An Open Letter On Anti-Asian Racism & Christian Nationalism
FAQ + Video Explainers
What is Against Christian Xenophobia and the Open Letter On Anti-Asian Racism and Christian Nationalism?
Who wrote the letter?
What is Christian Nationalism?
I’ll let the good people at Christians Against Christian Nationalism speak for me here: “Christian nationalism seeks to merge Christian and American identities, distorting both the Christian faith and America’s constitutional democracy. Christian nationalism demands Christianity be privileged by the State and implies that to be a good American, one must be Christian. It often overlaps with and provides cover for white supremacy and racial subjugation.”
Asians whose countries of origin were liberated by nationalist movements might balk at the idea that Christian nationalism denotes a sinister ideology. If Christianity is good, and nationalism is good, isn't Christian nationalism twice as good? What this misses, however, is the fact that even the best versions of nationalism have historically entailed prioritizing the interests of one particular state over the global community, however strategically or temporarily. Today, "nationalism" in an American context especially means promulgating falsehoods about America's "Christian" provenance and favoring self-identified Christians over other religious groups. Neither specious foundation myths nor flagrant favoritism are consistent with the Bible's treatment of nationality, which is ultimately a contingent category superseded in the New Jerusalem.
What is the letter composed of? It's really long.
Sounds pretty involved and intense! Can’t we just say that anti-Asian racism is bad and Christians should condemn it, without naming names and starting an inquisition?
Come on. Saying “Chinese virus” is gross, but it’s not like Ted Cruz or Kevin McCarthy is putting a gun to anyone’s head. The perpetrators of hate crimes are the only ones responsible for violence and cruelty.
Why does the letter focus on Christianity? I care about stopping anti-Asian hatred, but I’m not necessarily Christian. I also don't think Sinophobia is reducible to a religious motivation.
This feels too much like cancel culture. What happened to civil discourse? I’m tired of woke mobs feeding the outrage machine.
Look, the truth is, I’m a China hawk. I don’t like hate crimes, and I’d never call it the “Wuhan flu,” but the virus started in China and the CCP covered it up. These politicians are just trying to stand up for Americans and for anyone oppressed by the Communist regime.
Aren't we meddling in private affairs by demanding a specific course of action from churches and their leaders? How pastors respond to their congregants is a matter over which they should have jurisdiction.
While the Protestant tradition in particular has historically emphasized the prerogative of each denomination or ecclesial body to manage its own affairs, that prerogative is not absolute. When the Apostle Paul writes, "If one part [of the body] suffers, every part suffers with it," he does not limit the scope of his remarks to one local church. To the contrary, his words remind us that the suffering of a Korean Presbyterian in Missouri should be the concern of a white Baptist in California. In solidarity with the former's suffering, this letter insists on the attention of the latter.
Furthermore, recent scandals related to sexual abuse, uncovered after years of silence, highlight the dangers of presuming that any given organization will honor the larger body of Christ with accountability. If the broader public is justified in calling for the resignation of prominent pastors who have endangered children, we are justified in calling for public repentance and appropriate institutional responses to behavior that endangers Asian lives.
Indeed, not only Christians, but also non-Christians are justified in expecting no less from representatives of the church. To fail to advocate for our Buddhist neighbors, who have been literally terrorized by the name of Jesus, is to send the message that God does not care about their pain. It is better to risk "meddling" than to risk widespread and irreversible injury to the reputation of our faith.
Finally, while I do not wish to center the needs of the privileged, this intervention is also an act of love towards those enchained by their own wealth and prejudice. Power is a prison of its own. It is in the spirit of Isaiah 61:1 that we call for freedom from complacency and passivity.
Calling out pastors is ineffective, because Christian nationalism is most prevalent amongst non-churchgoers.
It's true that studies have found a correlation between Christian nationalism and infrequent or non-church attendance. A recent LSU study of the 2016 election found that, amongst non-churchgoers, "nearly 90 percent of those who strongly agreed with Christian nationalist statements" voted for Trump, whereas "Trump support did not have the same dramatic swing across different levels of Christian nationalist sentiment" for regular churchgoers. In other words, the vast majority of non-church attending Christian nationalists voted for Trump; for church attendees, support for Trump was distributed more evenly amongst those who supported Christian nationalist statements and those who didn't. Perry and Whitehead concur that "religious commitment (or at least church attendance) seems to promote greater acceptance of ethnic "others" (115), diminishing the influence of nativist ideology.
