God & Country: A Review

If there is a central message of God & Country, it is that we should be afraid. Very, very afraid. This feature length film billed as a documentary contends that America’s experiment in constitutional self-government is on the brink of collapse and it is possible, even likely, that the United States will become a fascist theocracy in the near future. The culprit, of course, is “white Christian nationalism.”

Not only is American democracy in jeopardy, the American church is as well. So, for instance, the sociologist Andrew Whitehead has written that Christian nationalism poses “an existential threat to American democracy and the Christian church in the United States.” Historian Jemar Tisby averred that “White Christian nationalism is the greatest threat to democracy and the witness of the church in the United States today.” And the film’s producer, Rob Reiner (historically no friend of orthodox Christianity), warns that “Christian Nationalism is not only a danger to our Country, it’s a danger to Christianity itself.”

Whitehead and Tisby are academics who have studied the phenomenon they discuss. They are featured throughout the movie, although not quite as much as polemical critics such as Andrew Seidel and Bob Boston, both of Protestants and Other Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Anthea Butler, and Katherine Stewart, author of Power Worshippers, which served as an inspiration for the film. Georgetown’s Paul Miller, himself a critic of Christian nationalism, has accurately described the polemical works written by these and other authors as “rather extreme and almost comical examples of beating up on straw men—or would be, if they weren’t also fear-mongering scurrilous libel masquerading as scholarship.” Miller and other sensible students of Christian nationalism were not interviewed for God & Country.

God & Country asserts that Christian nationalism is an existential threat to America and the church, but it does not actually offer a clear definition of the phenomenon, calculate how many Americans embrace it, or explain how, exactly, it threatens democracy. There are hints that Christian nationalists will use undemocratic features of America’s constitutional order (such as the overrepresentation of rural states in the US Senate) to seize power, although the documentary fails to acknowledge that no US Senator has identified as a Christian nationalist.

To be sure, the documentary highlights Marjorie Taylor Greene’s embrace of the Christian nationalist label, but it fails to note that she is the only elected member of Congress to do so. It includes the famous clip of Lauren Boebert criticizing the separation of church and state—although it doesn’t include a clip of her claiming to be a Christian nationalist because, to my knowledge, one doesn’t exist. (Her press secretary told me that she rejects the label because of the patriarchal views articulated by some advocates of Christian nationalism).

Rejecting the separation of church and state is important to Christian nationalists, and it plays a major role in Andrew Whitehead and Samuel Perry’s oft quoted (except in this documentary) claim that 51.9% of Americans fully or partially embrace the toxic stew they call Christian nationalism. These academics reach this conclusion by tabulating the responses to six statements to measure the extent to which one is a Christian nationalist. These include:

  • The federal government should enforce strict separation of church and state. [The authors “reverse coded” responses to this question so that strong agreement is recorded in the same way that strong disagreement is recorded for the other five.]
  • The federal government should allow the display of religious symbols in public spaces.
  • The federal government should allow prayer in public schools.

Those advocating for the strict separation of church and state have contended that, among other things, it prohibits a state from including a Star of David in a Holocaust memorial, providing public funds to Hasidic schools, permitting Native Americans to use peyote in religious ceremonies, or allowing Islamic students to pray in public schools. Those who would permit these things are not strict separationists, but that doesn’t mean they are toxic Christian nationalists.

Remarkably, no one interviewed in God & Country invoked Whitehead and Perry’s inflated claim that a majority of Americans fully or partially embrace Christian nationalism. Perhaps this is because recent studies have cast significant doubt on it. For instance, an October 2022 study by Pew found that only 5% of Americans have a favorable view of Christian nationalism, and a recent study by Neighborly Faith calculates that only 11% of Americans are Adherents of Christian Nationalism.

In a finding that will surprise no one who knows more than a handful of white evangelicals or conservative Catholics, recent studies reveal that most Christian nationalists are not racists, sexists, or militarists. Instead, they are Christians who engage in politics with priorities that include protecting unborn babies, removing Drag Queen Story Hours from public libraries, and advocating for religious liberty. Such goals are disfavored by most critics of Christian nationalism, but pursuing should not be equated with hateful bigotry.

Make no mistake, there are blood and soil nationalists in America who are a cause for concern. And there are outlandish “Christian” leaders who say troubling things. Perhaps a quarter of God & Country is dedicated to the January 6 riots, Greg Locke’s antics, prosperity gospel televangelists, and various rallies where speakers urge Christians to seize power. As Tobias Cremer and others have shown, many of these activists are not pious, practicing Christians. But some of them are, and they must be repudiated/corrected by Christian leaders—not secular movie producers, separationist activists, or Christians who feel betrayed by their fellow believers.

Surprisingly, the handful of individuals who have written books in favor of Christian nationalism (e.g., Stephen Wolfe, Andrew Torba, Andrew Isker, and Douglas Wilson) are completely ignored by God & Country. But perhaps this makes sense if one wishes to make Christian nationalism seem to be a looming threat rather than a tiny, localist movement among idiosyncratic, patriarchal Calvinists.

Christian nationalism of some description certainly exists, and by my calculations it is embraced by roughly 20% of Americans. And yet the vast majority of these citizens are not militarists longing for a theocracy; they are instead well-meaning people who believe America was founded as a Christian nation and that Christianity should be favored above other faiths. There are excellent reasons to challenge these beliefs and goals, but it is possible to do so without pretending that those who hold/pursue them pose an existential threat to American democracy or the Christian church.

Mark David Hall is a Professor in Regent University’s Robertson School of Government and a Senior Fellow at the Center for Religion, Culture, and Democracy. He is the author of Who’s Afraid of Christian Nationalism?: Why Christian Nationalism is Not a Threat to American Democracy or the Church, which will be published in April.


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