Christian Nation, Yes and No

From G. K. Chesterton to Sidney Mead to Robert ­Bellah and beyond, observers have noted that America is a “nation with the soul of a church.” No one, however, has yet attempted to assess the latest manifestation of this fusion of Christianity and nationalism. Taking America Back for God is, the authors claim, the first empirical study of Christian nationalism in today’s United States.

According to Andrew Whitehead, a Clemson sociologist, and Samuel Perry, a professor of sociology and religious studies at the University of Oklahoma, a Christian nationalist believes that America is or once was a Christian nation and that the legal and cultural preference for Chris­tianity should be retained, restored, and institutionalized. Among other things, Christian nationalism translates into support for Christian symbols in public venues and prayer in public schools, as well as laws conformed to Christian morals (or, at least, to the Christian nationalist conception of Christian morals).

The authors formulate a Christian nationalism index, based largely on a survey in which respondents were asked to agree or disagree, strongly or weakly, with six statements, such as “The federal government should declare the United States a Christian nation,” “The federal government should enforce strict separation of church and state,” “The federal government should allow the display of religious symbols in public spaces,” and “The success of the United States is part of God’s plan.” The ­Platonically ideal Christian nationalist would score a twenty-four, strongly agreeing with all six statements. The authors then divide the people surveyed into groups, depending on the strength of their opposition to or support of Christian nationalism: Rejecters are self-consciously opposed; Resisters and Accommodators are less firm, but lean “con” and “pro,” respectively; Ambassadors are evangelists for Christian nationalism.

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