Andrew Whitehead on Trump Walks the Christian Nationalist Walk With Bibles and Flash Grenades

President Donald Trump walks from the White House through Lafayette Park to visit St. John’s Church on June 1, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Andrew Whitehead, an associate professor of sociology at Clemson University, will soon move to Indiana University-Purdue University of Indianapolis and the Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture as an associate professor of sociology. His new book, co-authored with Samuel L. Perry, is “Taking America Back for God: Christian Nationalism in the United States.” 

President Donald Trump’s walk across from the Rose Garden to St. John’s Episcopal Church on Monday (June 1) was a short one in terms of geography, but represented an enormous leap in rhetoric. After claiming he would bring “law and order” back to the United States and declaring himsef an “ally of all peaceful protesters,” he marched across a Lafayette Square that police, using flash grenades and tear gas, had forcefully cleared of peaceful protesters. Outside the church, Trump held up a Bible for a photo-op. When asked if the book was his own, Trump replied that is was “a Bible.”

How do we square Trump’s authoritarian rhetoric with a photo-op in front of a church he did not enter, holding a Bible he did not seem to own, after not speaking to any clergy?

The answer is Christian nationalism.

As Sam Perry and I explain in our new book, Christian nationalism is “a collection of myths, symbols, narratives and value systems” that idealize and advocate for a fusion of Christianity and American civic life. Americans who embrace these notions believe the United States always has been, and always should be, distinctively Christian in its public policies, sacred symbols and national identity.

While Christian nationalism clearly draws on religious symbols — Bibles and churches, for instance — our work also shows that it is strongly associated with authoritarian control, militarism, nativism and even white supremacy.

Americans who embrace Christian nationalism, a majority of whom are white, want a Christianity predicated on power over others to hold a place of privilege in the public sphere, and many see in Trump the best way to guarantee it. Trump has consistently promoted himself as a strongman, the only one who can save “us” from “them.”

The personal piety of the strongman who ensures their safety matters little. Christian nationalists don’t need Trump to open the Bible, read it, recite it, pray or enter a church. What they want and need is someone who they feel sees them and endorses their particular vision for the country; someone who will provide access to the levers of power — the federal bench, for starts — so  they may transform the culture after their own image.

Consider the chart below, on which respondents’ views are compared to how they rate on a Christian nationalism scale (based on their responses to six questions about Christianity, separation of church and state, and school prayer). We asked Americans whether they agreed or disagreed that: “We must crack down on troublemakers to save our moral standards and keep law and order.” Fewer than half of Americans who are low on the Christian nationalism scale agree with this statement. But as Americans’ scores increase on the scale, they are much more likely to agree with this authoritarian sentiment.

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Source: Religion News Service