S4, Ep. 18: Understanding Christian nationalism: New polling and media
Why do polls about Christian nationalism matter?
Media reports about Christian nationalism are often tied to topline takeaways from research on the political ideology. Amanda and Holly review various definitions of the term “Christian nationalism,” look at its connection to – and distinctiveness from – the Christian faith, and talk about why sociological research on this topic matters.
Segment 1: Definitions of Christian nationalism (starting at 00:48)
The Christians Against Christian Nationalism campaign defines Christian nationalism in the statement of principles.
Dr. Andrew Whitehead and Dr. Samuel Perry defined Christian nationalism in their 2020 book Taking America Back for God: Christian Nationalism in the United States. You can also see their definition on a 1-page handout available on the Christians Against Christian Nationalism website.
Dr. Jemar Tisby shared his definition in a recent Substack post: A Virtual Roundtable on the Threat of Christian Nationalism, Part 2 of 4
Dr. Anthea Butler defined white Christian nationalism in her contribution to Christian Nationalism and the January 6, 2021, Insurrection. Her section is on pages 4-6.
Russell Moore defined Christian nationalism in this piece for Christianity Today: Christian Nationalism Cannot Save the World
Dr. Paul Miller defined Christian nationalism in this piece for Christianity Today: What is Christian nationalism?
Segment 2: What’s “Christian” about Christian nationalism? (starting at 16:08)
Amanda and Holly discussed this piece from The New Yorker by Kelefa Sanneh: Under God: How Christian is Christian nationalism?
Segment 3: Why do polling results matter? (starting at 24:12)
The PRRI/Brookings survey discussed is called A Christian Nation? Understanding the Threat of Christian Nationalism to American Democracy and Culture
Respecting Religion is made possible by BJC’s generous donors. You can support these conversations with a gift to BJC.
Transcript: Season 4, Episode 18: Understanding Christian nationalism: New polling and media (some parts of this transcript have been edited for clarity)
Segment 1: Definitions of Christian nationalism (starting at 00:48)
AMANDA: Welcome to Respecting Religion, a BJC podcast series where we look at religion, the law, and what’s at stake for faith freedom today. I’m Amanda Tyler, executive director of BJC.
HOLLY: And I’m General Counsel Holly Hollman. Today we’re going to continue our conversations about Christian nationalism with a look at some new research that has inspired a fresh spate of reporting about the topic.
Christian nationalism is one of the topics we regularly explore at BJC and Respecting Religion because of the threats that it poses: threats to religious freedom for all, which is the focus of BJC’s work and has been for more than eight decades, but also threats to the public witness of Christianity and — in its more extreme forms — threats to our democracy.
In previous episodes, we’ve discussed the work of Christians Against Christian Nationalism, a broad grassroots project to define and draw attention to Christian nationalism and to provide resources for people to dismantle it from themselves and their communities. We’ve also talked about Christian nationalism in the context of the ReAwaken America tour, and of course, Amanda Tyler’s testimony before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.
As there continues to be growing interest in the topic and increased media attention following some new studies, we wanted to see if we might clarify some of the issues and really focus our concerns.
AMANDA: And, Holly, we at BJC come at this topic naturally as advocates for religious liberty since 1936. In many ways, BJC has been pushing back against Christian nationalism for decades, even though we haven’t always had that particular term of “Christian nationalism” to describe this ideology that undercuts equality for all regardless of religion.
And since 2019, we have been working in a more concerted effort to name and draw attention to Christian nationalism, and we have learned so much over these past four years as we have been more focused intently on this topic.
HOLLY: One thing we’ve learned from our project Christians Against Christian Nationalism — and that we have emphasized throughout — is that we have better conversations when we have clear definitions. Of course, Christian nationalism has many definitions. As BJC had often talked in the past when people said, “We are a Christian nation,” you know, what are you talking about? What do you mean? What do people mean by that? And we’ve been able to really explore that question more clearly, more explicitly in this project.
AMANDA: One of our first goals at Christians Against Christian Nationalism was to provide a definition, so here’s the definition we use at Christians Against Christian Nationalism:
Christian nationalism is a political ideology and cultural framework that seeks to merge American and Christian identities. It suggests that “real Americans” are Christians ‑‑ I’m using air quotes ‑‑ and “true Christians” hold a particular set of political beliefs.
Christian nationalism threatens American democracy, distorts America’s promise of religious freedom for all, and distorts Christianity by taking its central message, a gospel of love, and turning it into a false idol of power. White Christian nationalism acknowledges that Christian nationalism often overlaps with and provides cover for white supremacy and racial subjugation.
HOLLY: That’s right. Our goal was not to create some category for name-calling but to seek more clarity and understanding about who we are as Americans with a constitutional tradition of religious freedom for all. And we did this by identifying a short list of unifying principles and inviting all who identify as Christians to join with us.
AMANDA: And I think that marker of “Christians” is really important here. We were not pointing fingers at other people. We were, instead, engaging in a process of self-reflection and self-transformation. We understand that in order to advocate strongly for religious freedom for all and against Christian nationalism, we needed to clean our own house first. We need to acknowledge how Christians, and specifically white Christians, have done both the most to perpetuate the ideology and have also benefitted in some ways from it by accumulating and holding onto power.
HOLLY: And that note about how we talk about racial subjugation overlapping with Christian nationalism, as opposed to saying that it’s the same, doesn’t let us off the hook as Christians who are also working on fighting racism and have an active part in this national conversation about our history and what kind of country we are when it comes to race relations.
Our focus, though, is on Christian nationalism broadly and all the different ways that it shows up and all of the different harmful effects that it has. Amanda, you’re often talking about this, and I’m sure some people may be, you know, confronting and saying, “Isn’t that just racism?” And other people say, “That’s not racism at all.” You have ‑‑ you know, you’ve probably heard lots of different angles on this point. How is it that you talk about Christians Against Christian Nationalism and our approach?
AMANDA: Well, I start with what our end goal is, and that’s dismantling Christian nationalism. And to do that, because Christian nationalism is so deeply seated — has been part of American society since the beginning, since before the beginning of the republic — we are going to need such a broad and diverse coalition working together to dismantle it that we want to invite people wherever they are on their journey of confronting racism to be part of the conversation.
And so, I think by saying and acknowledging that it often overlaps with and provides cover for white supremacy and racial subjugation, there is room for people in all steps of their journey in confronting racism to be at the table and to have that conversation.
HOLLY: Well, you mentioned that we’re part of a bigger community of people working on this issue, so let’s talk about some of the definitions that people are using that may be helpful for a broad understanding of what we’re fighting.
AMANDA: Well, I often point to Samuel Perry and Andrew Whitehead who are some of the leading scholars and researchers who have been studying Christian nationalism for a number of years when looking for definitions. They wrote, I think, the seminal book on the topic, Taking America Back for God, which was published in 2020.
And here’s their definition: “Christian nationalism is a cultural framework that idealizes and advocates a fusion of Christianity with American civic life. Christian nationalism contends that America has been and should always be distinctively Christian from top to bottom, in its self-identity, interpretations of its own history, sacred symbols, cherished values and public policies, and it aims to keep it that way.”
HOLLY: It’s interesting that they emphasize the “should,” the desire or the kind of active participation in their definition. Another prominent speaker on the topic is Jemar Tisby, a historian and best-selling author of The Color of Compromise. And Dr. Tisby says, “White Christian nationalism is an ethnocultural ideology that uses Christian symbolism to create a permission structure for the acquisition of political power and social control.”
AMANDA: I think the permission structure is ‑‑ which you emphasized in reading his definition — is really a brilliant way to talk about Christian nationalism or white Christian nationalism, because it uses the cultural currency of Christianity: this idea that that’s something that people want to be associated with, in order to justify their other actions that people don’t want to be associated with more explicitly — racist actions, for example.
HOLLY: Another definition comes from Dr. Anthea Butler who also has written quite a bit on this topic. She’s the chair of the Department of Religion at the University of Pennsylvania and author of White Evangelical Racism. She provided a definition of white Christian nationalism in her contribution to a comprehensive report on Christian Nationalism and the January 6, 2021, Insurrection.
AMANDA: Right. Her definition is this. It’s a little long, because it includes a number of markers of Christian nationalism, but I think it’s really a very helpful way to think about this ideology.
She writes, ” What is white Christian nationalism? Simply put, it is the belief that America’s founding is based on Christian principles, white protestant Christianity is the operational religion of the land, and that Christianity should be the foundation of how the nation develops its laws, principles and policies.”
