We’re All Christian Nationalists Now

James Carville and Rob Reiner sound the alarm

During Democratic political strategist James Carville’s recent appearance on Real Time with Bill Maher he stated that Speaker of the House Mike Johnson “is a bigger threat than Al Qaeda to this country.” In a talk Carville gave (recorded on TikTok) he got into the more dangerous aspects of Johnson’s fascist plot to take over America. Among the alarming facts is that Johnson uses the online monitoring software Covenant Eyes to protect his children from pornography and other harms while they use the internet. Rob Reiner (an atheist) has said recently that “Christian Nationalism is not only a danger to our Country, it’s a danger to Christianity itself.” His forthcoming documentary God and Country—starring, among others, Russell Moore and David French—will lay out all the gory details.

It’s easy to dismiss such claims as the rantings of extreme zealots, or to insist that Christians don’t believe the horrible things we’re said to believe. Mike Johnson, along these lines, has called on Democrats to condemn Carville’s rhetoric and for Carville to apologize. The insistence that these men on the Left apologize, however, seems to be premised on the idea that they believe something outside the range of acceptable beliefs on the Left. If only we could get rid of the loonies like Carville, so it goes, then we could get back to bipartisan business as usual.

That seems increasingly unlikely. Republicans like Mike Johnson actually are a threat to the way of life desired by Carville, Reiner and their fellow travelers. The charges leveled against politically active Christians are completely at home within the moral and political framework in which Carville and Reiner operate. Carville’s comment about Covenant Eyes is what really tipped me off. To someone like me, it is the most natural thing in the world that I would do whatever is necessary to protect my children from evil when they are online. I know that the demand for absolute and sacrosanct teenage privacy, as unthinkingly prevalent as it is in our society, is harmful. I know that my vocation as a father is to protect my children. Their spiritual, emotional, and physical welfare is my responsibility.

But people like Carville, a fairly bog-standard leftist, don’t see the world the way I do. For him, things such as limiting a teenager’s online freedom are fascist by definition. This flows out of foundational philosophical premises, especially the premise that men are in bondage in so far as they have restrictions placed on them by authorities they have not chosen. I don’t mean to suggest that Carville (or those like him on the Left) has ever thought this through at a deep level. It’s the moral air he breathes. It’s a foundational presupposition of his entire view of the world.

And, of course, it gets much worse for such men when we get to the really serious issues of law in contemporary America, issues such as abortion, marriage, immigration, religion in the public square, and so on. I am pretty ambivalent about the phrase Christian Nationalism, but it is becoming clearer and clearer to me that any Christian who seeks to bring God’s moral law to bear on the laws of our state in any way is going to be called a Christian Nationalist. Mike Johnson has been labeled one, though he hasn’t ever called himself one. States that have banned abortion at any level have been labeled “fascist havens of Christian Nationalism.” Ditto for banning transgender surgeries on minors.

The real divide among American Christians today is between those who do think God’s moral law should shape our laws and those who don’t. For those who do, there are many legitimate debates to be had about how to do so, but there is unity in the desire to see it done. Such Christians might disclaim the label Christian Nationalist, but it won’t matter to the Reiners and Carvilles of the world.

The Anabaptist impulse to completely disengage from contemporary politics is prevalent in many circles, including confessionally Protestant ones. It often appears driven by the fear that faithful preaching of the Gospel and heavenly-minded living will be neglected if Christians get caught up in politics. There may be a danger for some of falling into that false dichotomy, but it is by no means inevitable. One need not be a reconstructionist, nor a theonomist, nor a magisterial Protestant, nor a self-styled Christian Nationalist to oppose this false dichotomy either. All one needs to do is accept that our political leaders are not a law unto themselves, that our laws cannot be neutral with regard to right and wrong.

Carville and his ilk clearly believe that the only way their desired freedoms can be preserved is by using state power to suppress anyone or anything that would restrict those freedoms in any way. Thus, if Republicans seek to pass laws restricting abortion, drugs, sexual liberty, gay marriage, and more, the full power of the state must prevent them from doing so. What this ultimately comes down to is freedom for those who are on the Left, but not on the right. Republicans tend to believe we still have enough common ground in America that we can simply live and let live. But is that really the case? Any of the legal or legislative restrictions I just mentioned will be treated by the Left as fascist authoritarianism. Within the view that leftists take of human nature and of the political task such restrictions are by definition evil and fascistic.

It is, thus, now commonplace to hear prominent public figures state that nothing is off-limits with regard to stopping Christian Nationalists. They will certainly not think twice about “fortifying” elections, or extreme double standards in our judicial system depending on one’s political views. James Carville believes Mike Johnson is more dangerous than Al Qaeda. What do you do to Al Qaeda terrorists? Anything that is necessary to stop them.

