Authoritarianism and Christian Nationalism

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One of the lingering questions after this year’s election is why are White Evangelicals continuing to support a guy whose personal life is the exact opposite of everything that they preach?

On the surface, it seems hypocritical.

A recent paper by three sociologists suggests some deeper understanding of what is going on. The paper is based on data gathered by the highly regarded Baylor Religion Survey. The most recent version of this survey was taken shortly after the 2016 election.

Here’s what the authors found.

Voters’ religious tenets aren’t actually what’s behind Trump support. While values voters are still concerned about personal morality, their real priority is Christian nationalism. Christian nationalism is the view that the United States should be a Christian nation. If the United States ever to become a Christian nation in the way that white Evangelicals understand that term, the United States would become a theocracy like Iran where many of the things that Trump has done in his personal life would be illegal.  Abortion would be illegal.  Gay marriage would be illegal.  Heterosexuality would be the only sanctioned relationship and even that would have to be chaste until marriage.  Those who support Christian nationalism believe that this is the only way that this country can be “saved”.  That is consistent with the Evangelical view that Christianity is the only way anyone can be “saved”.

The results of this belief is a whole cottage industry of revisionist historians who have made a lot of money claiming that the founders of this country intended it to be a Christian nation.  In their telling liberal politicians perverted that vision and high jacked the constitution in the process.  If you are interested in more detail on that, please reference some earlier posts – Zombie Politics, Crazy Train, and Dear Mr. Lincoln.

In the words of the authors:

Christian nationalism operates as a unique and independent ideology that can influence political actions by calling forth a defense of mythological narratives about America’s distinctively Christian heritage and future.

What are some of the tenants of this ideology?

Here’s a list taken from the questions that were used to identify this group

  • “The federal government should declare the United States a Christian nation”
  • “The federal government should advocate Christian values”
  • “The federal government should not enforce strict separation of church and state”
  • “The federal government should allow the display of (Christian) religious symbols in public spaces”
  • “The success of the United States is part of God’s plan”
  • “The federal government should allow (Christian) prayer in public schools”

These goals suggest a deep authoritarian strain. Here’s why.

Christian Nation
The issue here isn’t that the US isn’t a Christian nation. It is overwhelmingly Christian. The issue is that the demographics of the nation are changing. White Evangelical Christians feel as though their way of life is under attack because of these changes. It is also because in Evangelical terms, “Christian” is a much narrower definition than someone who believes the Jesus was the Christ – the Son of God.

It is the whole basket of catch phrases that we have heard from Republican Party for decades – family values, high moral standards, respect, discipline, self-reliance, personal responsibility, putting God back into government, traditional families, religious freedom, law and order, etc.

Finally, and most importantly, the constitution prohibits the government from giving preference to any religion. What they seek is a strong leader who is willing to ignore the limits of the constitution and enforce laws protecting and supporting “Christian Values”. Christian Nationalists see Donald Trump as that leader because of his appeal to both authoritarianism and white Christian Nationalism.

Conservatism, Race, Islamophobia, and Christian Nationalism
The authors were careful to gin out all other factors regarding Christian nationalism and support for Trump. Here’s what they found when looking at voting data.

Overall the strongest predictors of Trump voting were the usual suspects of political identity and race, followed closely by Islamophobia and Christian nationalism.

and

Ironically, Christian nationalism is focused on preserving a perceived Christian identity for America irrespective of the means by which such a project would be achieved.

This last observation is the most telling and explains why White Evangelicals continue to be Trump’s biggest supporters. It’s because when it comes down to a choice between personal values and a politician who supports Christian nationalism, they choose Christian nationalism overwhelmingly.

This end justifying the means is what moves us in the dangerous direction of authoritarianism. Steve Bannon understood this when he joined the Trump campaign. Trump has used a formula of dark, hyper-nationalism, racialized identitarian ideology dressed in the language of Christianity, contempt for the US Constitution, and the promise to use force if necessary; to take over the GOP. What he criticized as political correctness was really a whole set of norms that we have built up in our democracy to outline common ground.  Instead he declared war on the whole concept of common ground.  He placed himself on the side of Christian nationalism and declared that all those opposed to him were also opposed to Christian nationalism.  That included not only Democrats, but the whole Republican establishment.  That was also Bannon’s pitch at the Family Research Council’s Values Voter Summit.

