President Biden delivered his second State of the Union address to Congress and the nation on February 7th, 2023. This speech offered an opportunity for the president to take stock of accomplishments and lay out an agenda for the coming months. President Biden included a range of policy priorities in the address, from the Supreme Court’s decision to devastate abortion access in Dobbs to the need to regulate Big Tech and protect social media users. The president closed his remarks with a call to protect democracy.
Interfaith Alliance brings together people of all faiths and none to protect our right to believe as we choose and advance an inclusive vision of religious freedom. But more and more, Christian nationalists are working to seize power and establish one belief system at the expense of all others. Attacks on our democratic institutions are not idle risks – but this threat cannot be fully understood without naming Christian nationalism as a driving force, something the president and many of our leaders have failed to do.
Understanding Christian Nationalism
Christian nationalism is a cultural framework that conflates American identity with an exclusive form of religious identity. Rooted in the myth that we were founded as a Christian nation and therefore enjoy special favor by God, supporters seek a fusion of religious and civil life – to the detriment of both. Christian nationalism incorporates anti-democratic notions of white supremacy, nativism, patriarchy, and authoritarianism. It draws on the symbols and language of Christian religious life in service of a political and cultural goal.
The threat of Christian nationalism is real and too large to ignore. Across the country and in the halls of Congress, extremists are espousing this fundamentally divisive ideology with alarming consequences such as inspiring individuals to commit acts of violence in the name of conspiracies. But the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th insurrection did not mention the Christian nationalist elements of the violent mob in its final report.
The State of the Union address presented an ideal opportunity to connect the dots for listeners in the room and at home. The Democratic National Committee, which met in early February 2023, passed a resolution condemning white religious nationalism, platforming the issue but still not officially recognizing the explicitly Christian components that are used to drive it. In refusing to speak with a unified voice that identifies all aspects of the Christian nationalist movement, our leaders are failing to communicate the threat to our democracy.
We Must Call Out Christian Nationalism in All Forms
President Biden affirmed that democracy “must not be a partisan issue.” But one only needs to look at the Republican response to the State of the Union to see that anti-democratic ideals are clearly visible in some lawmakers. While the president’s address included calls to expand public education and attempted to appeal to all Americans, Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ response criticized efforts to be inclusive with our language and highlighted education initiatives that would divert funding from public schools, towards private, religious education.
Beyond Gov. Sanders’ response, there are members of Congress that routinely conflate religious obligation and patriotic duty. But, in the aftermath of 2022 midterm elections, one thing is certain: Americans across the country are rejecting Christian nationalism. Our nation is strengthened through religious and cultural diversity and the voters recognized that by rejecting many extreme candidates for public office. Now, it’s on us to extend this momentum to defeat anti-democratic forces and build a future where everyone can thrive.
When it comes to our most basic freedoms, any and every threat must be taken seriously. The Biden administration and all our leaders must recognize and reject Christian nationalism in a unified voice so we can finally deliver on our nation’s foundational promises.
Learn more about our work challenging Christian nationalism.