Marjorie Taylor Greene, other conservatives lean into Christian nationalism. What is it?

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On numerous recent occasions, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene described herself as a "Christian nationalist," calling the political ideology and cultural framework "actually a good thing" and claiming it's an "identity that (Republicans) need to embrace."

"I am being attacked by the godless left because I said I’m a proud Christian Nationalist," Greene, R-Ga., wrote on Twitter on July 25. "The left has shown us exactly who they are. They hate America, they hate God, and they hate us."

Greene defended her use of the description on Friday at CPAC, the conservative political conference in Dallas.

Other right-wing politicians like Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert, and Pennsylvania state Sen. Doug Mastriano, who is the state's GOP nominee for governor, have advocated for blurring – or erasing – the lines between church and state. Former President Donald Trump in recent comments at a Turning Point USA summit claimed that "Americans kneel to God, and God alone."

As conservative calls to tear down the wall separating church and state grow more explicit, here's what to know about Christian nationalism.

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What is nationalism?

Nationalism is "loyalty and devotion to a nation, especially (involving) a sense of national consciousness exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations or supranational groups," according to an analysis by the dictionary Merriam-Webster.

It differentiates itself from patriotism, which is a "love for or devotion to one's country," by saying that a nation isn't only great, it's better than all the others — and its interests and culture should reflect that.

What is Christian nationalism?

Christian nationalism is the idea that America was founded as a Christian nation, by Christians, and that all its laws and institutions are based on Christianity, according to Yale sociologist Philip Gorski, author of "The Flag and the Cross: White Christian Nationalism and the Threat to American Democracy."

Joseph Williams, associate professor of religion at Rutgers, said people who subscribe to "Christian nationalism" believe that maintaining a close relationship to Christianity as a nation will allow it to "fulfill its God-given destiny."

It also could be the conflation of service to a nation with the service of God, according to David Scott, a Methodist historical researcher at the United Methodist Church.

“Christian nationalism gives moral cover for actions, even unseemly ones, taken in pursuit of national or political goals," Scott said, according to the United Methodist Church.

Gorski suggests that Christian nationalism is inextricably tied to white nationalism.

Former President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally for Republican candidate for governor Tim Michels at the Waukesha County Fairgrounds in Waukesha, Wisconsin, on Aug. 5, 2022.
Former President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally for Republican candidate for governor Tim Michels at the Waukesha County Fairgrounds in Waukesha, Wisconsin, on Aug. 5, 2022.

What does the Constitution say about the separation of church and state?

The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution is most frequently cited when discussing the separation of church and state. It reads: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

The founders made clearer their views on America's relationship with religion in signing and ratifying the 1797 Treaty of Tripoli, which reads that "the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion."

Thomas Jefferson famously coined the phrase commonly used today in an 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptist Association, in which he wrote that the establishment clause of the Constitution built a “wall of separation between the church and state.”

A short history of American Christian nationalism

In his book "The Flag and the Cross," Gorski and co-author Samuel Perry, a sociologist at the University of Oklahoma, argue that American Christian nationalism goes back to the Colonial era, when colonists proclaimed the belief that the land rightly belonged to them – as white, Protestant Britons – not indigenous people.

The ramifications of growing Christian nationalism in the U.S. span from using the Bible to justify slavery to the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol attack, where rioters offered prayers thanking God for the strength to show "tyrants, the communists and the globalists that this is our nation, not theirs.”

Amanda Tyler, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee, told the Center for American Progress in April that while violent expressions of Christian nationalism are most eye-grabbing, subtler expressions are dangerous in their own right.

"The more subtle ones – like state legislative efforts to promote the teaching of the Bible in public schools or to require the posting of 'In God We Trust' in public schools and other public places – are also dangerous in that they perpetuate the false narrative that to be a true American one must be Christian – and often a certain type of Christian," she said.

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Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, seen in April 2022, has said, as recently as last month, that she is a Christian nationalist.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, seen in April 2022, has said, as recently as last month, that she is a Christian nationalist.

Politicians increasingly lean into Christian nationalism

While Greene's comments made major headlines, she's not alone in efforts to shift the narrative around Christian nationalism — and her suggestions aren't new.

In 1948, the so-called Christian Nationalist Party nominated for president a pastor who publicly preached anti-Black, antisemitic views, openly sympathizing with Nazi ideologies, according to the New York Times.

In 2016, Trump won the vast majority of evangelical voters by amping up religious rhetoric, and new politicians have followed in suite.

Rep. Madison Cawthorn, R-N.C., in 2021 described Capitol Hill politics as a "spiritual battle" and urged "strong, God-fearing patriots" to fight back against Democrats' supposed "tyranny."

Boebert, the Colorado congresswoman, said in June that she's "tired of this separation of church and state junk that’s not in the Constitution," the Washington Post reported.

What are Americans' views on the separation of church and state?

Americans are largely in favor of keeping church and state separate, according to Pew Research Center.

Almost three-quarters (73%) of Americans say religion and government policies should be kept separate, a Pew survey from spring 2022 found. Keeping church and state separate is agreed upon by a majority of Democrats and Republicans, though fewer Republicans (61%) hold the belief than Democrats (84%).

However, America is split on whether the Christian Bible should influence U.S. laws, according to a 2020 Pew survey. About half of adults say the Bible should influence laws a great deal (23%) or some (26%), while the other half say the Bible shouldn’t influence U.S. laws much (19%) or at all (31%). Republicans are more likely to believe the Bible should influence laws by a two-to-one margin.

More than a quarter (28%) of Americans said the Bible should prevail over the will of the people if the two are conflicting.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Politicians embrace Christian nationalism. What is that ideology?