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Episode 125 | November 22, 2023

Following Jesus Means Opposing Christian Nationalism with Andrew Whitehead

How biblical Christianity confronts, challenges, and corrects Christian nationalism

The topic of Christian nationalism just won’t seem to go away. But do we really understand it? The definition is undoubtedly slippery and has led to much debate: Is calling someone a “Christian nationalist” a slur? Or something to be proud of? Is it good or bad for the country? For Christianity? Today, Keith sits down with Andrew Whitehead, a professor and author who has found himself at the center of the Christian nationalism debate. Hear Andrew share insights from his recent book, “American...

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Andrew Whitehead 0:00  

I'm Andrew Whitehead and I choose truth over tribe.

Keith Simon 1:04  

This topic of Christian nationalism won't go away, I keep thinking it's going to run out of steam, that people are going to be tired of talking about it. And yet, there it is, again, front and center on the front page of the major newspapers and on the cover of magazines. And of course, if you spend much time on Twitter, you know that people continue to debate whether Christian nationalism is good or bad for the country, good or bad for Christianity. Andrew Whitehead is at the center of that debate. He's a professor of sociology and the director of Religion Data Archives at the Center for the Study of Religion and American culture. In his new book, American idolatry, how Christian nationalism betrays the gospel and threatens the church. Andrew explains Christian nationalism and how he thinks Biblical Christianity confronts challenges and corrects it. Now, I think you're gonna be able to tell from this conversation that I think the definition of Christian nationalism is pretty slippery. So I asked some provocative questions, trying to really pin him down. And I think I came away from this conversation with a better understanding of the term. But first, we start with a game called America or Jesus. Let's dive in.

Andrew Whitehead, welcome to Truth overdrive.

Andrew Whitehead 2:27  

Hey, thanks for having me. Excited to be here.

Keith Simon 2:29  

Well, you're a professor. So you are used to giving the pop quizzes, but I want to give you one, it's not really a quiz. It's more like a game. It's called America or Jesus. Are you willing to play it with me? Sure, let's do it. Okay, so here are quotes from people that I promise you will know both history and people of our day and I promise you all the names that you will know. So your job is to fill in the blank with either America or Jesus. Okay, here's the first one. Blank is the world's best last hope. Got any ideas? Blank is the world's best last hope.

Andrew Whitehead 3:11  

Yeah, I think America, Ding

Keith Simon 3:14  

ding ding, you're the winner. Now, it might surprise you who said this. So here are the people that I have three have said this, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Beto O'Rourke. Here's the next one blank is the Savior of the world.

Andrew Whitehead 3:29  

So did Jesus say this? Or people say this about Jesus?

Keith Simon 3:33  

Well, in this situation? The answer is America. And this is by a former President Woodrow Wilson, Woodrow Wilson, okay, that America is the Savior of the world. Okay, just two more, it's going to be a very short game short quiz, we must keep blank first in our hearts. And because the same person said this, I'm gonna give you both at the same time. So the first one, we must keep blank first in our hearts. And the last one is blank is the light and glory among the nations. Okay, America and Jesus, think America, figured out my game. And both of those were said by former President Trump. He said, We must keep America first in our hearts, and America is the light and glory among the nations. Now, you can keep playing this game for a really long time, because we have a history in our country of conflating our Christian faith with our national identity. And that kind of gets at the heart of Christian nationalism and the discussion around that. You've got a very lucrative career in front of you, I guess, because this is an issue that won't go away, right. I mean, you're always going to be at the center of American conversation with this. But one thing I've noticed is that Christian nationalism is something I hadn't really heard of much before January 6 2021. And then all of a sudden, I can't avoid anymore Google searches of Christian nationalism increased after that day. Can you just put that in context a little bit? Why was January 6, the launch of this conversation? Yeah,

Andrew Whitehead 5:07  

that's a great question. I think a lot of it had to do with how shocking some of those images were of the Capitol being attacked, right, people breaking into the windows and climbing in and just that whole kind of afternoon and into the evening, what we were watching for many Americans was really shocking. But I think for those of us that have been studying Christian nationalism, while still shocking to see that stuff, it wasn't necessarily surprising, because we saw a lot of the undercurrents of what was taking place leading up to and then on January 6, had been with us for years. And so you know, with my colleague, Sam Perry, we'd been studying Christian nationalism for probably five or six years at that point when January 6 happened, and our book had come out a year before. And so we were tracking some of these things, you know, when we're looking at some of the racial and ethnic lines that surround Christian nationalism, right. So on January 6, there's a really famous picture are famous to me. But there's a very provocative picture of a guy walking through the Capitol with the rebel flag, right, which is something that even the Confederate States didn't accomplish in the Civil War. But there it was the rebel flag in our capitol, and in the shirts that they were wearing. And, you know, the proud boys, they were having prayers. And so there was all this Christian symbolism wrapped up with violence and disorder and hatred and anger, and all of this stuff, kind of descending conspiratorial thinking and q&a. And this was all descending on that day. So I think that's what really brought it all out into the open for many folks that maybe weren't really tracking with this or following, you know, some of those conversations. But I think a lot of those elements that were a play, we'd been tracking for a while. And so now the conversation started, people could have a framework to help understand, well, what is this because, you know, seeing the cross, and then seeing, you know, folks use implements to beat police officers, right, like, that created some dissonance and good dissonance, you know, I wish it wouldn't have come to that. But now moving forward, I think folks are ready to have that conversation, the

