One type of journalism I particularly enjoy not reading is the LDS-shaped hole in long-form articles about the agonies of American Christianity. Of course the Church faces challenges in the U.S., but it isn’t currently dealing with or facing an imminent separation into competing denominations. Church leadership is not currently on a collision course with its most committed members. Where other faiths are looking at how going all in for Trump harmed their witness and wondering what went wrong, we get occasional reminders to avoid party-line voting or politicking at church.
And there isn’t currently a Mormon flavor of Christian Nationalism. Despite a tradition of investing the United States and the Constitution with religious significance, there’s a notable lack of Mormon intellectuals advancing the possibility of minoritarian religious rule as the solution to the nation’s ills. We don’t have general authorities publicly contemplating the end of the liberal order.
To address the whatabouts:
- DezNat doesn’t count. From what I can tell, all their manifesto amounts to is the claim that it’s okay to be jerks online (it’s not). The DezNats who have been unmasked are bank tellers, not think tankers. If they’re still around, they’re an inconsequential online sideshow without influence. I don’t think they even fall within a broad definition of Christian Nationalism, as their goals seem to be limited to being jerks online.
- Voting for Trump doesn’t count. Republicans voting for the Republican candidate, conservatives voting for the conservative party, and religious voters voting for the candidate that seems better aligned with their preferences do not constitute Christian Nationalism. It’s just democracy in action. If you don’t want to see it keep happening, you’ll have to persuade them to vote for candidates or policies that you prefer. Trump is a menace, but the discussion would be a lot easier if people would avoid mistaking core elements of democracy – such as voters making choices you disagree with – for Christian Nationalism.
It’s not entirely unreasonable to wonder about the attractions Christian Nationalism might hold for Latter-day Saints. We actually have some institutional experience with theocracy, and to be honest, I think if we had to do it again, we’d be relatively good at it. I mean, you’d hate it and I’d hate it, but compared to the alternatives, you could do a lot worse. For Catholicism, the peak alignment sacral and secular rule came during the High Middle Ages when the Holy Roman Empire and papacy were at their height, while for Protestants, the absolute monarchies of the sixteenth through eighteenth centuries represent the pinnacle. In contrast, the Mormon theocracies of Nauvoo and Utah were built under the overarching structure of American Constitutionalism and made explicit provision for religious pluralism. Like I said, we’d all hate it, but if someone forces you to pick a variety of theocracy to live under, maybe give us a call? You could do a lot worse.
But the truth is that reviving the Great Basin Kingdom isn’t on anyone’s agenda. The theorists of illiberalism are not interested in making room for Greater Deseret as one element in a rich tapestry of post-American regional despotisms. Not only do Latter-day Saints revere the Constitution, our lost golden age isn’t the nineteenth century – it’s the recently departed postwar decades where we were within shouting distance of the American mainstream. The basic reason that Christian Nationalism holds no appeal is simply the recognition that pluralism and liberal democracy is the best we can hope for. There is no illiberal future, either under a post-liberal successor ideology or a minoritarian Christian Nationalism, where we would be anything but barely tolerated outsiders at best, if not candidates for re-education or forcible conversion.