On January 6, 2021 rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol in an effort to postpone the certification of the results of the 2020 presidential election. Mixed in among the crowd were symbols of the Christian faith: signs reading “Jesus Saves,” Christian flags, crosses, “Jesus is my Savior, Trump is my President” flags. After entering the Capitol rioters livestreamed themselves praying and thanking God for the moment. They shared that this was their country, blessed by the Christian God, and they must do everything they can to take it back. It is impossible to make sense of January 6th and its aftermath without considering Christian nationalism. Christian nationalism is the desire to see a particular expression of Christianity fused with American civic life with the government upholding this arrangement is. By the summer of 2022, sitting Congresspeople were adopting the label of “Christian nationalist.” Given the power of religious rhetoric in politics and how it can motivate citizens in a variety of directions, it is important to understand what Christian nationalism is, how it functions, and the threats it poses to social life in the United States.
For the past decade, I have collaborated with other scholars to document the cultural contours of Christian nationalism in the United States. Using large, nationally representative surveys of the American public, qualitative interviews, and participant observation, my award-winning book Taking America Back for God: Christian Nationalism in the United States provides the first empirically supported definition of Christian nationalism, demonstrate the variety of beliefs and behaviors associated with Christian nationalism, and underscore the threats it poses to a pluralistic democratic society and American religion. Dozens of peer-reviewed journal articles further explore and expand upon these findings. My next book, American Idolatry, extends this work to a public audience interested in wrestling with how Christian nationalism and Christianity intersect.
This work lead to being asked to submit expert testimony to the United States House of Representatives Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol. This project also includes consistent interaction with journalists, think-tanks, and polling organizations to better understand Christian nationalism and how it influences public life. Finally, this project includes writing columns for public outlets like TIME Magazine, The Washington Post, and Religion News Service.
This work benefits the American public by empirically outlining an influential cultural framework and how it shapes what Americans believe and how they behave. Religious organizations use our work to help their congregants and fellow-believers to understand political polarization in their midst and how to more faithfully fulfill the dictates of their faith as they understand it. Non-profits use this work to advocate for the separation of church and state to ensure all Americans, whether religious or secular, are viewed as equals and all “truly American.” Those serving in government use our work to understand policy implications and how Christian nationalism can corrode support in pluralistic democracy where all Americans have a say in who we are as a country and where we should go next. Various think-tanks use this work to better understand the security threats facing the United States both at home and abroad.
Results / Data
This project has resulted in various results and outcomes. Across several books and dozens of peer-reviewed articles, some shared below, we find Americans who embrace Christian nationalism are more likely to report a strong sense of moral traditionalism based on creating and sustaining social hierarchies; a comfort with authoritarian social control; a desire for strict boundaries around national identity, civic participation, and social belonging that fall along ethno-racial lines; and a populist impulse that inclines Americans toward feelings of victimization, conspiratorial thinking, and suspicion toward “elite” leaders and institutions. As a partial list, we find Christian nationalism inclines Americans to question the reality of racial injustice, oppose COVID-19 precautions, embrace conspiratorial thinking, oppose immigration, embrace anti-Semitism, support voter disenfranchisement, and embrace political violence if they deem it necessary.