Keith Simon 7:24  

Christian imagery, Christian symbolism that Jesus saved signs, the worship, songs, the prayers associated with January 6, were very shocking, I was done by the whole thing and how it played out, I didn't know that that was possible. So it's interesting that you're talking about your book that had come up before it gets to America back for God that you wrote with Sam Perry. And it's an excellent book to read that, and really enjoyed and learned a lot from that. But one of the things I think that we're still arguing over is the definition of Christian nationalism. And I think we're kind of watching in real time as people kind of redefine the word or fight over the definition. And I think, at least from my perspective, some people are using it as kind of a political slur, like I can shut you down by calling you a Christian nationalist. Other people are trying to redefine it into something that they're very proud of like Marjorie Taylor Greene, who said not that long ago, I'm a Christian. And I say it proudly, we should all be Christian nationalists. So I want to get in like a formal definition, which you do in your book, American idolatry, I want to get into a formal definition. But before we do that, I just want to quick take if these things I'm going to mention, if they are representative of Christian nationalism, would you call them Christian nationalists or maybe a symptom of Christian nationalism? So let's start with an easy one. Former Army General Mike Flynn has this tour. He calls it the reawaken tour, I think it's produced by a charisma magazine. Is that in the realm of Christian nationalism? Yeah,

Andrew Whitehead 8:57  

I think we see a lot of really provocative examples of Christian nationalism at those rallies where folks are pointing to, you know, we need to take this nation back, we need godly people to run for school board, you know, your county seats, you know, all of these things, because we need the right people in power in order to ensure that our country flourishes. And so I think right off the bat, I do want to say, I don't like labeling folks, Christian nationalists, I always want to focus and talk about Christian nationalism, because people can embrace it more or less. And so I think, yeah, this discussion is good, where you're going to see very strong elements of Christian nationalism at the reawaken tour for sure.

Keith Simon 9:39  

Well, and I think, one recently, the former general who was widely respected inside the military for much of his career, and now he's kind of doesn't share the respect that he once did. He talked about pastors should stop preaching from the Bible and start preaching from the Constitution, which is kind of a red flag, I'd say, but I appreciate your distinguishing a Christian now nationalist from Christian nationalism, so let's keep that in mind as we have this conversation. How about this one? Is having a United States flag inside of a church? Is that a sign of Christian nationalism?

Andrew Whitehead 10:11  

Yeah, I think that is one of the first things I talk about in my book when I kind of go through this field guide of Christian nationalism. And so again, I would say that whether or not you know, you could see that in a church and then ultimately say, Okay, everybody here must have gone to January 6, right, and they must all just strongly embrace Christian nationalism. Again, I wouldn't do that. I wouldn't want people to do that. But I do think having an American flag at the front of the sanctuary, we should really have a conversation about if we took that out, How might our congregation react? And if there would be a lot of anger and maybe even vitriol, then we have to ask, Well, why is that? Why is removing the American flag from the sanctuary causing such an uproar? Does that reveal to us areas where we might be conflating or too tightly intertwining our American identity with our Christian identity, or you know, as residence of the kingdom of God? Because I always kind of asked if you were a Christian from another country visiting, how might that American flag at the front feel to you when you are not native to this country, but you're worshiping with other folks? Would that create dissonance? And I think for many of us, it might. And so, I think that's where I would want to start. So it isn't as though this means everybody hears, you know, embracing Christian nationalism. But I do think that it is at least a signal that there's something going on that maybe we need to think through and reconsider,

Keith Simon 11:41  

I appreciate the way you put that imagining someone from a different country attending the worship service and seeing that flag up there. And you could kind of reverse it a little bit or twist it and say, What if you were visiting another country, if you were visiting China, and went into a church there to worship, and there was a Chinese flag there? How might that make you feel? Okay, this one, I think, is a little tougher, at least it is for me, in our local community, the school decided they were going to have a gender closet. So this is a place where kids could come in and switch clothes, and then leave those clothes back at school so that they could kind of keep their identity apart from their family. Now, it wasn't ever said that explicitly. But it's pretty obvious. And there was a big debate in the community. And there were some people who said, Hey, I'm a Christian, and I want to run for school board, because I want to bring my Christian values onto the school board. And you mentioned earlier the reawaken tour and how they were encouraging people to run for these kinds of offices. So let's say I want to run for school board to bring my Christian values into the school system, is that Christian nationalism?

