Editor’s note: This blog post by AU President and CEO Rachel Laser originally appeared in the March 2023 issue of AU’s Church & State magazine.
On Feb. 8, Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), a nonprofit, nonpartisan research group at the intersection of religion, culture and public policy, joined with the Brookings Institution to release a major new national survey that offers a wealth of data about Christian Nationalism. I attended an in-person briefing in Washington, D.C., to learn more about the survey.
The findings were interesting and relevant to our work at AU, so I thought I would highlight a few in this column.
The room was packed, and more than 1,500 people were attending online. Clearly, the topic of Christian Nationalism is engendering the level of interest it should these days.
What The Survey Found
The survey’s major finding was that nearly two-thirds of white evangelical Protestants qualify as either Christian Nationalism adherents (29%) or sympathizers (35%), and more than half of Republicans qualify as adherents (21%) or sympathizers (33%). Take that in! And compare it to the one in 10 Americans as a whole who adhere to the tenets of Christian Nationalism and 19% who are sympathetic. While the general population numbers are still too high, they pale in comparison to these two groups.
It’s remarkable, and remarkably scary, that, as my friend and PRRI founder Robby Jones put it, “A vocal and engaged minority has hijacked one of our major religious traditions and one of our political parties, determined to hold the country hostage to a mythical past it is ready to leave behind.”
To determine levels of support for Christian Nationalism, the poll used responses to five questions; participants were asked whether they completely agree, mostly agree, mostly disagree, or completely disagree with the following:
- The U.S. government should declare America a Christian nation.
- U.S. laws should be based on Christian values.
- If the U.S. moves away from our Christian foundations, we will not have a country anymore.
- Being Christian is an important part of being truly American.
- God has called Christians to exercise dominion over all areas of American society.
Christian Nationalism: Racist And Sexist
Christian Nationalism is a worldview that clearly believes in Christian supremacy. But the research also illuminated the connection between Christian Nationalism and both racism and sexism. For example, a majority of Christian Nationalism adherents disagree that white supremacy is a major problem in the United States today, and seven out of 10 reject the idea that past discrimination contributes to present-day hurdles for Black Americans. And nearly seven in 10 Christian Nationalism adherents agree that “[i]n a truly Christian family, the husband is the head of the household and his wife submits to his leadership.”
Some findings did stand out as hopeful. 73% of Americans want our country to be religiously diverse. It’s always nice to remember that AU has majority support for our vision for America. Another important finding is that most Christians are not Christian Nationalists. Evangelical Christians are five times more likely to be Christian Nationalists than other Christians.
When it was time for questions, I asked panel members how they thought we could best bring Americans on board to support the obvious bulwark against Christian Nationalism: church-state separation.
Robby answered by explaining that a real challenge is people’s lack of understanding of the term. He pointed out that a super majority of Christian Nationalists (63% of adherents and 66% of sympathizers) in their poll claim to support church-state separation. Jones explained: “They don’t think they are violating this old civic idea of separation of church and state, even while they say all the laws in the U.S. should be based on Christian beliefs in the Bible.”
How AU Will Fight Back
Religious extremists’ effort to twist the meaning of church-state separation is just one of the many reasons why America needs a national recommitment to that principle. We must make clear that church-state separation not only doesn’t permit you to use your religious beliefs to harm others, it prohibits it. And we have to put forward our own positive vision, too. I’m excited to see what comes out of our expanded youth essay and video contest, where the prompt this year is: “What would happen if we secured separation of church and state in the United States and all people were able to live as themselves and believe as they choose?”
Together, we will seize this moment of challenge and opportunity to make church-state separation – the antidote to Christian Nationalism – a priority for this country.