Christian Nationalism and White Supremacists are uniting in their support of Trump as a strong leader to make substantive changes to the country. It doesn’t matter that those changes are unconstitutional. It doesn’t matter that those changes may disenfranchise non-Christians, people of color, and women. All that matters is that the end is achieved. Christian Nationalists want laws that reflect their religion and distrust democracy to achieve that goal. White Supremacists want a nation where the color of your skin determines whether or not you are welcome. They also distrust democracy’s ability to deliver on their goal.  They both agree that people of color (particularly Muslims) are frightening.  They both agree that if dismantling our democracy can achieve their goals, they will support whomever is willing to do that work regardless of what other agenda that person might have.

This is how democracies die.

10 Responses to “Authoritarianism and Christian Nationalism”

  1. Keith says:

    Jeff, you should stop writing about white Christians. Just stop.

  2. Keith says:

    I will address one ludicrous statement you e made.

    YS)The issue here isn’t that the US isn’t a Christian nation. It is overwhelmingly Christian. The issue is that the demographics of the nation are changing. White Evangelical Christians feel as though their way of life is under attack because of these changes.

    MR) for the last year and a half I’ve attended a mega church that is 99% African American. I’m white. Whatever I’m feeling so are the other 10,000 Christians I attend church with. The “amens” following pastors comments on social issues are as loud as in any mostly white churches I’ve attended.

    Why do you insist on dividing us up?

    Also the echo chambers new word “authoritarianism” is finding its way into your writing way too much. President Obama rights use to say “we won, you lost”

    And factually you need to understand what separation of church and state means.

    Also as a Chistian do you believe God blesses His people?

    I love your blog you’ve written many fantastic things. This is the worst post, and by far, you’ve ever made. Not a good opening day performance. Go Tigers.

  3. Jeff Beamsley says:

    MR) for the last year and a half I’ve attended a mega church that is 99% African American. I’m white. Whatever I’m feeling so are the other 10,000 Christians I attend church with. The “amens” following pastors comments on social issues are as loud as in any mostly white churches I’ve attended.

    The difference is that most of the people in your church didn’t vote for Trump. As a result, they aren’t conflicted because they live their values in and out of the ballot box. That’s why I’m careful to use the term White Evangelicals.

    It’s those people who remain some of Trump’s strongest supporters. I wanted to find out why.

    Why do you insist on dividing us up?

    I’m not dividing anybody up. I am a Christian too. Part of loving my neighbor is to seek to understand them.

    Also the echo chambers new word “authoritarianism” is finding its way into your writing way too much. President Obama rights use to say “we won, you lost”

    Just because you don’t like the word, doesn’t mean that it is a bad description of what is going on.

    It isn’t that hard to figure out. You just have to answer the question of why White Evangelicals are still sticking with Trump? He does not live their values. He is not a good example for their children. So what are you left with. Either they are willing to trade their values for someone who is going to promote Christian Nationalism OR they are racists and will support anyone who blows the racist dog whistle. I would prefer the first answer.

    BTW, I believe that those who win elections do have the right to implement their policies. Republicans didn’t give Obama that ability. But that’s not the issue. The issue is that no one regardless of how many votes they received has the right to dismantle our democracy. That’s what Trump is doing.

    And factually you need to understand what separation of church and state means.

    What do you think I don’t understand?

    Also as a Chistian do you believe God blesses His people?

    I believe that all people are made in God’s image and likeness (including Christians). I also believe that God loves each and every one of his children (including Christians) beyond measure. “Fear not little flock for it is your father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” I think that “little flock” are those who worship and love their Creator, not just Christians.

    I love your blog you’ve written many fantastic things. This is the worst post, and by far, you’ve ever made. Not a good opening day performance. Go Tigers.

    Again I remind you that I don’t write to please you. I write to please myself. I would ask that you put down that cup of defensive juice for just a minute and try to think objectively about what it means when a White Evangelical continues to support a man of such low character. How can they ever again be taken seriously in any debate about culture and values? That’s why it is a devil’s bargain. And that’s how those things go. You lose the moment you trade you soul for material gain. That’s what Trump did years ago. That’s what White Evangelicals have done in their current support of Trump. That’s the risk that the country is facing if Trump continues to consolidate his power.

    Seems like a pretty good topic for someone concerned about Spiritual Wickedness to write about don’t you think?

