The political Left has gone into full boogeyman mode over “Christian nationalism,” acting as if religion has never played a serious role in American politics before. NEWS FLASH: If your ancestors were freed slaves, or benefited from the civil rights movement, you can thank Christian nationalism, because nobody fought slavery and segregation harder than Christian nationalists. These were Christians of all colors, who understood that while America may or may not be a Christian nation, it ought to be!
I posted this above paragraph on my social media accounts on June 3, 2022, following a flurry of stories on mainstream news outlets, and one popular day-time talk show, decrying the evils (nay the horrors) of Christian nationalism. One columnist wrote that Christian nationalism is synonymous with white supremacy and Nazism. Another wrote that todays’ Make America Great Again (MAGA) and America First (AF) Republicans are seeking to establish a theocracy, for the purpose of not only persecuting people of color, but also non-Christians as well. Still yet, another columnist wrote that the pending Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v Wade is proof that Christian Nationalists have already taken over the Supreme Court, and its just a matter of time before they establish a full-force theocracy upon this nation. Of course, all of these screeds are just rallying cries to Democrats, hoping to “get out the vote” in November. Because, so it seems, in the wake of failed economic and energy policies, which are seeing record monetary inflation, rising gas prices, and a foreign policy that is setting the world on track for Cold War II, and possibly even World War III, the best message the Democrats can come up with for November is: “Christians are Nazis now, because they hate women and they’re all racists, and we should take away their guns too!”
It saddens me to remind my readers here that whenever a political party, and its accompanying propaganda arm (Democratic Party and mainstream media in this case) begins to attack Christians, it’s a historical sign that it has become ideologically bankrupt, has no idea how to fix things, and seeks to blame everything on a scapegoat instead. When Hitler did it to the Jews, the world rightly condemned him, but when Communists do it to Christians, the world is strangely silent. So it will likely remain silent when Democrats (and the mainstream media) blame Christians as well. Christophobia remains the world’s last “acceptable” prejudice.
Let us stop and consider what’s really going on here. Christians are getting involved in politics again in large numbers. For the first time in a long time, we’re letting our Christian beliefs not only influence our political positions, but rather define them. We no longer subscribe to the secular Leftist demand that we suppress our religious beliefs in politics, for the bigger picture of “secular neutrality.” That doesn’t work, and for the first time in a long time, we’re starting to see that again. This hasn’t happened in a while, maybe about 50 years, but it has happened before. That’s why the title of this essay is “The Resurrection of Christian Nationalism,” and not “The Birth” or “The Rise” of Christian nationalism. Not only does the word “resurrection” have Christian underpinnings, but I use that word specifically because when it comes to American politics, Christian nationalism is nothing new. It’s not a “birth” or a “rise.” It is rather a “resurrection,” because it’s back you see. We’ve seen it before in American politics. It’s been gone for a time, but now it’s back, like a “resurrection.”
While we could talk about Christian nationalism during the pre-revolution colonial period, and there would be much to talk about indeed, I’ll limit this essay to just brief manifestations of Christian nationalism following the American War for Independence. The first strong manifestation of it was in the Abolitionist movement, which sadly found its conclusion in the American Civil War (or “War of the Rebellion”) from 1861 to 1865. It culminated in the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment that permanently ended slavery in the United States.
The Abolitionist movement began during the colonial days in Latin America, when Catholic priests began decrying the institution of Spanish slavery among some Latin American Natives. This would eventually bleed over into the United States after the US government acquired Mexican territory following the Mexican-American War (1846-1848). Along the American East Coast, a growing number of Protestants also began to question the morality of slavery in accordance with Christian teaching. By the middle of the Nineteenth Century, these two movements came to an intersection, forming a powerful political movement called “Abolitionism” or the “Abolition Movement.” These people were, in the most basic sense of the term “Christian Nationalists,” in that they sought to force a purely Christian morality on a civil institution as old as civilization itself. During the middle 1800s, these Christians (and yes, they were Christians, both Catholic and Protestant) were derided as “fanatics” and “zealots,” who were “seeking to impose a theocracy” upon the American people! The arguments used against the Abolitionists were strikingly similar to the arguments used against those identified as “Christian nationalists” today. Yet today, nearly everyone agrees the Abolitionists were right. This Christian nationalist movement, which sought to impose religious morality upon the United States, is now something nearly everyone agrees with. We would be hard pressed to find anyone, outside of fringe racists, who would advocate in favor of reestablishing slavery today.
