Speaking Responsibly about Religion and Politics: A Review of Who’s Afraid of Christian Nationalism?


Living in an Orwellian world is dizzying. Fascist! Alt-Right! MAGA Extremist! Over the years, we’ve heard these terms shouted by the national media and leftwing activists to scare Americans over the prospect of democracy falling into the hands of people we’re meant to dislike. The newest term to enter this parade of rhetorical bludgeoning is “Christian Nationalist.”

What is a Christian Nationalist? Politico reporter Heidi Przybyla recently asserted that a Christian nationalist is anyone who believes that our rights and liberties “don’t come from Congress, they don’t come from the Supreme Court, they come from God.” She later apologized, half-heartedly: “Reporters have a responsibility to use words and convey meaning with precision, and am sorry I fell short of this in my appearance.”

But such rhetoric, such use of language, is deliberate. Przybyla intended to smear those deemed a threat to the progressive empire. These ambassadors and custodians of the progressive empire have focused on “Christians” and “Nationalists” as the enemy of the United States.

Thankfully, Professor Mark David Hall has written an important introduction and corrective to the scholars and reporters who irresponsibly brandish the term Christian Nationalism. As he notes in Who’s Afraid of Christian Nationalism?, part of the current media campaign to demonize Christian Nationalism comes from those “bent on making it seem illegitimate for Christians to bring their faith into the public square to advocate for conservative causes. Charges of ‘Christian nationalism’ often amount to little more than the idea that Christians are arguing for laws and policies disfavored by critics.”

Creating Deliberate Confusion

In 2016 and 2017, most Americans had never heard of the term “Alt-Right.” It was used extensively after the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville. The Alt-Right was branded, appropriately, white nationalist, sexist, and misogynistic. Now, however, Christian Nationalists are lumped in as being white nationalist, sexist, and misogynistic even though, as scholar Damon T. Berry notes, Christianity undercuts the Alt-Right “because [Christianity] strains the primary obligation and driving moral principle to protect the white race.”

Hall does an excellent job tearing down the polemical critics of Christian Nationalism and how they have deliberately conflated white nationalism and Alt-Right racism with Christianity for political purposes. As Hall demonstrates, scholars of the Alt-Right know that there is intense friction between the darker side of Alt-Right nationalism and conservative Christian politics. The Alt-Right hates Christianity, considering it to be an egalitarian and universalist religion, one that is a danger to the white race and the originator of liberalism and progressivism. Only a rejection of Christianity can save the white race, according to Alt-Right nationalists.

This, though, doesn’t prevent the critics of Christian Nationalism from intentionally tying Christian Nationalism with Alt-Right racial politics. The purpose, as Hall acknowledges, is to tar and smear Christians. After all, what is the first term in Christian Nationalism? It is Christian. The very construction of the term is meant to paint Christian and Christianity in a negative light.

Confronting the Propagandists

Hall does an admirable job confronting the critics of Christian Nationalism as propagandists and polemicists who cherry-pick data and deliberately craft questionnaires to reach predetermined conclusions. “Most of the books and articles touting the dangers of Christian nationalism,” Hall writes, “are written by polemicists who rely more on rhetoric than arguments.” In exposing this, he chronicles many lies and misrepresentations of conservative Christians in the media, literature, and even some academic studies on abortion, racism, and the Supreme Court.

It is not uncommon to hear, among some leftwing activists, that there is a Christian takeover of the government. They said this about George W. Bush as well. But as Hall shows, through actual Supreme Court cases like Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC (2012), Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer (2017), Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission (2018), and Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru (2020), even the liberal Supreme Court justices have sided with the religious liberty clause of the First Amendment. Does this make Beyer, Kagan, Sotomayor, and Ginsburg “Christian Nationalists” too because of their respective rulings in these cases?

The tactic of the propagandists is to use “flawed measures” to deliberately make a majority of Americans “supportive of [Christian Nationalism].” In other words, scare enough people into taking political action to make your side more powerful. When revealing all the flawed measures and metrics journalists and even some professors use to paint a harsh (and inaccurate) picture of Christian Nationalism, Hall then offers his own more measured metrics to show that Christian Nationalism is not a threat to America and the Church.

Who Are the Christian Nationalists?

Turning to those Christians in America who embrace the term, like Douglas Wilson, Andrew Torba, Andrew Isker, and Stephen Wolfe, Hall shows how even the most ardent and well-known proponents of Christian Nationalism within Christian circles in America aren’t proponents of a God-chosen United States destined to rule over the world. While the proponents of Christian Nationalism from within are at odds with the republican and limited government tradition of American conservatism and the Founding Fathers that many Christians in America adhere to, Hall addresses the uniqueness and oddities of this minority, largely Calvinist strand of political theology. The proponents of Christian Nationalism would assert humans are fallen and sinful, yet they claim that a fallen and sinful “Prince” should advocate laws for sweeping social transformation.

So who are the Christian Nationalists? Hall identifies them as an idiosyncratic brand of mostly Reformed (Calvinistic) Christians, small in number, but influential in the world of new media, advocating for some policies and principles that conservative Christians would agree with while breaking with conservative Christians in their advocacy for a Christian Prince to rule over the government. They go a step beyond the First Amendment’s protection of religious liberty to seek the acknowledgement of Christianity as a state religion. They advocate for a Christian state instead of a more Christian society through the conversion of the heart of citizens to the love of God and neighbor. They are stuck in the political theology of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, ignoring all the developments within political theology that have occurred in the past few centuries. Their inspiration is Geneva, not Philadelphia.

