Part Twelve: Christian Nationalism and the Trump Effect

Amanda Tylor, the Executive Director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty (BJC), describes Christian nationalism this way,

“The ‘Christian’ in Christian nationalism is more about identity than religion and carries with it assumptions about nativism, white supremacy, authoritarianism, patriarchy, and militarism.”

In her recent book The Power Worshippers, Katherine Stewart chronicles her decades-long investigation into Christian nationalism. The sobering reality is that Christian nationalism represents a clear and present danger to democracies everywhere. It is a worldwide network of evangelical and like-minded religious organizations funded by a dark web of extremely wealthy, powerful, old-money conservative families.

More than half of Republicans now openly identify as Christian nationalists. Not all Christian nationalists are card-carrying members of the American Nazi Movement, KKK, Proud Boys, or Oath Keepers. But there is little doubt many still deeply identify with the ideology of white nationalism sanctified by a militant, evangelical version of Christianity.

Christian nationalism exploits conservative churches, primarily white evangelical and Catholic churches. In that respect, it’s a parasitic movement that relies on host churches to spread its message and mobilize its voting base. Exposing it is a necessary first step, but stopping its influence is difficult because it is an amorphous, decentralized political movement that exists outside of any specific denomination.

Today’s Christian nationalist movement evolved from the Religious Right and Moral Majority, movements created by televangelists and conservative power brokers. In that respect, Trump seems biologically engineered to unite the religious right, with a televangelist’s gift for showmanship and a pathological lack of conscience. This is also what makes Trump infinitely more dangerous than his conservative rivals.

As the January 6th insurrection exploded into full view, it was tempting to think Trump had finally sealed his fate. Surely, he would face the condemnation of anyone who valued democracy, conservative or not.

But Trump’s base was largely unfazed. They seemed even more determined to put him back in office, even if it meant subverting democracy all together.

Many people underestimated how strongly Trump’s message of rage, racism, bigotry, and misogyny would resonate in America. As Trump famously remarked, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and wouldn’t lose any voters, okay? It’s, like, incredible.”

If you think that’s hyperbole, consider how loyal Trump’s base has been since he entered the political scene. In 2016, he received 46.1% of the popular vote and that percentage remained roughly the same in 2020, coming in at 46.8%. Even though Trump is the only president to never achieve a 50% approval rating while in office, his numbers were fairly consistent, averaging 41%.

Trump expertly preys on his followers’ deepest and darkest fears about immigrants and white replacement. He validates their generational malice toward Black Americans and people of color. He exploits their misguided views on science, religion, and other cultures. And he manipulates their Christian faith to demonize anyone who supports women’s reproductive rights and LGBTQ identities.

Through his nearly continuous attacks against democratic principles and anyone who challenges him, Trump has effectively normalized tyranny. Hannah Arendt described this normalization as the banality of evil. It results in populations becoming desensitized to the erosion of their civil and human rights as oppressors commit greater and greater atrocities.

Christian nationalism, by its very nature, relies on an ambiguous Christian narrative to both spread its message and deceive the uninitiated. This makes it difficult to confront without offending Christians who don’t subscribe to it or may not understand its true intentions. It is not just another Christian denomination with a different opinion on spirituality, it was created specifically as a political weapon.

None of this is really new, as Kristin Kobes Du Mez points out in her book, Jesus and John Wayne. It’s entirely consistent with enduring, mainstream evangelical values, where leaders have long preached a “mutually reinforcing vision of Christian masculinity — of patriarchy and submission, sex and power.”

In the recently released documentary, “God and Country,” Du Mez warns us that Christian nationalism is not some fringe movement. It is an extremely well-funded, global network of conservative think tanks and power brokers, politicians, and church leaders.

Christian nationalism seeks to create a Christian American Kingdom that is best described as a theocratic fascist state. Unlike in 2020, they are well prepared to hit the ground running if Trump is elected. For starters, PBS reports that the conservative Heritage Foundation is leading Project 2025, a transition plan that would replace around 50,000 civil employees with an “army” of employees loyal to Trump.

To see a model of how Trump’s Christian government would work in practice, look no further than the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) under Trump. Roger Severino was appointed by Trump to direct the HHS Office of Civil Rights, and in 2018 created the Conscience and Religious Freedom Division.

Severino sought to punish blue states for protecting abortion access by encouraging conservatives to file complaints that those policies violated their religious convictions. He also rescinded an HHS regulation protecting trans people from discrimination in health care.

As reported by Sarah Posner, the Heritage Foundation’s thousand-page 2025 mandate calls for HHS to once again be the “epicenter of imposing the Christian right’s agenda on all Americans, under the guise of protecting the ‘conscience’ and ‘religious freedom’ of people who oppose abortion and LGBTQ rights.” She explains Severino’s views on LGBTQ rights as a “malevolent ideology deployed by soulless bureaucrats to crush the freedom of religious Americans.”

In his condemnation of gender-affirming health care, Severino has gone on record espousing easily debunked lies that contradict the peer-reviewed, scientifically validated recommendations of every major medical and mental health organization in the United States and internationally. He follows the script established long ago by segregationists who promoted lies about the inferiority and threat of Black Americans using pseudo-science to justify their inherent racism.

This speaks volumes about the lengths conservative leaders are willing to go to unite white Christian voters by demonizing vulnerable populations. Most recently, at the 2024 National Religious Broadcasters Convention in Nashville, Trump preached a sermon to the choir of white conservative Christians that should be very familiar to Black Americans:

“Remember, every communist regime throughout history has tried to stamp out the churches, just like every fascist regime has tried to co-opt them and control them, and, in America, the radical left is trying to do both. They want to tear down crosses where they can and cover them up with social justice flags, but no one will be touching the cross of Christ under the Trump administration, I swear to you.”

Conservative Christians have long opposed social justice and have fought fiercely to preserve racist systems of segregation and discrimination. Christian nationalism is the rebirth of those earlier movements. But in Trump they truly did find their savior, a messiah figure who is not burdened by conscience or a moral compass. Trump is someone who has no problem with arguments devoid of logic and reason, and is more than willing to say and do anything to get a few votes.

This is the Trump Effect. It is real and it is powerful. Combined with the wealth and influence of the Christian nationalist movement, it presents a clear and present danger to our country. And it is why we must rebel.

Peter Tchoryk

Sign up on this site to receive updates on the Scientific Rebellion. If podcasts are your thing, please check out our Scientific Rebel podcasts.