Recorded on March 23, 2023, this talk featured Phil Gorski, Frederick and Laura Goff Professor of Sociology and Religious Studies at Yale University, discussing his new book (co-authored with Samuel Perry), The Flag and the Cross: White Christian Nationalism and the Threat to Democracy. The respondent was David Hollinger, Preston Hotchkis Professor Emeritus of History at UC Berkeley. Carolyn Chen, Co-Director of the Berkeley Center for the Study of Religion and Professor of Ethnic Studies, moderated.
The talk was jointly sponsored by the Berkeley Center for the Study of Religion (BCSR), the Center for Right-Wing Studies, and Social Science Matrix. The event was part of the BCSR Public Forum on Race, Religion, Democracy and the American Dream.
About the Speaker
Philip S. Gorski, Frederick and Laura Goff Professor of Sociology and Religious Studies at Yale University, is a comparative-historical sociologist with strong interests in theory and methods and in modern and early modern Europe. His empirical work focuses on topics such as state-formation, nationalism, revolution, economic development and secularization with particular attention to the interaction of religion and politics. His other current interests include the philosophy and methodology of the social sciences and the nature and role of rationality in social life.
Among his recent publications are The Disciplinary Revolution: Calvinism and the Growth of State Power in Early Modern Europe (Chicago, 2003); Max Weber’s Economy and Society: A Critical Companion (Stanford, 2004); and “The Poverty of Deductivism: A Constructive Realist Model of Sociological Explanation,” Sociological Methodology, 2004. Gorski is Co-Director (with Julia Adams) of Yale’s Center for Comparative Research (CCR), and co-runs the Religion and Politics Colloquium at the Yale MacMillan Center.
About the Book
Most Americans were shocked by the violence they witnessed at the nation’s Capital on January 6th, 2021. And many were bewildered by the images displayed by the insurrectionists: a wooden cross and wooden gallows; “Jesus saves” and “Don’t Tread on Me;” Christian flags and Confederate Flags; even a prayer in Jesus’ name after storming the Senate chamber. Where some saw a confusing jumble, Philip S. Gorski and Samuel L. Perry saw a familiar ideology: white Christian nationalism.
In this short primer, Gorski and Perry explain what white Christian nationalism is and is not; when it first emerged and how it has changed; where it’s headed and why it threatens democracy. Tracing the development of this ideology over the course of three centuries—and especially its influence over the last three decades—they show how, throughout American history, white Christian nationalism has animated the oppression, exclusion, and even extermination of minority groups while securing privilege for white Protestants. It enables white Christian Americans to demand “sacrifice” from others in the name of religion and nation, while defending their “rights” in the names of “liberty” and “property.”
White Christian nationalism motivates the anti-democratic, authoritarian, and violent impulses on display in our current political moment. The future of American democracy, Gorski and Perry argue, will depend on whether a broad spectrum of Americans—stretching from democratic socialists to classical liberals—can unite in a popular front to combat the threat to liberal democracy posed by white Christian nationalism.
The Flag and the Cross: White Christian Nationalism and the Threat to American Democracy
[CAROLYN CHEN] Well, I am so thrilled to be introducing Dr. Gorski and his important book today. I first heard about Dr. Gorski in the mid-1990s when I was a graduate student here in sociology in my first year theory course taught by Dr. Anne Svidler, who’s in our audience here today. And Phil, we read your amazing 1993 American Journal of Sociology article on The Protestant Ethic Revisited. And I was a big labor nerd at the time, and I still am. And I knew that you had graduated ahead of me in the doctoral program. And I remember thinking, whoa, if only one day I could write like Phil Gorski.
So Dr. Gorski is the Frederick and Laura Goff Professor of Sociology and Religious Studies at Yale. He is a comparative historical sociologist with a strong interest in theory and methods in modern and early modern Europe and North America. He’s the author of five books that range a topic from the German left, Calvinism in early modern Europe, a revisiting of Weber’s Protestant ethic, American civil religion, and now white Christian nationalism. He’s edited three books, one on Max Weber’s economy and society, one on the post-secular, and one on Bourdieusian theory.
He was also the co-PI of a significant grant from the John Templeton Foundation that examined human flourishing and critical realism in the social sciences. And as I mentioned earlier, Dr. Gorski received his doctorate at UC Berkeley in sociology and is a product of our great sociology department. So welcome home, Phil.
So I can think of no one better than our own Dr. David Hollinger to respond to Dr. Gorski today. Dr. Hollinger is no stranger to most of us. He is the Preston Hotchkiss Emeritus Professor of History at UC Berkeley. He’s the author of 12 books on topics such as American intellectual history, American Protestantism, and religion and ethnicity in the US. His most recent book is published in 2022 is Christianity’s American Fate– How Religion Became More Conservative and Society More Secular.
If you’d like to learn more about Dr. Gorski and Dr. Hollinger’s latest books, you can read a recent article in the February 9 issue of The New York Review of Books, where both books are reviewed together in an article on Christian nationalism.
Now, before I turn the mic over to Dr. Gorski, I’d like to thank the wonderful staff at the Berkeley Center for the Study of Religion and the Social Science Matrix for making this event possible, Patty Dunlap, Bex Sussmann, Victoria Jaschob Chuck Kapelke, and Eva Seto. Today’s talk is part of the Berkeley Center for the Study of Religion Speaker series on race, religion, American democracy, and the American dream, as well as the Social Science Matrix book talk series. We are grateful for the co-sponsorship of the Department of Sociology and the Berkeley Center for Right-Wing Studies. Finally, this event has been made possible by the generous funding of the Henry Luce Foundation.
And for those of you who are joining us online, please submit questions and comments through the Q&A feature through the conversation. And if you’re having any AV trouble and would like assistance, please send a message via the chat function. Now, please join me in welcoming Dr. Gorski.
[PHIL GORSKI] Thank you for that warm welcome, Carolyn. Let me echo the thanks to Patty and Chuck and the crew here at the Berkeley Center. It’s great to be back. So I’m sure that you’ve all seen photos like this by now, photos of the failed coup. And perhaps you also notice the strange jumble of symbols– Christian flags and Jesus banners, but also Confederate flags and a wooden gallows, Stars and Stripes and Don’t Tread On Me flags, and of course, lots and lots of Trump flags, too.
Many secular observers were confused by this juxtaposition of symbols. They saw apples and oranges, symbols of religion and nationalism, racism and vigilantism, libertarianism and authoritarianism. What Sam Perry and I saw was something different, a fruit cocktail, which we call white Christian nationalism.
