Christian Nationalism (CN): The belief that the United States is, and always has been, a Christian nation. An oxymoron in the context of the explicit language of the Bill of Rights and the Constitution.
CN Proponents: Titans of American Ignorance in all its anti-historical, anti-rationalist, anti-democratic glory. Nationalism, as set forth in the Bill of Rights and the Constitution, does not permit the qualifier, “Christian.” The phrase is quite literally non-sensical.
America’s Founding Fathers: A group of educated gentlemen, some avowed Christians and others deists influenced by English and French freethinkers. Whatever their personal convictions, the Founders collectively established a secular republic predicated on religious freedom and the separation of Church and State. The documents they bequeathed to us and that continue to shape our national sense of self – the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution – do not establish a Christian nation.[i]
It’s August 21, 1790, and George Washington sets pen to paper and writes a letter to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island. Following the state’s ratification of the Constitution, Washington congratulates the Newport congregants for joining a nation where “every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig-tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.” And he continues: “For happily the Government of the United States gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving on all occasions their effectual support.”
Now it’s June 7, 1797, and Washington’s successor, John Adams, adds his ringing endorsement to Congress’s unanimous ratification of the Treaty of Tripoli. All the nation’s “citizens and inhabitants thereof” are enjoined “faithfully to observe and fulfill the said Treaty and every clause and article thereof.” Article 11 of the Treaty begins with this avowal: “the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion.” The Article in its entirety mitigates in no way at all the plain meaning of this statement.
And now on New Year’s Day, 1802, Thomas Jefferson composes a letter to the Danbury Baptist Association. Here the third president asserts, famously, that “the legitimate powers of the government reach actions only, & not opinions.” It followed that Jefferson contemplate[d] with “sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.”[ii]
These words tell us how the first three American presidents understood the nation they helped create. But more important than these words or any other words they wrote or spoke, is the document they and their colleagues signed in 1787 and bequeathed to future generations. This charter of government, the Constitution of the United States, took effect on March 9, 1789 and has guided the nation these past 233 years.
Christian Nationalism, code for an un-American Christian Nation-State, seeks to overthrow the Constitution, the founding document on which the American Republic is predicated. The prospect of a Christian Nation that consigns the values, principles, and precepts of the Constitution to the dustbin of history is the stuff of nightmares. Many nightmares. What follows is a gloss on one of them: What might well follow, indeed, what ought to follow, in the domain of healthcare after the CNs come to power:
- Society’s commitment to public health would be overturned by the Supreme Court. Jehovah’s Witnesses and Christian Scientists would be entitled, as a matter of law, to deprive their children of life-saving blood transfusions and tissue and organ transplants. If you’re a Christian Scientist parent, for example, go ahead and let your children die, as they have in the past, from untreated diabetes (leading to diabetic ketoacidosis), bacterial meningitis, and pneumonia. What American courts define as criminal neglect would be sanctioned – as long as it resulted from one or another variety of Christian belief. A litmus test for membership in the Christian Nation could be repudiation of compulsory childhood vaccination, with parents who deny their children vaccination on religious grounds applauded for putting their children at risk, and sometimes sacrificing them, out of adherence to their version of a Christian Life. Similarly, during times of pandemic, Christians who, as beneficiaries of Divine protection, chose to ignore quarantine directives from leftist health organizations like the CDC and WHO would receive the blessing of the State. All such groups would be following in the footsteps of many contemporary Evangelicals. As Covid-19 gripped the nation and the world, Evangelicals from California to Florida, courageous Christians all, refused to follow social distancing and stay-at-home guidelines; they continued to assemble for communal worship in churches and homes, placing themselves and their communities in peril.[iii]
- America’s long and inglorious tradition of discrimination in medical education would be rejuvenated on behalf of the Christian state. Examples of exclusion by race, religion, and gender abound, and they can be drawn on to guide Christian Nationalists in any number of discriminatory practices for marginalizing the presence of non-Christians in American healthcare. Consider only that by the mid-1930s, over 2,000 American medical students, 95% of whom were Jews, were driven to Europe to pursue medicine. Seven years later, Charles Drew wrote a blistering letter to the editor of JAMA, protesting the AMA’s racially based exclusion of qualified black applicants whose state chapters refused them membership, thereby keeping them out of the national organization. The American Nursing Association (ANA) was little better. Founded in 1896, it allowed qualified black nurses from states with racist state chapters direct admittance to the national organization only in 1950. The Georgia chapter, incidentally, continued to exclude blacks until 1961, and retreated only after the ANA threated to expel it from the national organization.[iv] And let us not forget quota systems, implemented to keep Jews out of both elite universities and medical schools after World War I. After all, they were followed by the quota system implemented in the Immigration Acts of 1921 and 1924, a device to keep East European immigrants out of the country – a project no doubt congenial to Christian Nationalists.[v]
- Christian Healthcare would enjoin believing Christians to follow the dictates of conscience in deploying life-saving medications, procedures, and technologies on nonbelievers. EMTs and Medics, for example, would no longer be legally or professionally obligated to provide assistance to Jews, Muslims, Hindus, atheists, and other non-Christians. This will require a Constitutional amendment, since the Constitution makes no allowance for conscience as a ground for violating laws and lawfully implemented directives, as in the denial of life-saving medical interventions. The First Amendment provides only for freedom of religion, understood as the freedom to practice the religion of one’s choice through voluntary affiliation with one or another House of Worship (or no House of Worship at all).
