Volume 28, Issue 6, September 2022
Christian attempts at hibernating from corrupt world systems, people, and governments, are nothing new. From monasticism in post-apostolic times to utopian societies to cults to the new monasticism, Christians and others have sought protection throughout the years from tyranny, moral pollution, and governmental overreach. Today such is found in several overlapping movements including Christian Nationalism, the American Redoubt,[i] Kingdom Now Pentecostals, and theonomy. This series of articles will ultimately focus on the Pacific Northwest and the growing and influential Reconstructionist communities that emphasize not only hibernation but ultimately rebuilding American society after a new order immersed in OT Law. The best-known spokesman for this community is Doug Wilson, Pastor of Christ Church and board member and professor at New St. Andrew College in Moscow, Idaho. But before we can examine Wilson and the American Redoubt in detail, we have to trace down and have at least a basic understanding of many links that connect and have led to this phenomenon.
Links to the Past
Perhaps the earliest attempts among Christians to separate from secular society can be found in the desert fathers and mothers. These hermits and ascetics lived primarily in the desert near Egypt beginning around the 3rd century. Many of them became the spiritual heroes of the early church due to their dedicated ascetic lifestyles, claims of visions and miracles, and willingness to separate from all influences of sin and sinners. Later, during the middle ages, monasteries filled with monks and nuns followed in the hermits’ footsteps and embraced their pattern of living. The Reformers rejected monasticism, and it died out within the Protestant church.
Church History Magazine writes concerning the 17th century Puritans that,
While some worked patiently to reform the church, moving it inch by inch and year by year, others gave up hope that such a political megachurch would ever change. So they separated from the national church to fashion a fellowship of their own, with the New Testament as their only guide… The decade of the 1630s, producing what has been called the Great Migration, saw the population of Massachusetts Bay soar to nearly 9,000… [the first governor in America] John Winthrop saw the Puritan venture as a way of demonstrating how nations could prosper and be blessed. God, Winthrop said, would “make us a praise and glory, so much so that men will say of succeeding plantations: ‘the Lord make it like that of New England.’ [In short,] We must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill, the eyes of all people are upon us.”[ii]
The Puritan experience would fail in due time, but their dream died hard.
The word utopian was coined by Sir Thomas More in his 1516 book Utopia, which described a fictional island society in the New World. America during the 1800s could boast of as many as 100 utopian communities with a total combined membership of over 100,000. The founders of these societies usually came from Europe in their quest to establish heaven on earth in small communities of like-minded people. Almost all of these efforts were religious in nature, adopted some form of voluntary communism, and had aberrant views of sex—often advocating celibacy or, at best, tolerance of marital relationships, or sometimes the other extreme, free love. The most important nineteenth-century utopian communities include the Shakers, New Harmony, Fourierism, Brook Farm, Bishop Hill, and Oneida. Eventually, the idealism behind such efforts faded away along with the optimism of the times.[iii]
Of course, much could be said about the Mormon migration, the Amish communities, the Amana Colonies, and even the Moravians, and recurring movements to establish the kingdom of God on earth through social justice in the first third of the 20th century (a subject that will be covered later), but I think the point has been made. Humanity longs for an idyllic paradise in which prosperity flows, harmony reigns, and enemies, perceived or real, are marginalized. Unbelievers frame their utopias in the form of social and political justice, whereas Christians would include the reign of Christ. Christians look to Scripture which promises the return of the Lord at which time He will set up and reign over the His kingdom on earth. In the meanwhile, how are Christians to respond to the political and social injustices, and ungodly governments that often impose their standards upon their citizens and unnecessarily intrude into their lives? This is the subject of our current study, and there are many interwoven themes to explore, beginning with…
Christian Nationalism is a political movement that has very little connection to Christianity, and thus is badly misnamed.[iv] Nevertheless, the media, political leaders, and others have marketed the label so heavily as to have little hope of separating the two words in the understanding of most Americans. Still, Andrew Whitehead and Samuel Perry, both professors of sociology at respected American universities, have written an important book to bring clarity to its meaning. I will be borrowing from my review of their book, Taking America Back for God, for this article. This volume reflects scholarship and painstaking research on the subject of Christian Nationalism, which the authors claim is “the first empirical examination in the United States.”[v] The goal is to “thoroughly explore one factor that, as we will show, plays a large, unique, but often unrecognized (and at times, misrecognized) role in our nation’s current cultural and political conflicts. That factor is Christian Nationalism.”[vi] While I take exception to some of the views espoused in Taking America Back, as will be mentioned below, I do believe Whitehead and Perry essentially accomplished their goals.
A definition of Christian Nationalism is imperative and yet, despite all the research presented, clarity is still hard to come by. Below are a few of the definitions scattered throughout the book.
