Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Understanding the Threat of White Christian Nationalism: Important New Report from PRRI and Brookings

On 8 February, Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) and Brookings Institution released the results of an important national survey entitled "A Christian Nation? Understanding the Threat of Christian Nationalism to American Democracy and Culture." As PRRI's press release announcing the report states,

A major new national survey conducted jointly by Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) and the Brookings Institution finds nearly two-thirds of white evangelical Protestants qualify as either Christian nationalism adherents (29%) or sympathizers (35%), and more than half of Republicans are classified as adherents (21%) or sympathizers (33%). This is a marked contrast from the 1 in 10 Americans as a whole who adhere to the tenets of Christian nationalism and the 19% who are sympathetic.

The survey finds that white evangelical Protestants are significantly more supportive of Christian nationalism than any other religious group.

The report opens by stating,

The rising influence of Christian nationalism in some segments of American politics poses a major threat to the health of our democracy. Increasingly, the major battle lines of the culture war are being drawn between a right animated by a Christian nationalist worldview and Americans who embrace the country’s growing racial and religious diversity.

Here's valuable commentary I've read about this new report:

Jeff Brumley succinctly sums up the key finding of the PRRI/Brookings report on white Christian nationalism published this week:

New research shows white evangelical Protestants and Republicans are increasingly embracing the ideology of Christian nationalism at much higher rates than the general U.S. population.

Robert P. Jones, PRRI head, writes,

Christian Nationalism does not exist in a vacuum. It is strongly linked to other ideologies swirling on the right. Anti-Black racism, anti-immigrant views, antisemitic views, anti-Muslim views, and patriarchal views of gender roles are each positively associated with Christian nationalism. 


Adherents of Christian nationalism are nearly seven times as likely as rejecters to agree that "true patriots might have to resort to violence to save our country" (40% vs. 16%).

Jennifer Rubin notes: 

[A]ccording to a Public Religion Research Institute-Brookings Institution poll released Wednesday, Christian nationalists in fact harbor a set of extreme beliefs at odds with pluralistic democracy. The findings will alarm you.

She adds:

And because Christian nationalists adopt their views as articles of religious faith, they might be far less willing to reexamine them. The task of inculcating American values of inclusion, democracy and rule of law will have to come, in all likelihood, from within church communities.

Andrew Whitehead says,

The PRRI/Brookings Christian nationalism survey adds to a host of research that demonstrates the historical repercussions of this powerful cultural framework. It shows that Christian nationalism can serve to rewrite history so that racial injustice and those responsible for it are rendered almost invisible. …

These findings underscore why many social scientists add "white" when talking about "Christian nationalism." The desire to see a particular expression of Christianity privileged in the public sphere and preserved by the government operates differently for white and Black Americans.

Another reason to add "white" before Christian nationalism is that it was white Christian denominations and religious institutions that created the narrative of a 'Christian nation' and sustained it throughout American history. Recent historical work demonstrates that white Christians "baptized" slavery, Jim Crow and later iterations of racially inequality as God’s will for this Christian nation.

Jemar Tisby states, 

While it is often unspoken, the word "white" should be presumed as a prefix of Christian nationalism. Racial bigotry is inherent to and inseparable from this belief system.

To give one example, the most notorious racist terrorist group, the Ku Klux Klan operates from a white Christian nationalist framework. The founder of the second major wave of Klan activity, William J. Simmons, wrote in 1922, "[The KKK only admits] 'native born, white, Gentile, Protestant Americans…'”

The white Christian nationalist view of "true" Americans has always centered on people deemed white and has labeled anyone else—Jews, Blacks, immigrants—as "other." ...

White Christian nationalism not only the greatest threat to democracy and the witness of the church, it is the greatest threat to a multiracial and inclusive church and democracy. 

Kristin du Mez indicates:

From historical sources, I discovered that ideals of Christian patriarchy and support for a rugged ideal of Christian manhood went hand in hand with a larger commitment to Christian nationalism. The nation—God’s nation—needed strong men to defend it against foes, foreign and domestic. Christian men needed to fight to defend faith, family, and nation. During the 1960s and 1970s—the crucible of the modern Christian Right—feminism, the antiwar movement, and the civil rights movement all threatened the status quo for conservative white evangelicals, and the assertion of white patriarchal authority was the answer to all of these challenges. 


The deep story of Christian nationalism is one rooted in a sense of loss, the loss of a (mythical) Christian ideal that must be restored. At the center of this story resides a stark us vs. them mentality. You are either with us or against us. And since God is on our side, those who are against us are against God. In this way, fighting one’s enemies, real or imagined, is always justified. And the ends will always justify the means. ...

Because Christian nationalists believe that God is on their side and that the fate of Christian America is at stake, among staunch adherents there is no space for compromise. And for many, aligning the country with God’s laws trumps any commitment to democratic practices. 

Diana Butler Bass correlates the PRRI/Brookings findings with the findings of a recent CDC report that "teen girls are confronting the highest levels of sexual violence, sadness, and hopelessness they have ever reported to YRBS." She notes what media reports about these CDC findings are missing: 

They do not make a connection between the fact that girls are not okay and the recent PRRI/Brookings report that two-thirds of white evangelicals are white Christian nationalists.

Yet the PRRI/Brookings report finds this:

Christian Nationalists (the majority of whom are white evangelicals) believe women must submit to men, society is diminished when women have more opportunities to work outside of the home, men are being "punished" for "acting like men," and America has become "soft" and "feminized."