- It follows that Christian physicians, nurses, and other providers would be free, as practicing Christians, to provide services only to Christians. They might, at their conscience-driven discretion, avoid nonbelievers entirely or simply privilege the needs (as to medications, nourishment, and allocation of scarce resources) of Christians. Self-evidently, Christian surgeons would be under no legal, professional, or moral obligation to operate on Jews, Muslims, Hindus, atheists, and other nonbelievers; nor would Christian anesthesiologists be required to administer anesthesia to them. Professional codes of ethics would have to be revised (i.e., Christianized) accordingly. In toto, under the auspices of a Christian nation, there would be a vast expansion of the “refusal laws” that individual states have passed to free hospitals, physicians, and nurses from any obligation to provide patients with abortions and other reproductive services, including contraceptives, genetic counseling, infertility treatment, STD and HIV testing, and treatment of victims of sexual assault. Constitutional amendments would be required on this score as well, since such “laws of conscience,” whatever their religious moorings, have no legal, judicial, or moral status in the Constitution.
- Following the example of the National Blood Program of 1941, the blood bank set up to provide Caucasian-only blood to the American armed forces, all nationally sanctioned blood banks should be limited to Christian donors.[vi] There is ample historical precedent regarding the sacrosanctity of Christian blood and blood products; witness the Italian residents of Bolzano who, newly absorbed into Bavaria by Napoleon in 1807, launch an armed revolt against mandatory smallpox vaccination lest Protestantism be injected into their Catholic veins. Over a century later, a Nazi military directive forbidding the transfusion of Jewish blood into the veins of German military personnel led to the death of countless war wounded. America was little better in the collection, identification, and storage of blood. The Red Cross Blood Donor Program, after refusing the blood of black Americans for a year, began accepting it in January 1942. But it continued to segregate blood by donor race until 1950; southern states like Arkansas and Louisiana held firm to segregated blood collection until the early 1970s.[vii] These precedents will be seized on in the time of CN. In the new America, the blood of nonbelievers could be collected by their respective agencies, and made available to hospitals and clinics amenable to receiving and storing impure blood for non-Christian patients. Institutions that continued to permit cross-religious transfusions would require signed waivers from Christian patients willing to accept transfusions of non-Christian blood under exigent circumstances. Such waivers could be incorporated into Living Wills.
Christian Healthcare is only one of the societal transformations that await the ascendancy of Christian Nationalism. The anti-intellectual disemboweling of American public education, especially in the South, is already well under way; where will it end up when the white CNs assume control? To those who espouse it, I say: Congratulations. You have destroyed the America envisioned by the Founding Fathers and enshrined in the Constitution and Bill of Rights. You have replaced the wall of separation between Church and State with a wall of separation between Christian and non-Christian. In so doing, you have laid the seedbed for one more religious theocracy, a Christian sibling to the virulently anti-democratic Muslim theocracies of the Middle East.
The American theocracy will reach its apotheosis over time. But when the Christian Nationalists assume political control, there will be immediate changes. The United States will all at once be a two-tier society stratified along religious lines. It will not only be Jews who, failing to throw their votes to Christian leaders, will have to watch their backs. Everyone who opposes Christian National hegemony will be at risk. We will all have to, in the ex-president’s subtle formulation, “watch it.”
