S5, Ep. 21: But … is it Christian nationalism?

Amanda and Holly regularly get asked about whether or not some situation or statement is an example of Christian nationalism, and they share the most common questions and answers on this episode.

Mar 21, 2024

Is an American flag in a church sanctuary an example of Christian nationalism? What about faith-based advocacy? Helping voters get to the polls? Saying the Constitution is “divinely inspired”? Amanda Tyler and Holly Hollman answer some common questions they hear about Christian nationalism, and they talk about the questions we should be asking ourselves.  

Segment 1 (starting at 00:38): What does it mean to determine the level of Christian nationalism?

Learn more about the Christians Against Christian Nationalism campaign, including the statement of principles, at ChristiansAgainstChristianNationalism.org. If you are a Christian who agrees with the statement, we encourage you to sign your name!

Segment 2 (starting at 08:23): Answering some political questions about Christian nationalism 

Amanda mentioned this recent op-ed by David French in The New York Times: What is Christian Nationalism, Exactly? 

Visit this link to access the report on Christian nationalism and the January 6 insurrection from BJC and the Freedom From Religion Foundation. 

Amanda mentioned this article by Steven Monacelli for the Daily Dot: A new social network built on a vision of Christian supremacy in America gains traction with GOP politicians

Hear Amanda and Holly’s reaction to President Trump’s 2020 appearance at St. John’s Church with a Bible in episode 15 of our first season: Protests, the president and the photo op with a Bible


Segment 3 (starting at 29:09): Answering some church-related questions about Christian nationalism 

Read about the new survey results from PRRI on the support for Christian nationalism at this link.

To learn more about Patriot Churches, read this 2020 article in The Washington Post by Sarah Pulliam Bailey: Seeking power in Jesus’ name: Trump sparks a rise of Patriot Churches


Segment 4 (starting at 38:54): History and civics questions about Christian nationalism

Amanda and Holly spoke about some lawmakers sharing the idea that the Constitution is “divinely inspired” in episode 10 of season 4: A report, a prayer vigil, and a somber anniversary: Two years after January 6

Respecting Religion is made possible by BJC’s generous donors. You can support these conversations with a gift to BJC.


Transcript: Season 5, Episode 21: But … is it Christian nationalism?  (some parts of this transcript have been edited for clarity)


Segment 1: What does it mean to determine the level of Christian nationalism? (starting at 00:23)

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 tackle a critical question for religious freedom today: What does and does not constitute Christian nationalism?

At BJC, we’re the home of the Christians Against Christian Nationalism campaign, and we regularly get asked about whether or not some situation or statement is an example of Christian nationalism. And we figure if people are asking us those questions, you probably have questions, too. So we’re going to dig through our inboxes, and we’re going to recall various audience questions and take a look at some of the responses that we get on social media. For each of these situations and topics, we want to discuss, is this Christian nationalism.

AMANDA: And we know, because of our leadership of the Christians Against Christian Nationalism campaign, that over the last several years, this term has been used with more frequency. There’s been a lot more attention in the general public and with the media about this term. And so we think that having a conversation today will help shed some light and some needed clarity on the topic.

First and foremost, I think it’s important that we offer a definition of Christian nationalism. One of these spurious charges that we often get is, oh, Christian nationalism, you don’t even define what that term means. Well, actually, we do, and we’ve done it consistently now for almost five years.

HOLLY: That’s right.

AMANDA: And the definition that we use is that Christian nationalism is a political ideology and a cultural framework that seeks to merge American and Christian identities. Christian nationalism suggests that, quote/unquote, “real” Americans are Christians and not just any kind of Christian but Christians who hold a particular set of fundamentalist religious beliefs that often align with certain conservative political positions.

As we define Christian nationalism, note that we are defining it as a political ideology. We don’t label certain people as Christian nationalists, and we do our best to avoid this kind of “us versus them” thinking. Christian nationalism isn’t a diagnosis. It’s not something that you either have or you don’t have.