Andrew Whitehead 12:47  

Well, here, again, I think, where the line should be drawn, or gets drawn between Christian nationalism, and then an American citizen, being engaged in the civil process, you know, the civil conversation, and representing, you know, their beliefs and values, I think the line there becomes when someone says, Well, I want to run for school board, because I know that this is what we need to do. And this is what you know, we're commanded to do because of my faith. And now I need to go make sure we implement that. I think that is where we're bleeding into Christian nationalism, because it's all about a power over other folks. It's not about a power that seeks to serve, to seek a common good to seek to be in conversation with our neighbors, whether they're Christians, religious minorities, or people of no faith. I think, for those of us that want to be involved in the Civil sphere, and I encourage us to be involved, I think as Christians, we should be about what's happening in our communities. I think there we need to have a stance or a way that we can guard against moving over into the realm of Christian nationalism, is that we recognize that we are just one voice and one seat at the table, we aren't at the head of the table, we're not here to impose what we know quote unquote, or believe this is the one way we need to go. But to come in to speak and say this is you know, what I believe or think, but then to be in conversation with others, to collaborate, communicate, and not to try to exert power over other people. I think that's the way that we can be faithfully Christian and involved, and hopefully seeking the flourishing and the good of all because, again, to be in a pluralistic democratic society, that's what it will entail. But we find over and over that Christian nationalism is not really interested in democracy or sharing power or other voices. It's interested in our way or the highway, and I think that's where, you know, in a school board, or if it's the state legislature or even the federal government, I think that's where we can start to hopefully, find the line and ensure that we're, you know, acting faithfully as Christians but also representing and abiding by the system of government that we have in place.

Keith Simon 14:58  

Yeah, I appreciate it. And you're look that you were very clear that you think Christians should be involved in the cultural debate involved in government run for positions support candidates. You're not saying that Christians have to sit out that debate, and I appreciated that. But what then becomes difficult is to figure out well, how does Christian nationalism develop out of that? So, William Wilberforce, famously, the British member of parliament, who I think it's kind of, you know, unarguable that he took his Christian convictions into parliament and said, I believe slavery is wrong in the slave trade is wrong. And I believe it because the Bible tells me, and I am going to argue hard for the end of the slave trade, what eventually led to the end of slavery inside of Britain. And he was very clear that these were his Christian convictions. And he thought they were right, because they were from God in the Bible. So now when I hear that, I'm starting to think that, while I'm sure you would agree with him that we should have ended the slave trade Britain should have we should have much earlier than we actually did at the end of the Civil War. I'm starting to think that if you're consistent, you've got to say, Well, yeah, he was flirting with Christian nationalism there. Am I right? Or do I have that wrong? You

Andrew Whitehead 16:15  

know, I think here, it comes down to the definition of Christian nationalism. And this is where we're really focused on with Christian nationalism. It's a particular expression of Christianity privileged in the public sphere, and one that seeks to cement accessed and and privileged access to power for a particular expression of Christianity. And in this particular expression of Christianity, it really is about benefiting the US in the in group and in in the US. And it doesn't quite work with your example with William Wilberforce, it sort of does. But in the US, it tends to be one that is primarily white, and conservative, both religiously and politically, that's the Christianity of Christian nationalism. So it isn't just bringing any Christian belief or value into the public sphere, that then becomes Christian nationalism, but it's one that seeks to again, maintain and privileged access to power for this particular group. And historically, in the US, it's been this one. So when I hear that example, I think, No, that isn't Christian nationalism, because what it's doing is trying to leverage power and privilege to the benefit of the broadest cross section of humanity. So freeing folks from being enslaved, I think, in many ways, is not trying to keep power for this small group or for the quote unquote, us, but trying to expand and establish flourishing and a common good for more people, even at the expense of the group that would have benefited most from the slave trade, which were white, you know, in this case, Western European or, you know, in the Americas Americans. And so I think that's where we can draw the line where, if it is a group, that is saying, Yeah, because of my Christian beliefs, I believe that we should do x, because again, it's going to expand flourishing, it's going to lift up the marginalized, it's going to release the prisoners that the oppressed free, right, all of those things, I think that is a faithful representation of the Christian faith in politics, because it isn't about keeping power for us, but leveraging power to the benefit of all. And I think that's where we can draw the line. Okay,

Keith Simon 18:26  

so that's interesting. And that's kind of where these questions were leading to. And I was going to ask you, eventually, for a clearer definition, and I think you gave it to me there. So one of the things that I've wondered is whether it's Christian nationalism for Dr. King, and his very church led pastor led movement, Christian movement, and would you consider that Christian nationalism? And I think you're saying, If I hear you, right, no, that's not Christian nationalism, because they were trying to bring flourishing to more people. And so they weren't trying to protect power, but share power, I think is what you're saying, is that right?

