White Christian Nationalism May Not Be Religious, But It Is Christian

Anti Shariah Law and Trump supporters march along the beach during the March For Human rights and Against Sharia law demonstration in Oceanside, California on Saturday, June 10, 2017. SANDY HUFFAKER/AFP/Getty Images

After my recent post on the terror attack in New Zealand, several Christians reached out to Religion Dispatches and directly to me asking why I conflated white terrorism with Christian nationalism.

They eloquently noted that the shooter (whose name I shall not use) did not use Christian theology, but espoused anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant views that seemed disconnected from religion. But in making that argument, they might be missing a larger point: white Christian nationalism isn’t religious (or even grounded in religious scripture), but its adherents nearly always frame their grievances in terms of endangered white Christian societies.

Following Charlottesville, I wrote that white nationalism does have theological roots, with evangelicals like Bob Jones standing firmly in the way of civil rights. In modern iterations, white nationalism and Christian fundamentalism have converged with folks like Tony Perkins, Steve King (who is at it again), and David Duke.

But for the most part, white Christian nationalism’s foot soldiers don’t necessarily connect their racial resentment with their devotion to the Bible. Many aren’t religious, and in fact that’s generally beside the point. Instead, their resentment towards Others (generally non-white and non-Christian populations) is built up over time, largely through online portals that function as echo chambers for the blend of history, conspiracy theory, and racism that produces and sustains white Christian nationalism.

And we should note that it’s really a resentment movement that wears religion like a hood ornament or team colors. In such a definition, these nationalists are trying to retake what they presume to be lost: white and Christian dominance.

In a larger context, none of the nationalist and exclusivist movements—Jewish nationalism in Israel; Islamism in parts of Africa, the Middle East, South and Southeast Asia; Hindu nationalism in parts of India; Buddhist nationalism in Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Thailand—that have grown in recent years are grounded in theology. They’re all connected by a shared sense of grievance and an imagined community based on assumed shared ideals.

The New Zealand terrorist might not have been religious per se, but he was 100 percent devoted to the divine providence of white (Christian) nationhood.