The Religion of American Greatness
JULY 8, 2023
by Paul D. Miller
Christian nationalism asserts that there is something identifiable as an American “nation,” distinct from other nations; that American nationhood is and should remain defined by Christianity or Christian cultural norms; and that the American people and their government should actively work to defend, sustain, and cultivate America’s Christian culture, heritage, and values. Historians have often argued that a generic Protestant Christianity served as the de facto established religion of the United States until the 1960s. A Christian nationalist is someone who believes that historical fact is normative for today, that the United States should return to the days of a quasi-official, nondenominational (Judeo-) Christian establishment that privileges Christian norms, values, symbols, culture, and rhetoric in American public life and public policy. They do not advocate repeal of the First Amendment, but they do favor a strongly “accommodationist” interpretation of it in which the government is permitted to favor religion over irreligion, and even favor America’s historically predominant religious tradition (i.e., Christianity) over new or different ones. Christian nationalists believe that the American nation was, is, and should remain a “Christian nation”—that America’s identity as a Christian nation is not merely a historical fact but a moral imperative, an ideological goal, and a policy program for the future, which also means that defining the nation’s religious and cultural identity is rightfully part of the government’s responsibility.
What are the origins, historical development, key beliefs, and political and cultural implications of American Christian nationalism? Is it a good thing or a bad thing? What is its relationship to the ideals of the American experiment? What does nationalist governance look like in practice, and what effects has it had on American society and the world when they have had opportunities to pursue their agenda in the past? What is the difference, if any, between nationalism and patriotism? What is the right way to love one’s country? To these historical and political questions, we can add a host of theological ones. What is the relationship between Christian nationalism and Christianity? Between Christian nationalism and other forms of Christian political engagement? Does the Christian faith permit, or possibly even require, its adherents to believe in the tenets of nationalism? In short, do American Christians have to be nationalists? Do Americans have to be Christians? These questions raise broader and deeper questions about the relationship between religion and politics, questions that have been asked ever since the Pharisees used a question about taxes to suss out Jesus’ take on collaboration versus resistance toward civil government, and about humankind’s ultimate loyalties.
Taken from The Religion of American Greatness by Paul D. Miller Copyright (c) 2022 by Paul D. Miller. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com