Andrew Whitehead 19:02  

I think that's an excellent example. And we get this question a lot, right? So in many ways, folks try to do it as kind of this gotcha type of thing. But again, that's where how we define Christian nationalism really matters, because it's a particular expression of Christianity. So the civil rights movement, I think, is an excellent example of how we can distinguish between faithful Christian expression within the sphere of politics, or Christian nationalism. Because, you know, the outcomes of the civil rights movement, the Voting Rights Act, Civil Rights Act, those were uses of power. Those were coercive uses of political power in the sense that with the Voting Rights Act, there were Americans who did not want to expand access to the vote to racial and ethnic minorities or essentially black Americans. But this legislation demanded that that be true, right. And so as we look at Reverend King or the civil rights movement and the work that they were doing, And you're right, their Christian convictions were pushing them in this direction. They were leveraging power and using coercive power, but again, to the benefit of all. So it wasn't as though they said, now with the Voting Rights Act, you know, white Americans, you've been able to vote and have access to the democratic process for centuries. Now, with this act, now you don't get to vote. But now black Americans get to vote finally, right and have full access. They weren't saying that. All they were saying was, you need to allow everyone to vote. Right. And so that's the difference. Whereas for many, especially leading up to that through slavery, Jim Crow, you know, on until the 1960s, we had many white Christians arguing explicitly from their faith from the Bible, that we should maintain segregation, right that these Jim Crow laws should be upheld. And so again, it isn't just bringing Christian convictions in the public sphere, but how we're defining the quote unquote, us who gets to benefit, and isn't expanding access. And so in that sense, that's not Christian nationalism, Christian nationalism is focused on benefiting the US and the in group maintaining power and privilege, to the detriment of other groups to marginalizing other folks. And that's where the civil rights movement, Reverend King, I think, is a great example to distinguish between how you can be actively involved. But it's all about well, who is the US that benefits and to what ends and I think that should hopefully, help us have these types of conversations to ensure that we're living faithfully and engaging, I think in the public sphere.

Keith Simon 21:34  

In your book, you mentioned Albert Mohler. He's the president of Southern Seminary and a prominent figure, political religious figure. Anyway, you say that he acknowledges that Christian nationalism exists, but then says, it's very rare, and you're disagreeing with him. And you're saying it's more popular or more widely believed, than he would imagine, or that he wants to admit. And a lot of that depends on your definition. So I want to keep pushing at this just a little bit further, and then we'll move on. But let's say that I am a person who wants everybody to flourish. And I believe as a Christian, that everybody flourishes, if biblical principles are followed, not only in their personal life, but their family, and even the nation will prosper if Christian principles are followed. So it's not like I am going to make anybody do this. But I do want to run for political office so that I can band together with like minded people and establish laws that honor Christian principles. And let's say we give you a little more specific, let's say that we believe that gender affirming care for young people, minors, is not going to help people flourish, but is in fact going to harm people harm kids. So we band together as Christians, because of our Christian convictions, maybe like Dr. King, maybe like William Wilberforce, and we want laws that ban people being doctors from practicing gender affirming care, what's called gender affirming care on minors. Is that Christian nationalism? Well,

Andrew Whitehead 23:07  

I think there again, it's the posture and the way that it's done. So is it you know, the Bible tells me it's true. And so now I'm going to go out and because of that, and that alone, I am going to do all of this against maybe the wishes of families, or young people or medical professionals, or those that are on, you know, the opposite side of the aisle, politically, I think, then, yeah, that's moving into Christian nationalism, where it's shutting down conversation, it's shutting down any sort of collaboration, or taking those into account. And so I think here again, like, you know, we could bring up a particular example. But in many ways, I think, faithfully engaging with the culture, politics, as Christians, is always going to be ad hoc, it's going to be with the situation as it arises. And so with many of these, whatever type of situation we want to talk about, a lot of times, there's one particular political outcome that folks will say, well, we need to do this and this alone, because this is what the Bible says, When in many ways, many of these issues are incredibly complex. And there are a lot of different stakeholders, and there's different people with expertise that need to be listened to. But so often, it gets distilled into this, we have to do X, or else, we are not faithfully, you know, following scripture, we're not faithfully following Jesus, and then anything else is viewed as Anna thema. And I think that's where we really miss the opportunity to, you know, work with Collaborate, in many ways we have to contradict, but respecting the political processes we have in this country. And so, you know, with whatever topic we bring up, and we can, you know, keep going through them. I think, for Christians, the big thing is, are we listening to the other voices at the table? And are we thinking through Who what those stakeholders think is really important are we finding ways that we can, hopefully encourage what we hold to be true or think is important in a way that these other groups don't feel as though they are being shut down, marginalized, pushed out all of those things. And that I think, is hopefully some of the posture that we can bring to whatever topic. And there are many hot button issues right that we face today, with any of those topics.

