Faith Groups Launch New Curriculum in Bid to Address Surge in Christian Nationalism

As pro-Trump supporters violently stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6, many Christian leaders were horrified to see the insurrectionists wearing and holding Christian symbols, as many rioters prayed for God's blessings on their activities.

These stark scenes led some Christian leaders to come together to develop resources that they hope will help curb a recent surge in Christian nationalism, which they view as not only dangerous to American democracy but to their religious faith itself. As many conservative Christians—and particularly white evangelicals—have embraced former President Donald Trump, other faith leaders within the religious community have developed a new curriculum to address the "heretical" beliefs of the Christian nationalist movement.

Pastor Doug Pagitt, the executive director of Vote Common Good, and Amanda Tyler, who leads Christians Against Christian Nationalism, told Newsweek that the political movement has been alive within the U.S. for decades, but that Trump embraced and emboldened Christian nationalists. They said this led to a surge in the movement's visibility and prominence over the past several years.

"January 6 made it clear that those roots had grown very, very deep in the society and were now tied into a whole lot of other movements that were seriously dangerous," Pagitt said. "It's kind of been an escalating shift to really now—not to view this only as a problem for the faithful, but a problem for the planet and the country."

Tyler said the country began seeing "increasing instances of Christian nationalism" a little over two years ago. She said this included "increasing violent incidents." She pointed out that Christian nationalism has ties to white nationalism, emphasizing that these beliefs were used to justify slavery, Jim Crow laws in the South and segregation. These links were apparent during the insurrection, as many of Trump's supporters carried Confederate flags or wore symbols denoting an association with white supremacist beliefs.

Trump supporter with cross
A man holds a large wooden cross near the Washington Monument during a rally in support of President Donald Trump in Washington, D.C. on January 6. JOSEPH PREZIOSO/AFP via Getty Images

The shared concern about the threat of Christian nationalism led Tyler's organization to develop a new curriculum that can be used by church leaders as a resource to educate their communities about the problems with the ideology. Tyler said that the curriculum could be used by "individual congregations or small groups," whether in seminars, discussions or Bible studies. Pagitt and Tyler explained that many church leaders had reached out asking for resources, and they realized there was a significant gap when it came to materials addressing the problems of Christian nationalism.

Dozens of pastors and Christian leaders in conservative states are already planning to utilize the new curriculum, which will officially be launched on July 6. Pagitt's group is working with Christians Against Christian National to promote the materials through a wide network of pastors, paid ads and other means. Faith leaders in states including Texas, Georgia, Arkansas, Pennsylvania and Tennessee, among others, plan to preach from the curriculum in a nationwide week of action following the launch.

The curriculum, which was reviewed by Newsweek, provides a series of lessons including questions and Biblical references to help religious leaders discuss Christian nationalism with fellow believers. The material describes Christian nationalism as a "troubling ideology" and defines it as "a cultural framework that idealizes and advocates a fusion of Christianity with American civic life."

The Constitution prohibits the imposition of any religious ideology by the government. "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," the First Amendment to the Constitution says. While Christians—and all religious groups—are guaranteed the freedom to practice their faith without government interference, the government is also barred from imposing religious beliefs on the public.

Despite this core constitutional principle, Trump and many Republican lawmakers have pushed forward an agenda that blurs the line the founders put down to separate church and state. Conservative Christian voters—and particularly white evangelicals—responded with enthusiasm. Exit polls from 2016 and 2020 showed that roughly eight in 10 white evangelicals cast their ballots for Trump in both elections. Prominent Trump allies and conspiracy theorists—such as Mike Lindell—regularly tout their religious beliefs to explain their continued support for the former president and his claims about the 2020 election.

"Growing up in a small farming community in the Bible Belt, I assumed that to be a good American meant to be a good Christian and to be a good Christian meant to be a good American. That was simply the framework that I was given," Reverend Pastor Michael Mills of the Agape Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, told Newsweek. He is one of the Christian leaders who plans to utilize the new curriculum, which will officially be launched on July 6.

Trump supporters pray
Supporters of then President Donald Trump pray in front of the Maricopa County Election Department while votes are being counted in Phoenix on November 6, 2020. OLIVIER TOURON/AFP via Getty Images

Mills explained he eventually realized that "to meld a Christian and an American identity actually is a disservice to both." Although the pastor said it's difficult to change people's views, he said that "appealing to my Christian sisters and brothers in the love of Jesus has to be the pathway forward."

Stephen K. Reeves, director of advocacy at Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in Georgia, told Newsweek that he is "optimistic" about the new curriculum, which he plans to utilize as well.

"In many spaces, Christian nationalism is a default ideology that is rarely challenged. Inviting folks to think more deeply about what they may believe or see around them gives them the opportunity to change. I believe putting an explicitly Christian lens on such conversations is very important," Reeves said.

Reverend Pastor Jillian Hankamer of First Baptist Church in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, who also plans to use the new materials, told Newsweek that she believes Christian nationalism came "to a head because we had a president who didn't mind taking advantage of people of faith to further his own narcissistic need for power and adoration." Hankamer said she didn't "believe [Trump] genuinely shared their convictions but rather saw an opportunity to use the power of the evangelical vote—which is formidable—and took it, ruthlessly."

Dr. Heather Thompson Day, an associate professor of communication and rhetoric at Colorado Christian University and the author of the Christian book It's Not Your Turn, told Newsweek that changing people's minds is difficult. The author and academic, who is not involved with the new curriculum, emphasized that building personal relationships is the key.

"I feel confident that I can strengthen the hands of the people who are listening, to reach out to their friends and families who value their relationship. This is work that must be done from within. We can't just write people off and say there's no reaching them. Especially as a Christians," she said.

Thompson Day explained that "we can't enter conversations with the goal of changing people's minds," but we should "enter relationships where we commit to seeing people's value even if we disagree with them, and overtime, our relationship does rub off on them."

Trump supporters pray
Supporters of then President Donald Trump pray outside the U.S. Capitol on January 6 in Washington, D.C. Win McNamee/Getty Images

Pagitt, Tyler and the Christian leaders planning to utilize the new materials hope that through small group discussions, Bible studies and one-on-one conversations these resources can help shift the views of Christians who may already be feeling uncomfortable with the nationalism promoted by some within their community. They also believe it can be a tool to help provide new perspectives for those who may have never questioned the ideology of Christian nationalism before.

"I think hopeful is the right word," Tyler said. "We're in this for the long game. You know, Christians Against Christian Nationalism, we've been around already for two years devoted to this single issue and it's going to be a very long time for us to dismantle an ideology that has been pervasive and part of the American experience since our beginning."