The Founding Fathers of the United States knew firsthand the dangers of religious belief dominating governmental doctrine. American colonists fled Europe to escape religious persecution, and religious freedom was enshrined as a constitutionally protected right. Of course, religious minorities, especially Muslims and atheists, have still faced discrimination in the United States. However, the goal of true religious freedom set forth by our founders is certainly worth pursuing, as freedom of thought is an integral principle of a democracy.
An increasingly significant number of Americans today seem to either have forgotten or refuse to accept this fact. According to 2022 data from Pew Research Center, a majority of Americans believe that the founders intended for the United States to be a Christian nation, and perhaps more alarmingly, nearly half believe it shouldbe. Due to its increasing popularity, Christian nationalism currently presents possibly the largest threat to our democracy, and politicians ought to make a stronger effort in rejecting it. Instead, conservative politicians pander to these groups, presumably because they now make up a notable share of the Republican base.
Since the 1970s, evangelical Christians have been gaining political power. Televangelist Jerry Falwell was instrumental in drumming up evangelical support for Ronald Reagan, and the group has consistently voted Republican since. Evangelicals have been most vocal in their support for Christian nationalism, with 81% of white evangelicals arguing that the United States should be a Christian nation. The influence of evangelicals among conservatives is illuminated both through the selection of evangelical Christian Mike Pence as Donald Trump’s running mate and in the evangelical-backed policy shifts enacted by Trump during his presidency. The most significant of these changes has been the overturning of Roe v. Wade, a move that evangelicals fought hard for and which was accomplished after Trump appointed three Supreme Court justices during his presidency. The decision was authored by five conservative Christians who applied a Christian doctrinal view in their determination of what constitutes a “human person.” It is a dangerous practice to apply a religious perspective to an issue that has such tangible consequences in people’s lives. People affected by the overturning of Roe v. Wade are placed under the influence of a religious moral perspective that they may disagree with.
Christian nationalists now seem intent on fighting for the ideal of a white Christian nation, and their increasing extremism poses substantial threats to our democracy. For example, in the 2017 Charlottesville riots, white supremacists chanted “Jews will not replace us,” an idea that has been sold to and bought by conservative Christians as the ‘great replacement’ theory. The great replacement theory is a conspiracy theory that posits that the United States is being attacked in a plot by the Jewish elite and leftists in an effort to take the country from white Americans by replacing them with minorities. The census projects that the United States will “become minority white in 2045,” though there is no evidence to suggest that this is a result of any coordinated effort by elites in order to dominate white Christian Americans. Given that half of conservative white people believe that “being a Christian is very important to being truly American,” this frighteningly widespread belief threatens the principle of religious freedom in the United States. This ideology was not only cited by the Buffalo shooter as a justification for his racist massacre but also supported by figures such as Tucker Carlson, Rep. Lauren Boebert, Rep. Marjorie Taylor-Greene and Gov. Greg Abbott.
The anti-democratic violence inherent to the Christian nationalist movement was best displayed at the Jan. 6 insurrection, where imagery and rhetoric were rife with Christian nationalism, such as banners reading “Jesus is my savior, Trump is my president.” The comparison between Trump and Jesus is quite striking; perhaps Christian nationalists see Trump as a God-like leader with the capacity to run the country in accordance with their religious principles. An authoritarian religious government would make the United States not unlike the Taliban controlled Afghanistan, different only in that it is governed with Christian law instead of an Islamic one.
Many Christian nationalists are now rejecting the ideals of democracy or religious freedom, and their increasing numbers and capacity for violence presents a grave threat to our country. They envision themselves as being involved in a war of good vs. evil, with the ‘good’ being a white Christian nation. It is not absurd to worry about the threat of this war actualizing, as conservative media and politicians continue to fan its flames.