We all are familiar with the threat to American democracy from Donald Trump and his Christian Nationalist followers. Trump has converted the GOP into a party that’s centered around Christian Nationalism.
Many Christian Nationalists are Republican, and so it’s easy to think that we can defeat Christian Nationalism by defeating the Republican Party.
This week, however, America received a reminder that Christian Nationalism has a grip on the Democratic Party as well.
You may have heard that Joe Biden gave a speech this week in which he warned that the Trump wing of the Republican Party is a danger to democracy. What you may not have heard, and may not have noticed if you didn’t listen to the speech yourself, is that even while Biden condemned the ideological extremism of the Trump Republicans, he embraced the Christian Nationalism that motivates that extremism.
“I ran for President because I believed we were in a battle for the soul of this nation. I still believe that to be true. I believe the soul is the breath, the life, and the essence of who we are. The soul is what makes us us. The soul of America is defined by the sacred proposition that all are created equal in the image of god.”
Then, Biden ended the speech with a Christian Nationalist religious invocation:
“The greatest nation on the face of the Earth. We just need to remember who we are. We are the United States of America, the United States of America, and may god protect our nation, and may god protect all those who stand watch over our democracy. god bless you all.”
The concept of the United States as a Christian nation created and protected by the Christian god, defined by sacred beliefs in religious notions such as souls and divine creation of humanity, is straight Christian Nationalism.
It is not necessary for politicians to end every speech with a Christian religious blessing. Joe Biden could end his speeches by saying something such as “I believe in you, and I believe in America.”
Remember that every word of Biden’s speech was written ahead of time, not by Joe Biden alone, but by a team of speechwriters. That team of speechwriters argued over every word, which was put in there with a purpose.
The purpose of the Christian Nationalism language in Joe Biden’s speech was to send a message to Christian Nationalists who currently support Donald Trump. The message was this: Joe Biden and his Democratic followers won’t do anything to end Christian privilege in America. Under Biden, Christians will continue to enjoy special rights that are denied to members of other religions and to people who are not religious.
Biden’s speech promises an implicit deal with Republican Christian Nationalists. The deal is that Christian Nationalists can keep their special access to power, can keep their special rights, and can keep denying the equal rights of non-Christian Americans. The only thing Christian Nationalists have to do, Biden’s tone suggests, is not to be so overtly fascist about it, to not be so flamboyantly cruel about it, to not explicitly call for the end of democracy.
So What Do We Do About It?
There was a time when non-Christian Americans would accept such treatment as a part of the way things are. We thought our best option was not to complain, not to be disagreeable.
After the Trump years of Christian Nationalism violently attacking American democracy with the support of the White House, after the Christian Nationalist Supreme Court's attacks against separation of church and state in the summer of 2022, we can't continue the old tactic of standing silently by and hoping that we won't be targeted if we remain in the shadows. That tactic didn't work.
It's time for non-Christian Americans to demand the respect that we deserve. Something around 40% of Americans are now non-Christians, and our portion of the American population grows larger every year. It's because Christianity is in decline that Christian extremists are lashing out, desperate to preserve their privilege.
The days of Christian normativity are over. Christianity is still the bully on the block, but Christians can no longer plausibly claim to be the only show in town.
Voting for a Republican is not a reasonable option. The GOP has become dominated by Christian Nationalists so extreme that their politics are difficult to distinguish from those of Adolf Hitler.
If Joe Biden is going to keep on publicly performing the rituals of Christian Nationalism, then non-Christians, and Christians who value the separation of church and state, need to support a Democratic challenger who is willing to commit to keeping religious belief separate from government service.
Without our support, Joe Biden cannot win the Democratic nomination in 2024.
If he's not willing to change his ways, we need to change our nominee.
This post is modified from an excerpt from the transcript of the latest episode of the podcast Stop Christian Nationalism.