My talk today is based on our recent book, The Flag and the Cross– White Christian Nationalism and the Threat to American Democracy. The book is in four parts as is my talk. First, I’ll talk about what’s in the fruit cocktail and who’s drinking it. Second, a little bit about the original recipe for the cocktail, how it was devised and how it’s changed over time. Third, I’ll focus on its effects in our politics over the last decade or so. And I’ll then conclude with some reflections on where white Christian nationalism is headed and what can be done to counter it.
Let’s start with what question, just what exactly is white Christian nationalism? Well, one way of thinking about it is as a political vision, a set of attitudes and preferences about politics and policy. My co-author, Sam Perry, has constructed a scale that he uses to measure white Christian nationalism. It’s based on a series of questions that have been asked in several surveys over time. Here they are.
In a study released a few months ago, Robbie Jones of the Public Religion Research Institute in cooperation with the Brookings Institute constructed a similar scale using a more carefully targeted set of questions. So just how many white Christian nationals are there? And who are they? In an earlier book with Andrew Whitehead, very divided survey respondents into four categories based on their scores on the Christian nationalism scale.
They found that almost half of Americans partly or strongly affirm Christian nationalism. Jones’s estimates you’ll see is somewhat lower, around 30%. Is white Christian nationalism just another way of saying conservative white evangelical? No. Here’s Jones’s breakdown by religious traditions, quite similar to the ones that Perry and I constructed.
As you can see, not all conservative white evangelicals are white Christian nationalists. And many non-whites and non-evangelicals embrace white Christian nationalism to some degree. To this I would add another finding by the political scientist Ryan Burch. Many non-churchgoers and even some non-Christians now identify as evangelical. But the crucial takeaway is this, Christian nationalism and white evangelicalism overlap a great deal. But they are not the same. And evangelicalism is increasingly apolitical as much as religious label.
So just what do white Christian nationalists believe? Obviously, they believe that America is a Christian nation or at least that it was and should be again. They also believe in a strong military. They support the police. They want law and order. But they also oppose gun control. And they’re against government regulation, including mask mandates and vaccination requirements. And they’re for free market capitalism and against government handouts at least to people different from them.
But what does any of this have to do with Christianity? And yet ask many conservative white evangelicals, and they will insist that it is all just part of a biblical worldview. Why don’t we call it white Christian nationalism? Because Christian nationalism is strongly associated with various indicators of racial animus and opposition to non-white immigration and also with a strong sense of racial grievance and white identity. That is a combination of religious and racial identity.
So that’s my first pass at what question. Let’s now turn to when question, that is, when did white Christian nationalism first emerge? The short answer is 1690, not 1990– 1690. White Christian nationalism long anticipates the rise of Christian evangelicalism and the Christian right. Before I explain why, let me take a second pass at the what question.
One can also understand white Christian nationalism as a deep story in my fellow sociologist Arlie Hochschild’s sense. This story goes something like this. America was founded as a Christian nation. The founders were Orthodox Christians. The founding documents are based on biblical principles, maybe even divinely inspired. America is in any event divinely favored, hence its power and prosperity. But America is also threatened today by non-whites, non-Christians, non-Americans. On its soil, on its borders, it must be kept white and Christian or made so and by whatever means necessary.
Now, for some Americans, the story is quite explicit. Crack open the history textbooks used by many Christian homeschoolers, and you’ll find it right there in black and white. And if you’re not a reader you can attend one of Michael Flynn’s Revive America rallies. For others, though, the deep story remained implicit. It just goes without saying that white Christians built America.
The deep story and the political vision are connected. In fact, it’s the story that holds the vision together. It explains how and why religious racial and national identity go together and also with things like support for free market capitalism and gun rights. As I said, the deep story is an old story, in a sense as old as the Christian Bible itself or rather a certain Puritan Protestant reading of it. Three readings of three stories to be precise. We call them the Promised Land story, the End Time story, and the Racial Curse story.
In the Promised Land story, the New England Puritans imagined themselves as new Israel. Over time, they came to see the new world as their promised land. And the native tribes as Canaanites or Malachi, too, had to be driven out or destroyed. In the End Time story, the Puritans wars with the Native Americans were recast as a cosmic struggle between the forces of good and evil, the denouement of the eschatological drama in which God’s new chosen people confronts hordes of quite literally demonic others.
Finally, in the Racial Curse story, Noah places a curse on one of his three sons. Ham’s descendants bear a mark on their body, a black mark. They are condemned to perpetual servitude. And of course, where do Ham’s descendants settle down? Why, in Africa, of course, which is why Africans are marked with Blackness and why it is God’s will that they be enslaved.
By 1690, the three key ingredients of white Christian nationalism were ready to be mixed together. And the original mixologist was none other than the famous Puritan divine, Cotton Mather. His ecclesiastical history of New England remains in a sense the urtext of white Christian nationalism, the original recipe.
Now, like other fairy tales, the deep story has been told and retold over time and comes in many different versions. Who counts as white, who counts as Christian, who counts as a real American, all that has changed over time. And Perry and I sketch out these changes in some detail and the flag and the cross. But for now, I’d like to move on to the third question, the how question, as in, how does it work, especially in our contemporary politics?
Well, when white Christians make claims on other Americans, they do so in the name of national unity and solidarity. But when racial and religious others make claims and white Christians, they are refused in the name of individual rights and personal accountability. In other words, heads, whites win. Tails, everyone else loses. In a phrase, freedom, order, and violence. Perry and I call this the Holy Trinity of white Christian nationalism. Freedom and rights for people like us. Order, gender order, racial order, for everyone else. And righteous violence for anyone who steps outside of the lines.
Let’s take a quick look at contemporary politics to see how this works. Remember, the Tea Party? It all started on February 19, 2009, when Rick Santelli, a financial reporter with CNBC, delivered a viral rant from the trading floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. He blamed the 2008 financial crisis on losers who had taken out mortgages they couldn’t afford and excoriated America’s first Black president for bailing them out. He then called for the formation of a new Tea Party to resist federal taxation and defend individual rights– freedom, in other words.
At first glance, this sounds secular and libertarian. But here’s the thing, as academics and journalists began researching the Tea Party supporters and organizations, they found that most Tea Partiers were older white evangelicals. And that well-known evangelical political activists, such as Ralph Reed, were centrally involved. More religion was also raised. Tea Partiers were generally opposed to non-white immigration. Indeed, some Tea Party groups even emerged out of white vigilante groups patrolling the Southern border.
Now, let’s shift our focus to the MAGAverse. In his 2017 inaugural address, you’ll remember perhaps President Trump promised that the American people would take back their country, that they would band together around Christianity, that they would start winning again and saying Merry Christmas again, and bring Christianity back because it’s a good thing. They would also put America first, restore law and order, build a great wall around the nation to keep out criminals and illegals, and institute a total ban on Muslims. Sure sounds a lot like white Christian nationalism.
