Christian Americanism and Texas Politics Since 2008
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Section 1: Mapping the Territory
As the United States has grown more ethnically and religiously diverse in recent decades, calls for the nation to return to its allegedly Christian essence have become increasingly common, and increasingly vociferous, among conservatives. “In homes and schools across the land, it’s time for Christians to take a stand. This is not a nation established on the principles of Buddha or Hinduism. Our faith is not Islam. What we follow is not the Koran but the Bible. This is a Christian nation,” declared Alabama Chief Justice (and later unsuccessful Senate candidate) Roy Moore in 2002. Amateur historian and GOP activist David Barton, who has called the separation of church and state a “myth,” further declares that “Our [Founding] Fathers intended that this nation should be a Christian nation, not because all who lived in it were Christians, but because it was founded on and would be governed and guided by Christian principles.”
These assertions exemplify a religio-political ideology known as Christian nationalism or Christian Americanism, the term I adopt here, since it captures the ideology’s core objective, an explicitly Christian America. As religious studies scholar Mark Chancey writes, proponents of Christian Americanism believe that “America was founded to be a Christian nation governed by Bible-based laws, that the country has tragically departed from its roots, and that it should reclaim its Christian heritage.” Reclaiming that heritage typically involves giving preferential treatment in law and public policy to the “Judeo-Christian tradition” or “Judeo-Christian values,” code words for conservative Christian teachings and values. As philosopher Mark Weldon Whitten writes, “The notion that our nation was founded primarily and directly upon the Christian religion as a specifically Christian nation is used by members of the Religious Right ... to justify maintenance or pursuit of a socially and governmentally preferred and privileged position within society of (some fundamentalist/evangelical) Christianity over other religions and nonreligious citizens.” Sociologists Andrew L. Whitehead and Samuel L. Perry make a similar point:
Christian nationalism idealizes a mythic society in which real Americans—white, native-born, mostly Protestants—maintain control over access to society’s social, cultural, and political institutions, and “others” remain in their proper place. It therefore seeks strong boundaries to separate “us” from “them,” preserving privilege for its rightful recipients while equating racial and religious outsiders with criminality, violence, and inferiority.
In other words, the Christian Americanist ideology consists of two related parts, one historical and one normative. The first involves the historical claim that the founders intended to create a nation that would be guided by Christian beliefs; the second is constituted by the normative claim that law and public policy today should once again be governed by Christian teaching. Both claims are typically associated with the assertion that church-state separation is, as Barton labels it, a “myth.”
Long a powerful force in national politics, Christian Americanism has also had an active and visible presence in Texas politics in recent decades. The ideology forms part of the official platform of the Texas Republican Party, which has controlled all three branches of state government since 2003. Prominent GOP lawmakers such as former Governor Rick Perry and current Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick have voiced Christian Americanist sentiments. However, the ideology’s precise role and influence in Texas remains understudied.
This report seeks to lay the groundwork for more comprehensive study by identifying the major religious and political proponents of Christian Americanism in Texas since 2008 and how they promote the ideology. The goal is to map the territory of Christian Americanism in Texas, and thus serve as a guide for further exploration of this important topic.
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