There is no simple solution to this state of affairs, but it seems at least one thing needed is to change the way we think. There are two incompatible views of human freedom and flourishing on offer today. These views lead to incompatible views of the political task. These are not things the state can be neutral about. A laissez-faire approach might work when you have a body of people who share bedrock assumptions about self, society, and state, but not otherwise. Decisions have to be made about what will and will not be allowed in society. Radical libertarianism won’t fix this mess, though the libertarian temptation will likely remain alluring to many. The government not doing things isn’t going to stop the attempts of the Left to subjugate all who dissent from their view of political freedom.

We also now face the classic dilemma of democratic (and republican) forms of government: the levers of democratic political power can be used to prevent large minorities, sometimes even majorities, from exercising political freedom for themselves. We need to be clear-eyed about the fact that those on the Left in America are attempting to use the state to make America free and democratic only for those who share their beliefs. I wish that wasn’t true, but wishing doesn’t make it so. We can either bury our heads in the sand or we can try to find creative ways to push back. But frantically disavowing the label Christian Nationalist—regardless of whether it is a helpful label—isn’t going to make us safe. It isn’t going to turn the tide against aggressive leftists who want nothing more than a nation in which their political opponents aren’t allowed to participate unless they reject their own Christian or conservative views. Republicans who hold such views really are a threat to the political system these leftists support, so their hostility should not surprise us.

It is chilling to hear people in America claim that nearly half of their fellow citizens are as dangerous as Al Qaeda, but it is better to accept reality than to long nostalgically for a time in our nation that has passed. Then, instead of spending the majority of our energy trying to prove to an implacably hostile culture that we’re not Christian Nationalists, we can “use our strength for our people” leaving the results up to the Lord, who will “do what seems good to him” (1 Chron 19:13).

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Ben C. Dunson is Founding and Contributing Editor of American Reformer. He is also Visiting Professor of New Testament at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary (Greenville, SC), having previously taught at Reformed Theological Seminary (Dallas, TX), Reformation Bible College (Sanford, FL), and Redeemer University (Ontario, Canada). He lives in the northern suburbs of Dallas with his wife and four boys.

7 thoughts on “We’re All Christian Nationalists Now

  1. Duncan. wants to mockingly dismiss the warnings about Christian Nationalism. And so he seems to be imitating Rush Limbaugh who use to call himself ‘harmless, lovable little fuzz-ball.’ In reality, Limbaugh promoted authoritarianism by employing and praising black-white worldviews.

    Is Christian Nationalism a threat to the country? That depends on how much control different groups of Christian Nationalists want. Just think of how Timon Cline has called for laws that punish blasphemy and for laws that reestablish the Blue Laws. And if memory serves, Cline longs for the days when state Constitutions required that elected officials be Christians. Likewise, many who march under the banner of Christian Nationalism want to send the LGBT community back to the margins of society with more than just laws that ban sex change surgery on minors. While other Christian Nationalists seem to make Kuyper sound he was the predecessor to Hitler with how they quote him about getting every square inch of the world under the Lordship of Christ.

    Is Christian Nationalism a threat to our nation? Examine the following from the above article:

    ‘And, of course, it gets much worse for such men when we get to the really serious issues of law in contemporary America, issues such as abortion, marriage, immigration, religion in the public square, and so on. I am pretty ambivalent about the phrase Christian Nationalism, but it is becoming clearer and clearer to me that any Christian who seeks to bring God’s moral law to bear on the laws of our state in any way is going to be called a Christian Nationalist.’

    Is that really true? Or does bringing God’s moral law to bear on our laws make one a Christian Nationalist depend on which of God’s laws should become state and national laws? Do we want laws that punish adult children for not “honoring” their parents as the Scriptures defined such honoring to mean? Do we want to criminalize masturbation, adultery and homosexuality like our nation used to? Going back to Cline, do we want Talabanize Christianity by criminalizing blasphemy? What would become of other religions and oh where oh where did the Establishment Clause go?

    Doesn’t whether wanting to bring God’s moral law to bear on the state and national laws make one a Christian Nationalist depend on which Biblical laws one wants to be codified? After all, aren’t murder, with the exception of abortion, and theft already a part of the laws of our states and nation. And doesn’t slander possibly carry with it civil penalties? So what other part of God’s moral law do we Christians want to bear on state and national laws? After all, no Christian who wants only murder and theft to be criminalized is called a Christian Nationalist. That label is reserved for Christians who want to criminalize much more than those laws.

