Roots of Christian Nationalism

Scott Douglas Jacobsen
4 min readFeb 23, 2024

Sometimes, the shortest interviews are the better ones. I came across one in Yale News with David Gorski.

The January 6 Insurrection, according to Professor Philip Gorski, was a symbolic representation of White Nationalism. In the interview, he, recently, published the book entitled The Flag and the Cross: White Christian Nationalism and the Threat to American Democracy.

When asked in this 2022 interview about Christian Nationalism, Gorski, said, “First, it is an ideology based on a story about America that’s developed over three centuries. It reveres the myth that the country was founded as a Christian nation by white Christians and that its laws and institutions are based on Protestant Christianity. White Christian nationalists believe that the country is divinely favored and has been given the mission to spread religion, freedom, and civilization.”

Those blessed by God to spread the Good News. The threat, from this perspective, becomes individuals who cannot be identified as white, as Christian, and as non-immigrants.

In a sense, the national soul of America becomes impure and polluted in this moral and theological framework. Given its theological orientation, God’s Law and Will are being poisoned. Why wouldn’t they be against non-white immigration who are non-Christians? They are philosophically consistent in this view. That’s respectable. As a simple matter of fact, most others disagree with them.

“By digging into the historical source materials, you can see this perspective taking shape in the 1690s, which is the title of one of the book’s chapters. In a way, you can trace it back even further,” Gorski explained, “because this idea of a white Christian nation does have roots in a certain understanding of the Bible that weaves three old stories into a new story.”

I have been told this is a form of selective literalism. These have practical effects on actions in the world. God promised a special land, a promised land for the Israelites. The problem was a discovery of the Amalekites in the land. Early settlers found themselves in this biblical narrative as a chosen people.

“North America was the new Promised Land. The Native Americans were the new Amalekites and the Puritans felt entitled to take their land. Another strand is the End Times story, which today is viewed as the Second Coming of Jesus in the most literal sense. It’s a belief that Jesus is going to come down to Earth for a final showdown between good and evil. And the Christians in America will be on the side of good,” Gorski explained.

The sense of nationalism and the interpretation of chosen people in Christian formulate the idea extant over centuries of this idea of a white, Christian, national geographic bounded structure guided by God’s Law. The peculariarity, according to Gorski, of whiteness — the sociological race concept — arose as a “justification for slavery.”

Gorski continued, “The traditional justification for slavery, theologically speaking, had been that heathens and captives of war could be enslaved. Initially, this is how slavery in America was justified, but a couple of generations later, the justification didn’t really work. You can’t argue that a young boy of African descent born in the Virginia Colony in 1690 was a captive of war. His mother might have converted to Christianity, in which case he’s not a ‘heathen.’”

This is so tragic. The new biblical justification for this racism became the story of Ham seeing his father, Noah, drunk and naked. God gave the mark not to Ham but Canaan, Ham’s son, and then condemned the children to slavery. This is one of the justifications for slacery of Africans.

Gorski expounded on the timeline in a merger in 1690. “The three biblical stories merge in 1690. You can see this very clearly in what is still one of the authoritative histories of early New England, which was written by Cotton Mather III from the great family of Boston preachers. Once this script is in place, it gets revised as time passes. Maybe the Promised Land is out West. Maybe the Native Americans are no longer the enemy, but it’s immigrants from the southern border who represent the threat.”

So, this story, as you can see, goes through evolutions as to the source of the problem or threat to Christian national identity. The political mentality focuses on the idea of a libertarian sense of social freedom. Gorski takes this as an idea of white men on top and everyone below them.

“You can really see this in the Capitol insurrection. It occurred against the background of the Black Lives Matter movement and nationwide calls for racial justice, which white Christian nationalists view as a threat to the racial order. It offends their notion of freedom and liberty,” Gorski explained, “It leads to guys showing up to the Capitol with cattle prods and bear spray ready to beat up police officers in the name of their understanding of patriotism. In the book, we call it a Holy Trinity of freedom, order, and violence.”

Gorski touched briefly on the delusions of some of the populations, not in the idea of a transcendent father figure and real estate agent. More in the idea of the Christian supporters of Trump believer Trump is a devout Christian, and a good one. They see Christianity as under attack. They like Trump because they see him as fighting for the faith.

Christians should have a right to believe and practice their faith. Democratic values and countries provide freedoms for so many religious people. Democracy brought religious freedom to different groups of Christians. Gorski sees the issue as the hard right sociopolitical turn of this population.

Emphasizing, “White Christian nationalism is a dangerous threat because it’s incredibly well-organized and powerful. There’s absolutely nothing like it on the left. The white Christian nationalists boast local and national networks that can raise money and to turn people out to the polls and to school board meetings or protests. They can effectively communicate messages and support policies that are out of step with liberal democracy, such as the coordinated attack on voting rights.”

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Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight Publishing. Jacobsen supports science and human rights. Website: www.in-sightpublishing.com