Just to get a feel for the deep Christian nationalism of the Abolition Movement, one need look no further than the lyrics of the song used to cheer Union soldiers as they marched off to fight in America’s Civil War…
Battle Hymn of the Republic
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword:
His truth is marching on.
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
His truth is marching on.
I have seen Him in the watch-fires of a hundred circling camps,
They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps;
I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps:
His day is marching on.
I have read a fiery gospel writ in burnished rows of steel:
“As ye deal with my contemners, so with you my grace shall deal”;
Let the Hero, born of woman, crush the serpent with his heel,
Since God is marching on.
He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat;
He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment-seat;
Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! Be jubilant, my feet!
Our God is marching on.
In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me.
As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free,
While God is marching on.
The second major revival of Christian nationalism was entirely Protestant in nature, and turned out to be a complete failure — Prohibition. However, before it was eventually reversed, this movement gathered enough momentum to ratify a constitutional amendment that banned the sale and possession of liquor in the United States. It eventually had to be reversed entirely and the amendment was nullified by another constitutional amendment. The lesson here for Protestants is to seek the council of Catholics first, before going off on a national crusade. Catholics fully understand that drinking liquor is not a sin, but drunkenness is. We already have laws against public intoxication. Anything more would be intrusive and dangerous to the freedoms that American’s enjoy.
The third major uprising of Christian nationalism came to a head in the 1960s, with the Civil Rights Movement that sought to abolish institutionalized segregation. Once again, Catholics and Protestants came together to impose their religious understanding of morality upon the American nation. At the time, they were called “zealots” and “fanatics.” Some people even accused these Christian nationalists of “communism.” Yet today, almost everyone agrees, the Christian nationalists were right, and banning segregation was the right thing to do.
We Catholics might find ourselves initially apprehensive with the term “Christian Nationalist,” mainly because it’s somewhat foreign to us, but the principles behind it are not. The term “Integralism” is basically the same idea as Christian nationalism, but with one small (albeit important) caveat that I will explain below. Integralism has a long history in Catholic teaching. It’s basically the idea that we Catholics should do everything within our power to peacefully and justly bring the reign of Jesus Christ into the laws and statues of our respective countries (Quanta cura, Pope Pius IX, December 8, 1864; Immortale Dei, Pope Leo XIII, November 1, 1885). Some Catholics think that Integralism was abandoned with the Second Vatican Council, but that is simply not the case at all. Integralism was further defined there, in the council’s teaching on religious freedom, which is the idea that Protestants and non-Christians should be free to practice their respective religions in a Christian society, and that Catholics should be tolerant of this, so long as such practices are peaceful and law-abiding (Dignitatis humanae, Vatican II, December 7, 1965). One example of this is Costa Rica, which has officially declared the Catholic Church to be its state religion, but all people, of all religions, can worship freely there. One could say that this has always been the idea behind Integralism, but historically one cannot deny that some governments have failed to implement this in ages past, and some have even persecuted non-Christians, hence the need for the council decree. In Dignitatis humanae, the Catholic Church condemned using the state of force religion upon non-Catholics, but in all other things, Catholics should strive to bring Christian morality into our government and its laws, even to the point of declaring a state religion (or church) and protecting it by law, as is the case in Costa Rica and a few other Catholic nations. This is, essentially, Christian nationalism by another name.
