I recently read one of the most dangerous opinion pieces that tried to conflate secularism with socialism in a clear attempt to fear-monger about the Left while peddling Christian nationalism ("Community Voices: Americans must wake up," May 14).
By arguing that Christians need to rise up and save America from socialism through acts of “national confession and repentance,” John Pryor is coming dangerously close to sounding like he is advocating for the establishment of a national religion, which is antithetical to the Establishment Clause in the First Amendment that establishes the separation between church and state.
As constitutional lawyer Andrew L. Seidel (2019) points out, not only is the idea that America is a Christian nation founded on Judeo-Christian principles a myth, but the term “Judeo-Christian” is an oxymoron created to dispel perceptions of anti-Semitism after World War II and used almost exclusively by conservative Christians to assert both their socio-political and religious dominance. In fact, many other Christian nationalist symbols and narratives became prominent after World War II during the 1950s as a reaction to national fears about atheistic communism.
Sociologists Andrew L. Whitehead and Samuel L. Perry (2020) describe Christian nationalism as a “cultural framework — a collection of myths, traditions, symbols, narratives, and value systems — that idealizes and advocates a fusion of Christianity with American civic life” (10). They are quick to point out though that the “Christianity” of Christian nationalism should not be misrepresented to mean all expressions of Christian theology or, as it often is in the media, conflated with “evangelicalism” or “white conservative Protestantism;” however, they acknowledge that white conservative Protestant evangelicals are statistically more likely to hold Christian nationalist views.
Christian nationalism is more than just about religion because “it is as ethnic and political as it is religious,” which means that the Christianity of Christian nationalism also holds “… assumptions of nativism, white supremacy, patriarchy, and heteronormativity, along with divine sanction for authoritarian control and militarism” (10).
We see these assumptions manifest regularly in conservative talking points and GOP policies regarding things like immigration, LGBTQ+ and gender issues, and racial injustice in this country. This is because “Americans who embrace Christian nationalism are much more likely to create, support, and maintain symbolic and social boundaries that exclude non-Christians from full inclusion into American civic life” (Whitehead and Perry 2020:161).
Pryor embodies this exclusion in his own piece by asserting the dominance of Christians as being the rightful and natural leaders of our local community, as well as the nation, with no regard for the rights and needs of our fellow neighbors and citizens of different faiths.
I suppose the irony of Pryor’s piece, and his advocacy for Christian nationalism, is that he is critical of the Left for using what he feels is authoritarian tactics to achieve their socio-political/economic and ideological goals, yet he essentially supports the same tactics as long as it is to maintain a system that benefits himself and others like him while silencing or erasing the people, lifestyles, and ways of thinking that threaten his position and privilege at the top of the social hierarchy.
The Framers did not construct our founding documents based on dogmatic Christianity, but rather on the principles of Ancient Greek and Enlightenment Age thinkers, such as Aristotle, Locke, and Rousseau, who wrote about human nature, freedom, equality, natural rights, and many more concepts seen in our Constitution and Bill of Rights.
As both an Episcopalian and a sociologist, I adamantly reject the cultural framework of Christian nationalism because it propagates an ideological narrative and agenda that reinforces a social hierarchy that oppresses others and undermines democratic values. In fact, rejecting Christian nationalism allows me to better embody the teachings of my faith, such as neighborly love, compassion, humility and forgiveness, in ways that promote respect and appreciation for other faiths and ways of life.
This allows me to engage in civil discourse and disagreements, to see and embrace alternative viewpoints, and most importantly to compromise. Pryor is right that Americans need to wake up; however, what they need to wake up to is the dangers of Christian nationalism to our democracy and its toxic role in our current political divisiveness.
Jacob Richardson is a graduating sociology student from California State University, Bakersfield.