    Not a good opening day performance. Go Tigers.

    I think you are aware that I’m not really a Tigers fan either, though I love the fact that major league baseball is just a 45 minute drive away for me and Comerica is a very nice park. I’m a White Sox fan. I’ve been one since 1968 when I moved to Chicago from Omaha. I had season tickets at the old Comisky. I was there for the last game played in the old park with my youngest son who was probably 4 at the time. Now he just turned 30 and has a son of his own. I have a brick from the old Comisky too. I was also there the opening weekend for the new park. The sox were playing the Tigers. The Tigers won the first two games, but my young son and I were there for the first game that the Sox won in their new park and the first sox home run hit by Frank Thomas. One of the best days of my life was when the Sox won the world series in 2005. My younger son was a good baseball player and liked to call himself the “little hurt” after Frank Thomas. He hit lefty, threw righty, and was a really good infielder. The sox had a great opening day (6 home runs – 3 from their DH) with an exciting young team. They are probably a year ahead of the Tigers in their rebuild. Hopefully the Tigers rebuild will go fast too.

  4. Keith says:

    Did you pounder why Black evangelicals supported Bill Clinton to the end? And Hillary for that matter. Did you ask the same question of their support for President Obama and his support for gay marriage? Surely they don’t support that. I can tell you the 10,000 or so I attend church with don’t. So ask yourself why you wonder about white evangelicals but not black evangelicals? Wonder why maybe they feel attacked? The topic is nonsense.

    Jeff, “all have sinned, all have fallen short of the Kingdom of God.” Who’s left to support?

  5. Keith says:

    And don’t ever forget one very small detail the other choice was Hillary.

  6. Jeff Beamsley says:

    Did you pounder why Black evangelicals supported Bill Clinton to the end? And Hillary for that matter. Did you ask the same question of their support for President Obama and his support for gay marriage? Surely they don’t support that. I can tell you the 10,000 or so I attend church with don’t. So ask yourself why you wonder about white evangelicals but not black evangelicals? Wonder why maybe they feel attacked? The topic is nonsense.

    The topic is not nonsense. It’s just a topic that you don’t like.

    The issue isn’t who White Evangelicals voted for. There are a lot of people who voted for Trump and now regret that vote.

    The issue is that as a group White Evangelicals continue to support Trump in greater numbers than any other group.

    Those who study this, rather than just filter it through their own set of biases, say besides political identity and race (which is the answer to your question about Black Evangelicals), Islamophobia and Christian Nationalism are the next two most important blocks of Trump voters.

    So here’s what you appear to have a difficult time grasping. Yes there are people who voted for Trump because he was the Republican candidate. There are people who voted for Trump because he is a white man. There are people who voted for Trump because they are afraid of Muslims. I’m not talking about any of those people.

    I AM talking about those who voted for Trump because they believe he will transform this country into what they call a “Christian” nation. Those people are almost ALL White Evangelicals. They have decided that the end justifies the means. I believe that choice invalidates the fundamental claim to have an ethical position to tell anyone else how to live. Also their “Christian Nation” is fundamentally at odds with democracy. To the degree that they continue to promote that position, they are going to face LOTS of opposition from people like me who call it out for what it really it. Authoritarianism.

    Black Evangelicals are not advocating for a Christian Nation. They support democracy. They are fighting for the right to vote and seek change through the democratic process rather than seeking to restrict the rights of others to vote. They oppose gay marriage. They don’t oppose the rights of gay people to vote.

    Jeff, “all have sinned, all have fallen short of the Kingdom of God.” Who’s left to support?

    Not sure what you mean. I believe in forgiveness. Forgiveness, however, has no value if the sinner hasn’t first admitted their sin, asked to be forgiven, and promised to make an honest effort to change. Clinton did that. Trump has not. If Trump admitted his infidelities, lust, and lies; asked forgiveness from all those he injured, and promised to change his ways – I would be happy to give him another chance and forgive him.

  7. Jeff Beamsley says:

    And don’t ever forget one very small detail the other choice was Hillary.

    It isn’t about who people voted for. It is about who people continue to support and why.

  8. Jeff Beamsley says:

    Trumps recent attacks on Amazon are just another example of authoritarianism at work.

    There is little truth to Trump’s claims that Amazon is getting some special deal. Wash Post gave that claim three Pinocchios

    What is MUCH more likely the case is that Trump is using the powers of his office to punish the owner of the newspaper that he doesn’t like. That is another example of the fourth test of authoritarianism.