And indeed, one way of understanding Trumpism is as a reactionary and secularized version of white Christian nationalism. Reactionary in the sense that it abandoned the polite rhetoric of colorblindness and American exceptionalism in favor of openly racist language about blood and violence. And secularized in the sense that apocalypticism gives way to catastrophy them. And good and evil are now replaced by friend and foe. It’s sort of Carl Schmidt for the uninitiated.
But just as the Tea Party’s libertarian facade hit white Christian nationalism, so too does Trumpism resonate with the Holy Trinity of white Christian individualism, the Holy Trinity of freedom, violence, and order. We all know that Trump is a master of verbal violence. He uses words as weapons to wound his opponents and intimidate his rivals– Crooked Hillary, Sleepy Joe, Lion Tat, Little Marco. We’re still working on something for DeSantis. Of course, he is not above threatening or inciting physical violence. He did so on the campaign trail and on January 6. And it appears that he has engaged in physical violence against women and on more than one occasion.
Now, for freedom. When criticized for his intemperate speech, the insults, the threats, and the profanity, Trump and his supporters styled themselves as defenders of free speech and opponents of cancel culture dare to be politically incorrect. In other words, claim the God-given right to use racist and sexist language with impunity, as in the good old days of Jim Crow and Mad Men.
Finally, order, by which I mean racial order. Trump’s response to Black Lives Matter was to call for law and order, which is to say white male violence, police violence, vigilante violence, even military violence. His response to white male violence was unrepentant words about very fine people and patriotic Americans.
Let me conclude with some thoughts about where white Christian nationalism is headed. The short answer is in an increasingly alarming and anti-democratic direction. Paradoxically maybe in a less racist and more nativist one, too. To see why, let me begin by showing you some images from January 5, the day before the failed coup.
These are scenes from a sort of pre-rally that took place in Washington DC that day, the so-called Jericho March. Mimicking the biblical Joshua and his Israelite army, the protesters marched around the Capitol singing, praying, and blowing show fires in hopes of retaking their city. They understood themselves to be engaging in spiritual warfare against demonic forces that had taken possession of the capital and its occupants.
The organizers and speakers were a loose network of a growing movement of radical Pentecostals, commonly known as the New Apostolic Reformation. Key leaders of this movement include Peter Wagner and self-proclaimed apostles, such as Che Ahn, Mark Gonzalez, Cindy Jacobs, Dutch Sheets, Lance Wallnau, and TD Jakes. Trump’s spiritual advisor, Paula White, is also part of this network.
Now, as you may have notice from the names, this is a multiracial movement. These are some of the most influential Americans that you may never have heard of. They have grabbed the torch of Christian nationalism from its one time evangelical guardians and are marching off with it in even more radical direction. The roots of their radicalism are both theological and organizational.
I’ve already mentioned one key doctrine– spiritual warfare. This is the belief that a battle between the forces of good and evil, natural and supernatural, is taking place around us all of the time. The demonic and satanic agents can and do take possession of specific people and places– Nancy Pelosi, the US Capitol, for example. And the Christians can and must combat them with spiritual weapons like prayers and chauffeurs and perhaps more.
The second key doctrine concerns the so-called Seven Mountains Mandate. And this may be the most viral meme that you’ve never seen. This is a view derived from Weber’s theory of value spheres, I kid you not, that Christians must seize control or dominion over the seven societal spheres or mountains of influence and by any means necessary, Democratic or not.
The third key doctrine is Kingdom Now. This is the view that the second coming of Christ will be triggered by the fulfillment of the seven mountains mandate. In a way, this quest for political power is thereby linked to a yearning for the last judgment and given a heightened urgency. After all, why wait passively for the end on a mountaintop when you can take political action to bring it about right now?
Let me say a few words about the organization of the NAR. It’s not a denomination. It has no formal organization. Rather, it’s a loose network held together by a clerical oligarchy. Its basic unit of organization is the event, not the congregation, events like Michael Flynn’s Renew America, a tour. Its leaders are not pastors but self-proclaimed apostles. Entry into this clerical oligarchy is not by means of ordination or education but rather by means of cooptation.
The only way to become an apostle is to be is to be proclaimed one by other apostles. The idea, inspired by Weber once again amazingly, is to prevent the brutalization of charisma by assuring that leadership is recruited always and solely on the basis of certain kinds of recognized charismatic gifts– the power to heal, prophesy, pray, speak in tongues, and so on. In some, the NAR combines a radical antidemocratic ideology within a selfless and decentralized leadership structure. And in this, it resembles some of the most successful revolutionary terrorist organizations and movements of the past and the present.
Now, it would be easy to dismiss that NAR is a radical fringe. But it would also be a mistake. And let’s not repeat this mistake, because, if there is one universal law in political sociology, and as some of you may know, I’m no friend of law-like statements, it’s that well-organized minorities can dominate disorganized majorities, especially if support for that minority extends into a wider population, which is precisely the situation we find ourselves in today.
So just where does this leave us? I see four possible outcomes. One is what the late Pierre van den Berghe called the Herrenvolk democracy or master race democracy. It is a parliamentary regime in which the exercise of power and suffrage is restricted de facto and often de jure to the dominant group, and in which that group understands itself as a superior race or culture and subjects other races or groups to varying degrees of legal repression and extralegal violence. In other words, Jim Crow 2.0.
Another closely related scenario is what we might call Urvolk democracy, a scenario in which native birth replaces racial identity as the basis of citizenship rights and democratic participation. It’s not hard to imagine either of these outcomes should Trump and the GOP regain control of both Houses of Congress and the White House in 2024 and are able to successfully manipulate election results thereafter. This, of course, is not the only possible scenario. There are at least two others.
One is the mere survival of liberal democracy, which is to say the status quo ante since the Civil Rights movement and the Civil Rights laws of the mid-1960s. The second is the achievement at last of multiracial democracy, a nation of nations and the people of peoples, in which these rights are enforced and extended. And historic injustice is recognized and perhaps even recompensated.
Which of any of these three scenarios will become reality is, of course, hard to say. Historical outcomes are highly contingent, which is why social scientists are notoriously bad at prediction. This much is certain though, much will depend on the choices of American Christians and their leaders but also on those of secular progressives and their leaders.
America is at a crossroads. It has been there before and more than once. To the left lies a path towards multiracial democracy. To the right, a path towards continued white dominant. In the past, America has sometimes turn left for a time only to veer sharply back to the right. This is what happened in 1787, in 1877, and again in 1968, when it incorporated slavery into the Constitution, turned the South over to confederate redeemers, and chose law and order over civil rights. Each time the country took two steps forward then one step backwards. Which way will America turn this time?