    Perhaps in a moment of self-incrimination and honesty, Dunson wrote the following:

    ‘Republicans like Mike Johnson actually are a threat to the way of life desired by Carville, Reiner and their fellow travelers.’

    If Mike Johnson is an actual threat to the way of life desired by Carville, Reiner, and company, then isn’t Johnson a threat to the freedoms enjoyed by Carville, Reiner, and company as well as a threat to the freedoms enjoyed by all of us? And if so, then isn’t Johnson the threat that Dunson is dismissing?

    The best MLB catchers know how to frame pitches to get the most favorable calls from a home plate umpire. And so doesn’t Dunson’s framing of Christian Nationalism make even the best MLB catchers look like foolish amateurs at framing with his view on the threat that Christian Nationalism poses to the U.S.

    1. “If Mike Johnson is an actual threat to the way of life desired by Carville, Reiner, and company, then isn’t Johnson a threat to the freedoms enjoyed by Carville, Reiner, and company as well as a threat to the freedoms enjoyed by all of us?”

      The freedom to curse God, walk in outward rebellion to His laws, and practice vile wickedness is not the kind of freedom our nation’s founders intended to protect, nor is it the kind of freedom God calls his people to: “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” (Galatians 5:13)

      Your comparing American Christians to the Taliban is a ludicrous and slanderous charge indeed!

      I see you prowling the comment sections on this site and making the same empty, caricatured arguments over and over. You ought to take your baiting, trolling comments and your false accusations elsewhere.

      1. Jordan,
        The freedom to believe in other gods or to be an atheist. The freedom of speech. Remember that we are talking about society, not the Church. And the Church’s strongest exhibition of discipline is to expel a person from the Church into society.

        When in the New Testament did the Apostles even whisper the idea that the state should punish blasphemy? The Taliban believe that blasphemy should be punished by the state. And if Cline, I don’t know about Dunson, believes that the state should punish blasphemy, then isn’t the comparison legitimate on at least on that point? Also, don’t you realize that people who curse God will eventually face the one the one they are cursing? Our job isn’t to punish them, but to warn them.

        As for our nation’s founders, have they become our dictators? Isn’t our nation free to change? And while they did legislate a religious morality to a degree, they supported white supremacy with its children including slavery and the ethnic cleansing of Native Americans from the land. What is so baiting about citing our nation’s history.

        I know my comment made you angry, but that was not my intent. just put yourself in the shoes of an unbeliever or a follower of another religion and tell me how you would view Christianity if Christians made the nation punish you for not acting or speaking like a Christian. Perhaps to get a better picture of how you would feel you, as a Christian, need to live in a nation like Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, or Saudi Arabia.

        1. Curt,
          The First Amendment does not guarantee the right to say whatever you want without fear of consequences. Long has our country had laws on the books banning blasphemy, obscenity, pornography, and (even if you disagree with it) hate speech among other things. And these laws exist for good reason; certain types of speech do not belong in a civil, no less a Christian society, as they are not conducive to either the private or the public good.

          According to the Harvard Law Review: “…nineteenth-century American appellate courts consistently upheld proscriptions on blasphemy, drawing a line between punishable blasphemy and protected religious speech. At the close of the nineteenth century, the U.S. Supreme Court still assumed that the First Amendment did not “permit the publication of . . . blasphemous . . . articles… Only in the postwar period did the doctrine promulgated by appellate courts begin to shift.” (https://harvardlawreview.org/print/vol-135/blasphemy-and-the-original-meaning-of-the-first-amendment/)… Meaning laxity in blasphemy laws came around the same time as the rise in secular liberal, modernist ideals.

          The Taliban comparison is absurd is because, first, you are making the assumption that everyone who calls themselves a Christian Nationalist wants blasphemy met with the death penalty, and second, you are making the assumption that that would be wrong. The job of the civil magistrate is mete out punishment for evil (Romans 13). If you want to debate how severe the punishment for blasphemy ought to be, that would be understandable. But to argue that “Everyone who believes blasphemy should be punished is the Taliban” is ridiculous. Do Christian Nationalists believe that God will grant them eternal blessings for killing unbelievers in holy jihad? Do Christian Nationalists plant roadside bombs and send suicide bombers to kill infidels? Do Christian Nationalists deny their opponents the freedom of assembly? Do Christian Nationalists lock women up so they cannot see the sun? Do Christian Nationalists host and provide refuge for terrorists?