HOLLY: It’s interesting that she calls it the “operational religion of the land.” I think that that is really something to think about, to try to understand how does religion play out in one’s life and in one’s advocacy and in one’s expectations for our country.
AMANDA: It also to me has echoes of established religion, a system that the Founders explicitly rejected in setting up our constitutional system.
Well, in further explicating what Christian nationalism means, Dr. Butler goes on to say, “Understanding this phenomenon requires an understanding of the basic ways white Christian nationalism has worked as a unifying theme for a particular type of narrative about America. That narrative can be summed up as follows.”
And then she has five points.
“Number one: America is a divinely appointed nation by God that is Christian.
“Number two: America’s founders, rather than wanting to disestablish religion as a unifier for the nation were, in fact, establishing a nation based on Christian principles, with white men as the leaders.
“Number three, others (Native Americans, enslaved Africans, and immigrants) would accept and cede to this narrative of America as a Christian nation and accept their leadership.
“Number four: America has a special place, not only in world history but in biblical Scripture, especially concerning the return of Christ.
And “Number five: There is no separation between church and state.”
HOLLY: Yes. We could take any one of those markers and look at it very carefully and see how it is at odds with our constitutional vision of a religious freedom nation. You know, the use of the term “white Christian nationalism” as opposed to “Christian nationalism” is probably informed by the distinct threat that this ideology and cultural framework tends to pose to the Black community and people of color more generally as a whole.
And, of course, use of that term also reflects the different individuals that are bringing their experience and their research and their personal understanding of the issue to bear on this important conversation. It certainly reflects what we see in some of the polling data that reveals overlapping concerns about the idea that America is somehow specifically intended to be a Christian nation and the reality of racism.
Another helpful definition comes from Russell Moore, the editor of Christianity Today who is a former Southern Baptist Convention leader. He says that, “The term ‘Christian nationalism’ refers to the use of Christian words, symbols, or rituals as a means to shore up an ethnic or national identity. As with every ideology, it exists along a spectrum.” That’s what he said in a Christianity Today article, and we certainly agree and the social scientists show us that — that it’s a problem that shows up along a broad spectrum.
AMANDA: And in another article from Christianity Today, Dr. Paul Miller, who is a professor at Georgetown University and has written extensively on the topic, wrote or defined Christian nationalism this way: “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’ — not merely as an observation about American history but as a prescriptive program for what America must continue to be in the future. … Christian nationalists do not reject the First Amendment and do not advocate for theocracy, but they do believe that Christianity should enjoy a privileged position in the public square.”
HOLLY: So our listeners can certainly hear what we have learned, that there are a variety of ways to talk about this phenomenon as a way of understanding our country, a way of understanding Christians’ role in our country. And I think that this is really helpful –- to know that all of these different voices are out there talking about this issue, serious people having serious conversations.
It really answers the charge that we have also started to see sometimes as there’s been more media attention to the issue, that Christian nationalism is not a real thing, that it’s just the latest label to put in our political fights. Of course, we have plenty of political fights and divisions.
Christian nationalism is certainly not only a political tool to be used by parties to advance a partisan goal. It is a real phenomenon that needs to be explored and that Christians in particular need to think about and make sure that they can answer within themselves and their communities: What does it mean to be a Christian, and what does it mean to be an American?
AMANDA: I think that’s absolutely right. And we should note, you know, we gave a number of definitions, and there are ‑‑ this just a sampling of the much larger community that is studying and understanding and speaking and talking about Christian nationalism. We wouldn’t have time on our podcast today, Holly, to go over all of the definitions.
But I do think that this helps answer that false charge that just because Christian nationalism has been politicized, that because it’s been exploited for political gain, doesn’t mean that talking about Christian nationalism is just a political tool, as you note. And I think that there is a lot to be gained from having more conversations about Christian nationalism.
It’s been around for a long time, but I believe this is the first time in our history that we’ve been willing to have such a public conversation about this phenomenon — about this ideology that undercuts religious freedom for all — and so it provides a tremendous opportunity for growth and for achieving some of those foundational ideals of a pluralistic American democracy that we’re still striving for.
Segment 2: What’s “Christian” about Christian nationalism? (starting at 16:08)
HOLLY: Another issue in this conversation about finding a coherent or useful definition or variety of definitions that can help the conversation is the question about: To what extent is this really about Christianity, as opposed to an ideology that could be separated from how most people think of Christianity in their own lives and as they express it? And that question came front and center in The New Yorker in the April 3 edition in an article called “Under God: How Christian is Christian nationalism?”
