Homeschooling curricula and local Christian academies are promoting “white Christian nationalism” in their education materials.
Former President Donald Trump and Sen. Doug Mastriano use “white power” in their campaign imagery. And the more fervent a follower of Jesus outwardly shows their devotion to Christ, the “less tolerant they are of people who are different from them.”
Those are a few of the points and statements made during an hour-long speech attacking the so-called “Christian nationalist” movement by Dr. Greg Carey, professor of New Testament at Lancaster Theological Seminary, Sunday afternoon at St. Peters Evangelical Lutheran Church in Manheim Township.
Carey’s speech, “Christian Nationalism: What Everyone Needs to Know,” was part of a program hosted by the Lancaster Interchurch Peace Witness, a group of Lancaster County clergy and congregations “dedicated to promoting biblical values of justice, peace and nonviolent solutions to conflict,” according to its mission statement. The event brought out hundreds of people filling the pews of the church.
In his presentation, Carey, a graduate with a Master of Divinity from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a PhD from Vanderbilt University, said he rarely refers to the movement as “Christian nationalism,” instead using the term “white Christian nationalism” because of his belief its adherents seek to “dominate” culture in America through racism and other means.
“I’m talking about the ways in which Christian nationalism is a danger of Christianity itself, because of its perverted understanding of power, a certain kind of masculine, militaristic power, and its perverted understanding of freedom,” Carey said.
Defining ‘White Christian Nationalism’
A professor at the Lancaster Seminary since 1999, Carey said he became “alarmed” about 10 years ago with what he saw as a growing movement around Paula White, the televangelist and proponent of prosperity theology. He said White’s ministry, which came to Lancaster, promoted the “Seven Mountains of Culture,” calling for Christians to “take dominion” over key aspects of culture, including business, government, family, religion, media, education and entertainment.
Carey said the “Seven Mountains of Culture” was a segue into Christian nationalism, which promoted the concept that the United States has a “special relationship with God” and that God was divinely involved in the founding of the country.
A second aspect of Christian nationalism Carey pointed to is the promotion that the U.S. should be declared a Christian nation, displaying the Christian ethos through the nation’s symbolism and public rituals. He said a third characteristic of Christian nationalism is that “Christian” laws and policies should be passed and promoted.
Carey said the media has been “confused” in its analysis of Christian nationalism, saying the “loudest” voices of Christians he categorized as the “white religious right” have been the dominant voice in the religious movement.
“White Christian nationalists don’t speak for all Christians,” Carey said. “They speak for a stream of Christianity that’s not small, but not representative, either.”
Christian nationalist supporters can be identified through survey questions, Carey posited, including whether the federal government should declare the United States a Christian nation, advocate for Christian values and allow prayer in public schools.
“They’re more likely to approve of authoritarian tactics, like demanding that people show respect for national symbols and traditions,” Carey said. “They’re more likely than other Americans to fear and distrust religious minorities, including Muslims, atheists and Jewish people. They’re more likely to condone police violence towards black Americans and distrust accounts of racial injustice in the criminal justice system.”
Referring to a slide with an image of Reformed scholar R.J. Rushdoony, Carey said, “In the 20th century, a group began to form who identified themselves as Christian reconstructionists.”
Rushdoony “argued Christians should, here’s your word, have ‘dominion’ over society. He argued that biblical laws should function as civil laws,” Carey said. “And this is key for us in Pennsylvania in 2022: he considered public education to be godless indoctrination.”
Carey said Rushdoony’s influence was instrumental in the rise of Christian homeschooling in America. According to Carey, the homeschooling curriculum “is all the way through white Christian nationalism.”
While Carey acknowledged, but did not explain, the differences, he nonetheless linked President Trump, the charismatic preacher White and Reformed scholar Rushdoony together as “Christian nationalists.”
Carey admitted that he did not do primary research on Christian nationalism. “I don’t do that work. I read the people who do and talk about it,” he said.
Throughout the speech, Carey continued making the statement, “I don’t like being partisan in a church setting.”
Yet the slide show he used during the presentation was filled with images of conservative politicians, including the famous photo of Trump holding a Bible while standing outside St. John’s Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C. the day after Black Lives Matter and antifa rioters set fire to the church in an attempt to burn it down.
Carey repeated a debunked claim that Trump “used military and police force to clear the crowd out of the way” so that he could pose for a photo op outside of the church. He also made the claim that Trump “didn’t have a Bible in the White House” and that he was using a Bible owned by his daughter, Ivanka, for the photo.
“When asked his favorite verse, the best [Trump] could do was, ‘I like them all,’” Carey said. “But he’s fusing white power with that image. He is trying to suppress activism for black justice, policing and the criminal justice system. And he’s using the Bible and using the church to claim that position. That, friends, is white Christian nationalism. That’s what it means. It’s about domination, and domination for a particular group of people within the society.”
Carey also criticized Mastriano, the Republican nominee for governor, saying his plan for eliminating property taxes for homeowners will cause “segregation” in school funding. He also denounced Mastriano’s plan to remove dead residents, duplicate voters, and other incorrect information from the voter rolls, saying the senator wants to “strip the voter rolls and start over.”
“If you’re a Democrat, you’ve got to win,” Carey said. “When I say you’ve got to win, I mean, public education in Pennsylvania will be crippled for decades if Doug Mastriano is the governor. Women’s right to their own health decisions. The right of true freedom of religion. Investment in any public good – parks, roads. If you’re not an activist, you need to be an activist – knocking on doors, making phone calls. You’ve got to win.”
Carey went after several Lancaster County Schools for alleged links to Christian nationalist ideas. He showed pages from Dayspring Christian Academy’s fundraising magazine highlighting Charlie Kirk, conservative commentator and founder of Turning Point USA.
The magazine issue included discussions on “restoring education” and removing critical race theory from schools, a political and social theory on race relations that some have linked to Marxism and racist ideas.
“I guarantee you couldn’t have found a public-school principal in Lancaster County who could define critical race theory,” Carey said. “I’ve been using it for years in my own scholarship, I can define it. You never see it defined by someone who’s attacking it. They just say whatever they want to say like, ‘Oh, it makes white people feel guilty.’ That’s what they wanted to talk about in their Christian school publication.”
Carey also spoke about the school board of the Elizabethtown Area School District, singling out the 2021 election of three board members, James Emery and Danielle and Stephen Lindemuth. He said Elizabethtown is a “pretty Republican area” and typically has a conservative school board, but he said the three board members “want to eliminate the teaching of science” because it goes against church doctrine.
Carey said a sermon held at Elizabethtown’s LifeGate Church, where Emery and the Lindemuth’s are members, derided school board votes in keeping changes to curriculum from happening.
In dealing with supporters of Christian nationalism ideals, Carey said, “I think you need to guard your soul.”
“Keep that soft, loving heart of yours – soft and love,” Carey said. “Never give it away. Because you’re going to have to show courage. It’s hard to say, protect your soul and keep alert…We have to follow, keep up with the news. Be discerning. If you’re a Republican, be courageous and resist Christian nationalism in your party.”
Staff writer Michael Yoder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @YoderReports on Twitter.