Christian Nationalism and Me

I understand White Christian Nationalism and White Christian men.  I grew up immersed in the first group and was a member of the second. I served as a leader in a religious movement of over 6,000 churches with origins on the American frontier. These churches are overwhelmingly White and 100 percent male-led. The same is true for almost all evangelical denominations.  Evangelicals make up about one quarter of the American population – our largest religious group.

My own theological education was from an evangelical perspective, but in my twenties I was introduced to a more liberal expression of evangelicalism, primarily through one seminary in our denomination, a place where I later taught as an instructor.  I was also influenced by The Wittenburg Door, an irreverent satirical journal of the period that appealed to an entire generation of terminally curious young theologians. Although my theology became much broader, I did not leave evangelicalism. I was comfortable. I liked the people and the camaraderie. I did not understand the damage I was doing by remaining.

I did push and cajole, particularly on the subject of women in leadership, something frowned upon in almost all corners of evangelicalism, and certainly within the movement of churches of which I was a part. When I wrote a magazine column on adding women to the eldership of churches and placing them in lead ministry positions, I received letters from leaders within our denomination who reminded me that “God placed men in charge of the church.” Uh, okay, that’s actually not true. But that view has a deep history in the church, and has dominated evangelicalism.

So much of White Christian Nationalism is rooted in White Christian men who were taught that God intended for things to be this way, not just for the church, but for all of society. I don’t know how many times I heard professors and evangelical thought leaders say, “America was founded as a Christian nation.” Except that it wasn’t. When America was founded, a lot of its citizens were Christians, but our Founding Fathers protected our nation by not establishing a government-sanctioned religion.

White Christian Nationalism tries to gloss over this truth and make our Founding Fathers more Christian than they were.  They try to make us believe that it was a conservative form of Protestantism that created the core values of the United States.

I suppose you could say that the core values of this nation can be found in the Magna Carta, written in England in 1215.  You could also say that the Magna Carta finds its core values in Judeo-Christian teaching. But to go from that to saying America was started as a Christian nation is quite a leap. To say it was begun as an evangelical nation is an even wider chasm. Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, James Monroe, George Washington and John Adams were all Christians, but they were also all Deists, believing that none of the supernatural events depicted in scripture were factual.

The influence of evangelicalism on American government is actually quite recent, dating back to the 1980s and the Moral Majority. Since the time of Ronald Reagan, evangelicalism has gained greater and greater influence in the halls of government.  Many of the top lieutenants of George W. Bush and Donald Trump were evangelicals.

I was invited to attend the National Prayer Breakfast in 2002, and was surprised at how many members of Bush’s cabinet identified themselves as evangelical.  Eight members of Donald Trump’s cabinet identified as evangelical, including Betsy DeVos, a member of the Christian Reformed Church, and Mike Pompeo, a member of a very conservative Presbyterian denomination.

This relatively recent evangelical influence on American government is the product of White Christian Nationalists, who believe evangelical teachings should be the rule of our nation.  I say “White Christian Nationalists” because they are almost all White.  There are very flew Black and Brown people among their ranks. They believe LGBTQ support is anti-Christian, though that perspective comes from a narrow evangelical interpretation of scripture.  They believe our laws should ban gay marriage, transgender rights, and other basic civil rights.  Simply put, they want to impose their narrow interpretation of the Bible on the entire American population.

Beneath their desire for an evangelical-based rule of law is their desire for current power structures to remain in place.  Not only are they opposed to LGBTQ rights, they are also opposed to a woman’s right to choose what to do with her own body.  That is consistent with a worldview that says men should be in charge of women at home, at church, and by extrapolation, in every other area of society.  It is the major religious teaching on gender roles in 28 states of the United States.  Who drives this teaching?  Men. Of the 100 largest churches in the nation, all 100 are led by men, and 93 of them are White.

White Christian Nationalism is a threat to the core values of American democracy.    That I used to be a part of that power structure, barely lifting a finger from within to challenge its dominance, is a great regret.  Fortunately, none of us should be judged by the worst thing we’ve ever done.

When I was a leader in the evangelical world, I am sorry I did little more than write an editorial or two on women in leadership.  When I see the power evangelicalism has today, and the rabid fervor with which they wield that power, I am frightened. I am afraid of White Christian Nationalism.  You should be afraid too.

12 thoughts on “Christian Nationalism and Me

  1. It is terrifying if people really stop and think about it. I’ve questioned so much of evangelicalism since I was kid for what are now obvious reasons. Just the other day, my mom and I got into a slight debate over how literally to read the bible. She thinks it’s a word for word thing and that we should just blindly have faith that whatever version is being read is the literal truth.

    I just can’t deal with that mindset anymore. It creates way too many hypocrisies for my mind to even begin to fathom that it’s word for word black and white facts. If you haven’t, I recommend watching the series “The Family” on Netflix. It’s an interesting insight into political Christianity and explains so much about religion in DC.

    Thank you so much for sharing this, Paula. I just love reading your blogs and listening to you speak.


  2. I have always been afraid of the evangelical desire to cross that line planted firmly between church and state. Being nearly as old as dirt myself, I remember when that sort of thing started to show up in churches, and I watched them actively push against that line, particularly around abortion. The Catholic position on abortion at least makes sense in that they are also against the death penalty, but I see no real pro-life agenda at all among evangelicals, who not only favor the death penalty, but favor many, many anti-life policies in our government. This isn’t over. There are some big battles ahead.

    I am proud to know someone on the front lines. I am with you. ~D


  3. God Bless them all. Devout adherence to the Biblical teaching has sustained us in the past.
    The time now come for this to be supplemented in the Truth reserved for these days, to see and know there is no Hell and any judgement is by our selves.
    “The Twelve Blessings”, from Jesus are on offer, as reincarnation was hidden by the founders of The Church.


  4. Thank you for publicly summarizing the problem with such credibility. Now, what do we do about it? Unless you’re a white male leader of one of those churches — or at least, a member of that club — you will not be listened to.And the inner circles do not care to inaugurate change b/c the power structure suits them (no pun intended!) just fine.


  5. Ok…so, I haven’t been here in a while but I couldn’t help but notice your page. Paula, does this mean your book is coming out this June? If so, yay!! Congratulations to you! All that worrying that your writing wasn’t good enough is finally over, right? I hope you’ve now realized what a fantastic writer you are! So much to be proud of! Hope you have a very prosperous and fulfilling 2021 ♥


  6. Hi Paula,
    I would like to assure you that your voice now is important even if you feel you could have made better use of your voice then. I’m also becoming aware of other voices speaking out against Christian Nationalism. Here are a few examples:

    So the whole thing is scary but I’m not scared. I think that white Christian America is starting to wake up. Maybe a Rip Van Winkle type of wake up, but a wake up nonetheless.


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