The answer will depend on the choices Americans make in the coming years. Will conservative white Christians accept into minority status? Or will they attempt to cling to power by means of minority rule? In short, will they choose democracy or power? And what if secular progressives, will they make room for people of faith and their vision of a multiracial democracy? Will they accept religion as an element of diversity? Or will they instead fulfill conservatives worst fears about progressive attacks on religious freedom?
For my part, I hope America will finally take the road towards an inclusive multiracial democracy. Thanks. [APPLAUSE]
[DAVID HOLLINGER] Can you hear me? Phil’s work and mine complement each other quite neatly in the effort which now includes a whole lot of scholars and journalists and writers of various kinds to the effort to understand Christian nationalism and its relation to American democracy. Two contributions of the flag and the cross, and I’m going to be speaking directly about the book rather than the lecture since I prepared my remarks based on the book, which Phil has done a very good job of summarizing. Well, there are some parts of it I’ll refer to that are not in his lecture.
Two contributions of this book are especially important. One is the statistically intensive portrait of Christian nationalism and its demographic foundation. And there’s a lot of very detailed accounts of this in the book, which I strongly recommend. The second is the demonstration that versions of Christian nationalism have been around for a long time. This is not a new thing, Christian nationalism taking many different shapes over the course of the different epics in American history.
Now, the second contribution is the one that most interest historians. And it’s appropriate for me to enter the conversation through that part of Phil’s work. And I should indicate that the book includes quite an extensive historical account of the different episodes that he only alluded to here. And so I’m going to be referring to that implicitly along the way.
Phil does treat the history of Christian nationalism as a script, a script that’s rewritten in different terms and by different sets of historical actors from epic to epic. And this is all to the good. But this account can be collegially supplemented as I believe Phil would be quick to agree, by greater attention to styles of Christianity that were different, alternate styles of Christianity that were available to empower white people along the chronological way.
Especially prominent– especially pertinent, I should say, were the steps taken in the 20th century by the ecumenical leaders whom historians often called Christian globalists. We now have a substantial literature on Christian globalists– in all the books by Michael Thompson and Gene Zubovich, Peggy Bendroth, there’s really quite a lot– tracing the development of the social gospel and its international coordinates, its adamant opposition to immigration exclusion in the 1920s, its championing of the National Association of Colored People or the Advancement of Colored People, its severe criticism of the British empire, its adulation of Gandhi, its extensive celebration of kagawa, its major role in the development of human rights ideology and the institutions to support it, its opposition to lynching and the Jim Crow system down through its conspicuous opposition to the Vietnam War.
Now, to be sure, there were always within the mainline churches, people who were OK with American global hegemony, who were OK with white supremacy, at least up to a point who were very slow in opposing it. But if we look at the entirety of white America during the half century between about 1920 and 1970, the ecumenical protestants were way out in front of most others, especially out front of the evangelical protestants in supporting causes that went against Christian nationalism.
White Americans had a choice. Those who gravitated toward Christian nationalism were rejecting an alternative that espoused a more inclusive gospel and a more pluralistic nation. This alternative was easily available and was led by people who were just as white as Billy Graham. Taking account of this part of American history, it’s important for those of us that are concerned with the issues that we’re discussing today, it’s important for two– in two closely related ways.
Take an account of this part of American history is important, first, because attention to the religious choices made by successive authors of the Christian nationalist script can enhance our understanding– I guess as I put my hand on my manuscript, I’m reminding us of the wonderful slides that Phil has given us. I’ll try not to do that. One value of our attention to these other voices is that it can enhance our understanding of the distinctness of Christian nationalism and can inoculate us against the mistake of conflating Christian nationalism with the whole of American Christianity.
Phil correctly complains that the 1619 project can leave the impression that American history is almost exclusively a story of white supremacy, diminishing public awareness of the reality and power of contingency. But Phil’s own account of the enduring core of Christian nationalism risks partaking of the same syndrome, leaving readers with the impression that the Christian project in the United States has been entirely captured by nationalism, a force so overwhelming that it reappears no matter what the historical conditions and controls the politics of religion in the United States.
Second, attention to the history of religious choices can remind us of a range of potential resources for fighting Christian nationalism today. At the end of the book, Phil devotes three pages to what can be done. But in which he sensibly calls for a united front embracing a range of religious and secular groups and individuals. But the book doesn’t give us access to what such people have to offer.
So why should we turn to these people with any hope if we don’t have any indication of what they’ve been up to and what the deeply embedded aspects they have of American history? So if we need to be reminded of the deeply embedded foundations of Christian nationalism– and certainly we do, and that’s a good thing– we need also to be reminded that the United States is not without resources that are similarly deeply embedded. The opposition to Christian nationalism for which Phil rightly calls is not likely to succeed if it is created out of contemporary whole cloth.
It’s a good thing that Christian nationalism has been opposed, as often as it has, because, if we didn’t have that part of our history with that cent of historically bounded resources, we would be in even worse shape than we are now. To be sure, the old Protestant establishment, all those ecumenical denominations, the congregationalist, the Methodists, Presbyterians, and so forth, they’ve been in steady decline for the last 50 years. But those churches still exist. And they should be recognized as contemporary players in the struggle against Christian nationalism. So too should the tiny group of progressive intellectuals that Phil does mention at the end of the book, although I think it is very easy to exaggerate the significance of the progressive evangelicals, the progressive evangelicals that he talks about at the end.
More important than the progressive evangelicals and more important, I think, than the residual ecumenical Protestant population, more important than either of those constituencies, I think, are today’s errors of the Americans who resisted Christian nationalism on secular grounds. Now, we have a good literature on these people, too, especially the books by David Sehat and Leigh Schmidt. And although we can go back to the Enlightenment themes and the founders and 19th century figures like Robert Ingersoll, the relevant– the most relevant secularists are again 20th century figures like John Dewey, Hannah Arendt. The American Civil Liberties Union is relevant here along with the American Jewish Committee and other advocates of sharp or church state separation in the great court cases of the 1940s, ’50s, and ’60s.
Central to the saga of secularization in the United States has been the increasing prominence of Jews in their specific capacity as non-Christians and thus, as a challenge to Anglo Protestant cultural hegemony. Although some of today’s Christian nationalists repeat the explicit antisemitism of earlier writers in the script, most of them shy away from this. That is all the more reason surely why the statistical overrepresentation of Jews in academia, science, the arts, and popular culture needs to be emphasized rather than ignored.
The prominence of Jews, Judaic and post-Judaic in the United States, is a formidable resource against Christian nationalism. Jewish prominence diminishes the credibility of claims to the country on the part of Christianity. So shouldn’t our critique of Christian nationalism involve frequent and loud reminders that the Christian nationalist program is structurally anti-Jewish?