Keith Simon 25:25  

The way I think about this is that somebody's going to hold power, somebody holds power, somebody's going to make the decisions. So if you just think recently, the California State Legislature passed a bill saying that if a parent in a custody dispute if a parent is unwilling to affirm a minors transition, that that could be used by the court against them, as they decide wouldn't totally decide the issue. But it would be one factor, it could be used against them. So somebody's going to make decisions, somebody is going to have power. But what I see your opponents argue is that, would we rather have Christian then this is the best case scenario, I'm putting the best argument, wouldn't we rather have Christians be the ones in power, looking out for everybody looking out for the best according to our Christian convictions, and of course, other people can participate in the conversation. But we didn't say to Dr. King, Hey, Dr. King, you need to compromise with these other people, we would have said, No, you need to get power so that black Americans have the right to vote so that black Americans have access to housing. So I guess somebody's going to have the power. Shouldn't we want it to be Christians? Well,

Andrew Whitehead 26:41  

I mean, it's a fair question. And it's fair pushback, right. And I get the understanding to and the thought process of, well, if somebody's going to have it shouldn't be us. But I think too, we have to keep in mind that we aren't coming to where we find ourselves today, completely dis engaged from our history and past. And that sets the context of where we're at. And so much of my wrestling with these issues comes through. And I think we need to have it kind of flow through the historical contexts. And how has this gone previously. And in the US, not all, but in many ways, you know, white Christians were in power, or were saying, you know, we need to have more power or bring our Christian convictions. But it was in ways that now we see really were harmful to many other folks, and did create a society where there is inequality. And so I think that's where we need to be having these conversations, whereas before they would have been taken for granted, just to be questioning like, shouldn't we have the power or not? At least that's a step? Because we could say, well, maybe we need to augment how we wield this power, or what we do. Because, to be honest, too, if we listen to the voices of those who aren't Christians, more their religious minorities, or racial ethnic minorities, they're coming to us and telling us that, you know, there are many of these voices that are saying, you know, this society and how things are working, isn't working for me in the same way that it probably is for you. And I say you as in like myself, right, like a white Protestant man. And so I need to be listening to that and thinking through the implications of that, because there isn't a lot to be honest, a lot of goodwill or trust built up in those other communities for Christians saying, Hey, let me just bring my Christian convictions into the public square. Like, there's a lot of skepticism of that. And we haven't, I don't think really earned the right to have everybody placed their trust in us, like, Hey, you Christians, you know, we know you care about us. Like, that's not what we're hearing. And so I think as we wrestle with and confront Christian nationalism, this desire to only have this tunnel vision of like, we know what's best, we know that this country is going to flourish, if we have power and can do these things. And let's just go, I think that's where we've crushed a lot of people. And so these conversations need to happen. But we have to, I think, start from this place of understanding that we don't deserve it any more than anybody else. And we have to come with not only our convictions, but ways of talking about those and moving towards the end goal in a way that brings people together and I could give an example of that to where you know, from my history and growing up in the church, right abortion was a big deal. And it was we need to outlaw abortion, that's what needs to happen to limit what takes place in the US. But then for me, one of the kind of the cracks in that was like, Well, then why wouldn't we if we want to lower rates of abortion and want to embrace anything that could lower that right and not just outlaw abortion, but providing more health care contraception or training and sex education, all of those lower unwanted pregnancies which is unwanted pregnancies are, you know, the cause of seeking an abortion. So when the Christian community is saying, well, we don't want to do any of these other things that lower unwanted pregnancies, but we just want to outlaw abortion. That's where I'm like, Well, there's a hypocrisy there. Right? If we were really focused on wanting, you know, to lower abortion, we would want to do everything we could. But so often the lines get drawn, well, we'll do this, but not these things, because it benefits a particular group politically. And so with any of these topics, or you know, things that we bring up, I think the goal in the hope is not just that we get the right people in power, but through what we would want to see take place, are we embracing all the avenues and working with others to get to an end goal? Because, yeah, collaboration is going to have to happen, and hopefully, then fewer folks will be marginalized or shut out of the process as well.

Keith Simon 30:57  

I think you're right, when the Christians get power, it doesn't always go so well. And anytime Christians get power, it's always hard to discern, am I using this on behalf of others? Am I using this for human flourishing? Or am I using this to protect myself in my rights and what I have gained? So I hear you that historically, Christians haven't used their power very well. One of the things that's different about your new book, American idolatry is that you're more personal. I mean, you talked about growing up as a Christian what you just mentioned, and it seems like you're coming from a place where you care about the church, and that Christian nationalism isn't just something that's dangerous for our country democracy, politically, but it's also dangerous for the church. Can you just unpack that a little bit for us like a little bit about your own personal faith experience, but why Christian nationalism is a dangerous to Christianity. Yeah,