Instead, it’s best measured on a scale, and in that way, it operates a lot like racism does. Christian nationalism, like racism, is present in society, and we each have a continuing opportunity to either embrace it or reject it on a daily basis, that there are always opportunities for us to embrace or reject Christian nationalism.

And one further definition before we move on. We also talk about white Christian nationalism, and this term acknowledges that Christian nationalism often overlaps with and provides cover for white supremacy and racial subjugation.

HOLLY: I think this way of defining Christian nationalism is very helpful, and I think that having done so, as you note, Amanda, for the last five years and seeing that as the conversation has increased, been more people interested in the topic, more people writing, different definitions, coming out of the media and academic circles, we keep going back to this same definition. It’s one that we think is correct and appropriate and helpful for conversations.

And I remember at the beginning of the launch of Christians Against Christian Nationalism, the campaign, in 2019, that we began by identifying a short list of unifying principles, primarily about religious freedom but about our country, some really basic ideas that we thought kind of grounded the opposition of Christian nationalism, who we are as a country and what we understand about Christianity, that are very different from this political ideology of Christian nationalism.

And as of now, more than 37,000 Christians have signed the statement. And, of course, we invite all our Christian listeners to add their name to this list at ChristiansAgainstChristianNationalism.org and to share the statement with others as they join their friends and neighbors and people outside of Christianity who also are really concerned about and fighting against Christian nationalism and the danger that it does to our country.

AMANDA: Right. We know that we have many listeners who don’t identify as Christian, and there is room for everyone in our campaign because we find that the campaign is a really helpful resource for people from all backgrounds who are looking for allies and for additional support in our larger campaign of dismantling Christian nationalism.

HOLLY: The campaign has been really helpful for being public about acknowledging how Christianity has so many different expressions, different denominations, different traditions. And, of course, we know that from our experience and from our work at BJC, fighting for faith freedom for all.

And when you look at the statement and the thousands of signers, you’ll see that they come from a lot of different denominations, a lot of different expressions of Christianity.

AMANDA: All joining together to oppose Christian nationalism. As we get into the conversation about what Christian nationalism is and is not, I want to acknowledge that there are some other terms that often get thrown around sometimes in the same conversations. We hear about white evangelicalism, conservative Christianity, religious extremism, white supremacy, the New Apostolic Reformation, Christofascism, dominionism, establishmentarianism, and the list goes on and on.

And I bring these up just to say that these are all distinct, sometimes overlapping concepts, and I think it’s important. All of these terms help us understand, I think, the broader phenomenon, the broader ideology, but there is importance in having some specificity when it comes to what Christian nationalism is, and we hope that this conversation adds clarity to that overall topic.

HOLLY: It is part of what we’ve been learning over the last five years, and as we have engaged in other conversations with people who have similar but different concerns or overlapping concerns, we have found conversations lead to better understanding, and we have sometimes been frustrated by conversations where people too easily conflate distinct ideas in ways that are not helpful and sometimes cause more confusion.

So let’s start with some of the questions that we hear, starting maybe with some of the ones that are most common about Christian nationalism.


Segment 2: Answering some political questions about Christian nationalism (starting at 8:23)

HOLLY: I would say that one of the more common questions we get is related to whether or not Christian nationalism is just the same as conservative political convictions. So sometimes the question is asked like this: Can you have conservative political convictions and not be a Christian nationalist?

AMANDA: So first I’d say, small corrective to the question is, again, we don’t call people Christian nationalists, and I think part of what’s showing up in even asking the question is a fear of being labeled as anything. So I instantly try to disarm by saying, well, no one’s calling anyone a Christian nationalist here.

But if the question is, does having conservative political convictions make me more likely to embrace Christian nationalism, I say absolutely not. You know, Christian nationalism is not a synonym for any particular political position, but rather it’s a political ideology that tries to merge national and religious identity.