    A readiness to stifle or limit civil liberties of opponents, including media.

    This is why he is dangerous.

  9. Jeff Beamsley says:

    BTW Amy Sullivan in a NYT opinion piece has a different explanation for the loyalty of White Evangelist’s. In the process she also addresses some of counter arguments. We’ll take those first.

    White Evangelicals are loyal by nature
    Nope. They supported Bush II in large numbers too (78%). Bush II was MUCH more vocal about his personal beliefs, delivered two conservative SCOTUS appointments, and appeared to be a faithful husband. But by May 2006 only 55% of White Evangelicals still supported him.

    Hillary
    It is certainly possible that a large number of White Evangelicals supported Trump just because they couldn’t bring themselves to vote for Clinton. That doesn’t answer the question of why they continue to support him a year after that election and as Bush II history proves, have been willing to abandon far more devout Republicans in the past.

    The answer is

    the ultimate answer may be the simplest. Mr. Trump owes his continued high standing among white evangelicals to the fact that nearly 40 years after the Moral Majority’s founding, the partisan meld is complete. Decades of fearmongering about Democrats and religious liberals have worked. Eighty percent of white evangelicals would vote against Jesus Christ himself if he ran as a Democrat.

    She closes with an anecdote that illustrates how tribal political partisanship has come to dominate the group that used to see themselves as the moral compass for the country.

    Back in the real world, President Barack Obama and his close aide Joshua DuBois created a tradition of hosting Christian leaders from across the ideological spectrum for a White House Easter breakfast. At these gatherings, which took place during seven of the eight years of his presidency, Mr. Obama spoke about the nature of his faith in some of the most explicitly Christian terms publicly used by any president.

    At the 2015 breakfast in the East Room, which featured music by Amy Grant, as close as evangelicals come to royalty, Mr. Obama spoke about the daily challenges of faith. “Today we celebrate the magnificent glory of our risen Savior,” he said. “I pray that I will live up to his example. I fall short so often. Every day I try to do better.”

    Conservative evangelicals were unmoved. One year later, a Public Policy Polling survey found that only 13 percent of Trump supporters believed Mr. Obama was a Christian. They won’t have a chance to hear Mr. Trump himself speak about faith and the resurrection this Easter season. After he came into office, the Trump White House ended the short-lived tradition of Easter breakfasts.

  10. Jeff Beamsley says:

    BTW BTW that big tax cut and that big spending bill? They are going to put the country in a world or hurt IN ANOTHER TWO YEARS according to the CBO. From the NYT

    The federal government’s annual budget deficit is set to widen significantly in the next few years, topping $1 trillion in 2020 despite healthy economic growth, according to new projections from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office released Monday.

    The national debt, which has topped $21 trillion, is expected to soar to more than $33 trillion in 2028. By then, debt held by the public will almost match the size of the nation’s economy, reaching 96 percent of gross domestic product, a higher level than any point since just after World War II and well past the level that economists say could court a crisis.

    And

    Many Republicans have said the tax overhaul would vault economic growth over 3 percent a year for a sustained period, generating more revenue than the tax cuts would cost. But the budget office expects the economy to grow at an annual average rate of 1.9 percent over the next decade period. Growth would start strong, at 3.3 percent this year and 2.4 percent next year, but then slow considerably.

    The CBO is not projecting a recession. Life gets even worse then because it becomes MUCH harder to raise taxes.

    Michael A. Peterson, president and chief executive of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, which advocates reining in budget deficits, said the report “confirms that major damage was done to our fiscal outlook in just the past few months.”

    Mr. Hall, the budget office director, said that beyond a decade, the debt would continue to rise compared with the size of the economy. He warned of the possible consequences if lawmakers put off addressing the trajectory of the government’s finances.

    “The longer you wait,” he said, “the more draconian the measures have to be to fix the problem.”

    We will have an opportunity to prevent Trump from making the personal tax cut permanent with a Democratic House in 2018. We won’t be able to “fix the problem” until 2020 when we get a new President and hopefully a new Senate as well.

    BTW BTW BTW – The biggest fear of some Republican Senators and Reps? It’s that the dems gain control of both houses. If that happens they fear that Democrats will be able to manipulate Trump in the same way that Republicans have.

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