Taylor Petrey: LDS support for Christian nationalism should raise the alarm

Christian nationalism is a danger to religious freedom and the Constitution.

(John Minchillo | AP photo) In this Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, photo, a man holds a Bible as Trump supporters gather outside the Capitol in Washington. The Christian imagery and rhetoric on view during the Capitol insurrection are sparking renewed debate about the societal effects of melding Christian faith with an exclusionary breed of nationalism.

A poll released last week on Christian nationalism should be an alarm bell for Latter-day Saints. It shows that religious and political extremism holds sway over a significant bloc — nearly 4 in 10 Latter-day Saints are adherents or sympathizers with Christian nationalism. The spiritual and moral health of the Latter-day Saint community is at grave risk from Christian nationalist ideology.

The definition of Christian nationalism used in the poll included the following: The U.S. government should declare America a Christian nation; U.S. laws should be based on Christian values; If the U.S. moves away from our Christian foundations, we will not have a country anymore; Being Christian is an important part of being truly American; God has called Christians to exercise dominion over all areas of American society.

Respondents were asked whether they completely agree, mostly agree, mostly disagree or completely disagree with these statements and were rated as adherents, sympathizers, skeptics and rejectors.

The numbers of Latter-day Saints who espouse these ideas are far higher than the general population, where only 29% are adherents or sympathizers. The high concentration of this demographic among Latter-day Saints poses a potent risk to the openness and health of the Latter-day Saint community as these people might hold leadership positions or be youth teachers where they can mingle their philosophies in LDS contexts.

The views of Christian nationalists include a high acceptance of political violence. For instance, 40% of Republicans approved of the January 6, 2021, insurrection. Such extreme views are supported by the recent poll of Christian nationalists at even higher rates. The idea that “patriots may have to resort to violence” is supported by 40% of Christian nationalist adherents and 22% of sympathizers.

Christian nationalist violence is not restricted to insurrections. According to this poll, they are twice as likely to report using violence to settle a personal disagreement and three times as likely to approve of their own violent actions. They are far more likely to have used a weapon in such encounters and far more likely to contemplate doing so than those who reject Christian nationalism.

These ideas are similar to other extremist religious nationalist movements around the globe, including Islamic and Hindu nationalism. These movements, too, are violent and discriminatory.

Christian nationalism is also deeply at odds with the principles of separation of church and state, and the First Amendment prohibiting the establishment of religion. Unfortunately, such ideas have entered the American mainstream.

Several prominent Republican extremists, such as Marjorie Taylor Green, Lauren Boebert, Doug Mastriano, and others, have openly embraced Christian nationalism. Others, such as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, have deployed them frequently. Their campaign of revisionist American history, targeting of LGBTQ individuals and immigrants, and voter suppression and election takeovers are important outcomes of this ideology.

Pluralistic values have been vital for the acceptance of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the United States and abroad. Latter-day Saints who adhere to or are sympathetic to Christian nationalism do not understand the U.S. Constitution, rule of law, or our own history.

For now, Latter-day Saints remain on saner ground than many of their Protestant Christian counterparts, who express these views at higher rates. In fact, among the top religious groups who embrace Christian nationalism, including white evangelical Protestants, other Protestants of color, Hispanic and Black Protestants, Latter-day Saints have the smallest number of Christian nationalist “adherents” — only 5%. Latter-day Saints have the most skeptics among the top five groups — fully 50%. These are some reassuring signs.

However, Latter-day Saints are among the top religious groups associated with Christian nationalism because of a huge number of “sympathizers” — one in three Latter-day Saints fall into this category. Combined with the adherents, there are 38% of Latter-day Saints who hold and express these views.

As a community, we must root out these extreme, virulent, violent, anti-American views among Latter-day Saints. The fact that so many of the LDS are still only “sympathizers” with Christian nationalism suggests that there may still be time to act and heal the spirit and mind of our fellow Saints.

Taylor Petrey

Taylor Petrey is associate professor and chair of the Religion Department at Kalamazoo College and the editor of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought.