rubicon moment.
Should Christian leaders begin openly embracing the term “Christian nationalism” and the values wrapped up in it, they may find themselves crossing a threshold that places them outside the historic Christian faith.
This is not something I say lightly. Within the global Christian church, there are elements of certain traditions with which I have deep seated disagreement and even find to be a hindrance to the advancement of the gospel and biblical discipleship. But even with those disagreements and concerns, I do not believe they should be placed outside the Christian faith.
Nevertheless, orthodox Christian teaching has borders. Fusing Christian teachings with ethnocultural supremacy is one of those borders. The reason I feel this way is because it’s how the apostle Paul felt.
In his letter to the churches in Galatia, Paul roundly condemns anyone who would require a non-Jewish believer to be circumcised in order to be counted as a Christian in good standing with the church. And while this dispute was theological in nature, grappling with the transition from the old covenant outlined in the Hebrew scriptures and the new covenant sealed in the blood of Jesus, from a practical standpoint, the issue was one of race and culture.
At the heart of the issue, the Jewish-Christian leaders in Galatia were imposing ethnocultural requirements on their definition of “Christian.” This is what Paul refers to as “another gospel” (Galatians 1:8). It is a false gospel, which he characterizes as “accursed” and “condemned” (cf. Galatians 2:11).
None of this is to suggest that a Christian’s faith ought not to inform how they see issues of public policy or shape their vision for a thriving community or society. To the contrary, in fact. Some of my most deeply held views on equality, justice, and liberty are informed by my faith.
Advocating for the lives of unborn children does not make you a Christian nationalist.
Expressing concern about LGBTQ ideology becoming a prominent aspect of elementary school curriculums does not make you a Christian nationalist.
Challenging policies that you believe have a corrosive effect on society, which God has also said in scripture have a corrosive effect on a person’s soul, does not make you a Christian nationalist.
Jesus has called Christians to be “the salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13). The characteristic of salt Jesus had in mind in his Sermon on the Mount was that it is a preservative. It staves off rot that would spoil meat and poison those who consume it.
Jesus has also called Christians to be “the light of the world,” marked by “good deeds” (Matthew 5:14-16). This entails casting a compelling vision for a life and society that operates according to our God-given design and causes us to thrive.
None of this is Christian nationalism, even as it informs every aspect of your personal piety, your public advocacy, and everything in between.
However, when we fail to understand that the very specific stream of Christianity in which we flow is not the only legitimate stream, that our cultural surroundings have been formative in forging it, and we seek to forcefully impose it upon our society as though we were waging a holy culture war, that is Christian nationalism.
And that’s actually not a good thing, right?