And I saw this point, I think, made very well recently by New York Times columnist David French in his recent piece titled, “What is Christian Nationalism, Exactly?”. And in that piece, he writes, “It is not Christian nationalism if a person’s political values are shaped by the individual’s Christian faith.”

And, of course, one’s faith can inspire political positions that are conservative, progressive, and everything in between. And those same positions can be inspired by secular ideologies as much as they are by religious convictions. So just holding conservative political positions alone does not mean that someone is trending towards Christian nationalism.

So, Holly, I’m going to ask you the next question. Is progressive faith-based advocacy — in the mold sometimes of a Martin Luther King Jr. — a form of left-wing Christian nationalism? How about a progressive member of Congress arguing for student debt relief by referencing the Hebrew Bible’s rules around jubilee? Is that Christian nationalism?

HOLLY: Well, quite similarly here, I’d say no. Again, noting that religious convictions or values will often lead to positions on issues, and given the diversity in religious life, it’s not at all surprising to me that religion informs activism on different issues and maybe different perspectives on the same issue sometimes.

It makes sense that some people that are perhaps new to the conversation of Christian nationalism and concerned about it or defensive about it or just reactive about it, like some of us maybe have a tendency in our culture right now — maybe we’re living in reactive times — that we’re quickly trying to say, what is it, where is it, and is it your side or my side, or this side of the political spectrum or the other side.

But we really need to put this away at the very beginning, Amanda, so I’m glad these are our first questions, and note that there is a distinction between bringing one’s religious values and religious principles into one’s thinking about political issues and even elections. There’s a distinction between that and espousing Christian nationalism.

AMANDA: Yeah. I often say there’s a difference between advocating from your faith-based perspective for a certain policy, which is, I think, responsible faith-based advocacy, and insisting that your particular religious views or convictions are reflected in law and policy. And that veers into Christian nationalism.

HOLLY: I’d say that’s particularly clear and true where one advocates in a way that says, This is the Christian position, and that we are a Christian nation that demands that our laws reflect it.

Another common question we get is whether it’s fair to say that the January 6 insurrection was inspired by Christian nationalism.

AMANDA: And I think the best way to answer this is that it played a significant role in the January 6 insurrection. It alone does not explain what happened, but without Christian nationalism, I do not believe we would have seen the kind of intensity and violence that we saw at the Capitol that day.

And that’s because, with the presence of Christian nationalism, it turned a political cause for everyone there into a cause of religious fervor for many of the people there. And I think since January 6, we have learned — we are continuing to learn about the groups that were present there, about individuals and some of their motivations.

We mentioned the New Apostolic Reformation earlier, but prominent leaders that are attached to that particular wing of Christian nationalist thought were present and driving some of the actions on January 6. And so that is what inspired BJC to work with our partners at the Freedom From Religion Foundation to put out a report on Christian nationalism and the January 6 insurrection, and that is the report that continues to be a helpful resource for both members of Congress but also members of the general public, to help understand how the ideology worked to intensify and unite the disparate actors who gathered at the Capitol on that fateful day.

HOLLY: Yeah. It’s not surprising that that question would come up a lot, because I do think that January 6, particularly the visuals that people saw on TV and that we saw — some of us saw in person — of people marching with religious messages alongside political messages, made people ask this question — right? — made them wonder, what’s going on here; this is something very disturbing.

And particularly, I think, many Christians seeing that were disturbed and upset, because they were seeing this terribly violent event unfold with these symbols of their faith being carried alongside the mob. We will see people that look at January 6 as a time that sort of opened their eyes and made them start really wanting to investigate this idea of Christian nationalism and find out, you know, where it came from and investigate in their own lives, in their own religious experience how they might be infected by this ideology.

AMANDA: So, I mean, January 6 being a really extreme example of the dangers of Christian nationalism to American democracy, I’m going to go from there to a much more mundane example or question that we get, particularly in election years.