The only caveat that Catholics would have to the term “Christian nationalism” is the word “nationalism” itself, because Integralism opposes big and centralized governments. The term “nationalism” can sometimes denote a “national” uniformity, as in forcing Christian laws from a big centralized government. Integralism opposes this because it’s heavily rooted in a principle called subsidiarity (Quadragesimo anno, Pope Pius XI, May 15, 1931). Think of subsidiarity as the principle of local government. In other words, it’s immoral for big national governments to do the job that could easily be done by a local city, county or state government. When Catholics use the word “nationalism,” as in “Christian nationalism,” we understand it in much more local terms. This is in keeping with the Integralist principle of subsidiarity, and may differ from the Protestant understanding of “nationalism,” which may be more centralized in its understanding of civil government.
To illustrate how Integralism (or “Christian nationalism”) has taken shape in the United States since the abolition of slavery in 1865, we could look at the way Catholic Americans participated in the Civil Rights Movement of the middle 20th Century, and the Pro-Life Movement from the 1970s until now. We could look at how Catholic bishops are always weighing in on various legislation initiatives and executive orders. We could also recall how the Knights of Columbus opposed the Ku Klux Klan in the early 20th Century, many of whose members were public officials at that time, and how the Knights lobbied to add the phrase “under God” into the Pledge of Allegiance. We could also look at the efforts of Evangelical Protestants as well, fighting to put prayer back into public schools, and working to keep religious art present in state courthouses and city halls. When you look at those who support the efforts to make our civil government more in line with our Christian beliefs, and if you polled them, asking if they would support some kind of constitutional amendment symbolically declaring Christ as King, or informally declaring a non-specific definition of Christianity as the official religion of the United States, or some particular state therein, the overwhelming vast majority would support the notion. This is the epitome of Christian nationalism, as most Christians are nationalists to some degree and always have been.
Again, I should point out the Catholic caveat here. Integralism would specify that state religions (or state churches) should always be decided on the state level, not the level of the federal government. Again, this is where Catholic Integralists might take issue with the word “nationalist,” if it implies that such things are handled by big government, at the federal level. Catholics always oppose big government, or at least they should, if they’re good Catholics and follow the historic teachings of the Catholic Church on subsidiarity and Integralism. Thus, a Catholic vision of the United States would be an America wherein each state might have its own declared state church (or no religion at all), depending on the will of the people in those states, and the federal government would not interfere in any way. Ironically, this is exactly how it was in Antebellum America (or how the United States was before the Civil War). It was the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (ratified in 1868) that opened the door to the end of state churches, and state religious practices, in Christian America. The Fourteenth Amendment, combined with the Supreme Court decision in Everson v. Board of Education (1947), is what officially changed the United States from a Christian nation into a Secular nation. Yes, it actually happened quite recently, less than 100 years ago.
Admittedly, the word “nationalism” is generally not understood by most Christians in a big, and centralized, government kind of way. Most supporters of American nationalism really mean it in a patriotic way, that simply opposes globalism. Christian nationalism, on the other hand, opposes both globalism and secularism. As long as Catholics understand the word “nationalism” in this way, as in a kind of “Christian patriotism” instead, there is no contradiction between nationalism and integralism. Perhaps the term “Christian patriotism” might be a better nomenclature?
Of course, the political Left is now reacting to this current resurgence of “Christian nationalism” as a boogeyman to be hated, feared and opposed. They immediately resort to the old straw-man argument that Christians are seeking to force our religion upon them, and punish those who are not Christian. Such rhetoric is as dishonest as it is ridiculous. Not only would such a thing directly oppose Catholic teaching, but one would be hard pressed to find Evangelicals who support the idea of using the state to force baptisms and coerce confessions of Jesus as Lord. Nobody wants that. Well, at least nobody of any consequence does. I’m sure if you look hard enough you can find a religious crackpot here or there who supports the idea. But these are fringe elements and always have been. Americans are staunchly pro-freedom and pro-choice when it comes to the exercise of religion, and yes, this even applies to Christian nationalists.
