09 February 2023

The Christian nationalist mission field

A major new national survey conducted jointly by Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) and the Brookings Institution finds nearly two-thirds of white evangelical Protestants qualify as either Christian nationalism adherents (29%) or sympathizers (35%), and more than half of Republicans are classified as adherents (21%) or sympathizers (33%). This is a marked contrast from the 1 in 10 Americans as a whole who adhere to the tenets of Christian nationalism and the 19% who are sympathetic. [Source; link in original]

This survey, released to the public yesterday, contains many headline-worthy statistics that will disturb some and gratify others. Given that even the smaller segments among the Christian nationalist "adherents" and "sympathizers" include millions of people in the USA, the study and its methodology are worth careful examination. Is this an accurate picture, and, if so, what conclusions do we (speaking specifically to the Christians among us) draw for our own guidance?

Picking just a few cherries from this study: (quoting directly from the study, but emphases are mine)

  • A majority of Christian nationalism adherents (57%) disagree that white supremacy is a major problem in the United States today, and 7 out of 10 reject the idea that past discrimination contributes to present-day hurdles for Black Americans.
  • Seven in 10 (71%) Christian nationalism adherents embrace so-called “replacement theory,” the idea that immigrants are “invading our country and replacing our cultural and ethnic background.”
  • Nearly a quarter of Christian nationalism adherents (23%) believe the stereotype that Jewish people in America hold too many positions of power, compared to just 9% of Christian nationalism rejecters.
  • Two-thirds (67%) of Christian nationalism adherents say we should prevent people from some majority Muslim countries from entering the United States, compared to only 29% of all Americans.
  • Nearly 7 in 10 Christian nationalism adherents (69%) agree that the husband is the head of the household in “a truly Christian family,” and his wife submits to his leadership, compared to only 33% of all Americans. Around four out of ten Americans (38%) believe that “society as a whole has become too soft and feminine,” while 59% disagree. At least six in ten Christian nationalism sympathizers (60%) and adherents (66%) agree with this statement.
  • Americans under age 50 are approximately twice as likely as older Americans to be Christian nationalism skeptics or rejecters.
  • Christian nationalism adherents overwhelmingly express a preference to live in a primarily Christian nation (77%, including 59% who believe this strongly). This preference to live in a predominately Christian nation is only shared by a quarter of Americans (27%).
  • A unique embedded survey experiment revealed an estimated 17% of Americans agree with the experimental statement that “the United States is a white Christian nation, and I am willing to fight to keep it that way.” [The study explains the methodology behind "experimental statements.]
  • There is a strong positive correlation between Christian nationalism and QAnon beliefs, particularly among white Americans.
  • About two-thirds of Christian nationalism adherents (65%) and sympathizers (65%) agree that biblical obligations are more about charitable acts by individuals, compared to 57% of skeptics and 39% of rejecters who agree. Christian nationalism rejecters are the only group in which a majority (61%) believe the biblical injunctions refer primarily to the task of creating a just society.

Among all the assertions and beliefs assessed by this study, there may be one glaring omission. I couldn't find any questions relating to respondents' attitudes toward what evangelical Christians traditionally call "missions"—that is, cross-cultural evangelism. I would love to know whether Christian nationalist adherents and sympathizers are in favor of missions. If so, do they see any inconsistencies between advancing a faith with universal appeal and universal application, on the one hand, and believing in a special status for the USA, or for a specific race, on the other? 

And, if as a result of our missions, converts want to come to the USA to experience the fellowship claimed by the mission senders, would we want our immigration system to welcome them? (And if Americans were converted by overseas-based missions, would we think less of them if they emigrated to those countries?)

On Twitter, there are many responses to this survey along these lines: "We get it, you’re mad Christians believe Christian things." (Quoting from a response to a New Evangelicals post on this study.) This isn't surprising: for millions of the people categorized by this survey as adherents and sympathizers, this set of beliefs isn't "Christian nationalism"; for them, it's normative Christianity.

I suggest we expand our understanding of Christian missions. These people are a mission field. However, not everyone might be ready to enter this field, since other surveys have documented the growth of "exvangelicals" and "nones" who have abandoned evangelical Christianity—or the faith altogether—as a result of these anti-evangelistic definitions of "normal." Some of them may still need healing from the abuse they experienced in those settings, before venturing back there.

Missiologists would do well to study, or continue studying, the social, economic, political, and spiritual forces that lead some of us to obscure the Gospel of love, grace, and freedom, in order to advance one form or another of bondage. Those who are called to this mission field need to act with the same positive love, grace, and cultural intelligence that we expect from the best of our more traditionally-defined missionaries.

If you feel that I'm categorizing you, fairly or unfairly, as being part of this mission field, you're welcome to join this conversation....

Sampling the study's news coverage and commentary:

The Washington Post
The Guardian

Baptist News Global
A virtual roundtable on the threat of Christian nationalism
Religion News Service: What is Black History Month in a White Christian Nation?

Irina Guzova. Screenshot from source.
Consider these organizations to support earthquake relief in Turkey and Syria. Within the peace church family, consider supporting Mennonite Central Committee.

Terry Mattingly at GetReligion: Why is biased news the new reality?

Mondoweiss: More acknowledgments that the Israeli-Palestinian "two-state solution" is cracking.

Becky Ankeny: What do Jacob and Esau teach us about conflict?

Advice from Wess Daniels about where to find definitions of Quaker terms.

In Yakutsk: Irina Guzova, defying terminal cancer, continues cooking free food for hungry people.

One of my friends just lost his mother to cancer. I couldn't help thinking of this old song, presented here by Hans Theesink and friends at a concert in Vienna, 2018:

Here's another performance of the song, one that might be familiar to many of us. Mavis Staples has said that this was the first song that her father Pops Staples (to Johnny Cash's right on screen) taught his family, the Staple Singers.

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