Christians Against Christian Nationalism (CACN).
It sounds like a contradiction in terms but is absolutely legit.
Founded in 2019 by the Baptist Joint Committee on Religious Liberty (BJC), CACN’s statement of principles states:
“As Americans, we value our system of government and the good that can be accomplished in our constitutional democracy. Today, we are concerned about a persistent threat to both our religious communities and our democracy — Christian nationalism.
“Christian nationalism seeks to merge Christian and American identities, distorting both the Christian faith and America’s constitutional democracy. Christian nationalism demands Christianity be privileged by the State and implies that to be a good American, one must be Christian. It often overlaps with and provides cover for white supremacy and racial subjugation. We reject this damaging political ideology and invite our Christian brothers and sisters to join us in opposing this threat to our faith and to our nation.”
It’s an eloquent and dire warning as relevant today as it was when released in 2019. FBI director Christopher Wray, testifying early this March before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee in the wake of the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol incited by former President Donald Trump, told senators:
“I would certainly say, as I think I’ve said consistently in the past, that racially motivated violent extremism specifically of the sort that advocates for the superiority of the white race is a persistent evolving threat. It’s the biggest chunk of our racially motivated violent extremism cases for sure and racially motivated violent extremism is the biggest chunk of our domestic terrorism portfolio.”
To be clear, without overtly mentioning religion, Wray was in fact referring to white Christian nationalist extremism, comprising a coalition of evangelical Christians and conservative Catholics. White Christianity and its supposed divine right of dominion and over non-whites and non-Christians has a long history in this country and throughout the Western world, along with its loathing of homosexuality, abortion, secularism and science. It’s perhaps even more pronounced in America, which also carries the stain of the toxic idea of Manifest Destiny.
“Manifest Destiny, a phrase coined in 1845, is the idea that the United States is destined—by God, its advocates believed—to expand its dominion and spread democracy and capitalism across the entire North American continent,” the website history.com explains. “The philosophy drove 19th-century U.S. territorial expansion and was used to justify the forced removal of Native Americans and other groups from their homes. The rapid expansion of the United States intensified the issue of slavery as new states were added to the Union, leading to the outbreak of the Civil War.”
Tens of millions of Americans, many if not most whom voted for Trump in 2016 and 2020, still believe the U.S. was founded and remains a “Christian Nation,” where white Christians should hold power and that government should be a theocracy.
So, when Jan. 6 happened, there was a lot of knee-jerk distancing from responsibility among Christians frantic to not be painted with that dark brush. In a Time magazine essay in January, author Carey Wallace wrote about hand-wringing among the faithful after the Capitol insurrection:
“In the past few days, I’ve seen all kinds of statements from Christian leaders trying to distance themselves from the violent mob at the Capitol. Christian writers known for their thoughtfulness lament that ‘somehow’ white supremacy has crept into our churches, and the faculty of a major evangelical institution put out a manifesto saying that the events at the Capitol ‘bear absolutely no resemblance to’ the Christianity they teach. That mob, they’re telling us, is a fringe element. They’ve radically misunderstood the real message of American Christianity.
“This could not be further from the truth.”
Carey then went on to explain Christianity’s historical accommodation and endorsement of these bigoted, un-Christian, ideas in America’s centuries-long development.
In fact, America was founded as a secular democratic republic, whose founding documents clearly show the Founding Fathers’ intention to cleave religion from government, especially dominance of a specific faith. The fact that most early colonists were European Christians is irrelevant to its ethos of secular governance, as is the fact that Christian Americans still dominate the populace (although that distinction is starting to slip).
When I bumped into information about the Christians Against Christian Nationalism organization recently, it was news to me. But because of its importance in the current national conversation and the dangers of Christian Nationalism to the republic, I thought it would be worthwhile to enlighten others, like me, who may be unaware CACN even existed.
It’s encouraging that Christian leaders have come to the fore to explicitly call out Christian nationalism and its virulent racism and violence. The default for most Christian organizations has generally been a mealy-mouthed and unconvincing dismissal of Christian Right ideology as foreign to actual Christianity, when in fact it’s one and the same as practiced among faithful white supremacists (and even non-supremacist rank-and-file believers).
But, at the same time, the future is beginning to look bleak for the Christian Right in America, as New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg wrote in a July essay:
“[T]he evangelicals who thought they were about to take over America were destined for disappointment. On Thursday [July 8], P.R.R.I. [Public Religion Research Institute] released startling new polling data showing just how much ground the religious right has lost. P.R.R.I.’s 2020 Census of American Religion, based on a survey of nearly half a million people, shows a precipitous decline in the share of the population identifying as white evangelical, from 23 percent in 2006 to 14.5 percent last year. (As a category, “white evangelicals” isn’t a perfect proxy for the religious right, but the overlap is substantial.) In 2020, as in every year since 2013, the largest religious group in the United States was the religiously unaffiliated.”
But I still would like to tip my hat to Christians like those in CACN who have been willing to step up and call Christian extremists what they are — dangerous, un-Christian bigots — even though they reside within their own supernaturalist tribe.