As for politicians, it’s fully predictable that they would attempt to capitalize on this. They always have in the historical past, and they always will. Perhaps some are sincere, truly being Christian nationalists themselves, and are just speaking to their likeminded constituents. Others are likely just taking advantage of the current political mood in an attempt to gain a few extra votes. It’s a game as old as politics itself. Even Abraham Lincoln, who was not a particularly religious man (certainly not a regular church goer) was frequently spotted outside of churches, tipping his tall black hat to church going voters as they left their chapels on Sunday mornings.
So why are they doing it? What’s the motivation of the political Left to decry Christian nationalism when they know this is just a normal part of America’s cyclic development? I think the answer really is as simple as it is disturbing. They are witnessing a moral evolution happen, they don’t like the trajectory, for whatever reason (take your pick), and so they’re trying to stop it, or at least slow it down. It’s sort of like how pro-slavery politicians defended slavery until the bitter end in the Civil War. Or how pro-segregation politicians vigorously fought the Civil Rights Movement. The same could be said of pro-abortion (so called “pro-choice”) politicians of today. Christianity has a very defined and non-negotiable moral code. Christian nationalists want to bring America more in line with that code. However, those who are profiting from the current immoral things Christian nationalism seeks to abolish, are naturally going to oppose that change. In today’s secular America, where fewer and fewer Americans practice Christianity, it means Christians can more easily be vilified, and even divided against each other to some degree, by simply using clever terms like “Christian nationalist” in a derogatory way, while conjuring up images of “white supremacy” or some other unrelated topic. The level of hysteria against Christians in this nation only serves to demonstrate just how utterly corrupt and depraved they’ve become. Many pro-slavery politicians supported slavery because of money. Many pro-segregation politicians supported segregation because of money (yes, some bigots have money, and they’re willing to make campaign donations). Likewise, many Pro-abortion (so-called “pro-choice”) politicians support legalized abortion for the same reason. There is plenty of money in it. Christians have a long history of getting in the way of making money when it involves sin. Even the Christians who suffered martyrdom under the Pagan Roman Empire were no different. One of the primary indictments against them came from the Pagan clergy at the time, who complained to the governing officials that Christians were ruining the local idolatry market and bankrupting the temples, both major sources for trade and revenue in the ancient world. For this, Christians were fed to lions and burned at the stake.
Today, however, is not the Second Century, and this is not ancient Rome. This is the Twenty-First Century, and we are in the United States of America. Christian nationalism (or patriotism) is on the rise again, resurrected from a long slumber, and the only people who don’t like that are those making money off sin. I sincerely hope that today’s manifestation of Christian nationalism (patriotism) grows to a level much larger than the Abolition Movement, as it will need to in order to avoid another state secession movement, which last time resulted in a civil war. I sincerely hope that this time, the Christian nationalists (or patriots), will take things much further, by not only ending abortion in America, but also repealing the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and therefore nullifying the Supreme Court decisions that turned America from a Christian nation into a Secular nation. After that, I sincerely hope states will begin declaring state religions again. Specific denominations need not be necessary. A general acknowledgement of the Trinitarian God, King Jesus Christ and the Christian Faith will suffice. Some states, however, may be more specific depending on the will of the people there. I suppose the Mormons will take Utah. We Catholics might need to take Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut because we make up the majority of Christians there. Lord knows, those states could probably use a major Catholic realignment, as Secular rule has morally gutted them. Outrageous taxes and regulations (the products of a Secular mindset) have made it extremely difficult to raise a family in those places, and virtually impossible to retire in. Gross immorality, also the product of a Secular mindset, has made abortion-on-demand commonplace there, while children are indoctrinated with Critical Race Theory (CRT) and groomed with sexual perversion (LGBTQ+). Obviously, this is overreach by the Secular Left, and it is the primary cause for the backfire that resulted in the resurrection of Christian nationalism.
Shane Schaetzel is an Evangelical convert to the Catholic Church through Anglicanism and was trained as a catechist through the University of Dayton – a Catholic Marianist Institution. Shane’s articles have been featured on LifeSiteNews, ChurchMilitant, The Remnant Newspaper, Forward in Christ, and Catholic Online. Shane is an author of Catholic books, which can be read here.