- - Wednesday, February 28, 2024

A sinister boogeyman is threatening the very fabric of our nation — an evil force overtaking hordes of hearts and minds, twisting them into a zombie-like force bent on the total and utter destruction of the American ethic. 

This is the warning from some modern-day, self-ascribed Paul Reveres who are increasingly waving around their smartphones as they text, post and shriek, “The Christian nationalists are coming! The Christian nationalists are coming!” 

Fears over this purported “Christian nationalist” takeover are almost ever-present these days, but the real menace is something far more fiendish: at best, a total disregard for First Amendment freedom and, at worst, a strategic effort to obliterate ideological opponents. 

We’ve all seen the headlines warning about the perils of Christian nationalism, with some calling it the “single biggest threat” to religious liberty, among other panics. Here’s the primary problem though: most people can’t even adequately define Christian nationalism. 

Furthermore, most Americans don’t seem to know anyone who would fit the gremlin-like descriptions to which adherents are said to conform. 

“Christian nationalism is an exacerbated term,” Pastor Samuel Rodriguez told me during a recent interview. “Is there such a thing as Christian nationalism? Probably in a church in South Carolina, somewhere, hidden in the backwoods. Is it a national issue? No.” 

Perhaps Mr. Rodriguez is on to something. Don’t misunderstand me; I’m not claiming Christian nationalism doesn’t exist at all, nor am I stating no one fits the bill. I’m simply offering up the obvious: this problem is nowhere near as sweeping and perilous as claimed.

Whenever there’s a label that comes with a billion definitions no one can agree on, my eyebrows immediately raise and my concerns elevate, and that’s the precise case with Christian nationalism. While we can rifle through a billion potential definitions, let’s start by looking at one from Amanda Tyler, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty. 

“Christian nationalism is a political ideology and cultural framework that seeks to merge American and Christian identities,” Ms. Tyler said in an interview. “It heavily relies upon a mythological founding of the United States as a ‘Christian nation,’ singled out for God’s special favor. … The ‘Christian’ in Christian nationalism is more about identity than religion and carries with it assumptions about nativism, white supremacy, authoritarianism, patriarchy and militarism.”

That’s certainly an interesting framing with a plethora of buzzwords and constructs — and some elements we should most certainly eschew. But, again, how sweeping are these paradigms, and isn’t it possible for people to believe the U.S. was founded on Christian values without being clumped into this messy amalgam? 

The biggest problem here is that people are using the Christian nationalist label as a definitive without any universal understanding of what it truly means. And many of those sounding the alarm are secularists or political progressives who have long lamented conservatism and Christian influence over politics. 

These forces have clumped ideological opponents into a political box, and warned endlessly that everyone must fear this nebulous cohort. That’s what makes headlines like this so alarming: “More than half of Republicans support Christian nationalism, according to a new survey.”

That’s the same NPR article that defined Christian nationalism as “a worldview that claims the U.S. is a Christian nation and that the country’s laws should therefore be rooted in Christian values.” But the alarm bells really went off when a Politico article recently unveiled its own definition.

“Christian nationalists in America believe that the country was founded as a Christian nation and that Christian values should be prioritized throughout government and public life,” the article in question, co-authored by Heidi Przybyla, reads.

During an appearance on MSNBC last month, Ms. Przybyla said the Republican base has “shifted” and warned about “extremist” ideas surrounding former President Donald Trump.

“The thing that unites them as Christian nationalists — not Christians, by the way, because Christian nationalist is very different — is that they believe that our rights as Americans, as all human beings, don’t come from any earthly authority,” Ms. Przybyla said. “They don’t come from Congress, they don’t come from the Supreme Court. They come from God. The problem with that is that they are determining — man, men, it is men are determining what God is telling them.”

She lamented that there’s, thus, an “extremist element of conservative Christians” who say natural law “applies specifically to issues including abortion, gay marriage, and it’s going much further than that.”

But doesn’t Ms. Przybyla realize that Christians have always applied biblical truth to personal and policy preferences? And are the faithful simply supposed to remain quiet and subdued about views clearly outlined in the Bible and church teaching while secular people jam their own relativistic viewpoints down everyone’s throats?

Critics seem most perturbed by the existence of Christians in America who, like every other group, want to influence the policies governing their lives. Ironically, it’s what every human being — regardless of his or her worldview — seeks to do: find politicians and policies that align with their framing of the world. 

It’s the epitome of ideological privilege to lament those who seek to see their values represented in government all while obsessively advocating for one’s own perspectives to be enshrined in public life. And yet that’s what so many atheist activists and progressives are doing.

Much of the conversation around Christian nationalism seems aimed at drumming up hysteria only to find out much of the consternation is rooted in an effort to stop biblical ideals from impacting public policy and life.

The truth is: The media, Hollywood, universities and many elites have never understood Christianity, have often openly had disdain for its values, and have sometimes taken steps to undermine its presence in public life. Now that the influence of faith on culture has waned, many have moved from a “stop infusing your faith into your politics” into a full-on effort to manifest a Christian nationalist boogeyman. 

Christians should always lead with faith over politics. But it seems those who are worried Christian nationalists are lurking under every rock really want to see Christian impact on politics minimized or entirely removed. And that attempted silencing is the real dynamic that should alarm us all.

Billy Hallowell is a digital TV host and interviewer for Faithwire and CBN News and the co-host of CBN’s “Quick Start Podcast.” Mr. Hallowell is the author of four books.

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