To Oppose Christian Nationalism, We Need to End Christian Privilege

Christians at a pro-Trump rally

The United States has a problem with Christian nationalism. It is not a new problem, and it is important to understand that it predates Donald Trump. It has flared up in some major ways we have to confront. If we fail to do so, it will cause more harm to democracy. It is not going away on its own, not without some help.

It seems like our Christian nationalism problem has gotten worse in the last 10 years. Is that because it has gotten worse, or does it seem that way because we are more likely to hear about it now? I fear it has gotten worse, and that is why we are more likely to hear about it.

What can we do about it? What are we willing to do about it? It is unclear how best to take it on, but I do have one suggestion. If you have others, please share them. Something tells me a multi-pronged strategy is what we need.

Dismantle Christian Privilege

I suggest that we oppose Christian nationalism by working to end Christian privilege. Why? Christian nationalism can't thrive without Christian privilege. That is where it derives cover. That is what prevents so many people from talking about it. If we can weaken this cover, it will be harder for it to persist.

But won't taking aim at Christian privilege create more enemies? Christian nationalists already frame anything we do as an attack on Christianity. This is their go-to strategy, and they aren't going to stop using it anytime soon.

This strategy has convinced many Christians that we are their enemy. That's happening because many Christians won't distinguish between Christianity and Christian nationalism. This is one of the effects of Christian privilege. It means they don't have to do so.

Remember, Christian privilege means that Christianity is better than every other religion. If you believe that, how tolerant will you be of religious pluralism? It also means that Christians are morally superior to non-Christians. If you believe that, why would you even listen to non-Christians?

We cannot afford to worry about more Christians deciding we are their enemies. They've already done so. They've already condemned us to the hell in which they believe.

Is there a way to target Christian nationalism without doing anything about Christian privilege? If so, what would this look like? Even if there was a way, Christian privilege would still be an obstacle. It would still make it harder to do anything meaningful about Christian nationalism. It would still provide cover.

Overcoming Our Fear

Can we oppose Christian nationalism while fearing accusations of being anti-Christianity? I don't see how. These fears keep us silent. They lead us to censor ourselves. We don't say what we know we need to say.

We can keep saying things like, "We are fine with Christianity, but we oppose Christian nationalism." These statements may be accurate, but they don't have the kind of impact we'd like them to. Many Christians don't make the same distinction. What they hear is something closer to, "We're anti-Christian and anti-American. We're here to destroy your way of life and all you hold dear."

We need to overcome our fear. Christian nationalism is anti-democratic. Democracy is worth saving, even if we have to run the risk of some thinking we are anti-Christian. The solution is a secular democracy in which religious pluralism replaces Christian privilege.

If I'm right, we need to be more willing to say hard things. What kinds of things? Here are a few examples:

  • Your religious traditions are no more (or less) valid than any others.
  • You are no more (or less) American due to your preferred religious beliefs.
  • You deserve an equal share; you do not deserve a larger share.

None of this makes me anti-Christian as much as it makes me pro-equality. People always resist a loss of privilege. At least they do until they understand why it is necessary. That is unfortunate, but it does not alter what we need to do.

We Can Still Be Nice to Christians

Not only can we still be nice to Christians as we take aim at their privilege, but we'll be more successful if we do so. This isn't about ripping something cherished out of someone's hands. It is about helping people realize how some of what they've taken for granted is harming others.

If you've had any experience confronting your own privilege, you know it isn't easy. You know that defensiveness is the natural response. You also know that a kinder, gentler approach is usually more successful. I see little reason to think that this won't be true for Christians.

In some contexts, atheists are fond of talking about "sowing the seeds of doubt." In this context, I like to think about cultivating empathy and insight. We are aiming to cultivate empathy among Christians for non-Christians. We seek to help Christians realize what their privilege means for those who do not share it.

Image by author via NightCafe