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  • Writer's pictureDave Verhaagen

The Rise of Christian Nationalism

Updated: Sep 30, 2022

As political scientist Ryan Burge recently demonstrated on Twitter, there has been an exponential rise in tweets containing “Christian Nationalism” in the past three months. Interest and awareness in the topic is going through the roof. There’s good reason for this. As elections near, we have more candidates talking in Christian Nationalism language. Georgia Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene recently said, “We need to be the party of nationalism and I'm a Christian, and I say it proudly, we should be Christian nationalists.” She’s not the only one. The GOP, with the backing of white evangelicals, has seemingly been overrun by Christian Nationalists.

So what is Christian Nationalism? How do we define it? Christian Nationalists believe that America was specially chartered by God and that it must be governed in ways that please God or it will face his punishment. The most passionate adherents to this view would say the founding documents, like the US Constitution, were inspired by God. As Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick said at the 2022 CPAC Conference, “We were a nation founded upon not the words of our founders, but the words of God because He wrote the Constitution.”

As I show in “How White Evangelicals Think,” Christian Nationalists are thoroughly anti-democratic, believing they alone should have power, that they alone should be in charge. Psychologically, they tend to be harsh and hostile, rigid, pessimistic, and score high on a concept called Social Dominance Orientation (SDO), which involves a vigorous support of hierarchies where they are at the top of the food chain. Not surprisingly, they have strong resistance to equality.

My argument is Christian Nationalism is the intellectual and theological cover for a concept called collective narcissism. White evangelicals have become a group that believes it is special and that outsiders don’t see how special they are. Consequently, they feel justified in opposing and demonizing the Other. This is the essence of Collective Narcissism. As Dr. Agnieszka Golec de Zavala, the pioneering researcher on the subject, told me, “Collective Narcissism is ‘in-group love’ associated with ‘out-group hate.’”

There seems to be a toxic stew of three ingredients that leads an individual who is part of a group to score high on collective narcissism. They typically rate higher in some form of narcissism themselves, whether the grandiose or the vulnerable variety. They also tend to have low self-esteem, which is usually at the root of narcissism anyway. And, thirdly, they have to perceive threat. The liberals are trying to ruin the country. Muslims are trying to kill us all. Gays are coming for our children. Feminists want to emasculate our boys. Progressives want to arrest Christians.

When these three ingredients—personal narcissism, low self-esteem, and perceived threat—are all present, a person begins to see his tribe as particularly special but under attack. As a member of that special group, he now has the obligation to protect the group. In doing so, he protects the plans and purposes of God Himself.

Historically, it would be antithetical to the historical faith for evangelicals to hate their enemies, oppose the alien among them, or strive to maintain power. Now, Christian Nationalism provides intellectual and theological cover to do exactly that. Christian Nationalism provides the framework that permits hostility toward those outside the group and a desire to maintain political and economic power. Our country is specially ordained by God. We are stewards of it, so we must be in control and keep it from straying from its Christian roots. If we succeed, God is pleased, but if we fail, we will lose the country and face the wrath of God.

Now in this framework, a Christian Nationalist is not only permitted to engage in fierce culture wars designed to maintain power at all costs, but compelled by God to do so. The Christian Nationalist must take America back for God.

So in the conversations about Christian Nationalism, know that Christian Nationalism is a real thing and a bad thing, but it is also the Trojan Horse of Collective Narcissism. It is the disguise that gets decidedly non-Christian attitudes inside the gates of white conservative Christian spaces.

In “How White Evangelicals Think,” I have an entire chapter dedicated to Christian Nationalism and another chapter explaining Collective Narcissism. Both chapters will help you understand these important concepts more deeply.


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