What is Christian Nationalism?
As told by my personal journey out of it.
Commentary by Cassy Benfield | FāVS News
“Christian nationalism [is an] ideology that seeks to create or maintain a legal fusion of Christian religion with a nation’s character. Advocates of Christian nationalism consider their view of Christianity to be an integral part of their country’s identity and want the government to promote — or even enforce — the religion’s position within it.” — Britannica
In light of Mayor Nadine Woodward attending a Sean Feucht “Let Us Worship” rally and being seen on stage with Matt Shea, an alleged domestic terrorist, I wanted to define the term Christian nationalism by way of my personal testimony.
This is a topic I’ve been thinking about for years.
A Christian Nationalist Goes to Romania
It began when I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Romania from 2004 to 2006. The father of the missionary family I lived near — and whose Baptist church I joined — brought to my attention that a Christianity strongly aligned with politics may not be of God.
I remember thinking, what? How can that be? I was so proud of being an American who could vote my Christian values across the sea for the presidential election.
That year, I self-righteously voted for George W. Bush, who was going to put anti-abortion justices on the Supreme Court. How could any Christian conclude that that wasn’t a Christian’s responsibility? And one high up in their priorities?
The Move to Spokane
Then, I moved back to the states, packed up my stuff in California and relocated to Spokane. That was near the season of Barak Obama’s election. I remember talk show hosts on the right going crazy against him. Even where I worked became a place where being Christian was defined as being Republican. I also heard at my work more than once, “Obama is the antichrist.”
Ironically, this language was an echo of what I used to say about Bill Clinton. Actually, on that move to Washington, I told those exact words to my dad. In response, he had to get out of the car before he said something in anger. After he calmed down he landed on “Clinton is not the antichrist.”
What about ‘Honor the King?’
Some years passed, and I read in my Bible, clear as day, “Honor the King.” (1 Peter 2:17) It stopped me in my tracks. If I took the Bible seriously, which I did, then those words shook my self-righteous world of Christian nationalism, although I didn’t define it that way then.
I began to question the stories of my country’s beginning as Christian.
I asked myself, what about the Revolutionary War that “founded” our nation? That was the exact opposite of that verse. It was literally a rebellion against a king for taxes and not for religious freedom. And I thought, rebellion against authority is a big no-no throughout Scripture. What’s going on here?
Slowly I began to deconstruct from Christian nationalism, without really knowing that was the term for what I had been taught and believed.
Baby Steps Out
After I married, my husband, a librarian, saw the book “Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction” by John Fea, and he checked it out for me. He knew my burden and the tension between my faith and the appropriate belief of the role of politics with biblical faith. He simply said, “I thought you might like this.”
I began to read this credentialed, Christian historian explain the history of my country in a more nuanced way. In doing so, Fea helped free me from the bondage of thinking, to be a good Christian, I can only vote Republican.
He also freed me from the myth that most, if not all, the Founding Fathers practiced Christianity. Instead, I learned it was markedly different than how that was presented to me over the pulpits. I realized I had been spoon-fed a history on par with David Barton’s Wallbuilders’ teachings.
I had been taught a “historical” account of America’s founding that was exaggerated and even contained outright lies.
A Damascus Road Moment
Then, an event rocked my world and was my final push out of Christian nationalism: Donald Trump became the Republican nominee in 2016.
After I heard that on the news, I remember sitting in a rocking chair at home thinking, he’s a cartoon character! More than that, as I learned in time, he’s a sexual predator, a provocateur of violence, a liar and just a very unkind person.
This is when my deconstruction took its hardest journey. I opted out of the Republican Party and out of step with my tribe of Evangelicalism.
I even voted for Hillary Clinton.
All those years of training in Christian nationalism even provoked a gut reaction that I was doing the wrong thing because of her abortion-rights stance. After all, that issue — I contend more than any other — was what all good Christians vote on and is why real Christians vote Republican.
Instead, all I kept thinking was I cannot vote for this man. I have to show the world with my vote for Clinton.
From that day forward, the Republican Party and a large portion of Evangelical Christianity has blown up into a beast of our own making, largely because it is built on a foundation of historical myths.
And our idol of America’s politics, of America’s greatness, of America’s exceptionalism and of America’s “Christian” founding is eating us alive and doing so in a way that should give all of us pause.
To learn more, the Holy Post Podcast recently released this 10-minute video that explains Christian nationalism. They show it in the context of being a type of Prosperity Gospel, using, of all things, a pudding cup.
The views expressed in this opinion column are those of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the views of FāVS News. FāVS News values diverse perspectives and thoughtful analysis on matters of faith and spirituality.
Cassy (pronounced like Cassie but spelled with a ‘y’) Benefield is a wife and mother, a writer and photographer and a huge fan of non-fiction. She has traveled all her life, first as an Army brat. She is a returned Peace Corps volunteer (2004-2006) to Romania where she mainly taught Conversational English. She received her bachelor’s in journalism from Cal Poly Technical University in San Luis Obispo, California. She finds much comfort in her Savior, Jesus Christ, and considers herself a religion nerd who is prone to buy more books, on nearly any topic, than she is ever able to read. She is the associate editor of FāVS.News.