A year ago at the Capitol riots on January 6, 2021, the world witnessed one way in which Christian nationalism invaded American democracy. We have all seen photos and footage of mob riots by Americans waving Christian flags, wearing Christian clothes, saying Christian prayers. As some isolated and radicalized religious conservatives increasingly react to their loss of power, their threat of political violence is real. But that’s not the only way Christian nationalism endangers our democracy.
The reality is, the nationalist ideology of Christianity – especially when it is held by white Americans – is fundamentally anti-democratic because its goal is not “government of the people.” , of the people and for the people”. Its goal is power. In particular, power goes to “true Americans like us,” Christians in the quasi-national sense, who belong—the worthy. Given this, the most striking threat that white Christian nationalism poses to democracy is that it seeks to undermine the very foundation of democracy: the vote.
We could see this connection long before the 2020 presidential election or recent efforts to limit voter access around the country. As historian Anthea Butler recounts, at a conference in 1980, Paul Weyrich, co-founder of the Moral Majority Foundation, talked about electoral strategy with Christian far-right leaders including Tim LaHaye, Phyllis Schlafly, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell Sr. and then-presidential candidate Ronald Reagan. .
Weyrich famously explained:
“Many of our Christians have what I call goo-goo syndrome. Good government. They want people to vote. I don’t want people to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of the people. They have never been since the beginning of our country and they are not now. In fact, our leverage in elections frankly increases as the voting population goes down. “
In Weyrich’s words, the goal of these Christian far-right leaders is not more Americans exercising their democratic rights. The goal is “leverage” and with it comes victory. Over the next several decades, Weyrich and other organizations he co-founded, such as the American Legislative Exchange Council, tirelessly pushed for legislation restricting voter access, guided by a belief believes that voting must be controlled, lest the wrong people decide the outcome.
In a recent study I conducted with co-authors Andrew Whitehead and Josh Grubbs, we documented this strong link between Christian nationalist ideology and the desire to limit outreach. voters’ proximity. We surveyed Americans just before the November 2020 election and thus before Donald Trump’s “Big Lie” began to dominate the narrative on the right. We use a scale to measure Christian nationalism that includes questions about the extent to which Americans think the government should declare the United States a Christian nation, that America’s success part of God’s plan and other perspectives.
Even after we take into account political partisanship, ideological conservatism, and a host of other sociological and religious features, the nationalist ideology of Christianity is the predictor of the top guess that Americans felt we made voting “too easy”.
You might ask, “Who exactly are voting too easy?” The obvious answer is voter fraud — the pets, dead, and undocumented immigrants Trump warned about in the spring of 2020. This myth of widespread voter fraud is already there. decades and has been exposed many times. Not surprisingly, however, we also found that Christian nationalism was the top predictor of Americans believing that “voter fraud in the presidential elections is more and more widespread”. And it must be repeated: Americans who affirm Christian nationalism felt the same way before the 2020 presidential election.
But other evidence suggests that Christian nationalism is not just hoping to eliminate voter fraud. For adults who believe that America should be a “Christian country,” their understanding of who should vote is even narrower. For example, we asked Americans whether they support a policy that requires everyone to pass a basic citizenship test to vote or a law that disqualifies certain criminal offenses throughout the year. life. These questions relate to the arbitrary Jim Crow restrictions used by white Southerners before the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Once again, Christian nationalism was the leading predictor. that Americans would like both of these constraints.
As Weyrich explained in 1980, part of the reason for this is electoral leverage. Christian nationalists are likely to argue that those excluded by the citizenship tests and life-long felony dispossessions (younger Americans and former convicts are disproportionate blacks) would be a political threat, not an ally.
However, another reason also has to do with the general view of white Christian nationalists. In the data we collected in August 2021, we asked Americans to indicate whether they felt voting was a right or a privilege. Although the constitutional language has repeatedly stated that voting is a citizen’s right, Americans still debate the issue. The more Americans accept Christian nationalism, the more likely they are to see voting as a privilege (something that can be extended or taken away) rather than a right (something that cannot be violated). Indeed, in the final stages of Christian nationalism, the majority held this view.
Evidence other than voter accessibility suggests that Christian nationalism leads Americans to support institutional arrangements that maintain their political power. In the same October 2020 survey that we used for previous research, we found that the more affirmatively Christian nationalists are in white Americans, the more likely they are to affirm Christian nationalism. They likely reject popular vote as a means of choosing a president, support the Electoral College, and disagree that gerrymandering needs to be addressed to ensure fairer parliamentary elections. Why? Almost certainly because these agreements are now giving conservative, rural, white Americans an electoral advantage even if they are a minority. Again, the goal is power, not equity or democracy.
As scholars of right-wing political movements point out, democracy is slowly eroding under some ideological guise, one that worries populists with rhetoric threaten cultural decline and justify anti-democratic tactics to “save” or “restore” the nation – to make it great again. In the United States, white Christian nationalism is the shell of that ideology. In the minds of white Americans, who believe that America should be for “Christians like us,” growing ethnic and religious diversity is a threat that needs to be addressed. defeated to God to “give you grace.”
Moreover, American Christian nationalists thought voter fraud was rampant before November 2020. Today, after Trump’s “Big Lie” about a stolen election, what more than 80% of the most fervent followers of Christian nationalism still believe. , electoral integrity is considered hopelessly compromised. They therefore see limiting voter access to those who prove deserving, and maintaining the institutional advantages provided by the Electoral College and command, as necessary strategies to maintain power and prevent what they see as their own impending crackdown under the Democratic administration.
The threat of Christian nationalist violence like the one we saw on January 6 is real. However, because such threats are so clear and shocking, and the role Christian nationalism plays on them so obvious, they make it all the more challenging to highlight them. although Republican leaders are certainly trying, the same is true.) By contrast, the threat of Christian nationalism as an ideological cover for voter suppression is perhaps would be more destructive because its influence is more subtle and its effect (election results) more consequential. Nationalists like Trump will no longer need to campaign for violent Christian nationalism after electoral defeat when they have ensured that they will never lose in the first place.
Samuel L. Perry is an associate professor of sociology at the University of Oklahoma. He is the author of two books on Christian nationalism, including the award-winning book “Bringing America Back to God: Christian Nationalism in America” (with Andrew L. Whitehead) and to publish “The Flag and the Cross: White Christian Nationalism and the Threat to American Democracy” (with Philip Gorski). The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect the views of the Religious News Service.
This article is part of Going Ahead which is a collaborative effort between the Religious News Service and the Religious Data Archives Association made possible through the support of the John Templeton Foundation. See other articles Before other trends here.
https://www.sltrib.com/religion/2022/01/06/commentary-even-after/ Even after the Capitol riots, violence is not the only way Christian nationalism endangers democracy.