Is American Christian Nationalism A Threat?

Is American Christian Nationalism A Threat? May 4, 2024

Is American Christian Nationalism an existential threat? Guest Post by Theologian Ted Peters

Ted Peters is one of America’s best known and most influential theologians. His credentials are too many and too impressive to list here. Look him up on Wikipedia. His blog is: www.patheos.com/blogs/publictheology. He has posted an interview with me (and commentary) on his blog today (May 4, 2024).

 

American Christian Nationalism (ACN) and White American Christian Nationalism (WACN) exist. But they are too small to become an existential threat to the entire nation. The actual existential threat that stirs up our anxiety comes from the MAGA-Moscow wing of the Republican Party. What frightens us is the prospect of a second presidential term for Donald Trump. Candidate Trump just told Time Magazine that when he becomes president again he plans to deport millions of people, cut the U.S. Civil Service, and intervene more directly in Justice Department prosecutions. Many of us dread the prospect of replacing order with chaos, democracy with tyranny, and justice with revenge.

When we are anxious, we risk becoming resentful, vengeful, and unpeaceful. We intuitively flee for safety into self-righteousness. Feeling weak in the face of overwhelming social forces, we find a modicum of strength in asserting that at least we are right. And the threatening enemy is in the wrong. Especially if we dub the one who is wrong to be big, influential, and powerful. The more powerful our scapegoat, the more powerful we feel in being right.
Now, objectively speaking, Trump and his army of MAGA-Moscow brown noses are a genuine existential threat. Those of us who fear the future are not paranoid. Yet, we need to be cautious and not displace our resentment on the wrong target. We progressives, I surmise, displace our fear of Trumpism onto evangelicalism. A big mistake.

Why are progressives attacking evangelicals?

There is a sideshow taking place that I find as alarming as confusing. Christians are fighting Christians in the public square. Why? In my Patheos series on “Resentment and Compassion,” I’ve sought as a public theologian to clarify public discourse to get to the bottom of it. Here is my hypothesis.
Progressive Christians Against Christian Nationalism (CACN) are displacing their anger at Donald Trump onto evangelicals by painting evangelicals with the colors of Christian nationalism. That is, CACNers blame white evangelicals for Christian nationalism. This is a mistake.
Is it a mistake to attack all evangelicals as ACNers?

Treating the whole of evangelical Christianity as ACN or even WACN is a mistake for two reasons. First, the real target of public theology should be the MAGA-Moscow wing of the Republican Party. It’s a waste of precious energy to castigate ACN or even WACN let alone the millions of evangelical Christians. With all the difficulties the post-Covid churches are facing, venomous calumny within the Body of Christ is as embarrassing as it is self-destructive.

Second, it is a mistake to blanketly dismiss virtually all of evangelical Christianity for being swallowed up by the ACN dragon.
To make the dragon appear even more fierce, Anti-ACNers such as Anthea Butler and Kristin DuMez ascribe racism to evangelicalism. These two authors almost read like this: if an evangelical is demographically white, then he or she or they are white supremacists (Butler, 2021) (DuMez, 2020). Such graffiti written on the evangelical wall is almost impossible to scrub away. With or without the existence of ACN or WACN, America would still be struggling for racial equality and justice. In order to experience Christian nationalism within an evangelical setting, journalist and pastor Angela Denker attended a Texas ACN congregation and heard an ACN sermon. When worship was over, she noticed who was exiting with her. “I saw people holding doors for each other. I saw America: white people, black people, Asian people, young people, old people, Latinos, kids, seniors” (Denker 2022, 24). How could this happen if Butler and DuMez are right?
More than one third of African American Protestants, including many evangelicals, are either adherents or sympathetic to American Christian Nationalism, though probably not WACN. But note: two thirds of Black Protestants are much more inclined toward commitments to racial justice made by the Democratic Party.

We similarly note that one fifth to one third of demographically white evangelical lay people are either
never-Trumpers or betwixt. Here is an important point: some of the most articulate critics of both Trump and ACN are evangelical spokespersons such as Sojourners’ Jim Wallis; Christianity Today’s Russell Moore; and the Executive Director of Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, Amanda Tyler.

*Note: If you choose to comment, make sure your comment is relatively brief (no more than 100 words), on topic, addressed to Ted Peters or me, civil and respectful (not hostile or argumentative), and devoid of pictures or links.*

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