AMANDA: Right. Author Kelefa Sanneh spends four pages talking about this -– a relatively short piece for The New Yorker, but enough space to engage thoughtfully in some of these definitions that we’ve talked about, and particularly on this question of Christian nationalism versus Christianity.
You know, one way at Christians Against Christian Nationalism we’ve talked about it is to say that the Christian in Christian nationalism is more about ethno-national identity than it is about theology. And this piece in The New Yorker says something similar. It says that “Christian refers less to theology than to heritage.”
And I think that idea of heritage or ethno-national identity and whiteness, that was apparent in a number of the definitions we just read. And so they’re pulling at that strand quite a bit. And in this piece, he’s really touching on this active debate and conversation that’s going on about Christian nationalism versus Christianity.
We have to acknowledge that there is some confusion — some understandable confusion — because Christian nationalism does use the symbols of Christianity. It uses crosses and Bible verses to justify the ideology. And so, to a casual observer, Christian nationalism can look a lot like Christianity.
I think we also have to acknowledge the history of white American Christianity, that white American Christians interpreted and used Scripture in ways to justify slavery, to justify racial violence, and to justify Jim Crow segregation. And so, the theology itself has been impacted by racism and by Christian nationalism itself. The categories are not always neat and easy to separate.
HOLLY: And at the same time, it’s deeply uncomfortable for Christians to have their faith ‑‑ for many Christians to have their faith identified with this Christian nationalism. And so, one idea that he notes that is present, I think, in conversations about Christian nationalism within Christian communities is that Christian nationalism tends to be this idolatry of power, and it brings people together in this kind of unifying way to say that this is who we are. We are Christians, and it means certain things about beliefs and certain things about our country. And, of course, that’s directly at odds with our understanding of Christianity.
AMANDA: And, of course, as Christians, we look to Jesus and to Jesus’s teachings as ways that we can follow and seek to be Christians all of our life and follow in Jesus’s example, and Jesus famously gave us two commandments to follow, that all of the law and the prophets could be summed up in two commandments: to love our God with all our heart, soul, and mind, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.
And Christian nationalism causes us to violate both of those commandments. When we merge religion and state in ways that cause us to confuse political authority with religious authority, that causes us not to love God above all else, and then when we subjugate our neighbors and we don’t protect their religious freedom as we would our own, then we’re violating our call to love our neighbor as ourselves.
And so I think understanding ‑‑ and, of course, Christians have so many different ways that they express their faith, so many different ways that they interpret Scripture. But these basic commandments of Jesus are things that can unite us in our beautiful diversity.
HOLLY: To us it seems just ridiculous to dismiss that kind of diversity in Christian life and Christian thinking. But Christian nationalism, on the other hand, demands a sort of uniformity that does dismiss the diversity of Christian expression in the U.S., not to mention Christianity across the world. It is clearly a global religion.
AMANDA: And I think this forced uniformity of Christianity through the lens of Christian nationalism is particularly offensive to us as Baptists, Holly, because Baptists are not uniform in any way, shape, or form as a Christian expression. But we also understand, through the lessons of history and the fact that established religion has never included Baptists, the tyranny of the state when it tries to impose a certain way to be Christian on those of us who are claiming a different path.
And so I think we can bring as Baptists and through our work at BJC — Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty — we can bring that experiential history, not to mention our theology to bear in conversations about just how unchristian Christian nationalism really is.
HOLLY: At the center of the Christians Against Christian Nationalism project is a short statement of principles, and anyone who identifies as a Christian is welcome to join the project by signing the statement. This statement has signers from dozens of Christian denominations, simply expressing a reality about Christianity in our country, that there are so many expressions and that all of them are at odds with Christian nationalism that demands some uniform understanding and ideology.
AMANDA: It is emphatically not a statement of faith, because ‑‑
HOLLY: Right. We’re Baptists.
AMANDA: We’re Baptists.
HOLLY: We’re not into that.
AMANDA: We are non-creedal. We are not going to tell other people what it means to be or not be a Christian. But our statement is decidedly not theological, but we do say, “As Christians, we are bound to Christ, not by citizenship, but by faith.”
HOLLY: That’s right. That’s that key distinction that we’re trying to make. We recognize that beyond that simple statement of Christianity, there may be many other things that bind us as Christians.
