Christian Nationalism, the idea that the U.S. was founded as a Christian nation, and that this heritage has somehow been stolen and must be restored, is central to the ideology of the Christian Right. Even though the claim is based on bogus history and wishful thinking, it remains a powerful narrative. The recent controversies surrounding Christian nationalist author David Barton's book The Jefferson Lies not withstanding, a recent survey by the First Amendment Center (a program of the Freedom Forum) suggests just how powerful the Christian Nation narrative may be.
Charles C. Haynes of the First Amendment Center writes:
A majority of the American people (51%) believes that the U.S. Constitution establishes a Christian nation, according to the State of the First Amendment survey released last month by the First Amendment Center.I am not aware of any polling or sociological survey data that would tend to confirm or cast doubt on these numbers. But whatever degree of truth there may be in them, they come from a credible source and are sufficiently concerning that I think we need to sit-up and take notice and begin to consider what might be done.
Because language about a Christian America has long been a staple of Religious Right rhetoric, it’s not surprising that acceptance of this patently false interpretation of the Constitution is strongest among evangelicals (71%) and conservatives (67%).
But even many non-evangelical Christians (47%) and liberals (33%) appear to believe the fiction of a constitutionally mandated Christian America is historical fact.
If it is true, as the First Amendment Center's survey suggests, that most Americans embrace the main assertion of Christian Nationalism, there is much to be done. For today, I will restate the premise of most of us who do research and writing in this area.
We have pretty much the same issue when it comes to Christian Nationalism as we do when addressing any dimension of the Religious Right: We have to at least consider the whole of the movement in order to best understand and figure out how to contend with any of its constituent parts or concerns. That does not mean that everyone needs to know everything there is to know about the Religious Right. I don't know anyone who does (certainly not me) and it would be a silly ambition in any case. But my point is that actual knowledge and expertise nevertheless, matters. What also matters is that we have a commonly accepted vocabulary so we can communicate about these things. It can be challenging, but it ain't rocket science, and I think we have made progress in this area (organized efforts to stop us not withstanding.) A close corollary is that unfair labels, terms of demonization -- and loaded language generally -- are obstacles to thoughtful consideration and conversation in this, and really any arena.
These are obvious prerequisites to dispassionate scholarship, journalism, and strategic conversation among affected and concerned constituencies.