Christian Nationalism: The Creationist Connection

It’s often difficult for other Christians to understand. As one thoughtful Catholic intellectual asked me recently, how could it even be possible for any intelligent Christian to confuse their faith with their patriotism? Today we see a new piece of the puzzle, thanks to Sarah Pulliam Bailey. And it’s difficult not to notice the close connections between this sort of Christian nationalism and young-earth creationism.

genesis flood 1961 ed

How does Christian nationalism tie in to young-earth creationism?

Bailey tagged along on a Christian-nationalist tour of Washington DC for a group of middle-schoolers. The tour was specifically designed to explain to children that the United States had a special role in Christian history. This tour was led by one Stephen McDowell, of the Providence Foundation. As Bailey explains,

McDowell, who has been organizing the trips for about 30 years, describes them as a kind of calling. God, he says, has been ignored in the schools, in the government, in the media, and in official tours of our nation’s historic sites. But if tourists can peel back the secular layers of government and media, they will behold a nation birthed by God, he maintains, and thus be compelled to conclude that without Christianity, there would be no United States.

The kids all dressed in red, white, and blue and learned that DC was designed as a Christian capital. They learned to be skeptical of senators like mine, who sound, as one student put it, “like he was from somewhere in the North.” Bailey’s description offers a rare glimpse of fundamentalist pedagogy in action and I encourage you to read the whole article.

This morning, though, we are more interested in the ways this sort of Christian-nationalist education looks and feels a lot like young-earth creationist pedagogy. The “truths” taught by McDowell are far removed from the actual historical record. As with young-earth creationists, it’s difficult not to wonder how anyone can believe something so radically divorced from mainstream academic understandings.

Just as with young-earth creationism, Christian nationalist historians like McDowell tell a tale of hidden truths. As McDowell explains,

I wasn’t taught this in school because God was ignored as he is today in most of our state school public school textbooks.

In other words, the true fact of a Christian America has been obscured by generations of benighted secularists. The goal, McDowell explains, must be to

Awaken the American people and teach them truth . . . See our nation turn back to God and other nations as well.

With enough tours and textbooks and schools and websites, McDowell apparently believes, there is hope that the true nature of America’s Christian history and destiny will be revealed and embraced.

Compare McDowell’s language to that of the founding text of modern American young-earth creationism. In The Genesis Flood (I’m pulling from the 1966 edition), Henry Morris and John Whitcomb Jr. made very similar claims for the truth and power of young-earth creationism. If YEC is true, they wonder, why do so many Americans believe in evolution? As they explain,

Historical geology, with its evolutionary implications, has had profound influence on nearly every aspect of modern life, especially in its fostering of an almost universal rejection of the historicity of Genesis and of Biblical Christianity generally.

The true story of our species and planet, in other words, has been obscured by the pernicious secular rejection of the Truth. What did Morris and Whitcomb hope to do? They were after

restoring His people everywhere to full reliance on the truth of the Biblical doctrine of origins.

Like Morris and Whitcomb, McDowell is telling a story of a powerful truth, hidden by scheming (or possibly simply mistaken) secularists. Of course, this truth might seem outlandish or even ridiculous to those raised on the lies of false history or science. But by revealing those truths, missionary educators think they have the ability to transform both souls and society.