So, Holly, how about Christian groups sending out voting guides or score cards or even how individuals might be choosing to vote based on their own personal religious beliefs? How does Christian nationalism show up in these examples, if it does at all?

HOLLY: Yeah. If someone said, Isn’t that Christian nationalism, I’d probably say, no. I’d probably start off by saying no. I don’t think that’s the same thing. Let’s talk about this. Let’s think through this.

Sort of a two-part question. First, about these voter guides and score cards, trying to get to candidates’ positions on different issues, to me I see those often as sort of a strong-arm way of some organization — whoever produced that — using religion in elections.

And I’ve seen various shades of these throughout my career at BJC. And usually people are asking the question when they see these voter guides is:  Wait a minute. Is my church that put this out violating the rules against endorsing candidates?

We know that there is a restriction on certain types of nonprofit organizations, those that are 501(c)(3)s that cannot intervene in political elections, and so they can’t endorse or oppose candidates for office, and some of these voter guides get to a point that look like that’s exactly what they are. Of course, just being clear on issues is not either a violation of the Johnson Amendment, that restriction on 501(c)(3)s, or a indication of Christian nationalism.

Second, you know, whether it’s Christian nationalism for someone to say, I vote based on my religious beliefs, I’d say it’s not Christian nationalism; it’s just a fact. We all vote based upon what our conscience tells us is the best thing to do or, you know, what we feel is the best thing to do. And depending on one’s religiosity and their identification with their faith, they will vote for a candidate based on their religious beliefs.

So even when we recognize that it’s hard to find a party or a candidate that lines up on all issues consistent with a religious perspective, I think most people would lean toward one candidate or another where their values most align, and that includes their religious values.

AMANDA: Yeah. I think that, you know, you used the word “various shades” on these. And I think that there would be an extreme example that could be Christian nationalism, both on the voting guides and in someone’s own voting behavior. So super extreme example — we’ll put a link in this to show notes, but there’s new reporting about “A new social network, built on a vision of Christian supremacy in America that’s gaining traction with GOP politicians.”

And basically, this is an online voting guide to find the people who are associated with dominionism or the Seven Mountains Mandate and elect them to office. So that would be an example of Christian nationalism: Here are the candidates you should elect if you want Christians to overtake the government.

Another extreme example, I would say, is if an individual voter says, Well, I am only going to vote for Christian candidates, because I believe that only Christians can represent American people. Again, that is an expression of this ideology that merges our national and religious identities. And so I would say that that kind of voting behavior is an example of Christian nationalism.

HOLLY: Another question we get is from people who see pastors praying or speaking at campaign rallies, particularly recently for President Trump, and encouraging Christians to vote for him because he will appoint more anti-abortion judges, and he will stand up for Christianity.


HOLLY: Is that Christian nationalism?

AMANDA: Well, maybe. I mean, I would say just like kind of taking a step back, I think there are real problems and dangers in religious leaders aligning themselves too closely with any political candidate, regardless of party, regardless of candidate, because of all kinds of problems.

You know, one is there should always be some separation between one’s religious convictions and a party platform or the promises that any candidate is making during an election. Those things are not synonymous. If they are, then that’s Christian nationalism.

If one is compromising one’s religious convictions in service to alignment with a certain political candidate or a certain political party, I think that is an example of Christian nationalism. But there are also all kinds of prudential reasons that religious leaders should not align themselves too closely with any candidate.

We mentioned Dr. King earlier. You know, Dr. King is well known for never endorsing a candidate in his personal capacity. And I think it’s because he knew that that would sacrifice his ability to speak truth to power.

The famous King quote that I think is applicable here is when he said that, “The church must be reminded that it is neither the master nor the servant of the state but the conscience of the state.” And if the church and, by proxy, its leaders are to remain that conscience of the state, then it sacrifices their prophetic voice to be so closely aligned with any candidate or party.