Andrew Whitehead 31:51  

so I grew up in a small rural town in northern Indiana, and was raised in the church and was very active in it. And it was where I was taught a lot of these kind of foundational beliefs and values of Christianity and loving Jesus in the Bible, and God and our neighbor. And all of those things light in the place that I grew up in the religious tradition I grew up, there was a really unquestioned combining of American identity and Christian identity to be one was to be the other. And there were a little moments on my journey where, you know, some of the inconsistencies started to show through were to be a faithful Christian might mean that I have to go against what the nation might want or think is best. Or if I was going to embrace what the nation is doing, or America is doing, it might set me at odds with following Jesus faithfully. And I think those were the moments that really started to fire in me on that journey, starting to wrestle with well, then how do I live out this Christian faith in a way that is faithful to Jesus and puts the kingdom of God first. And I think, for me, as I've been on this journey, and writing the book, and even since then, really recognizing that, and coming to terms with and continue to wrestle with, through conversations, like we're having or with others, what it means to be Christian, and how to live that out. And I think with Christian nationalism, as I look at the history and read, where we've come from, even before the US was formed, but how when Christianity came to these shores, how it was intertwined with seeking power over others, and fear and threat of those others taking our power, and then using violence to, you know, really keep those boundary lines clear and maintain access to self interested power. I think wrestling with those things, showed me that to embrace Christian nationalism, in many ways, actively opposes, you know, faithfully following Jesus, which I came to believe and understand on this journey, and in the Christian communities that I was a part of, that he came to seek and provide flourishing, not only personally for us, like in our need for a Savior, but in how we relate to other people, right, and how we relate to other people or how we organize ourselves politically, and the systems and social structures that we create, and are a part of that he came to redeem all of that, that were praying, and when he taught us to pray, we're praying that God's kingdom would come on earth, as it is in heaven. It isn't just when I die, I'll go to be with Jesus. And so now my sins are forgiven. And that's it, but that Jesus has something to say with how I relate to others, and how I relate to the marginalized and the oppressed, and that it isn't just a spiritual oppression, but also a physical Embodied Reality that the gospel should be good news to the literal, oppressed and marginalized, not just the spiritual, oppressed or marginalized. And so those are themes that I've wrestled with continue to wrestle with that I try to bring out in this book, to get us to look and think about how a desire Air to privilege, a particular expression of Christianity blinds us to the Embodied Reality of the gospel and good news in the here and now. And being able to do that work together in the here. And now, one

Keith Simon 35:12  

of the things I appreciate about the book is that as you break down in the later chapters in, I want to get into a couple of these power, fear immigration, that not only do you say, here's how it is being misused in the context of Christian nationalism, but you say this is how Christians should think about power. And we've already talked about that one, a fair amount. So we don't need to stay on that. But I do want to talk a little bit about fear. You talk about how Christian nationalism, exploits people's fear, fear of change and fear of losing power. But in some sense, that's what every candidate does every political party, their message is, you know, watch out, those are really bad people on the other side, and they're going to destroy your way of life. They're going to enact, you know, racist laws, or they're going to take your kids away, or whatever it is, every political party says, Be warned about that other side, vote for me, and I'll protect you. Because we've gotten to a point where we really don't vote for someone we vote against someone are against a party more than for a party. And so here's my thing is it almost feels like there's a sense in which the normal political process is being called Christian nationalism. In other words, the normal political process what passes I wish it didn't, but what passes for campaigning now is now called out be careful, because that's what Christian nationalists do. And that is bad. Well, but everybody, does it. So is it bad when the Democrats and Republicans do it when the, you know, different groups do it? Do you see my point?

Andrew Whitehead 36:46  

I do. I do. I think, you know, one thing that's happening here is when we're talking about whether it's political processes, or how social groups operate, fear and sense of threat are incredibly powerful motivators. And this is going to happen, whether it's, you know, as I'm talking about in this book, Christian nationalism, or if you're in a different country, and looking at the religious nationalism that exists there, because there isn't anything unique about Christianity or America, that religious nationalism exists, but we're living in the US. And Christianity is the faith that is majority faith for the whole time. And so this is the expression of religious nationalism we're dealing with. And so with any type of group and political motivation, fear and a sense of threat are there. And of course, you know, Democrats or those who oppose Donald Trump, let's say, right will highlight the sense of threat and fear of, hey, you know, this is a demagogue and democracy in the guardrails of democracy are being attacked. And so that's going to happen as well. And of course, that's motivating, right? It's going to get folks to do that. But just like when we're looking at the civil rights movement, and saying, Well, you know, bringing Christian convictions into the public sphere is that Christian nationalism, and it isn't just when you use fear and threat, that doesn't mean that this automatically makes it Christian nationalism. Now, I do think Christians of all stripes, whether you're more politically conservative, or progressive, or liberal, however you want to call it, I think we need to be really careful as Christians checking into is fear and sense of threat, motivating me, in this sense of how to act? Is it wanting me to shut down a conversation with those in my being moved more towards, you know, wanting to be against someone or a group or for them, right, and wanting to move and give what I can for them? I think we can all be a part of that. And that's something that's, you know, good for all of us. But I do think that empirically, the greater threat that we have, not only to democracy, to a gospel that is encouraging flourishing, in this instance, is Christian nationalism. And again, that particular expression of Christianity. And so that's where I'm focusing kind of this book in my work is dealing with that problem. It isn't to say that there aren't problems elsewhere, or that there's planks or, you know, specs and other people's eyes. But I think it's this because when we saw January 6, saying that there were election improprieties, wanting to stop the certification of those results, having crosses and banners and Jesus safe signs, all of those things, that was a particular expression of Christianity. And not only it's not like everybody that embraces it was at the Capitol on the insurrection. But the implicit kind of sympathizing with those views creates fertile ground for extremism to take root. And I think that's where as faithful Christians and citizens, we need to be focusing right now. It isn't as though there are other problems elsewhere on the other side of the political spectrum. But there are implications that are much more real and acute at this moment. So I think that's where I would kind of want Push on that.

