On January 6th, 2021, millions around the world had their eyes glued to the T.V. as thousands of insurrectionists stormed the U.S. Capitol. This attempted coup—as many call it—did not happen by accident. In fact, it was the very belief that white Christian nationalists—the ones who made up the majority of the insurrectionists—are the most oppressed group in America that enabled this event to occur. These self proclaimed “patriots” view the political issues that face this country as something that is tied to their own blood, rather than mere principles of government. White Christian nationalism is gaining popularity, posing a large threat to American democracy as we know it.
Prior to analyzing the looming threat of white Christian nationalism to American democracy, it is important to establish exactly what the ideology and identity entail. Studies have been able to synthesize the incredibly complex issue into three elements: a strict moral tradition formatted in hierarchical social arrangements, authoritarian social control that condones violence, and strict ethno-racial boundaries. Each of these elements appear differently throughout the ideology, but at its core, white Christian nationalism is a cultural framework that involves the synthesis of Christian values with American political life. Issues are seen as political and religious, resulting in a desire for the fusion of both civic and religious life. They believe that America is a uniquely Christian nation, and it ought to express that notion via its laws. As such, they specifically maintain the desire for clear racial and ethnic hierarchies. Said hierarchies also determine who ought to participate in American civic life, and who is “truly American”. These ideas have been integrated within the political culture of the United States, which raises large concerns for the future of U.S. democracy.
Accordingly, with a core belief of America as inherently Christian, we must look at how Christian Nationalism has integrated itself within the American political system. The Pew Research Center found that like several other issues, Christian Nationalism finds itself divided along party lines, with ⅔ of Republicans saying that the U.S should be a Christian nation, a number that is more than twice the amount of Democrats. Accordingly, an even larger majority of Republicans believe that the U.S. was intended to be a Christian nation, which is once again, nearly double that of Democrats. Although this does not necessarily mean that the Republican party is equivalent to white Christian nationalism, some of the foundational principles of the ideology are shared by an increasing number of GOP lawmakers, with politicians like Marjorie Taylor Greene and Doug Mastriano publicly embracing the ideology. When politicians like Greene and Mastriano embrace the ideology in a public manner, it further integrates white Christian nationalism within the realm of politics, inherently making it more “mainstream,” and subsequently threatening American democracy.
Voter suppression is one of one of the most prominent ways that white Christian nationalism has threatened U.S.. Universal suffrage is considered one of the backbones of democracy, yet white Christian nationalists hold the belief that it is too easy to vote, and are some of the biggest proponents of voter suppression laws. This fits in the larger Christian nationalist framework in a variety of ways. First, by using authoritarian-like control to obtain the means to disenfranchise the “unworthy” of voting (usually from minorities). Accordingly, White Christian nationalists also apply their framework of ethno-nationalism to the issue of voter suppression by blatantly identifying those who are unworthy to vote, govern, and arguably worse, calling into question the integrity of elections. As a result of this, as well as the election of several white Christian nationalists to state legislatures, several voter suppression laws have been introduced . In the first five months of 2022, six state legislatures were able to pass laws regarding “election interference”, with several more introduced throughout the country. Accordingly, they report that since 2021, 18 states have passed voter suppression laws, which are shown to disproportionately affect voters of color. These bills are the direct result of the spread of white Christian nationalist rhetoric, carry dangerous implications, and are a direct threat to American democracy.
Finally, white Christian nationalism has been tied to the approval of political violence, with one of the most recent examples being the January 6th riots. Generally, in the eyes of white Christian nationalists, violence is perceived as a fundamental expression of freedom. This rhetoric was used to justify the storming of the Capitol, and even though some White Christian Nationalists acknowledged the engagement of their group in the insurrection, they view it as justified, as it was an answer to “dangerous activities” done by the left and other minority groups. In this case, they are simply following the fundamental principles that white Christian nationalism is based off of, saying “This is our country, not theirs. And we are at liberty to take it back by violence”. These statements are becoming more common, have been linked to political violence, and in turn, threatens American democracy.
It is also important to examine the factors that led to the resurgence of the ideology of white Christian nationalism. While there isn’t one singular answer given the nuance of the issue, we can turn our focus to a couple of leading factors, such as the election and subsequent presidency of Donald Trump. Experts have found it confusing that many of the self-proclaimed Christian nationalists cast their ballot for Trump in 2016, given that many of Trump’s actions were inherently not Christian in nature, but found that the vote had less to do with religious doctrine than it did with the perceived religious backsliding of the United States. Donald Trump gave them a platform to be seen, with core beliefs centering around “class-based anxieties, sexism, anti-black animus, xenophobia, and Islamophobia”. This rhetoric, which established a large association between Donald Trump, the GOP, and white Christian nationalism, has dangerous implications for American democracy as we know it.
White Christian nationalists and their anti-democratic beliefs are becoming more popular, posing a threat to American democracy. This rhetoric threatens minorities, believes that voting should be less accessible, and approves of political violence. This jeopardizes U.S. democracy, especially considering the presence of white Chirstian nationalism within political culture.
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