We need to remember, too, that many secular Americans today are post-Protestants, a point that Phil makes in a kind footnote to a book that I wrote about a decade ago. Lots of ecumenical Protestants have become post-Protestant secularists transferring their globalism from religious to secular modes of thought joined there by smaller numbers of post Catholics who are also a relevant group.
Yet Phil is surprisingly ungenerous I think to secular opponents of Christian nationalism. In his brief discussion of secularists in the last few pages of the book, Phil correctly notes that some secular progressives have been imperialists and eugenicists. But I was surprised that his main point about today’s secular liberals is not the resources on which they can draw. His main point about secular liberals is that they must set aside some of their most deeply held prejudices that have played an important role in stoking populist resentment and driving political polarization.
In what I find to be an uncharacteristic lapse into two-siderism, Phil sardonically mocks the deep story according to which a morally and intellectually advanced elite shepherds that backward and benighted mass toward prosperity and enlightenment. Well, arrogant snobs do exist. And they have a lot to answer for. But having spent the last 50 years writing book after book about exactly that deep story of the Enlightenment and its progress in the United States, I don’t find that story so easily burlesque.
The Protestant accommodation with the Enlightenment is a huge and central saga in the history of the United States. And I hope I can persuade Phil to take a more generous view of it. And what is Phil’s book, if not a signal example of the continuation in our own day of the precise story I have been writing about all these years? Phil is bringing evidence and reasoning to a discourse in which ignorance and willful obscurantism are prominent features. Phil and I are even better comrades than he realizes.
[PHIL GORSKI] Well, thank you much, very much for that kind and insightful words about the book, in particular for really kind of inventorying in such a detailed way the different groups and traditions that might flow into a sort of popular front against Christian nationalism that I’m calling for. I certainly appreciate your emphasis on the kind of deep invocation of a certain kind of Protestantism and Enlightenment.
And I think your point, which I’ve certainly learned from your work, David, about the deep genealogical connection between what we would broadly call secular progressivism today and liberal Protestantism, central values of equality, inclusiveness, pluralism, cosmopolitanism, I think that’s all absolutely right. And I think in calling out a certain kind of technocratic elitism or snobism, I think really what I had more in mind there was the sorts of folks who are in that little Peninsula jutting South from San Francisco–
[DAVID HOLLINGER] Stanford people.
[PHIL GORSKI] Thinking more of Silicon Valley about the sort of technocratic libertarians in particular and its kind of antidemocratic form, I mean, that I would take is sort of the most extreme version of that, as opposed to more egalitarian and inclusive version of progressivism. But, yeah, I’m very grateful for questions.
[AUDIENCE MEMBER] Going across between the two of you, going back to these previous waves, you took us back to 1690, you do see different fluctuations I think. So if you look back to the 1930s, ’40s, you have this powerful antisemitic movement in the rise of Ku Klux Klan, Father Coughlin, neo-Nazis. And you didn’t mention Nazis per se, although they were very powerful then and have resurged again, of course.
And then here seems to be a shift in the Christian response to it, because a generation or two ago, the Protestants, particularly evangelicals, really hated the Catholics. And now they have seemed to have coalesced without so much of that. So I wonder if, as David says, emphasizing the prominence of Jews in the academy and other positions of prominence, isn’t this that red meat to those groups? That’s their big complaint now that Jews have taken over everything. And we hear about George Soros every five minutes. So. Isn’t there some issue there that we need to think about?
[DAVID HOLLINGER] Well, whether or not it’s a good idea to emphasize the Jewish contribution to American democracy, I suppose is a question that one can take different ways. Generally, my view is that there’s a lot of evidence that the United States is a more open, tolerant, diverse, democratic society because of the prominence of non-Christians.
Now, the significance of Jews is that they’re non-Christians, whether they’re Judaic or non-Judaic. And if you look at the whole span of American history, when the Jewish immigration comes in the late 19th and early 20th century, this is the first time that you have a substantial population that doesn’t at least have a Christian background. Sure, there’s a lot of anti-Catholicism in American life and very widespread among these ecumenical mainline Protestants, but at least the Catholics, there’s all this stuff about God and Jesus.
And the Jewish population, it’s different. So the threat to Anglo-Protestant hegemony and the advancement of secularism, and you find this especially in the ’40s and ’50s and ’60s, all of these state church litigations are led by Leo Pfeffer, a guy whose name I misspelled. I called him in my book Leo Pfeiffer, because I love Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park so much. So so Leo Pfeffer the counsel for the American-Jewish Committee. He’s the one that runs this.
Now, he’s concerned about the same issue that you raise, Bob. And as a result, he gets a lot of Episcopalians to front for him, because he doesn’t want the public to know the extent to which separation of church and state is a Jewish conspiracy, which to a large extent it was, and a good thing, too. So if you take the view that the United States is a lot better because of this diversification, then there’s a case made for celebrating it.
Now, does this mean that these reactionaries are more likely to make antisemitism part of their program? Or are they likely to get again and more often George Soros possibly? And I don’t mean to say that there’s no risk there. But my own view is that we’re far enough in American history that we ought to stand these people down by celebrating the Jewish aspect of American life. I don’t know if you agree with that.
[PHIL GORSKI] Yeah. I was going to actually to speak to the issue of Catholics and evangelicals. I think there’s– I can’t really add much to that answer. So this really was the result of a very systematic coalition building that was driven mainly by a relatively small group of Catholic political activists and intellectual leaders. So I would point, especially to the work of people like Richard Viguerie fairly early on and then also of people of a group around the journal First Things in New York City, John Newhouse, and a few others in building this Catholic evangelical alliance.
And in a way, this is one reason why abortion has become such a prominent issue in American politics. It was originally a Catholic issue and generally regarded as such by evangelical Protestants in the late ’60s and early ’70s. And therefore, it’s an issue that they were not particularly concerned about. And this was also putting that issue front and center was all in getting evangelicals mobilized around. It was also a subtle way for some of the Catholic activists who were working behind the scenes to make it look as if the Christian right were an evangelical and Protestant project as opposed to an alliance between evangelicals and Catholics.
I mean, that doesn’t– it’s not really made explicit until the late ’90s, or early aughts. And it is, of course, also partly just a function of religious demography. Is the number of white Protestants and white evangelicals has shrunk? I think by some measures, it’s under 20% now. That doesn’t get you to a majority of regard no matter how well-organized you are.
[AUDIENCE MEMBER] Thanks, Phil and David. So Phil, I want to ask whether maybe your story lacks a certain degree of empathy. You talk a lot about the people who are the spear, the tip of the spear for the right wing and their very strong elaborated ideologies. But they would be nowhere without a sort of larger base of people who are disaffected.