We are inviting Christians from all different denominations and experiences to identify their faith and be very clear about its distinction from this political ideology and cultural framework of Christian nationalism that is at odds with our commitment to America’s statement as a religious freedom nation.
AMANDA: That’s right. And as a faith-based project, as Christians Against Christian Nationalism, we don’t stop there. We don’t stop with a statement of principles. We then provide resources for these diverse Christian communities to use in their communities and contexts to really examine how Christian nationalism might have infected their own theologies, how it might have infected their own worship practices, and to move away from Christian nationalism and move towards Christianity in however they are choosing to express it in their particular tradition.
Segment 3: Why do polling results matter? (starting at 24:12)
HOLLY: Well, part of why we wanted to have this conversation today is because there has been a fair amount of media attention given to a new report. The report has findings from the 2023 PRRI/Brookings Christian nationalism survey. The report is called, “A Christian Nation? Understanding the Threat of Christian Nationalism to American Democracy and Culture.”
And this is a study, a poll, with particular findings that was released early in February to try to understand and identify what Christian nationalism means, how it operates in the general public. And, of course, the first question that people want to know is, you know, how do they do that? How do they measure Christian nationalism?
And these social scientists do this by creating a composite world view of Christian nationalism, that they are able to put together using five questions about the relationship between Christianity, American identity, and the U.S. government.
So let me just stop and say on that point, we are in total agreement, and all those definitions that we’ve talked about and this conversation that we’ve been having now for several years, we know that this is about the relationship between Christianity and American identity and the government.
And the five statements that the researchers used to measure agreement with them were:
The U.S. government should declare America a Christian nation.
U.S. laws should be based on Christian values.
If the U.S. moves away from our Christian foundations, we will not have a country anymore.
Being Christian is an important part of being truly American.
God has called Christians to exercise dominion over all areas of American society.
You can see that these statements, any one of them taken alone, you could question and say, “Well, wait, is that right? Does that make me a Christian nationalist if I’m sympathetic toward this?”
That last statement, you see, really gets to the theological diversity and heated debate that we’ve seen, and that is it identifies that strain of theology that really calls for dominion over all aspects of life. That’s a specific kind of theology in religion, in Christianity, that lines up directly with Christian nationalism.
AMANDA: It’s really a minority view, this theological position, sometimes called “Dominionism” or sometimes “Seven Mountain Mandate,” “Seven Pillars,” “Seven Mountains Dominionism.” And this is a question I get a lot out on the stump, Holly, about, you know, “Is this just about Dominionism?” And I say, “No.” I mean, I think that’s one aspect of Christian nationalism — certainly, I believe, the most extreme example of Christian nationalism. And so for them to include that as one of the markers, I think, will narrow the number of people who are identified in this poll as full-on adherents to Christian nationalism.
HOLLY: I think that’s right. And on the other hand, I think the earlier statement ‑‑ U.S. laws should be based on Christian values ‑‑ may be more ambiguous than some people would originally see it, because people have such different emphases when they think about what it means to promote their Christian values in the public square. At the same time, we’ll note that they didn’t rely on any one statement, that they prepared this composite.
So as you look at this poll and these statements, people can debate the relative merit of the statements for identifying Christian nationalism, but you can see that taken together, they identify a core understanding of an ideology that can be measured across a spectrum.
The researchers prepared a score. They score on a scale of 1 to 4 to kind of see how much you agree with a statement, and then they come up with a scale. And the scale goes from “adherents,” adherents to Christian nationalism, to “sympathizers,” those who don’t score quite as high on the spectrum, and then to “skeptics,” and then at the far end, “rejecters,” those that really are on the opposite end of these questions about the relationship between Christianity, American identity, and the U.S. government.
AMANDA: And I think whenever we’re talking about the scale, it’s important to note that it is a spectrum of adherence to Christian nationalism. As Samuel Perry has said, Christian nationalism is not a diagnosis. You don’t either have it or you don’t have it — that we always have a choice on how much we’re embracing or rejecting Christian nationalism.
And so this poll, like all polls, is a snapshot in time of a particular subset of the American population, and in this poll, they found that about 10 percent of the respondents completely agreed with all of those markers of Christian nationalism in the questions and therefore were labeled as “adherents” to Christian nationalism. And that was the smallest segment, 10 percent of the poll.
At the other end of the spectrum, you have “rejecters” of Christian nationalism. Those are people who completely disagreed with all of the markers of Christian nationalism, the questions in the poll. And that was about 30 percent, 29 percent to be exact.
And so I think that’s the first good news piece out of this poll. I am a glass-half-full type of person, so ‑‑
HOLLY: We have to be. We have to be.
AMANDA: Exactly. Exactly. So we’re about three-to-one on people who are totally rejecting versus totally embracing Christian nationalism. And so, this isn’t something that all Americans are just rushing towards.
Then you have about 60 percent of Americans who are somewhere in the middle. They’re either moving towards Christian nationalism as sympathizers or moving away from it as skeptics. And it’s that 60 percent in the middle — which very interestingly is consistent with the poll numbers that Perry and Whitehead cited and performed in their 2020 book.
AMANDA: It’s about 60 percent of Americans who are somewhere in the middle.
HOLLY: These two different studies use some similar questions and then some different ones, but both of them had that kind of conclusion, that it could be measured and talked about in these different categories from those who are kind of hard-core advancing Christian nationalism in the public square and have these firm beliefs of what it is and should be, and then a spectrum going all the way across to those who completely reject the idea of Christian nationalism.
AMANDA: And so these numbers that we’ve been giving show Americans as a whole ‑‑ right? ‑‑ the respondents as a whole in this poll. But as most polling does, then they break it down based on other demographic factors as reported, and I think this was what a lot of the top-line messages from the reporting out of it was this rather stark finding that about two-thirds of white evangelicals and the majority of Republicans who were surveyed in this poll leaned toward Christian nationalism, that they are either complete adherents or sympathizers to Christian nationalism.
And so we see this ideology showing up more prominently in these circles — in Republican circles and in white evangelical circles — than in other circles and communities that were surveyed in this poll.
While these numbers in particular might be surprising, I don’t think that the general point is all that surprising, because Christian nationalism has been exploited as a political tool to galvanize voters in both white evangelical churches and in the Republican Party, not just in the past couple of years but for a number of decades. And so it seems like that this concerted political strategy is paying off, that we’re having more people in these circles who are adhering or at least sympathizing with Christian nationalism.
And why does this matter? Because it overlaps with some of these other issues and harmful policies, as well as an urgent threat to American democracy itself.
HOLLY: That’s right. And we don’t want to over-emphasize the problem in particular communities that would shut down conversations when the problems with Christian nationalism show up across the population, as we said, just in varying ways, in varying amounts.
AMANDA: So we will link in show notes to a copy of this study, and there is a lot to dig into, but we wanted to note some of the findings that particularly stood out to us.
One was a section of the report titled, “Five Correlates of Christian Nationalism,” where the study authors looked at adherence to Christian nationalism and then at attitudes on a variety of issues, including anti-Black racism, and how adherence to Christian nationalism correlated with anti-Black racism.
And so some of the findings that I’m just reading straight from the report here: Only about one-third of Americans disagree that white supremacy is still a major problem, compared to 65 percent who agree that white supremacy is a problem. So a strong majority thinks that white supremacy is a problem, but not if you are an adherent to Christian nationalism.
Majorities of Christian nationalism sympathizers and adherents disagree that white supremacy remains a problem, and they disagree even more if they are white. Among Christian nationalism sympathizers and adherents who are white, disagreement rises to nearly two-thirds. So it’s just flipped in the outcome there, that you are much more likely to say that white supremacy is not a problem if you are both white and are a “sympathizer” or an “adherent” to Christian nationalism.
Another, I think, important contribution of this study is that they poll on attitudes toward the term “Christian nationalism” itself. Notably, about a third of Americans say they have not heard the term “Christian nationalism.” But among those who had heard the term, most of them had a very negative opinion of the term “Christian nationalism” and don’t want to be associated with it. That was true for all groups except for those who were strong adherents to Christian nationalism.
So that 10 percent who most adhere to Christian nationalism had a generally positive view of the term “Christian nationalism,” but those who did not adhere so strongly to Christian nationalism did not. Why is this important? Well, it’s important because it shows that “Christian nationalism” is a stigmatizing term. It is not a term that most Americans want to be associated with.
