“There are many Americans — 45 percent — who tell us they think the United States should be a Christian nation. That’s a lot of people,” Greg Smith, one of the study’s lead authors, said in an interview. But “what people mean when they say they think the US should be a Christian nation is really nuanced.”
Christian nationalism has become a trending topic in midterm election campaigns, with extremists and even members of Congress like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) identify with the term and other Republicans, such as Rep. Lauren Boebert (Colo.) and Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano, who expressed open hostility to the separation of church and state. In the roadshow known as the ReAwaken America Tour, brazen Christian nationalist leaders roam the country, spewing false claims and baptizing people.
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Pew’s findings, released Thursday, suggest that the recent surge in attention to Christian nationalism has had an effect on Americans, though some suggested politicians could take positions on the right of those who simply say America is a “scarce.” Christian nation’ should be.
“I used to think it was a positive view, but now with the MAGA crowd, I consider it racist, homophobic, anti-female,” read one response to the survey question.
According to the poll, taken in September, 60 percent of Americans believe the United States was originally intended to be a Christian nation, but only 33 percent say it still is today. Most (67 percent) believe that churches and other places of worship should stay out of political affairs, and only 31 percent endorse the views of faith groups on social and political issues.
Even those who believe that America should be a Christian nation generally avoided harsh views. Most of this group (52 percent) said the government should never declare a particular faith the official state religion. Only 28 percent said they wanted Christianity to be recognized as the country’s official faith. Similarly, 52 percent said the government should advocate for moral values shared by different religions, compared with 24 percent who said it should advocate for Christian values.
But the pro-Christian US group was more divided over the separation of church and state: 39 percent said the principle should be upheld, while 31 percent said the government should drop it. Another 30 percent didn’t like either option, refused to say, or didn’t know.
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Most in the group (54 percent) also said that if the Bible and U.S. law conflict, then the Scriptures should have more influence than the will of the people.
Smith emphasized that some respondents who expressed support for a Christian nation “believe that they believe that Christian beliefs, values and morality should be reflected in American laws and policies.” But many respondents “tell us they think the US should be guided by Christian principles in general, but they don’t mean we should live in a theocracy,” he said. “They don’t mean to abolish the separation of church and state. They don’t mean that they want the US to be officially declared a Christian nation. It’s a nuanced picture.”
Among American adults in general, only a small group believe that the U.S. government should declare Christianity the national faith (15 percent), advocate Christian values (13 percent), or stop enforcing the separation of church and state (19 percent).
Partisanship has strongly determined the reactions. Those who are either lean Republican were far more likely to say America should be a Christian nation (67 percent) than Democrats or Democratic leaners (29 percent). Republicans were also significantly more likely to say that the founders intended the country to be a Christian nation (76 percent), although nearly half of Democrats agreed (47 percent).
This division seems to reflect national political trends. While Democratic lawmakers—particularly members of the Congressional Freethought Caucus—have expressed concern about Christian nationalism’s role in the Jan. 6, 2021 Capitol attack, many Congressional Republicans have refused to condemn the ideology, and only a small number number confirmed their support for the separation of church and state.
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The outsized presence of white evangelicals in the GOP may play a role. In Pew’s survey, white evangelicals were the faith group most likely to say America should be a Christian nation (81 percent). But they were followed by black Protestants (65 percent), a strong democratic group. White non-evangelical Protestants were more divided: 54 percent agreed that the United States should be a Christian nation.
Catholics were the only major Christian group where a majority did not support the idea (47 percent) of a Christian nation, although they were divided along racial lines: most white Catholics (56 percent) agreed that America was a Christian nation. should be, while Hispanic Catholics were the least likely of all Christian groups to say the same (36 percent).
Few Jewish (16 percent) or religiously unaffiliated Americans (17 percent) thought the United States should be a Christian nation, followed by an even smaller subset of atheists and agnostics (7 percent).
Age is also a factor. Of Americans 65 or older, 63 percent said America should be a Christian nation, compared with 23 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds.
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Pew asked half of the respondents to define a “Christian nation” in their own words and used their candid answers to put most people into three categories: those who see it as general guidelines for Christian beliefs and values in society (34 percent); those who see it as guided by beliefs and values, but without referring specifically to God or Christian concepts (12 percent); and those who see it as Christian laws and government (18 percent).
Those who believe that the United States should not be a Christian nation were more likely to describe a Christian nation as having Christian-based laws and governance (30 percent) than those who believe it should (6 percent).
In the survey, the other half of the respondents were questioned about their views on Christian nationalism as a separate concept. Of all American adults, less than half (45 percent) said they had heard the term. Non-Christians were more likely than Christians in general to have heard or read about Christian nationalism (55 percent versus 40 percent), and Democrats were more likely to express prominence than Republicans (55 percent versus 37 percent).
But researchers noted that while 54 percent of those surveyed said they had never heard of Christian nationalism, overall respondents were much more likely to view the concept unfavorably (24 percent) than favorable (5 percent), suggesting people those familiar with the concept tend to view it negatively.
— Religion news service