And I would just suggest the argument that those people, that is the base that enables the flamboyant leadership to thrive, have suffered great losses from their point of view over the last 50 years. They’ve lost economically. They’ve lost socially. They’ve lost culturally. Almost every front, the left or the secular left has taken their children, has moved the culture, moved the media. So should we not try to understand the sense of loss and sense of being beleaguered, and it provides a lot of the support for this right-wing movement?
[PHIL GORSKI] Sure. Absolutely. I think my view on this is that a lot of the folks that are being mobilized have every right to be angry. It’s just that they’re angry at the wrong people for the most part. So I certainly understand the impact that this has had on some rural communities. Much of my maternal side of my family settled in eastern Iowa and downstate Illinois.
And so you look at these communities and what’s happened to them since I was young, the family farms, the local factories, the mom-and-pop shops and restaurants. I mean, all of that have been wiped away, but I don’t think it was wiped away by liberal college professors in Berkeley and New Haven. I mean, it was wiped away by deregulation and globalization.
So I do totally understand their anger. And I suppose, if I were a better person like Charlie Hochschild, I would be better at climbing that empathy wall and portraying them in that way. But you know, I suppose, this book is a sort of– there is no doubt that this book is a sort of a polemic. I mean, it is meant to be kind of a Cassandra’s cry about what we see as a very serious threat to American democracy.
As a matter of political strategy, I mean, I do think that it would be very important to combine concerns about racial injustice and inequality with attention to class, inequality and injustice. And that is a difficult thing to do, I mean, to really powerfully combine those two things and in the same rhetorical frame. But most of the successful Democratic politicians of the last decade or so have one way or another sort of managed to do that.
[CAROLYN CHEN] I’m going to turn to a question now from our virtual audience here. And this is about other groups, particularly Catholicism. So I’m going to combine questions and then combine it with my own in a way. So it’s a question as to what extent are Catholics considered to be part of this movement or even Mormons, particularly with ultra-conservative Roman Catholic bishops. Do they augment or diminish white Christian nationalism with their stance and statements? And I would add to this, too, is the Catholic Church in the United States is increasingly nonwhite really and the leadership is becoming non-white as well. So if you can comment on that.
[PHIL GORSKI] So it’s really about the Catholics. I mean, are they part of the White Christian nationalist coalition? Might that change, given the fact that they are increasingly diverse group within the United States? I guess, so couple of thoughts. One is I think that– on the one hand, yes. So there’s less support for Christian– white Catholics scores somewhat lower on the Christian nationalism scale on average. But by our reckoning around half of white Catholics would be supportive or strongly supportive of Christian nationalism. That’s less than white evangelicals, but it’s not insubstantial.
I mean, my sense of why that is that two reasons. And one is that they’re cross pressure between their values around sex and family on the one hand and social teachings of the church pull them in an opposite direction. I think another reason is that, unlike a lot of American Christian churches, they’re a global movement and have– there’s a tension between their sort of nationalistic commitments and their religious commitment that doesn’t exist, that doesn’t exist for many, many Protestants.
And of course, the Mormons are a particularly interesting case and I think also illustrative of why there is resistance in some quarters of Protestantism. So I think in particular groups that maintain a strong sense of marginalization within their historical memory, and this is particularly true of the Mormons, are averse to very strong forms of Christian national. Although, on the other side of the ledger, one must say that there is in a sense no more Christian nationalist form of Christianity than Mormonism in certain versions of it, so through line from the John Birch Society up to the present. So that in the sense, it’s I think also like the Catholic community one that’s very sort of cross pressured around this.
[DAVID HOLLINGER] Could I just briefly, though? I think we need to remind ourselves that– and I think this was pointed out in a recent book that Claude did with my count that the Catholic Church has lost about 40% of its traditional White ethnic base during the last half century. So when we talk about the role of Catholicism and the religious politics of the United States, we need to understand that if it’s not in freefall, it’s almost.
[AUDIENCE MEMBER] I Thank you both. I really appreciated the reminder that there is a much deeper, longer history to the Christian progressive left. And as a millennial, as someone who grew up in an evangelical community where a lot of Christian nationalism lives, I just wonder, what does that look like a response from the Christian left, especially for– when I think about my peers, progressive, college-educated millennials, many of them don’t really think this as a threat because they think of these people as wacko, anti-science type folks, and they’re quite anti-religion, I would say, in general.
And studies after studies show that mainline churches are losing numbers. When I go to episcopal services, I’m often the youngest person there by 30 years. And evangelical spaces offer a very hip cultural aesthetic often. There’s music.
They look like they’re surfers from Santa Cruz. And they’re speaking, I think, to people of my generation that maybe don’t see the very harmful politics that are at play in evangelicalism and Christian nationalism. So I just wonder, what does a robust Christian progressive left actually look like in responding to all of this?
[DAVID HOLLINGER] You should answer that first.
[PHIL GORSKI] I feel like you should answer that. I feel like–
What’s really your–
[DAVID HOLLINGER] All right. Well, I’ve heard about some of these folks, and I’ll tell you what I think it looks like. And I’ll get into it by recounting an anecdote, which I think tells you a lot. Richard Cizik, the lobbyist for the National Association of Evangelicals, who was fired in 2009 for deviating from the standard evangelical line and emphasizing the environment equality and so forth.
Cizik and I were the main speakers at a Convention of Reformed Jews at which we were to talk about what it’s like to be a Protestant, basically, or to once have been one, in my case. And the interesting thing about Cizik’s speech is that it was right out of a liberal Protestant sermon of 1955. So he was basically taking the old liberal Protestant line on tolerance on equality, on diversity, on love, on internationalism, and on globalism. He was taking all of that and presenting it as the evangelical witness.
So afterward, I ask him, do you realize what you’re doing here? And he admitted it. I wouldn’t out him had he not already outed himself, but he admitted it. And he said that the only way that he can present evangelicalism is to hide it within a liberal Protestant entanglement.
Now, I believe that that is basically what has happened with progressive evangelicalism to this day. It is an enterprise of appropriation and effacement. And you find this, for example, in David Guzik’s book, The New Christianity. This is a very prominent evangelical, one of the big guys.
So I’m reading through this book. What’s new about Christianity? I’m saying, hey, Jesus, this is what liberal Protestants have been arguing since the ’20s. The media aspect that you’re talking about and the dancing and the singing, all that, that’s a hip aspect beyond what I’m saying. But the people that are leading progressive evangelicalism and are trying to present it that way are interestingly copying the liberal Protestant script.