Built into white Christian nationalism are strong assumptions about gender and the roles of men and women. White Christian nationalist ideology comprises a notion called complementarianism developed by right-wing Christians in response to the rise of feminism in the latter half of the 20th century.

Complementarianism stresses that males and females have complementary roles, and the female role is to be subordinate to males. Bass notes, 

This religious history is a significant factor contributing to why girls and LGBTQ teens are in crisis. Today’s teens have grown up amid the success of religious and political movements intent on taking away their freedoms, rights, and futures. The goal is to force them into their "complementary" assigned roles in kitchens and closets. Complementarianism and Christian Nationalism are twinned impulses, and neither wants girls, women, or LGBTQ teens to thrive.

Bass concludes,

I don’t think the two studies side-by-side are unconnected or simply coincidental. There are threads between them. They are of a piece, a single, smothering cloth.

It is no fun watching people undo your liberation, especially when you are young.

Ronald Brownstein writes,

Probably the biggest surprise in Trump’s march to the GOP nomination in 2016 was the large number of votes he attracted among White evangelical Christians, who many analysts expected to resist a twice-divorced New Yorker who had earlier expressed support for abortion rights.\

If anything, those blue-collar evangelical Christians may be even more important to Trump’s prospects in 2024.

As he notes, Whit Ayres finds that white evangelicals constitute almost two-fifths of the likely 2024 Republican primary electorate. And the PRRI/Brookings survey shows that Trump’s favorability rating is a “striking 17 percentage points higher among the non-college white Republican evangelicals than among those with a degree.” In addition, the PRRI/Brookings survey finds "that huge majorities of those non-college White evangelical Republicans express many of the cultural and racial anxieties Trump has tapped throughout his political career."

Ashley Lopez comments:

Long seen as a fringe viewpoint, Christian nationalism now has a foothold in American politics, particularly in the Republican Party — according to a new survey from the Public Religion Research Institute and the Brookings Institution.

Researchers found that more than half of Republicans believe the country should be a strictly Christian nation, either adhering to the ideals of Christian nationalism (21%) or sympathizing with those views (33%).

Lopez cites Robert P. Jones:

[I]t's a sizeable minority that is not only willing to declare themselves opposed to pluralism and democracy — but are also willing to say, "I am willing to fight and either kill or harm my fellow Americans to keep it that way."

Chauncey DeVega warns that the White Christian Nationalist project now controls the Republican party and intends to control the whole nation — if Americans permit this. He states,

Today's Republican Party and "conservative" movement constitute a type of religious politics where reason, facts, reality, and the truth are secondary to obtaining and keeping political power. In essence, this is a type of faith where White Christianity plays a very important role in structuring the ideology, belief system, behavior, and the social cognition of its followers.

The Christian right and its followers truly believe that they are on a mission from God in their attempts to tear down multiracial secular pluralistic democracy.

Heather Cox Richardson states,

Since the 1990s, Republicans have had an ideological problem: voters don’t actually like their economic vision, which has cut services and neglected infrastructure even as it has dramatically moved wealth upward. So to keep voters behind them, Republicans hammered on social and cultural issues, portraying those who liked the active government as godless socialists who were catering to minorities and women. “There is a religious war going on in this country,” Republican Pat Buchanan told the Republican National Convention in 1992. “It is a cultural war, as critical to the kind of nation we shall be as was the Cold War itself, for this war is for the soul of America.” 

A generation later, that culture war has joined with the economic vision of the older party to create a new ideology. More than half of Republicans now reject the idea of a democracy based in the rule of law and instead support Christian nationalism, insisting that the United States is a Christian nation and that our society and our laws should be based in evangelical Christian values. Forty percent of the strongest adherents of Christian nationalism think “true American patriots may have to resort to violence in order to save our country,” while 22% of sympathizers agree with that position. 

Robert P. Jones offers the following helpful run-down of what he sees as the salient points made by the PRRI/Brookings report:

●  By a margin of two to one, Americans overall reject the tenets of Christian nationalism. This is good news for the country and for our churches.

●  However, Christian nationalism has commandeered one of America’s two political parties and one of our mainstream religious traditions.

○  Most Republicans—a party that today is overwhelmingly white and Christian—lean toward supporting Christian nationalism.

○  Among white evangelical Protestants—among whom two-thirds are either Christian nationalism adherents or sympathizers—Christian nationalism has essentially come to be the default orientation.

● Christian nationalists are not just so-called “Christians in name only” (CINO). The data reveals a strong positive correlation between church attendance and Christian nationalist attitudes. The more likely one is to go to church, the more likely one is to affirm the tenets of Christian nationalism. In other words, rather than mitigating these dangers, churches are facilitating and promoting this ideology.

● Christian nationalism does not exist in a vacuum but is comfortably part of a broader worldview that includes anti-Black racism; anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, and antisemitic views; and patriarchal understandings of gender roles.

● Christian nationalism is not just a “white” thing. But whiteness and white racial identity bend Christian nationalism in more dangerous directions. Compared to Christian nationalists of color, white Christian nationalists are far more likely to hold anti-Black, anti-immigrant, and anti-Muslim views.
Most troublingly, Christian nationalism is positively correlated with a willingness to resort to violence to resolve personal disagreements and support for acts of political violence to “save the country.”

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