Commentary

A majority of Republicans would like to officially declare the U.S. a Christian nation

Washington, DC - January 6, 2021: Pro-Trump protester with Christian Cross seen during rally around at Capitol building
Washington, DC - January 6, 2021: Pro-Trump protester with Christian Cross seen during rally around at Capitol buildingPhoto: Shutterstock

Not that long ago, most Republicans were content to declare the U.S. as a nation founded on Judeo-Christian values. Then the Judeo somehow got lost along the way, as the party became more comfortable with anti-Semitism in its ranks. Now the party is moving toward a full-on embrace of theocracy, with candidates like Pennsylvania gubernatorial nominee Doug Mastriano (R) and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) proudly calling themselves Christian nationalists.

In that belief, Mastriano and Greene apparently have the support of the majority of the rank and file. A new University of Maryland Critical Issues Poll finds that 61 percent of Republicans would happily declare the U.S. a Christian nation, even though nearly as many recognize that such a move would violate the U.S. Constitution.

The support breaks along predictable lines. The older the Republican, the more likely the support. More than 70 percent of the Silent Generation and Boomers would declare the U.S. a Christian nation. That dwindles to just over half of Gen Z Republicans.

There are even Democrats who believe in calling the U.S. a Christian nation: a paltry 17 percent. Whether they believe in the same principle of nationalism that animates the GOP or just think it sounds nice is unclear.

The Republicans’ affinity for Christian nationalism is tightly related to white grievance politics. The poll surveyed more than 2,000 people. Of those, whites who believe white people faced more discrimination are more likely to call for a Christian America. Nearly 60 percent of those surveyed who said white people have been discriminated against a lot more than other groups in the past five years want to call the U.S. a Christian nation. Only 38 percent of those who don’t believe that agree.

The poll also underscores a new reality. Christian nationalism is more about politics than religion.

The fact of the matter is that there are far more people identifying themselves as evangelicals than people who actually practice their faith. About two-thirds of Protestant Republicans who attend church only once a year identify as evangelicals. Theology actually has almost nothing to do with a lot of evangelical belief. Evangelicals aren’t going to battle over questions of transubstantiation. It’s about culture war and politics.

In that sense, Christian nationalism is the perfect vehicle for the would-be authoritarians in the GOP. It cloaks the thirst for naked power in a crucifix. For years, the right has insisted that the separation of Church and State was a lie promulgated by godless leftists. (It was a belief expressed by Thomas Jefferson, whose opinion the right has spent years trying to explain away.) It created a fiction that the Founders were divinely inspired believers but many were more informed by the Enlightenment than by Christianity.

The myth is an important part of how people justify the politics. It’s the backdrop that gives them permission for their actions. If the U.S. is a Christian nation, then defending it from those you consider non-Christian forces – like LGBTQ people – is entirely permissible, even if those people are themselves people of faith.

Needless to say, the new poll gladdens the hearts of extremists.

But let’s not get confused. The urge to call the U.S. a Christian nation has nothing to do with Christianity. It has everything to do with feeling threatened by a changing society and an unwillingness to be accommodate those changes.

Instead of trying to show the rest of the country why their beliefs are worth following by example, Christian nationalists simply want to impose them on everyone else. For them the Golden Rule is only three words long: Do unto others.

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