And I think there was a fear ‑‑ I certainly had it ‑‑ when Marjorie Taylor Greene, for example, started using the term as something to aspire to, as something that we should want for our country, and she was saying particularly for the Republican Party, that we would normalize Christian nationalism. I think that’s still a threat, but this polling shows that a majority of Americans have a negative view of “Christian nationalism,” and so we should continue talking about it and continue stigmatizing it as a term.
HOLLY: Well, I join you, Amanda, in certainly being pleased to know that Christian nationalism is not something that people are generally drawn to when they understand what it is and they hear about it and think, wait, no, that’s not me, or that’s not what I’m about, either because of their faith or because their understanding of who we are as Americans.
So I think that it’s important that we continue to talk about what Christian nationalism is and the different ways that it shows up, and that people understand how serious this is. And it’s not like a cute slogan, “Hey, we’re Christians; we’re Christian nationalists.” No. It’s an extreme ideology. It’s a threat in our political conversations, and it’s a threat to the ideas that really hold us together as Americans.
AMANDA: So now, Holly, as we’ve said, we are not alarmists, and yet we are alarmed a lot of the time right now. And one of the things that was particularly alarming to me in this study was the findings on support for political violence. So the researchers asked Americans how much they agreed with this statement: “Because things have gotten so far off track, true American patriots may have to resort to violence in order to save our country.”
Sixteen percent of those polled in this study agreed with that statement. That alone is alarming, that 16 percent of Americans are ready to resort to violence to, quote/unquote, “save our country.” But even more alarming, I believe, is how adherents to Christian nationalism drives this view.
It said, “Christian nationalism adherents are nearly seven times as likely as Christian nationalism rejecters to support political violence.” Forty percent of Christian nationalism adherents agreed with that statement about resorting to violence. Four in ten Americans who most embrace Christian nationalism would resort to political violence to protect their views.
And so this is one finding that shows what an urgent threat to American democracy and to safety Christian nationalism poses, and I think it’s a finding that we need to take very seriously.
HOLLY: Yes. They show some pretty disturbing ideas that go along with Christian nationalism. On the flip side, they also asked about religious pluralism, and to do this, they had two statements, and the survey asked Americans to choose between these two contrasting statements.
Statement number 1: I would prefer the U.S. to be a nation made up of people belonging to a wide variety of religions.
Statement 2: I would prefer the U.S. to be a nation primarily made up of people who follow the Christian faith.
And what they found is that Americans overall are much more likely to express a preference for the U.S. to be a nation made up of people belonging to a variety of religions, 73 percent, rather than a nation made up of people who follow the Christian faith. But these views are highly stratified by attitudes toward Christian nationalism. Christian nationalism adherents overwhelmingly express a preference for a primarily Christian nation. That is 77 percent, including 59 percent who believe this strongly.
So then, you know, you see this thread in Christian nationalism that really wants the nation to be something that it really never has been, much less that it could be now. And so that is a significant rupture between those that are in the Christian nationalist camp and, I would say, the rest of the country.
AMANDA: And I think that finding gets to this broader tension that we see throughout these poll results, between the reality that the majority of the American population is not part of this Christian nationalism movement. They are not fully adhering to or even sympathizing with Christian nationalism.
But we know that a significant part of the population is still susceptible to it and that the part that is the most extreme in their views towards Christian nationalism is also holding a lot of power right now and are willing to use force and violence to hold onto that power.
And so I think all of these findings justify certainly our conversation today, Holly, but continuing and deepening this conversation, both within Christian circles as well as in our society as a whole.
HOLLY: And we certainly appreciate all those who are working very diligently to learn more about this ideology and to have conversations that can bring us together as a country. We particularly appreciate this work of PRRI and Brookings to provide this report. And as you said, we will put it in the show notes.
That brings us to the close of this episode of Respecting Religion. Thanks for joining us for today’s conversation. For more details on what we discussed, including links to the articles and resources we mentioned, check out our show notes.
AMANDA: If you enjoyed today’s show, share this program with others on social media and tag us. We’re on Twitter, Instagram and YouTube @BJContheHill, and you can follow me on Twitter @AmandaTylerBJC.
HOLLY: As always, you can email both of us by writing to [email protected]. We love hearing from you.
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HOLLY: We encourage you to take a moment to find out more about BJC and how we’ve been working for faith freedom for all since 1936. Visit our website at BJConline.org for a look at what we do and some of our latest projects.
AMANDA: Join us on Thursdays for new conversations Respecting Religion.