Now, that may not be a bad thing. And perhaps it’s too fussy of people who say, oh, well, that’s appropriation, not effacement. But it’s historically interesting that these people are basically saying the liberals whom we’ve hated, who we’ve excoriated, whom we’ve condemned for 100 years. They were right all along.
[PHIL GORSKI] Couldn’t have said it any better myself. I’ll just add one thing, which is, I wonder in a way whether certain kinds of traditional liturgy are not going to be cool again. Again, this is a prediction that might be completely off base.
So many folks are younger folks are searching for a kind– this is what I mean authenticity means for many of these folks these days. And so maybe suddenly, the smells and bells of an Episcopalian liturgy are going to be attractive again. I don’t know.
[DAVID HOLLINGER] Traditional Methodist technology out of Charles Wesley rather than rock music?
[PHIL GORSKI] Yeah.
I’ll sign up for that.
[AUDIENCE MEMBER] Who would you consider in your book the leaders of the progressive evangelical movement?
[PHIL GORSKI] I think some of it’s usual suspects. Although, this is an older generation. I mean, I think maybe more– people may to be paying more attention to right now are kind of never prominent, never trump evangelical. So I’m thinking of people like Russell Moore who is now Christianity Today, or Beth Moore, the famous Bible interpreter, I guess, or even in a way David French, the kind of evangelical.
I mean, these are all people who– I mean, French would probably define himself as a classical liberal. For Moore, it was about me, too. For Russell Moore, it was about racism. But I mean, in certain way, I mean they are out of their own deeply evangelical commitments arriving back at some of the causes that liberal Protestants were fighting for mid-20’s–
[DAVID HOLLINGER] What about Jim Wallis?
[PHIL GORSKI] Yeah. I mean these are sort of old guard. I mean, Wallis must be pushing 80 at this point.
[DAVID HOLLINGER] But he could still be good sure.
[AUDIENCE MEMBER] I have a question with regard to the categorization of American Jews as progressive. Sheldon Adelson was a big financier of Trump. The two multibillionaires who own TikTok– I forgot their name– I think they’re from around Philadelphia– are also a big financiers of the American alt-right. And also, they finance what is now called the legal reform in Israel that is about to bring a civil war over there.
So there was always Jewish engagement in the extreme right wing, mainly through libertarian concerns. And if you talk about American Jews who are reform, their progressiveness ends around the colonization of Palestine, that is they do support Jewish nationalism and Israel, which is quite separatist.
[DAVID HOLLINGER] It certainly would be a mistake to claim that All-American Jews are identical, politically. And it would be a mistake to say that all American Jews have advanced progressive causes in the United States. But if you look at the whole range of the Jewish impact on American life in the 20th and 21st century, I think the cases that you’re referring to are genuinely anomalous.
Now, to say that they’re anomalies doesn’t mean that they’re not important. And I think you’re absolutely right to say that when questions of Zionism and Israel come up, the tone changes even with a lot of people who are against Christian nationalism in the United States. Very valid point. So it does make a difference as to who specifically we’re talking about. I should point out, Carolyn, that there’s a gentleman in the front that’s been trying to get your attention for quite a long time.
[DAVID HOLLINGER] The other guy was pushing her.
[AUDIENCE MEMBER] as hard as you.
[DAVID HOLLINGER] Yeah. Well, doing the best I can.
[AUDIENCE MEMBER] So Daniel Patrick Moynihan will be forever famous for his observation about, “You’re entitled to your own opinions but not to your own facts.” It seems to me that that’s a big part of the mess we have, politically, in the United States. There are two readings of what’s going on, where it came from, what it means, how to deal with it, the fundamental facts of the situation.
The problem is that when you try to take a run at this through the religious channel, it seems to me you find yourself in a channel where when people speak, they don’t speak as if they are speaking from fact. It’s always speaking from faith. And faith doesn’t necessarily anchor in fact, or facts are subordinate to faith. So you have this situation where no matter how whackadoodle there facts are, if they are consistent with some faith reading, they feel completely vindicated, and there is no possibility of persuading them to the contrary.
And you describe some of the roots of Christian nationalism as picking and choosing biblical text, as if these things are historical photographs, not historical literature. And then picking and choosing political events and so forth in the United States as if they have the one right explanation when all these things are really chosen and selected through a very religious set of lenses. I’m looking for a question mark. Let me just say discuss.
[DAVID HOLLINGER] I’ve got some thoughts, but you should go first.
[PHIL GORSKI] So I guess my main response would be that you’re, of course, right about the impenetrability of these epistemological bubbles, which is one reason why I actually think it’s quite important that progressive or liberal Christian be part of the coalition because they are really the only people who are in a position to speak to the persuadables in a language that will persuade them. I can stand up here forever and present tables and statistics.
But at the end of the day, I’m just a liberal, elite professor who doesn’t have any credibility. But somebody who’s sitting with the pews in them, who shares values, I think, many of us share– equality, inclusion, pluralism, and so on– but can frame those arguments in biblical or Christian terms, I think it’s just a much more effective interlocutor. So I think it’s actually crucial to include folks like that in this coalition for that reason.
[DAVID HOLLINGER] I think a difficulty with the ecumenical Protestant intellectual leadership over a good many years is a certain humidity in criticizing evangelical theology and evangelical notions of what the Bible is. And this notion of a Christian worldview, which is the way they put– what you’re talking about– so that you’re really have to speak from faith.
The liberal theologians are actually in a position to make some pretty good arguments against that, especially stressing the historical character of the scriptures and going against a lot of conventional evangelical ideas, which do not engage the historicity of the scriptures and this fragments coming together. I mean, held or what? 30,000 verses in the Bible created by different people and different historical circumstances. And the whole notion that this is somehow a single message is mystical claim, which ecumenical theologians are actually very good at dealing with if they’re willing to.
Now, I’m not quite sure what’s going on there, but a big complaint that I make in this book of mine that Caroline mentioned at the start is that I’m suggesting that ecumenical Protestants could really help a lot in diminishing the threat of Christian nationalism if they would use their intellectual resources to undercut the theological presuppositions of Christian nationalism. And they have the tools to do it.
Why are they not doing it? Well, I’ve written to various seminarians about this, and the impression that I got is that they’re afraid if they tell the public what they really think about the Bible, that the number of members that they have will diminish even further.
Now, I’m not sure that applies to all of them, but there are a handful of these Protestant theologians that have actually gone out and attacked inerrancy, have attacked a lot of these quite hokey hermeneutic ideas that a lot of evangelicals have, but there aren’t very many of them. And the big seminary establishment, I mean, the guys at Union and Chicago, Dibb and Yale Dibb and so forth, have been very reticent about this.
