In the immediate aftermath of the Jan. 6 insurrection, there was a tremendous surge of interest in Christian nationalism. Christian displays were common in the crowd at the Capitol. Rioters and protesters carried Christian flags, Christian banners and Bibles. They prayed openly, and a Dispatch reporter in the crowd told me that in the late afternoon Christian worship music was blaring from loudspeakers. I started to hear questions I’d never heard before: What is Christian nationalism and how is it different from patriotism?
I’ve long thought that the best single answer to that question comes from a church history professor at Baylor named Thomas Kidd. In the days before Jan. 6, when apocalyptic Christian rhetoric about the 2020 election was building to a fever pitch, Kidd distinguished between intellectual or theological Christian nationalism and emotional Christian nationalism.
The intellectual definition is contentious. There are differences, for example, among Catholic integralism, which specifically seeks to “integrate” Catholic religious authority with the state; Protestant theonomy, which “believes that civil law should follow the example of Israel’s civil and judicial laws under the Mosaic covenant”; and Pentecostalism’s Seven Mountain Mandate, which seeks to place every key political and cultural institution in the United States under Christian control.
But walk into Christian MAGA America and mention any one of those terms, and you’re likely to be greeted with a blank look. “Actual Christian nationalism,” Kidd argues, “is more a visceral reaction than a rationally chosen stance.” He’s right. Essays and books about philosophy and theology are important for determining the ultimate health of the church, but on the ground or in the pews? They’re much less important than emotion, prophecy and spiritualism. [Continue reading…]