What to call the new state? Christian Nationalists may profitably analogize from the example of Saudi Arabia. If we replace “Saudi” (i.e., the Kingdom of Saud) with the New Testament’s “Kingdom of God,” and let “New Jerusalem” stand for it, we arrive at a suitable replacement for the United States of America. Here, Christian Nationalists, is the nation of your dreams and our nightmares. I give you New Jerusamerica.
[i] I am grateful to my friend and colleague of many decades, Professor Jeffrey Merrick, for his help in formulating my comments on the Founding Fathers, religion, and the founding of the American Republic. Among recent books elaborating in scholarly detail these comments, see especially Steven K. Green, Inventing a Christian America: The Myth of the Religious Founding (New York: OUP, 2015).
[ii] Washington’s and Jefferson’s letters and Adams’ remarks to Congress are in the public domain and widely reproduced on the internet.
[iii] Ed Kilgore, “Many Evangelicals are Going to Church Despite Social-Distancing Guidelines,” New York Magazine, April 17, 2020 (https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2020/04/many-evangelicals-defying-guidelines-on-in-person-gatherings.html); Bianca Lopez, “Religious Resistance to Quarantine Has a Long History,” (https://blog.smu.edu/opinions/2020/08/07/religious-resistance-to-quarantine-has-a-long-history). “In numerous parts of the United States,” Lopez writes, “certain stripes of Christianity and quarantine orders stand in direct opposition, resulting in deadly outcomes due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
[iv] Edward C. Halperin, “The Jewish Problem in Medical Education, 1920-1955,” J. Hist. Med. & Allied Sci., 56:140-167, 2001, at 157-158; Patricia D’Antonio, American Nursing: A History of Knowledge, Authority, and the Meaning of Work (Baltimore: John Hopkins, 2010), 130.
[v] David Oshinsky, Bellevue: Three Centuries of Medicine and Mayhem at America’s Most Storied Hospital. NY: Doubleday, 2016), 196-198; Ian Robert Dowbiggin, Keeping America Sane: Psychiatry and Eugenics in The United States and Canada, 1880-1940 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press,1997), 224-227.
[vi] Charles E. Wynes, Charles Richard Drew: The Man and The Myth (Urbana: Univ. Illinois Press, 1988), 67; “Nazi Order Prohibiting Jewish Blood for Transfusions Causing Death of Many Soldiers,” JTA Daily News Bulletin, March 2, 1942 (https://www.jta.org/archive/nazi-order-prohibiting-jewish-blood-for-transfusions-causing-death-of-many-soldiers). Note that I am not addressing Christian sects, like Jehovah’s Witnesses, whose members refuse blood transfusions altogether, only those that accept transfusions, but only of Christian blood.
[vii] Thomas A. Guglielmo, “Desegregating Blood: A Civil Rights Struggle to Remember,” February 4, 2018 (https://www.pbs.org/newshour/science/desegregating-blood-a-civil-rights-struggle-to-remember). For lengthier consideration of blood and race in American history, see Spencer Love, One Blood: The Death and Resurrection of Charles R. Drew (Chapel Hill: Univ. North Carolina Press, 1996), 139-160.
Copyright © 2022 by Paul E. Stepansky. All rights reserved. The author kindly requests that educators using his blog essays in their courses and seminars let him know via info[at]keynote-books.com.
A frightening possible preview of our future. Vote, everyone!
Paul Stepansky has once again authored a brilliant piece, albeit one that is highly disturbing. Noting the continuing rise of what is popularly, ominously, but oxymoronically termed Christian Nationalism, he examines the current and likely future impact of this belief, when operationalized, upon public health in America. He suggests virtually all aspects of medicine will be affected from decisions of individual providers to health care corporations. Access to medications and procedures could be limited, medical research could be adversely controlled (to include funding), and medical education and access to it impacted. The public’s belief in public health principles and practices could be (and already is among many of the citizenry) being replaced by medieval beliefs grounded in a distorted and exclusionary Christianity. The author clearly demonstrates that Christian Nationalism is a false belief and that from its founding, the United States was created as a secular republic, not a Christian nation.
Thanks Paul for your detailed explanation of a world we do not want!