HOLLY: Yeah. That’s really helpful. And the way I think about it is that if your religion lines up specifically with a political platform — because we’ve seen how these political platforms change and go to extremes — then maybe your religion is a political platform. I think for most religious people, they struggle, because no candidate, no political party, perfectly aligns with what their religion — and here I’ll speak just as a Christian — what their Christianity requires of them.

AMANDA: So in addition to having religious leaders speak on their behalf, sometimes we also see political leaders using religion almost as a prop, like former President Trump did in Lafayette Square when he used the Bible — or held up the Bible — outside of St. John’s Church back in the summer of 2020. A long time ago, but I think that image is seared in a lot of people’s minds, Holly. So what do you think? Is that an example of Christian nationalism?

HOLLY: I hadn’t thought about that image for a minute, Amanda, but it came right back to me. And I would say that, yeah. If you see the president of the United States or another government official in a specific government act, standing, holding up the Bible, one might ask, What’s going on, and just see the government being combined with a religious image in a way that suggests it speaks for itself.

Of course, it didn’t speak for itself. It was a huge and odd story that day, to understand what was President Trump doing, awkwardly holding the Bible up, as he was clearing a Black Lives Matter protest.

So I think it is Christian nationalism when, as we say, you are promoting an ideology that conflates official government action and the rule of law with the Bible. And that — look, it’s hard to know what he was doing, but that was the image that we got at the moment, was the president of our country, holding up a Bible to make a statement that this answers the question.

We actually talked about this in season 1, episode 15 of Respecting Religion, so for anyone who wants to go back and see how we talked about it at the time, that episode is available. But it’s not surprising that we would still get this question, because it was such a strong image of our president in a very important political moment, simply using the Bible in what appeared to just be a photo opportunity to make some kind of statement, that didn’t at all fit the situation.

Amanda, another question: What about that flag that we’ve seen in the streets and around that says, “Jesus is my savior. Trump is my president.” Is that Christian nationalism?

AMANDA: Well, if you were a Christian living in the United States from 2017 to early 2021, then that sentiment was true, whether you liked that second part or not. But seriously, the flag itself is an expression of Christian nationalism, because putting those two things together in that way is a visual representation of this merging of religious and national identity. It suggests that they are one and the same.

It is a way that also tends to merge and confuse religious authority with political authority, and as we point out at Christians Against Christian Nationalism, this kind of merging and confusion can very quickly lead to idolatry, that we confuse Trump with Jesus. And people on Trump’s campaign, by the way, have called him a savior or referred to him as a messiah in some way. And so these are examples of Christian nationalism.

I want to pause and point out here, I know that a lot of our examples here today have centered around Trump in one way or another. Christian nationalism has existed far before — long before Trump ever came onto the political scene and will continue, sadly, long after he departs the political scene, whenever that might be.

So Trump himself is not the cause or the definition of Christian nationalism. But I believe one of the reasons so many of our recent examples revolve around Trump is that he has used and manipulated Christian nationalism for his own political gain at a number of points throughout his political career.

And so I don’t want to put too much focus on it, but it is just true that so many of our current examples have involved Trump in one way or another.

HOLLY: Well, you point out that one of the significant problems with Christian nationalism is that it becomes a kind of idolatry, and that is one of the harms that we point out is damaging to Christianity that requires that we have no idols. And that’s part of the Christians Against Christian Nationalism statement.

And I would say that the other dangerous thing about this combination of those statements in some kind of flag is that by putting them together, it’s not only this idolatry. It can fuel the most violent reactions, because that religious fervor for many people does not allow for any kind of compromise.

And the compromise is necessary in a democracy to live together with all of our differences, to accept the results of an election. And so by putting these two things together that way, you know, it not only causes confusion. It can really motivate a kind of fervor that can lead to violent extremism.

AMANDA: I’m really glad you pointed that out, Holly, as an additional danger of that blending of lines and merging of political and religious authority.