And one of the interesting themes in the new atheist literature– Dawkins, and Harris, and these guys– they actually go after the liberal Protestant intellectuals for tolerating evangelical ideas. And generally, the ecumenical Protestant establishment was harder on the new atheists than they have been on the evangelicals. And I think that was a mistake. I think the liberal Protestants don’t know who their friends really are.
[CAROLYN CHEN] Let’s take a question from the virtual audience. There’s a question here about the way that region intersects with this. It says, this person writes you, both spoken at the scale of the nation, and I’m wondering if there’s anything you would say at the level of region and how we see regional patterns of White Christian nationalism.
[PHIL GORSKI] So the data that we have doesn’t really allow us to say anything meaningful about region, but I’m pretty confident that if it did that you would find certain fairly predictable patterns that you would find by Christian nationalism much more concentrated in the old confederacy for starters. And that you would find it heavily concentrated in rural areas and exurban areas, as opposed to urban and suburban areas. And to some degree, also, in those parts of the United States that were influenced strongly, culturally, by in-migration or church expansion from the southern states.
So this would be some of the border states in the Midwest. At least until about five minutes ago, it would have been parts of Southern California, especially Orange County. Although, that’s changing very, very, very rapidly.
[DAVID HOLLINGER] 43% of the population of Tennessee are White evangelical Protestants. Now, that’s the extreme case, but the other states of the old confederacy are also very heavily White evangelical Protestant. Now, the Republican Party figured this out quite some years ago. And that’s why they actually put less and less energy into trying to win votes among the most highly educated states– California, Oregon, Washington, all the New England states, New York, New Jersey, Maryland.
Now, you can see this even by 2016 before the Trump era. The 30 coastal states had only two Republican senators by 2016, and that’s because the Republicans knew full well that it just wasn’t worth trying to go after all these educated voters. The way to get votes is to go for the evangelical Protestants and their extension beyond the south.
So I think region does have an enormous amount to do with this. And we shouldn’t forget that the most important of the evangelical organizations, and the largest by far is the Southern Baptist Convention. This is an organization that was founded to defend slavery. So the tradition of Southern White racism and its close connection to evangelical Protestantism and regionalism is extremely important.
[PHIL GORSKI] I’ll just add two quick little footnotes onto this. So there is a kind of important revisionist history of American evangelicalism which is really challenging, the narrative that has been presented by evangelical historians, and is widely accepted amongst practicing evangelicals, which foreground the late ’60s, and the early ’70s, and the sexual revolution, and the Roe v Wade decision, and really emphasizes the catalytic role of Brown v Board and desegregation in the initial phase of mobilization of the contemporary Christian right. So it is here as much about Whiteness as it is, about family values, and has been from very early on.
The other thing I would just quickly say is that there was a sort of a Southern factor, has been a sort of a Southern effect on the character of contemporary Christian nationalism. So if you turn the clock back 100, 120 years, the real torchbearers of White Christian nationalism are not conservative Southern evangelicals. They’re actually liberal Northern Protestants, who are championing World War I, who are often eugenicists, who are nativist.
And they have, however, a kind of a triumphalist version of WASP imperialist Christian nationalism. What the sort of shift from liberal Protestant to conservative evangelicals and the shift from North to South does is it fuses in a way the Southern ideology of the Lost Cause with its narrative of grievance and martyrdom. And so this is one of the things, I think, that really is, of course, quite central to the kind of contemporary Trumpian version of White Christian national, is a sense of grievance, which as quite rightly pointed out, it’s not based on nothing. But I mean, culturally, where that narrative comes from is that the experience of the defeat of the confederacy.
[AUDIENCE MEMBER] Thank you. Can you hear me? Yes. One of the picture that you showed was quite interesting of the kissing of the cross, and I associated also with Pope Francis kissing the crosses of Lampedusa, which is a form of seduction into action. So I’m really asking, how can we also rethink about a narrative politics that you’re right is 60-90?
But the problem, I think, with that Turtle Island with North America here is that– first nation have been here, of course, for a very long time. But there is a loss of the medieval archives and the importance, which is obviously not evangelical Christianity, but it’s a long-time Christianity. It’s Orthodox Christianity. And so the power of the icon, the power of the relics, the power of materiality to move, to seduce into action.
So do you see any possibility– which I think it’s also the relation between the textual and the material, the sacrament, the political liturgy as a form of encompassing both the hermeneutics and the materiality effect of materiality. Do you see any possibility of– I don’t want to say the war of images and the war of icons– but any possibility for dislodging this kind of evangelical Christianity vis-a-vis secular liberal around?
Interactivity of images and materiality is that could– I don’t say resolve but move forward. Or how do you see? I don’t know. I haven’t read your book. But how do you see the place of iconicity and materiality in this kind of White extreme form of evangelical Christianity? There is any redemption of that. I’m an anthropologist, I should say.
[PHIL GORSKI] It’s a nice point since one of the hallmarks of Protestantism, in general, but evangelical variant in particular, especially the low church form, is its radical rejection of images of materiality, ritual, or liturgy, that it should all be completely free-form, and abstract, and contemporary. And yet, you’re quite right to note the injection of also a lot of medieval and especially crusading imagery. If you ever go down the rabbit hole and look at some of this more radical online stuff, you will find that it’s really a wash in crusading imagery at the moment.
I saw this amazing story, actually, about Allen West, the ultraconservative Texas Christian legislator, being inducted into one of the crusading orders. I forget which one it was, but he was wearing the full regalia. So that is there. But I have to say that what you do to counter that, I mean, that’s like way above my pay grade. I really don’t know how you manage that.
[DAVID HOLLINGER] I’m not sure that I’m anywhere near that either, but I would observe this. It’s hard to imagine that the Christian project as a world historical event that’s now been going on for 2,000 years and continue to have any identity, whatsoever, as a project, if it abandons the cross. So I think the cross is here to stay. And for those who continue to advance the Christian project, I think the quarrel is over what the cross means.
And there is a considerable no contest about that. And just because these Christian nationalists have claimed the cross and we see all these pictures of the sort that Phil has shown us, I don’t think that means that they have to continue ownership of it. I mean, I think other kinds of Christians can continue to struggle to reclaim it. I mean, if you go into something like the congregational church here in Berkeley, which I go to often for concerts, they’ve got a cross right up there in the middle of it. And these people are all very liberal.
So they have it. It’s a completely different version of Christianity than Phil is talking about. So I think that to go at this from the point of view of icons is difficult. And maybe others will figure it out some way to do that. But I think the cross is here to stay as long as the name of Jesus survives.
[CAROLYN CHEN] Well, on that note, we’re actually at time right now. But thank you, Dr. Gorski. Thank you, Dr. Hollinger, for such a lively conversation. I think you’re going to hang around a little bit so that if people have more questions, you’re welcome to ask. So thank you very much.