November 9, 2022
IntelBrief: “On, then, Christian Soldiers, on to Victory”: Christian Nationalism Goes Global
As rioters breached the U.S. Capitol building on January 6th, 2020, a “Jesus Saves” sign could be seen next to gallows built by insurrectionists, as spontaneous prayer, worship music, and tearful renditions of the Battle Hymn of the Republic, “Glory, glory, hallelujah,” punctuated the chaos inside the Capitol building. This past weekend in Branson, Missouri, the Reawaken America tour, a cross between a charismatic worship service and a political rally, gathered thousands of people in a fusion of worship, political prophecy, and far-right conspiracy theories. A cultural identity agile enough to include militia groups, QAnon conspiracists, and election deniers, Christian nationalism often marries apocalyptic and militant language with an aim for the U.S. to be declared a Christian nation and the government to promote a specific interpretation of Anglo-Protestantism as the country’s official culture. The movement is certainly not new; however, the growing number on the political right embracing the identity – as well as its potential to radicalize – has brought increasing public awareness to the potential threat it poses to American democracy and U.S. national security.
A growing number of U.S. candidates and politicians, such as Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, Representative Lauren Boebert of Colorado, and gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano of Pennsylvania, are openly embracing Christian nationalism and capitalizing on the movement to gain political support. Some, including Doug Mastriano, Rep. Lauren Boebert, and candidate Dan Cox of Maryland, have gone so far as to explicitly call for the end of long-held values of the American political system, such as the separation of church and state. During the many stops on the Reawaken America tour, retired three-star Army general Michael Flynn and other personalities on the far right have warned the thousands in attendance that they are in the midst of both a spiritual and political war, urging them to get involved in the fight. In Branson this past weekend, the tour made its last pre-election stop where speakers including Flynn, Eric Trump, and MyPillow founder and outspoken election denier Mike Lindell, spoke to thousands of people in highly prophetic and sometimes militant language of a “red wave” during Tuesday’s U.S. midterm elections and a “second-coming” of former President Donald Trump. More than just prophesying their victory, speakers also attacked American democratic institutions, repeated the “Big Lie” that the 2020 election was stolen, and promulgated COVID-19 conspiracy theories, reinforcing disinformation narratives that experts have warned could lead to increased political violence. Flynn has also taken his “holy war” local by utilizing his influence to make political endorsements in school board elections, energize voters, and promote a local movement that includes members of the Proud Boys militia group.
Christian nationalism, with its burgeoning network of politicians, conferences, political action groups, and far-right personalities, is growing in momentum globally. This summer, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán was a headliner at the influential Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), where he called for national movements “to coordinate the movement of [their] troops because [they] face the same challenge” and for Christian nationalists to “unite their forces.” Orbán has become a popular face of the global Christian nationalist movement, unabashedly promoting a pronatalist, ethnocentric, and at times explicitly racist, version of Christian and “family” values in the political sphere. Influential conservative voices, such as the writer and editor Rod Dreher and Fox News television personality Tucker Carlson, have upheld Hungary as a conservative, Christian utopia fighting against globalism, progressives, immigrants, and refugees. In Italy, the newly elected prime minister, Giorgia Meloni, has promised to “defend God, country, and family,” often using religious language to appeal to the Italian electorate. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who has yet to concede defeat in the recent presidential election, has capitalized on deeply contentious issues, such as abortion, and invoked religious language to court evangelical leaders and transform fast-growing evangelical churches into the bedrock of his base. Influential Brazilian ministers have called upon their congregants to attend protests against democratic institutions and have spread disinformation, such as that Bolsonaro’s opponent, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, will close Christian churches. At a Kremlin ceremony to mark the illegal annexation of four Ukrainian territories – Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia, and Kherson – Russian President Vladimir Putin described the annexation as a “glorious spiritual choice” and quoted the Sermon on the Mount, a text from the Christian New Testament scriptures. “Desatanization” of Ukraine has become a popular term among Russian media and politics and as a justification for the war, and some leaders have viewed the invasion as instrumentalized by the Russian Orthodox Church.
Militant Christian nationalist narratives risk heightening the prospects of political violence. Some Christian nationalists have openly called for their aims to be accomplished through civil war, to fight evil forces and restore the country to a mythical greatness of the past. Although Christian nationalism is a cultural identity, as the emphasis is not on adherence to a specific theological doctrine or church involvement, the vague references to religious themes and the utilization of familiar language within certain religious environments, resonates with many on the religious right. This, coupled with the increasingly militant language and alignment with militia groups, renders the potential threat even more potent. Moreover, according to Pew Research Center, 45 percent of Americans say the U.S. should be a “Christian nation,” and 28 percent believe the federal government should be declare the U.S. a Christian nation, demonstrating the pervasiveness of some Christian nationalist narratives. Working with religious leaders, academics, and other experts is crucial to countering anti-democratic and violent narratives. However, as the growing global movement and U.S. Capitol insurrection display, Christian nationalism will likely remain a significant force and, consequently, a potential threat to democracy and national security.