Based on these findings, one might argue that focusing on pastors and churches is ineffective for combatting Christian nationalism, since Christian nationalists largely do not attend church. Several complications, however, undermine this conclusion.
First, while non-churchgoing Christian nationalists explicitly support nativist politicians, those very same politicians overwhelmingly do attend church, or at least profess to. Having an active relationship to a church is central to these politicians' brands, since, in Sen. Tom Cotton's words, they pride themselves on living their faith "every single day." As such, they have built their careers on the presumption that their pastors will not challenge them or try to dissociate themselves. Doing so would make it more difficult for such politicians to establish their religious credentials for voters who, in the words of sociologists Samuel Stroope and Heather Rackin, "use religious ideas to draw and impose boundaries around national identity.”
Second, while Perry and Whitehead affirm that "Christian nationalism and religiosity often influence American political views in the exact opposite directions," they also note that "those Americans who most strongly espouse Christian nationalist beliefs also tend to be the most religious as measured by activities like church attendance, prayer, and Scripture reading" (115). In other words, fewer Christian nationalists may attend church than non-Christian nationalists; however, the most fervent and outspoken of Christian nationalists (19.8% of all surveyed Americans, dubbed "Ambassadors" by Whitehead and Perry) are more likely to attend church regularly and read the Bible on a regular basis. As Whitehead and Perry write in Taking America Back for God, "There is a clear linear trend towards more religious activity among those who fully support Christian nationalism" (37). Also, these nationalists might very well see no conflict between espousing empathy for ethnic "others" while supporting, or at least declining to resist, policies that exclude and endanger those very same minorities. For that reason, what pastors say about racism does matter when it comes to congregants under the sway of a Sen. Cotton.
Third, the situation is fluid. Just because religious commitments currently pressure Americans away from Christian nationalism does not mean that this will always be the case. Indeed, the Stroope and Rackin paper only indicates that one expression of Christian nationalist politics—voting for Trump—is strongly tied to infrequent church attendance. The same churchgoing Christian nationalists who declined to vote for Trump might still be drawn to more theologically fluent politicians like Sen. Josh Hawley. The emergence of the denomination Patriot Church this year alone suggests that "Ambassadors" are indeed organizing and creating their own explicitly nationalist institutions. How successful they are at drawing members from more mainstream Evangelical churches depends, in part, on the example set by the latter's leaders. Richard Seymour, author of The Twittering Machine, warns, "It would be devastatingly stupid, complacent beyond belief, to expect US democracy to remain sufficiently stable in the coming years to deny this incipient fascism more opportunities to congeal, and grow." We must be proactive in challenging the networks of power and silence that allow such growth to take place.
Finally, regardless of the statistical consequences of pastors remaining silent or looking the other way, their passivity simply perverts the very essence of the Gospel. Instead of the good news that racial hierarchies have been overturned, these pastors send the message that the Gospel permits such hierarchies to remain in place, as long as one expresses rhetorical sympathy for racial equality. In short, they send the message that general pieties, not specific challenges to specific injustices, are what matter. It is no surprise if interest in Christianity amongst a disillusioned populace should correpondingly plummet.
Jesus did not come to promote merely general piety that selectively overlooks the transgressions of wealthy donors. As such, we must lovingly but firmly insist that these pastors abandon their diluted evangelion once and for all.
What happens if one of the politicians or churches issues a statement?
I’m concerned about my privacy, but I want to sign the letter.
No problem. The list of signatories will include this addendum: “Some signatories have preferred not to give full identifying information. We include their names to amplify their voices nonetheless. All the names on this list belong to real people.” If you prefer not to give full identifying information, the form will prompt you for your email and/or your full name. This information will NOT be made public. It’s just to confirm that everyone signing is real, and preemptively head off charges of fraud.