Keith Simon 40:00  

I think I agree with you largely, especially when it comes to Christian nationalism being dangerous to Christianity. And that would be my main concern. And all of this as well. I'm concerned about the political process of our country. And I think that's a noble thing to be worried about and work for. I'm more concerned that Christian nationalism infringes upon the gospel and distorts the gospel and changes the gospel. And fear is a motivator that when we're obsessed with fear, when we're concerned about our way of life, we do a lot of things that are ugly, and hateful and harmful. One of the things that people are afraid of, and you mentioned this in the book is that the nation is changing, that it's becoming more minority, or that there'll be a majority of minorities in the fairly near future. If it hasn't already happened. It's already happened in some places. I want to play you a clip, if you would allow me it's about two minutes long. And it's probably something that you've seen, but I'm not sure everybody has. This is the mayor of New York City, Eric Adams, and he's talking to a town hall meeting in the Upper West Side of Manhattan. It's early in September of 2023, when he's having this conversation, and he's talking about immigration, and I just want us to listen to his language. And you know, I'm gonna come back and ask you, again, is this Christian nationalism in the African American mayor of New York City, let's just watch it real quick.

Speaker 5 41:29  

Never in my life. Have I had a problem that I did not see an end into. I don't see an end into this. I don't see an ending to this. This issue will destroy New York City, we get in 10,000 migrants a month. One time we were just in Venezuela. Now we're going Ecuador. Now we're getting Russia speaking coming through Mexico. Now, again, a Western Africa. Now we get people from all over the globe have made their minds up that they're going to come through the southern part of the border and come into New York City. And everyone is saying is New York City's problem. Every community in this city is going to be impacted, we got a $12 billion deficit, that we're going to have to cut every service, this city is going to be impacted all of us. So I say to you, as I turn it over to you. This is some some of the most educated, some of the most knowledgeable, probably more of my commissioners and Deputy Commissioners and chiefs live in this community. So as you asked me a question about migrants, tell me what role you played. How many of you organize to stop what they're doing what to us? How many of you were part of the movement to say, we're seeing what this man is trying to do and they destroy in New York City. It's gonna come to your neighborhoods. All of us are going to be impacted by this. I said last year, when we had 15,000, I'm telling you now 110,000, the city we knew we're about to lose. So

Keith Simon 43:33  

Andrew, I want to come back to you on that. We're listening to Eric Adams, the mayor of New York City there. And I think it's important for me to say that people who listen to our podcast will know I've never voted for Donald Trump, nor will I ever. But if he had said this, or if a conservative religious leader had said this, there would be an uproar and the language he used, they are coming to ruin our city. And he mentions the specific countries they are coming from, and they're going to want all these services. And it's language that if Donald Trump were used, it would be called Christian nationalism, I think or if a conservative religious figure had used it, it would have been called ugly Christian nationalism. But for some reason, I've never heard anybody say that about these comments, although they've been out for a while. So help me understand. Am I wrong? Is this not ugly? Or is it okay? Is this Christian nationalism? Do you agree that in the mouth of someone else that would be called that helped me I don't understand it's a genuine question.

Andrew Whitehead 44:36  

There's a lot in there to unpack. So as I listened to that, it really reminded me a lot of James Dobson when he did the letter from the southern border, this was number of years ago, but I highlight it in the book, a lot of the same language, right? They and like overwhelm and he used much more descriptive language than even Mayor Adams did there. But I think in both what really comes through is Hi During this sense of fear and threat, like you said, and it isn't as though those aren't real, right, we feel fear and threat that's going to exist. And especially in a country like ours that's as big as ours with all these different groups and communities living in it. There's a lot of differences and changes that taking place and happening. So it isn't as though, you know, Christians should magically just not feel concerned about things. But I think with what he had to say with what James Dobson had to say about this particular issue, I think, in both, you know, whether it was enough, or perhaps folks did, and, you know, you and I missed it, calling out the dehumanizing rhetoric and trying to think as Christians, how should we view and see these folks, not just that they're coming, but why they're coming? What are the reasons for they're coming? Because that's wrapped up in and how the United States is operated on the world stage? What what do we owe them? What do we owe the global community? How can we leverage what we have? And yeah, one city might feel overwhelmed? And is that a failure of broadly, our federal system to be able to manage this or to support other groups or those that have been at the forefront of the real humanitarian crisis in different places, or the need that people have? Are we resourcing those communities to be able to better serve and save and feed and clothe and all of those things? And so yeah, whether it's James Dobson, or mayor Adams, in that particular clip, and there may be more, you know, I didn't hear Mayor Adams explicitly citing America as a Christian nation. And he might have other times, you know, I don't know. But yeah, as I look at James Dobson's letter where he's explicitly highlighting, you know, we're a Christian nation, we need to defend our Christianity and our culture. I think those are somewhat different. But I think, by all accounts for me speaking in terms of a and dehumanizing rhetoric, I think Christians should want to do better. But again, I really want to underscore there aren't any simple, like, you know, Red Pill answers, where it's like, oh, this solves it. Right. This is incredibly complex issue that Christians need to be a part of, if it costs us something, well, isn't that what we're called to? And if it means that we have to leverage or set aside even some of the privileges and benefits of being an American, where it may not be quite as easy for us? Isn't that what we should be engaged with or pushed towards? And again, I'm not going to be able to sit here and be like, Hey, this is the Christian response to refugee and immigration, you know, in the 2023. US, but what are those values? What can we push towards? How can we be in the conversation that doesn't? dehumanize? Well, and