- “An ideology that idealizes and advocates a fusion of American civic life with a particular type of Christian identity and culture.”[vii]
- “A commitment to a vision of American civic life and polity as closely intertwined with an identarian, politically conservative strain of Christianity.”[viii]
- “A collection of myths, traditions, symbols, narratives, and value systems—that idealizes and advocates a Christianity with American civic life.”[ix]
- “Christian nationalists view God’s expectations of America as akin to His commands to Old Testament Israel.”[x]
- “Idealizes a mythic society in which real Americans—white, native-born, mostly Protestants—maintain control over access to society’s social, cultural, and political institutions, and ‘others’ remain in their proper place. It, therefore, seeks strong boundaries to separate ‘us’ from ‘them,’ preserving privilege for its rightful recipients while equating racial and religious outsiders with criminality, violence, and inferiority.”[xi]
Even with these definitions, determining the meaning of Christian Nationalism remains, in my view, elusive. One important distinction the authors repeatedly make is that Christian Nationalism is not equivalent to evangelicalism, or white evangelicalism for that matter.[xii] They write, “Christian Nationalism is not ‘Christianity’ or even ‘religion’ properly speaking.”[xiii] In fact, it often influences opinion and behaviors in the exact opposite direction from ways traditional religious commitment does.[xiv] This distinction is deeply appreciated, but by the continual use of “Christian” with nationalism the authors are guilty of muddying the waters considerably. Obviously, a new term is needed to avoid confusion, but no such term is offered in Taking America Back for God, or in most other depictions and, as misleading as it is, the handle “Christian Nationalism” is destined to hang around for some time to come.
The authors’ research serves to identify four main orientations toward Christian Nationalism in the United States:[xv]
- Rejecters, who comprise 21.5% of Americans, believe there should be no connection between Christianity or Christian values and politics.[xvi]
- Resisters are more likely to be religious but want to keep a separation between politics and Christian views. Twenty-seven percent of Americans are in this category.
- Accommodators are the largest group at 32.1% and believe in traditional Christian values as foundational to America but do not fully favor Christianity alone.
- Ambassadors (19.8%) wholly support Christian Nationalism.[xvii] Surprisingly African Americans are the most supportive ethnic group of Christian Nationalism—with 65% in favor.[xviii]
Actually, Christian Nationalism is found across all socio-demographics, religious, and political make-ups.[xix] And yet, in contradiction to the very premise the authors have documented, they state that there is “no better encapsulation of Christian Nationalism than ‘you stand at the flag and kneel at the cross.’[xx] Just a few pages later they write, “The great paradox is that Christian Nationalism and religiosity often influence Americans political views in the exact opposite direction.[xxi]” This is because the authors believe the Christianity of Christian Nationalists is less drawn from the Bible and more drawn from culture—it is a secularized form of Christianity.[xxii]
According to these scholars, what separates Christian Nationalists from opposing positions are views concerning wedge issues such as abortion,[xxiii] gun laws, the traditional family,[xxiv] gender roles, morals, homosexuality,[xxv] respect for authority, [xxvi] immigration, and privilege that should be afforded to those born in America.[xxvii]
Whitehead’s and Perry’s research is massive and helpful; but even in a book supposedly presenting empirical data, there are serious concerns. I will mention two: biases and truncated evaluations. First, bias: The authors ultimately determine that Christian Nationalism is primarily about power.[xxviii] Nationalists view America for Americans who were born in this country, have traditional values, conservative politics, and are at least nominal Christians.[xxix] If by power the authors mean that Christian Nationalists want to so influence, and even control, society in such a way that their ideological agenda is dominant in America, I would have to agree. On the other hand, the book does not address that progressives, the ideological opposite of Nationalists, seek the same power. They too want to determine life in America, including politics, education, and institutions at every level. Unfortunately, since Take Back America was published in 2020, the authors had not witnessed the popularity of Critical Race Theory, the death of George Floyd, and the social unrest that followed, or the cancel culture trend. What has become obvious is that progressives seek power every bit as much as Nationalists, and both groups vilify and energize each other. To totally ignore the cultural Marxist agenda of American progressives, as the authors do, leaves the reader with a lopsided understanding of why nationalists are so determined.
These scholars’ bias is also evident in their response to those who see much of the difficulties in the Black community as being trackable to the breakdown of the family and the absence of fathers. White and Perry make no effort to empirically examine these claims, but rather consider them reactionary and fascist.[xxx] Christian Nationalism values “connect America’s very survival as a civilization with its adherence to traditional definitions of family, gender, gender roles, and heterosexuality.” Such values are at odds with progressives but deserve respect and evaluation, not dismissal.