          To argue that if a thing is not commanded by the Apostles in the New Testament that no biblical case can be made for it, is not a sound argument. The moral law given to Israel outlined all kinds of evil that needed to be met with the death penalty (adultery, witchcraft, idolatry, bestiality, etc.). Jesus said the sum of all the law is to love God and love your neighbor. Promoting the moral good of your neighbor is love. That means pleading with your neighbor like righteous Lot did, “Friends, I beg you, don’t do such a wicked thing!” — this would be the private responsibility you described above. It also means that if a Christian wields the power of the magistrate, he is to exercise it to promote justice and to punish wickedness — this would be the public/civil responsibility you continue to ignore when you say things like, “Our job isn’t to punish them, but to warn them.”

          If you want to list only examples of Christians/Americans doing bad things and ignore the mountains of historical examples of Christians/Americans doing good things then please continue practicing myopic history.

          Putting oneself in the shoes of an unbeliever has nothing to do with whether our laws are the right ones for this nation or not. We speak English in America. Must one go learn the language of every country you listed above in order to know whether English should be official language of this country?

          1. Jordan,
            I am not surprised that 19th century court decisions upheld blasphemy laws. But how do you think those decisions would be decided in the latter half of the 20th century or even today?

            We need to remember the context in which state constitutions, laws criminalizing blasphemy, and court decisions that supported those laws existed. It was during Christendom. We should note other laws that were upheld back then. Until the 13th to the 15th Amendments, slavery was upheld and Blacks could not become citizens. So do we want to return to a time period before those Amendments? Or around 20 years after those Amendments, Jim Crow laws and culture dominated the South and the North had its own way of implementing segregation. Is that the time period that we want to return to?

            Whether you realize it or not, we have some agreements. We are to love our neighbor. We are to oppose all kinds of evil and wickedness. We agree on that.

            Where we differ is how we should oppose certain acts of evil and wickedness. And we differ for two reasons: for practical reasons and what we believe that God’s Word is saying to us.

            Practically speaking, if we have the state criminalize religious acts like blasphemy, witchcraft, idolatry including the worship of other gods, or not keeping the Sabbath, are we Christians not assuming a superior place in society over unbelievers? And how do you think those unbelievers will react to our preaching of the Gospel if we are assuming such a place ? After all, it isn’t the keeping of the civil laws, regardless of how religious they are in one’s state or nation that causes one to have faith in Christ; faith in Christ is the result of the Spirit’s work on one’s heart while or after they have heard the Gospel. And without faith, it is impossible to please God. That means laws of the state cannot make one submissive to God. And so yes, we should imagine ourselves being in a nation like Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, or Afghanistan to see what it is like for unbelievers here if we were to have all Old Testament laws codified. How would the unbeliever respond to the Gospel if we acted toward them the way that the Muslim nations I mentioned would react to us if we tried to live out our faith? Your reference to the English language is incomparable here because what we are talking about are about whether we should codify religious and moral laws.

            In terms of the Bible, remember that the commands given to Israel were being given to God’s covenant people. God’s covenant people today is the Church. The US is not a part of God’s covenant people. The Church in the US is, but not the nation itself. Thus to apply the Old Testament laws to today is to make those laws Church laws. But, with many of those laws, making them Church laws was exactly what Paul was fighting against when he wrote to the Galatians. Not only that, we have the teachings of Jesus and the examples of the Apostles on how to relate to unbelievers. And we have a general description of our situation when the New Testament talks about Church discipline and we believers, like you and me, are exiles in this world. And the Biblical model for exiles was provided in the Old Testament. Did that model show that the covenant people of God sought to have the laws for Israel codified where they were exiled?

            The issue here is about being able to make distinctions. Moral laws that prohibit murder and theft should be, and have been, codified in our laws. But should we do that with religious laws? What do we gain? And, perhaps just as important, what are we trying to avoid when codifying Old Testament laws in our nation and states?

            I would like to address the other parts of your comment, but I want to first focus on the parts that are the crux of our disagreement. And thank you for responding.

      2. Jordan,
        One other point, the freedom you mentioned Galatians is the freedom that Christians experience and enjoy. Paul was writing to the Church there, not society.

        Plus, the founding fathers were not unanimous in calling for Christianity to be codified. First, it was some of the states, not the federal government that put religious tests on officials and passed religious laws. Second, part of the context of the Bill Of Rights is the Virginia laws on freedoms. And if you study how Jefferson, and I think Madison viewed religious liberty, at least Jefferson, if not Madison also, were very liberal.

  2. “The real divide among American Christians today is between those who do think God’s moral law should shape our laws and those who don’t. For those who do, there are many legitimate debates to be had about how to do so, but there is unity in the desire to see it done.”

    I don’t think this is quite right. I think the debate is over which of God’s laws should be translated directly into U.S. laws and how. Who are these Christians who doesn’t think any of God’s laws should shape America’s laws?

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