Segment 3: Answering some church-related questions about Christian nationalism (starting at 29:09)

AMANDA: So we’re going to switch gears here a little bit for our next set of questions to discuss, moving away from the world of politics and into the world of the church and how Christian nationalism might show up in some of our religious spaces.

So the first question here is: Can you be a white evangelical and not be a Christian nationalist?

HOLLY: It is good that we get questions about the church, and this question, I guess, could have come from a white evangelical or someone who’s trying to understand white evangelicalism.

And I would say, of course, you could be a white evangelical and not be a Christian nationalist. Again, reminder that we’re not going around calling people Christian nationalists, but we are hearing a lot of conversations about white evangelicalism, both from academics and theologians, people who study or live in that world, as well as people who’ve grown up in white evangelical churches and want to understand Christian nationalism.

Well, we also sort of pointed to this in the beginning, that there are a lot of different terms and a lot of terms that have different definitions and need that, too. We should also note that evangelicalism is a term that is often debated and has a lot of different meanings as well.

AMANDA: Right. And there’s a lot of diversity even within that term, as you point out. There’s a new survey out from PRRI on measuring for Christian nationalism, and one of the markers they have in there is measuring Christian nationalism by religious affiliation.

Again, like we pointed out at the beginning, Christian nationalism is what’s being studied, and people are not labeled as Christian nationalists, yes or no. Rather, they are measured on a scale on how much they embrace Christian nationalism.

And it is telling, I think, that of all religious affiliations, more people who are either sympathetic to or adhering to Christian nationalism identify as white evangelical Protestants than any other identified religious group. So when you put those two together — again, those are the ones who are moving towards Christian nationalism — 66 percent of white evangelical Protestants are embracing or moving towards Christian nationalism.

And so I think that is alarming. That is alarming to me, that this one particular manifestation of Christianity seems to be embracing Christian nationalism more than, for example, Hispanic Protestants, Latter-day Saints, Black Protestants, white mainline non-evangelical Protestants, white Catholics, Hispanic Catholics, and all other non-Christian religions. Those are the different categories in this particular PRRI study.

Now, I will point out that all of those groups also have people who are moving towards Christian nationalism, so, for example, white mainline non-evangelical Protestants, that number is 32 percent are moving towards Christian nationalism. That is not an insignificant number. And so I think this points out that Christian nationalism is a problem in all religious communities, but it is the biggest problem in white evangelical religious communities.

HOLLY: Well, it also reminds me of some PRRI and probably other studies that talk about the changing demographics of religion in America and many people moving away from evangelicalism. I think maybe moving away from religious affiliation in general. So it’s important to kind of note that at the same time.

And without suggesting cause and effect, we know that there are changes in the religious make-up of our country, and this discussion about Christian nationalism has caused some to move away from their religious affiliation that they see aligned with some of these harmful ideas that, on closer reflection, seem to reflect more political ideology than consistency with their faith.

Okay. Moving from the general idea of evangelicalism or kind of broader denominational labels, can a specific local church be a Christian nationalist church, and if so, how can you tell?

AMANDA: Well, yes, I think it can. But I’m going to go again to the most extreme example. We’ve seen in recent years a new Christian — I’m putting this in big quotes – denomination called the Patriot Church. And that’s the reason that I’m putting it in quotes, because they have opted for American symbolism to stand for their church, so sometimes, you know, painting their roof with an American flag or using these patriot Bibles that kind of infuse patriotic imagery and quotes into the holy text. These are examples, I think, of an embrace of Christian nationalism, again a thorough merging of religious and national identity in ways that are really a major threat to an authentic Christian witness in the world.

HOLLY: Well, that example certainly sounds like Christian nationalism, and it’s hard to hear Christianity being reduced to some kind of flag-waving political agenda.

AMANDA: Okay, Holly. Next question is for you. We know that a lot of Black churches have a tradition of souls to the polls where they arrange for transportation for their parishioners to go vote immediately after a Sunday service. Is that Christian nationalism?

HOLLY: Encouraging or assisting people in voting is not only not Christian nationalism. It’s also not a problem that, I think, people sometimes suggest, kind of like the earlier question about voter guides, you know, that there’s something wrong with it from a legal perspective. It doesn’t violate the restrictions on 501(c)(3)s to encourage voting or assist in getting people to the polls. The restriction is on endorsing candidates or opposing candidates, that is, interfering in elections.

All right, Amanda. Here’s one we get a lot, and it kind of hits us, because we’ve seen it and have learned to be more questioning of it: Is putting an American flag in the sanctuary Christian nationalism?

AMANDA: This is something that comes up in pretty much every presentation that I do about Christian nationalism. And there’s always an awkward moment, because I have a slide that has a picture of an American flag and a Christian flag right by the altar. And I put it up, and it’s about that moment that I say, if I’m in a sanctuary, I forgot to look and see if there’s a flag in this sanctuary right now.

HOLLY: [Laughing.]

AMANDA: But how I bring it up is, yes, I think this is an example of Christian nationalism, because it is a visual representation of the merging of our national and religious identities, especially when it’s put up there with a Christian flag. It suggests to the people viewing, everyone here is Christian and everyone here is an American, and those two identities are synonymous.

And so for that reason, I encourage people in Christian communities to have a conversation about why is this American flag in our sanctuary. What signal is it sending? Is this sending the kind of signal of inclusion and focus on the gospel that we want to send, or is it detracting from that?

And as a Baptist who believes in local autonomy, I’m not telling anyone to take the flag out of the sanctuary. I’m asking them to have a conversation about it, and knowing that often this is a really emotionally charged conversation for these communities, and it’s one that they need to undertake with care.

HOLLY: Yes. Just asking the question and thinking about it can be difficult, because as we know, patriotism is not the same thing as nationalism and that there are those who feel very strongly about their patriotism, and the flag represents that for them. And so any taking away from it, you know, might bring up some questions in their mind.

A lot of churches might do what a lot of civic groups do, too, in honoring veterans using the flag. And so I think there’s a lot of different things to think about, and I’m glad that people bring it up, and it gives you an opportunity to discuss it and really ask the question: Are you conflating two different things, and what harm does that cause to both Christianity and our understanding of what it means to be an American?


Segment 4: History and civic questions about Christian nationalism (starting at 38:54)

HOLLY: Let’s talk about some questions now that we get that are specifically related to U.S. history and civics.

AMANDA: So the first one is more civics related and specifically in public schools. So, Holly, what about the posting of “In God We Trust” signs in schools? And then a second public school question: What about the “See you at the Pole” events when students gather for prayer at flagpoles? Are those examples of Christian nationalism?

HOLLY: Well, we could certainly have much longer conversations about each of these, but let me just start with saying, while In God We Trust is our national motto — and you can just say it’s an example of civil religion and discuss it from a historical perspective, a political perspective, lots of different ways — I would say that the push toward putting it in all public schools certainly seems to be motivated by Christian nationalism.

The idea that all schoolchildren need to see that, that it’s part of some patriotic development, I would call that Christian nationalism. Again, the motto itself has its history, and we can talk about it, and we can unpack that, and maybe we should do that in another episode. But the idea that it needs to be in public schools because it’s somehow formative of political development and, you know, our beginnings of democracy that we expect from our public schools is certainly problematic and veers toward Christian nationalism.

Now, the “See you at the Pole” kind of events, I don’t know that all our listeners know about those. But that’s kind of a thing where students would gather before school as a way to pray together individually, and of course, public school students have individual religious freedom rights to get together and pray on their own time, and so doing that before school is not constitutionally problematic and I would not say is an example of Christian nationalism.

But you have to question, why do you do that around a flagpole? It certainly sends a visual cue that prayer and the flag go together in ways that we would question. But another way of looking at it — and I know that some would say, well, no, all schools have a flagpole and so it’s a place to meet. And I can see why we get that question.

It could be a matter of free speech legally, but it certainly has elements that one should question. Why are people conflating the idea of the need to pray together in a civic environment, a public school environment, and doing so around an American flag?

We get this question a lot that’s really more explicit, and that is: Is it Christian nationalism to believe that the U.S. Constitution was divinely inspired? And that’s partly because there’s a belief that our rights as Americans come from God, not the U.S. Constitution.

AMANDA: So I’m going to take the first part of the question first, Holly, and that is this belief that some hold, some high-ranking officials hold, that the Constitution was divinely inspired. And I do think this is an example of Christian nationalism and one that is very problematic from a Christian perspective.

That’s because when we think about this term “divinely inspired,” we often think about holy Scriptures and the idea that the people who told the stories and then eventually, sometimes centuries later, wrote them down into these various books that are collected into the Bible, that that work was inspired by God. That is a very common Christian belief and one that is reserved for the holy Scriptures.

And so to take that idea and apply it to a political document, which is the U.S. Constitution, is something that could merge on idolatry or even blasphemy. And so it is a theologically problematic idea that I do think is textbook Christian nationalism.

And then that idea can kind of bleed into this second part of the question about the origin of our rights. And I think we need to think a little bit more nuanced about the origin of rights and think about them, that they can both come from God and then they can also come from secular authorities.

I think about Jesus’s teachings of us being citizens of two kingdoms here and that when we merge those into one, when we think that the rights that we have from a secular legal authority, like the United States through the U.S. Constitution, when we conflate those wholeheartedly with our God-given rights, then that is an example of Christian nationalism and one that is problematic for both equality under the Constitution and also problematic for the integrity of the Christian religion.

HOLLY: For those who believe in God, it’s not unusual to say then that our rights come from God, that we’re basically just recognizing that God created us as free beings, with the right — and we always emphasize also the responsibility — to choose to follow God in matters of faith and life.

But that is distinct from thinking about what are our legal obligations and what does the law say. So from a legal perspective, we do look to the Constitution and say, that’s the basis of our rights as members of a political community.

AMANDA: Well, Holly, I think that’s all the questions that we have time to discuss and talk through today, but that is not the end of the questions that I hear when I’m out on the road, that I know you get, that we get in our social media feeds and in email. So I just want to encourage our listeners at this point, if there’s a question that we did not get to, please email us at [email protected], and we will get to those on a future episode, because this conversation’s not going anywhere. We’re going to keep talking about Christian nationalism for a while.

HOLLY: I agree. And, Amanda, I feel really grateful to you, and I really feel grateful to our listeners and all the signers of Christians Against Christian Nationalism and all those that are willing to ask themselves these hard questions and think with us and give us their responses and continue the questions, because I think it’s really essential, essential for the work that we are doing, essential for living up to the best of the promises of our country and of what our religion demands of us.

That brings us to the close of this episode of Respecting Religion. Thanks for joining us. For more information, visit our website at RespectingReligion.org for show notes and a transcript of this program.

AMANDA: Respecting Religion is produced and edited by Cherilyn Guy with editorial assistance from Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons.

HOLLY: And you can learn more about our work at BJC, defending faith freedom for all, by visiting our website at BJConline.org.

AMANDA: We’d love to hear from you. You can send both of us an email by writing to [email protected]. We’re also on social media @BJContheHill, and you can follow me on X, which used to be called Twitter, @AmandaTylerBJC.

HOLLY: And if you enjoyed the show, please share it with others. Take a moment to leave us a review or a five-star rating to help more people find it.

AMANDA: We also want to thank you for supporting this podcast. You can donate to these conversations by visiting the link in our show notes.

HOLLY: Join us on Thursdays for new conversations Respecting Religion.