My evaluational accusation stems from Whitehead’s and Perry’s either intentional blindness or at least their inability to distinguish two very different prongs found in Christian Nationalism—the political and the spiritual/moral. The authors lump together social/political views concerning immigration, Islamic influences, racism, management of poverty, gun control, and the military with moral issues such as gender, sexual behavior, abortion, divorce, homosexuality, transgenderism, and family values. They rightly document that the more religious Americans are, the less likely they are to ostracize immigrants, espouse anti-black prejudice or fear Muslims; and the more likely they are to desire traditional gender roles in the home, oppose same-sex marriage and transgender rights, and have negative views of divorce.[xxxi] Nevertheless, these researchers attribute the moral views of religious individuals to their “orientation toward societal ‘order’ and threats to the ‘proper’ arrangements.”[xxxii] In other words, power and control are at the heart of conservative/traditional positions on moral issues every bit as much as political ones. It does not seem to dawn on Whitehead and Perry that true Christians’ moral convictions are drawn from Scripture and ultimately come from God Himself. Such Christians are identified by the authors as Christian Nationalists when in reality they are attempting to live according to the moral standards established by the Scriptures. The authors may agree with this assessment to a point, but then rebut that such people belong in the Christian Nationalist camp because they want to impose their standards on society. We are back to power, but again Whitehead and Perry choose to ignore that rejecters and resisters are just as zealous to impose their standards on Americans as are ambassadors.
The research found in this volume related to Christian Nationalism is valuable and helps unravel a complicated and multilayered ideology that is prevalent in America. I appreciate Whitehead’s and Perry’s clarification that evangelicalism, white or otherwise, is not synonymous with Christian Nationalism. It would have been best if the authors had dropped “Christian” altogether and spoke purely of nationalism. Some of the strongest representatives of nationalism have nothing to do with Christianity and most Christians are not nationalists by the definitions found in this book. Nevertheless, nationalistic ideology certainly exists and is a powerful influence in America, but so does progressive ideology that opposes nationalism. The bias of the authors is evident in their depreciation of nationalism, their dismissal of accusations that do not fit their agenda, and their refusal to recognize that progressives are grasping for power as much as nationalists. Still, the research reveals a great divide in America. And as will be seen later in this project, some Christian leaders, such as Doug Wilson, seem to adopt the handle of Christian Nationalism, which further confuses the matter.
Speaking of Doug Wilson, he believes, “Christian Nationalism… is a responsible position that a mentally balanced and decent citizen can take. Moreover, it is a position that all consistent Christians need to take.”[xxxiii] Wilson believes there are three basic options when it comes to how nations of men are organized: nationalism, tribalism, or internationalism.[xxxiv] The church has to relate to whatever the world is currently doing and its obligation is, based on the Great Commission, that “all the nations of men are to be brought into submission to Christ.”[xxxv] Wilson admits that in the current climate there is no way to seek to make America a Christian nation without drawing the charge of Christian Nationalism, but that does not concern him for Jesus instructed us, he believes, to disciple “all nations,” not just people.[xxxvi]
But we are getting ahead of ourselves at this point. We need to back up and understand the theology driving Wilson and those of the Redoubt. In our next article, we will examine postmillennialism, theonomy, and reconstructionism. Then we will be in a position to grasp the philosophies behind Wilson’s form of Christian Nationalism.
[i] According to Wikipedia, The American Redoubt is a political migration movement first proposed in 2011 by survivalist novelist and blogger James Wesley Rawles, which designates Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming along with parts of Oregon and Washington, as a haven for conservative Christians. Rawles chose this area due to its low population density and lack of natural hazards.
[ii] Edwin S. Gaustad, “Quest for Pure Christianity,” Christian History, Issue 41: “The American Puritans
Quest for Pure Christianity.”
[iii] See Mark Holloway, Heavens on Earth, Utopian Communities in America 1680-1880 (New York: Dover Publications, 1966), Spencer Klaw, Without Sin, the Life and Death of the Oneida Community (New York, Penguin Books, 1993).
[iv] However, some Christians in the Redoubt champion their movement as Christian Nationalism. This claim will be examined in a future article.
[v] Andrew L. Whitehead and Samuel L. Perry Taking America Back for God (New York: Oxford University Press, 2020), p. xi.
[vii] Ibid., ix-x.
[viii] Ibid., xi.
[ix] Ibid., p. 10.
[x] Ibid., p. 11.
[xi] Ibid., pp. 118-119.
[xii] Ibid., p. 20.
[xv] Ibid., p. 10.
[xvi] Ibid., pp. 26-29.
[xvii] Ibid., pp. 10-38.
[xviii] Ibid., p. 41.
[xix] Ibid., p. 44.
[xx] Ibid., p. 80.
[xxi] Ibid., p. 84.
[xxii] Ibid., p. 87.
[xxiii] Ibid., p. 73.
[xxiv] Ibid., p. 121.
[xxv] Ibid., pp. 123-136.
[xxvi] Ibid., p. 103.
[xxvii] Ibid., pp. 118-119, 153.
[xxviii] Ibid., p. 161.
[xxix] Ibid., p. 63.
[xxx] Ibid., pp. 122-123.
[xxxi] Ibid., p. 143.
[xxxii] Ibid., p. 145.
[xxxiii] Doug Wilson, Christian Nationalism and Other Things that Skeerded Us Real Bad, https://dougwils.com/books-and-culture/s7-engaging-the-culture/christian-nationalism-and-other-things-that-skeerded-us-bad.html.
by Gary E. Gilley, Pastor/Teacher Southern View Chapel