However, different political conclusions can be drawn from the Christian tradition, even in its Reformed variant. Indeed, it contributed to the republican system of government guided by checks and balances and the rule of law as envisioned by the Founding Fathers. “Given the Calvinist view of human nature,” Hall writes, “it should come as no surprise that America’s founders…favored republican forms of government characterized by constitutional limitations, separation of powers, and checks and balances. It never would have occurred to them to vest all civic power in a single individual, Christian or not.”

Ending With Hope

Who’s Afraid of Christian Nationalism? is an important and needed corrective to the irresponsible alarms that regularly sound in the establishment media and among online activists. Hall’s book is learned, scholarly, and reasoned—showing why Christian Nationalism isn’t the bogeyman its critics make it out to be. Christian theology, as historians, philosophers, and theologians know well, is about love and human flourishing. Hall reminds us that this religious tradition has much to contribute to political discussions, particularly in the United States: “The end of politics in this Christian understanding of humanity, then, is to ensure human flourishing for all citizens.”

This driving principle of love and human flourishing, rooted in the Christian understanding of humanity being made in the image of God, has spurred the great social and political reform movements in American history like abolitionism and civil rights. Christians were also at the forefront of establishing the liberties we often take for granted, like freedom of religion. “During the height of the First Great Awakening, Elisha Williams, a Congregationalist minister, Yale rector, member of the General Assembly, and judge on the Connecticut Superior Court, wrote an impassioned plea for religious liberty,” writes Hall, as he provides a history of Christian engagement in politics that spurred the advancement of liberty. Such examples reveal that bringing one’s faith into the public sphere does not automatically result in some kind of authoritarian bogeyman.

Hall also ends the book with words of encouragement for Christians worried about the current state of American society and unsure what they can do to bring positive change. Christians have done vital work throughout American history, it was particularly in times of crisis that Christians have came forward and endeavored to make the country a “more perfect union.” From education to abolitionism to civil rights, there is a history of Christian politics that have helped make the United States a kinder, gentler, nobler, and freer republic. This is also part of the history of Christianity and politics that is ignored by critics. The hope of redemption. The hope of freedom. The hope of love, justice, and human flourishing.

Image via Geograph


  1. Like many other isms, Christian Nationalism is not a monolith. It contains multiple views and levels of Christian control over the state and society. And so when Krause uses the following quote from Hall, who is the author of the book he is reviewing,

    –‘Hall identifies them as an idiosyncratic brand of mostly Reformed (Calvinistic) Christians, small in number, but influential in the world of new media, advocating for some policies and principles that conservative Christians would agree with while breaking with conservative Christians in their advocacy for a Christian Prince to rule over the government.’–

    he is mistaken. Christian Nationalism includes both groups. Just go to the American Reformer website and you can read Reformed Christians, like Timon Cline, whose preferred form of Christian Nationalism is a nation with a Christian prince. Or at the American Reformer website, one can read 6 articles written by Stephen Wolfe. One can also find a citing of Andrew Torba’s ‘Christian Nationalism: A Biblical Guide for Taking Dominion and Discipling Nations.’ Or one can also find an article that defends Wilson from criticisms by Kevin DeYoung. Note that Wolfe, Tobar, and Wilson were all listed as real Christian Nationalists.

    In reality, all of the different versions of Christian Nationalism advocate for a religious ethnocracy. As Jeff Halper from ICAHD has described ethnocracies, an ethnocracy is where the nation belongs more to some ethnic group(s) more than it belongs to the rest even in those nations where democratic processes are employed. Here, we should note that the mathematical definition of some is at least 1. And so what we see with any ethnocracy is an elimination of egalitarianism.

    Certainly not all Christian Nationalists are identical, but they do have one trait in common. They believe in an authoritarian ethnocratic rule over the nation. Though not all ethnocracies are religious, Christian Nationalism is. And though not all forms of Christian ethnocracies promote the same level of authoritarianism, because of the ethnic hierarchy that is implied in an ethnocracy, they all embrace a significant level of authoritarianism.

    What we are seeing in the Western world, including all of Europe and the U.S., is a rise in authoritarian ethnocratic movements, of which all of the forms of Christian Nationalism belong. Christian Nationalism opposes democracy with equality because it opposes the egalitarian pluralism that comes from secular liberalism with its egalitarian pluralism. And secular liberalism is part and parcel to Democracy with equality. Democracy and equality are inseparable and thus one can’t have Democracy without equality even though one can rely on some democratic procedures without equality. Democracy with equality and ethnocracy are two entirely different systems.

  2. What I’m seeing here is a conflation of Christianity in politics with nationalism that is “Christian”. Not all Christian movements in politics are nationalist. One can condemn Christian nationalism while pushing forward Christian values in the political sphere. The Christian Democratic Union is not a nationalist party.

    I will agree that common rhetoric tries to broaden the term to include ANY Christian objectives pushed into government as Christian nationalist. But my frustration with that rhetoric does not mean I side with the (Christian) nationalists.

    • jack,
      Christian Nationalism isn’t the issue, the issue is whether in pushing for Christian values, are we also pushing for Christian privilege. And we can tell if we are pushing for Christian privilege if what we are pushing for diminishes the equal rights of others.

      If we are pushing for Christian privilege, we are replacing equality with hierarchy and are thus also pushing for authoritarian rule, even if the level of authoritarianism is not detectable.


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