Christian nationalism is a hot topic these days. According to NPR, researchers recently found that more than half of Republicans believe the country should be a strictly Christian nation, either adhering to the ideals of Christian nationalism (21%) or sympathizing with those views (33%).
Several politicians are also on board. South Dakota Representative Brandon Prichard posted on X the following on October 3, 2023: “I will not listen to a godless out-of-state interest group like @FFRF! I’ll say it again. Christ is King and Lord. Let’s dedicate our government to Him, His moral teachings, and His mercy. All God’s followers say Amen.”
Additionally, newly elected House Speaker Mike Johnson has three flags hanging outside his district office in Washington: the American flag, the Louisiana state flag, and one representing a movement that wants to turn the United States into a religious Christian nation.
CHRISTIAN NATIONALISM DEFINED
Christian nationalism, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica, is ideology that seeks to create or maintain a legal fusion of Christian religion with a nation’s character. Advocates of Christian nationalism consider their view of Christianity to be an integral part of their country’s identity and want the government to promote—or even enforce—the religion’s position within it.
WHAT HISTORY TEACHES US ABOUT CHRISTIAN NATIONALISM
Turns out that North America has been there, done that. I have been researching the Great Puritan Migration beginning in 1630 for my next novel, as my ancestors were part of the swarm of immigrants seeking to build a Utopian society. They envisioned a place where all could be knit together in community as one, practicing a true, pure religion. The rich and poor would be in balance; the rich and mighty would not take advantage of the poor and despised while the latter would not rebel.
Upon reaching the New World from England they proceeded to build a society where the function of government was to preserve the religious establishment (i.e.: church and state were not separate). Massachusetts Bay Colony’s legal structure was designed to assure that the community keep the covenant— the spiritual health and welfare of the general population demanded religious conformity. Too much descent was not tolerated.
Sounds great. We all sing Kumbaya and live happily ever after.
However, problems developed. Keeping the general population’s spiritual health intact through religious conformity was like herding cats.
During the February 29, 1648, session of the Salem Court, the following cases were adjudicated:
- A Gloucester man was fined for cursing “There are the brethren, the divil (sic) scald them.”
- Four servants were fined for breaking the Sabbath by hunting and killing a raccoon close to the church meeting house and disrupting the congregation.
- A Marblehead man was fined for sailing his boat loaded with hay on the Lord’s Day when people were going to service.
- Two men were fined for spending time being absent on the Lord’s Day, preferring to spend their time drinking, cursing, and swearing.
Among other cases, two devout Puritans were banished from the colony. Anne Hutchison, a steadfast, learned woman absolutely believed in God. However, she felt that heaven was open to those who worshipped God through a personal connection. Church intervention was not needed. Surprise! Surprise! The male clergy panicked, sending her packing.
Roger Williams, a devout preacher, believed that the English King had no right to give away Indian land and that it should be purchased from them. Furthermore, he touted the separation of church and state. For that, he was kicked out of the colony, later founding Rhode Island.
When anabaptists showed up, the Puritans were alarmed. Anabaptists are Protestants (believers in the teachings of Jesus). However, they were considered a fringe, radical movement. From this group of believers sprang the modern Baptists, Mennonites, and Quakers.
The Puritans were spooked by the Quakers. Two Quaker women appeared in the colony in 1656. They believed in the equality of men and women and that women had a right to preach. To jail they went. Several more Quakers were arrested the minute they arrived in Boston Harbor.
New laws were passed with severe penalties for Quakers because the Puritans believed Satan had sent them. Finally, enough was enough and they determined that any Quaker refusing banishment would be hung. (Mainly because whippings and cutting off ears had not been sufficient to force Quakers to leave.) Hangings occurred, including that of Mary Dyer in 1660.
LAST THOUGHTS ON CHRISTIAN NATIONALISM
The Bill of Rights, Amendment 1, states: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
My guess is that the founding fathers were aware of what had happened a little over a century ago when the Puritans tried to combine church and state.
I believe we should view this as a cautionary tale and work diligently to keep that separation as a hallmark of our democracy.