As per the definition of Katherine Stewart in her book The Power Worshippers, Christian nationalism is based upon the myth that the American republic was created and founded as a Christian nation, and as such, the legitimate government “rests not on the consent of the governed but on adherence to the doctrines of a specific religious, ethnic, and cultural heritage.” (Stewart 2020) Under this definition, the laws of the land should not be based upon deliberation of democratic institutions, but upon idiosyncratic interpretations of the Bible. With the forwarding of these principles the eventual outcome is a nation harkening back to a mythical Christian foundation, while simultaneously allowing believers to strive to hold powerful positions within contemporary government. These governmental positions provide the means to forward their vision of a Christian nation through policies. One of the important aspects of Christian nationalism is the opportunity it presents for political mobilization of adherents. In the end political power is the ultimate goal. The belief that America has always been and remains a Christian nation is not an idea that is held solely by self-described Christian nationalists. The Public Religion Research Institute found that almost one third of Americans believe this, and that four in ten Americans believe America was a Christian nation but not longer is.
A new incarnation for Christian nationalism is rising with the advent of Patriot Churches in America. Currently there are three seedling churches, one in Knoxville, Tennessee, another in Lynchburg, Virginia, and the last in Spokane, Washington. These churches are non-denominational but as their website proclaims, they hold “Jesus is Exalted Over All, Pro-America, Anti-Evil.” In espousing this motto, they declare themselves patriots and acknowledge that they are a movement who seek “a land infiltrated by the Holy Spirit.” Their connection to common culture war issues such as abortion, LGBTQ2SA rights, are linked to what they refer to as “the Islamic Invasion,” and Godlessness in Government. They are vocal in their stance as anti-Marxism, Leftism, and Socialism. While holding the US Constitution as what needs to be “saved.” In essence, the cleavage in America between left and right is encapsulated in these seedling churches as they envision themselves as “A church interceding on behalf of her nation.” The Patriot churches are seeking Pastors and new seedling churches to help further the movement.
As these Patriot Churches are quite new, there appears to be very little academic research on their movement or their form of Christian nationalism. When reading their social media posts and the media on their website, I was reminded of Billy Hargis’s anti-communist Christian Crusade and Fred Schwarz’s Christian Anti-Communism Crusade from the 1950s and 1960s. The Patriot Churches post memes and messages of support for President Donald Trump and his hopes to overturn the election results. Many of these posts are linked to anti-left, anti-BLM, and anti-socialism positions. The Left, BLM, and socialists are framed as an evil upon the nation of America, an evil that must be beaten. The sermons are a mix of anti-socialism, unknown conspiracy theories, and a regurgitation of Trump rally one-liners. Just as communists were the phantasmagorical enemy for the Christian Crusade and the Christian Anti-Communism Crusade, the Patriot Churches have created secretive enemies who allegedly reside next door, are socialists, and some are willing participants in a conspiracy—in this case as supporters of the Deep State attacking President Trump. The political coup of the Left is symbolic of the moral decay of the Christian nation and a call to arms for the patriots of America and God.
One of the warriors for good is Donald Trump’s lawyer Sidney Powell, whose words are posted on the churches’ social media, as an example of fighting the good fight, saving democracy, Christianity, and the Constitution. A striking image from their Facebook page is a pastor standing before a television screen with the words “President Trump WON IN A LANDSLIDE,” the caption for the picture asks “How many churches will have this in their sermon?” This image appears after a picture of the church’s application to be registered as a Free Church in America, which as a 508© Faith Based Organization, are exempt from taxes under the Federal Tax Code. While availing themselves of the benefits of being a free church, they are also benefiting from President Trump’s loosening of the Johnson Amendment. Preaching in support of Trump from the pulpit, is an example of what Jeffrey Stout had written, “The separation of Church and State does not go through the heart of the believer.” (Stout 2012)
Patriot Churches are a new incarnation of Christian anti-communism movements from the Red Scare era, combining social heroism, conspiracy theories, and Christian nationalism. These churches and their affiliates are an emergent form of Christian nationalism that harkens back to the movements of the Red Scare. Sociologists studying culture wars, religion, social movements, and conspiracy theories should research these churches as they grow and measure the societal influences as well as the political ramifications of their followers.
Stewart, Katherine. The Power Worshippers. New York: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2020.
Stout, Jeffrey. Blessed Are the Organized: Grassroots Democracy in America. Princeton University Press, 2012.