The relationship between Christian nationalism and class in the US is less obvious than the racist dimensions of that extremist ideology.
Christian nationalism upholds the “natural” order, including white supremacy and the “traditional” family with age-old gender roles.
But its view of existing hierarchies as “natural” also applies to economic structures. This diminishes opportunities for working-class people to challenge class inequality, distortions in wealth distribution, and unfair working conditions. Also, many assume, incorrectly, that Christian nationalism is a primarily working-class movement.
Andrew L. Whitehead and Samuel L. Perry’s recent book Taking America Back for God: Christian Nationalism in the United States (published in 2020 by Oxford) provides useful historical context.
They dismiss easy identification of Christian nationalism with evangelicalism or conservative Protestantism. Instead, they view Christian nationalism as a dynamic ideology and a cultural framework that blurs the boundary between Christian and American identity.
It’s part of a “complex web of ideologies” working with and propping up other ideologies, they write. It accommodates a host of right-wing political views. It sees a world in moral decay. It believes God calls on believers to be agents of divine retribution to combat that decline.
If the problem is moral decay, moreover, Christian nationalists may “effectively ignore discussions of economic, gender, sexual or racial inequality.” “Ignoring” implies acceptance of capitalistic structures, valuing hierarchy that enables corporations to control workers, and insisting on autonomy from government regulation and scrutiny.
Christian nationalism is deeply embedded in an image of America established for native-born white Christians – and should remain so.
It transcends the boundaries of evangelicalism, they argue. It motivates Americans, not just evangelicals, to support Trump as the “defender of the power and values they perceive are being threatened.”
Christian nationalism has appeal far beyond conspicuous white supremacist groups, such as the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers, who are widely discussed as responsible for the J6 insurrection. That may explain how the former president managed to gain more than 74 million votes in 2020 (topping his 2016 vote total by nearly 12 million).
In their forthcoming book, The Flag and the Cross: White Christian Nationalism and the Threat to American Democracy, Perry and Philip S. Gorksi explain secular variations of Christian nationalism. These emphasize defending “Western culture” or “Judeo-Christian civilization.”
Whitehead estimates that about half of all Americans are “relatively favorable toward” Christian nationalism. That makes it possible for some Americans “to take that view even further.” Extremists who are motivated by anger, fear, and the determination to defend the existing social order are, Gorski and Perry write, very dangerous indeed.
Christian nationalism was apparent in the crosses and flags visible in and around Washington in the days leading up to the J6 insurrection.
Paula White, Trump’s spiritual adviser and proponent of the “prosperity gospel,” offered a five-minute prayer at the “Save America March” that day. Firing up the white Christian nationalists who went on to vandalize the US Capitol, she called upon God to give those assembled a “holy boldness in this hour” such that “every adversary against democracy … be overturned right now in the name of Jesus.”
It’s tempting to assume the mob inspired by White’s call to “holy boldness” came mostly from the working class. Their demographic profile, however, reflects national patterns almost exactly.
The Chicago Project on Security & Threats (CPOST) analyzed the participants according to a number of factors, including economic roles: business owner, white-collar, blue-collar, unemployed, retired.
Their analysis found a few notable patterns. Ninety-three percent of the J6 insurrectionists were white. Eighty-five percent were male. Moreover, many came from counties that Joe Biden won and that have experienced demographic shifts toward nonwhite populations.
However, their report concludes that the J6 insurrectionists “closely reflect the US electorate on most socio-economic variables and, hence, come from the mainstream, not just the fringe of society.”
CPOST’s designations of “white collar” and “blue-collar” (using Bureau of Labor Statistics terminology) offer some insight, however, limited, into the economic class and social status of the J6 insurrectionists.
Forty-three percent were white collar. Thirty-three percent were blue-collar. Compared to a profile of the 2020 electorate, they were more likely to be white-collar workers (like 37 percent of voters) but also more likely to be blue-collar workers (like 26 percent of voters).
About the same percentage (7 percent) were as unemployed as the electorate (6 percent). CPOST says J6 is “a new kind of a right-wing movement” matching the electorate almost perfectly. They conclude: “Far-right support for political violence is moving into the mainstream.”
That may be so, but the working class, overall, is more diverse than the blue-collar workers in the mob that sacked and looted the Capitol.
That should remind us that the country’s working-class has more to lose from a mainstreamed Christian nationalism than it has to gain.
The mythical and idolatrous character of a “natural order” built on divinely purposed hierarchies to rule our workplaces and our families is a false God. They are not only dead but death-dealing.
Instead, now is the time for the working class to embrace its intersectional character, build its organizational strength, cultivate community partners, foster resilience in the face of climate catastrophe, and renew relationships with its international partners.
On the basis of mutuality, accountability, and trust, it can be done.
Christian nationalism, however, has a different dream, a nightmare really. It is a potent political force now and in the foreseeable future.
The vital tasks facing working-class people are made more difficult, as a result – difficult, challenging, and frightening. The unholy trinity of God, country, and capital must be dissolved not only to survive but to thrive under the banner of solidarity. Our actions will embolden us.