“Do Christian Nationalists Want to Preserve American Democracy or Change It?

“Do Christian Nationalists Want to Preserve American Democracy or Change It? May 23, 2023

Ten Commandments from the King James Version Bible.

Christian Nationalism has been in the news a lot recently. But what is it? It’s not easy to define. And many Christian Nationalists don’t actually identify themselves that way.

The February 3, 2021, issue of Christianity Today defined it as follows, “Christian nationalism is the belief that the American nation is defined by Christianity, and that the government should take active steps to keep it that way. Popularly, Christian nationalists assert that America is and must remain a ‘Christian nation.'”

That, I think, is debatable. Christian nationalists would tell you that our nation was founded as a Christian nation. It is true that many of our founding forefathers acknowledged belief in God and began their meetings with prayer. But several of the most important U.S. founding fathers, such as Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, were professing Deists.

Ask one of today’s Christian Nationalists if a Deist is or was a Christian, and they would answer soundly, “No.” Why? Deists acknowledged belief in “God,” but they were divided as to whether this God was a personal being. And among those Deists who believed in a personal God, they also believed that after creation God did not enter into human affairs. All this Christian Nationalists refute, arguing for a personal God who is involved in human affairs, to which I agree. But to say the United States of America was founded as a Christian nation, to me, goes a bit too far. I would say the nation consisted of a lot of professing Christians, perhaps a majority, and leave it at that.

Christian Nationalists are activists who try to get bills passed in especially state legislatures which reflect their version of Christianity. The most common of these state legislation bills have been to get prayer in public schools and erect monuments on public lands that display the Bible’s Ten Commandments.

Regarding the Ten Commandments issue, I’m not so sure if that is a good idea. People often say the Ten Commandments subscribe to a certain religion. But that is not true. Not only do they identify God multiple times as YHWH, which is the name of the God of Israel, which most scholars translate as Yahweh, the Fourth Commandment requires honoring the Sabbath, that is, to keep it “holy.” This basically means doing no “work” from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. Most Gentile Christians don’t believe that applies to them, especially since the New Testament does not require it. So, while most Christians believe that nine of the Ten Commandments apply to them, they do not believe that they must be Sabbath-keepers.

Then, what about getting prayer into public schools? Christian Nationalists cite the Supreme Court ruling last June in which a high school football coach in Washington State won a case in which he was fired by the school administration for organizing his team to pray publicly on the football field after every game. I blogged about this case, with the post entitled “Supreme Court Upholds Coach’s Public Prayers. But Does Justice Jesus?” My view was that the coach was not following Jesus’ teaching about praying in private.

These religious bills favor Christianity and disfavor other religions. That does not seem to me to be democracy since it may infringe our First Amendment which establishes the freedom of religion. The Washington Post has an article today entitled, “Texas pushes church into state with bills on school chaplains, Ten Commandments.” It says Texas lawmakers are voting today on a bill that would require the Ten Commandments to be posted in all public school classrooms. The article further relates, “Americans United for Separation of Church and State says it is watching 1,600 bills around the country” which would favor a certain type of Christianity and thereby negate what our founding fathers, especially Thomas Jefferson, tried to do with the principle called “separation of church and state.”

The article then cites the Supreme Court ruling that favored the high school football coach as evidence that Christian nationalists are gaining a foothold in American culture and its legal system. The article further says Zach Freeman of Colleyville, Texas, objects to this. As a sixth generation Texan, he is worried that right-wing, religious, activists are damaging the state’s public education. He says these religious bills are “presented as though it’s to include Christians, and what it does is exclude everyone else.”

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