Keith Simon 47:45  

I don't think Mayor Adams brought up anything about being a Christian nation, at least nothing that I heard. And so I do understand that that's a little bit different than your example of James Dobson's letter A few years ago. But what I think is that sometimes the debate over something like immigration, and it's a tough issue, I mean, nobody has the right answers. When Donald Trump was in office, he didn't solve the problem when previous presidents regardless of their party, were in office, they didn't solve the problem, either. So I don't know why we expect this current administration to have the secret answer, you know, nobody seems to be able to figure this out. But what I see is that Christians sometimes who are interested in preventing illegal immigration, they're labeled as Christian nationalists. And my biggest fear is that we're going to dilute Christian nationalism, because we're just calling whether you want power, or you tell your voters to be afraid of the other party, or you are against illegal immigration, when all that's labeled Christian nationalism, and I'm not saying by you, but out there in the popular culture, then I'm afraid we dilute it. And I think Christian nationalism as more narrowly defined, as you have done so by saying is limiting who benefits and it's about accumulating power and keeping people out of power in the name of your faith, I think that is a really serious issue. I read this book, The Great D churching. And if you're familiar with it or not, it's by Ryan Burgess, another sociologist in your field and a couple of pastors at a church. And one of the things that they were saying is that perhaps the way conservatives are deconstructing is by becoming more secular in their output. They still call themselves Christians, but they don't really go to church, right? That there's this group of people who call themselves evangelicals now, but they're not connected in any meaningful way to church and conservative Christians, deconstruct some of them not all deconstruct into this kind of political world of Christian nationalism and other variations. Do you think that explains part of the support for Donald Trump among the 81% of white evangelicals, who famously voted for him? Is that at least in part due to people who still take the identity of evangelicals, but don't actually engage with the faith go to church aren't active in their faith, or am I being too hopeful?

Andrew Whitehead 50:07  

Yeah, I think the empirical evidence even from Ryan Berge and other things, I've seen him right or another political scientist, Paul jute. There's a lot of really strong evidence that it isn't just the non attending. Christians are conservatives that supported Trump. And that's where we get this number. But it was from the outset, even in the primaries, church going evangelicals and white evangelicals is that 81% that we hear a lot about, but it was those that are going to church, they were voting and voting for Trump are supporting Trump from the very beginning. And so I think that, in this sense, from my point of view, were talking about Christian nationalism helps us to be more precise, that it's that cultural framework helps explain why so many church going white evangelicals were supporting Donald Trump, or some of these policies that he supported as well, rather than just all white evangelicals are saying that this blanket term, it's this whole group, right? But it's those that embrace this to varying degrees that helps us understand some of the reasoning why, right, and some of the how they were making those decisions and pushing forward and that,

Keith Simon 51:15  

well, Andrew Whitehead, we really appreciate your time, your book is American idolatry, how Christian nationalism betrays the gospel, and threatens the church. Your other book was Sam Perry, taking America back for God. Where are you active? Where can people follow you? Or what social media or other places? Do you post articles?

Andrew Whitehead 51:33  

I'm on Twitter for how to know what is your ex Twitter? how long that lasts, I'm still there. But also on Instagram. But yeah, I started a substack. So it's my name, that sub So people can find me there. And then to just a really quick plug, I just recorded a four part limited series podcast on Christian nationalism. And so the first two episodes, I'm not sure when this episode that I'm on here with you goes live. But here at the very beginning of October, the third episode just came out today. The fourth one will be in a week. So yeah, over the, you know, mid September to mid October, putting those out. And so, yeah, for folks that would be interested. It's called American Idols. For folks that are interested in that, too. Can find that find me there. Yeah. I really appreciate the conversation. So thank you. Well,

Keith Simon 52:21  

if you ever want to see Andrew debate with the hard right, what I would call the Christian nationalist, right, Twitter is a fun follow us kind of sit back and watch and I don't engage but he's got some that come back over and over and over repeated customer, shall we say? I always learn a little bit. Not much, but a little bit, but your back end. Yeah. And your podcast sound more promising. Hey, thanks so much for your time. Have a great day. Yeah,

Andrew Whitehead 52:48  

thank you, you as well.

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