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Nov. 24, 2022

The CATK Interview: Dr. Andrew Whitehead on Christian Nationalism

The CATK Interview: Dr. Andrew Whitehead on Christian Nationalism

Join Torin and Julie in welcoming Dr. Andrew Whitehead, one of the foremost experts on Christian Nationalism.

Join Torin and Julie in welcoming Dr. Andrew Whitehead, one of the foremost experts on Christian Nationalism. As Americans head to the Thanksgiving table and we all head into the holiday season, we discuss the dissection of Christianity and White Nationalism as an expression of Christianity. Dr. Whitehead helps us re-center and takes the tone down for a lot of us without failing to call to and recognize the dangers of this ideology.

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0:00:01.4 Torin Ellis: We've been about this work, diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging, shared through the voices of a White woman and a Black man. We bring lived experiences. We have pursued DNI progress for most of our professional lives. We use Crazy and the King to cover news, tips from colleagues and host incredible guests. Listeners, count on Julie and I to transparently drive the conversation. We thank you for rocking with us. Check it. Julie kick off the show.


0:00:36.5 Julie Sowash: Welcome to Crazy and the King.


0:00:41.8 Torin Ellis: In the black church, we say hallelujah.


0:00:44.4 Julie Sowash: Okay.


0:00:45.5 Torin Ellis: They actually pop the tambourine. Did I ever tell you, J, that I grew up playing the drums in church? Did I tell you that? Have you ever known that?


0:00:51.9 Julie Sowash: No, I don't think you've ever told me that.


0:00:53.1 Torin Ellis: Okay, so I'm going to give you a story real quick. So when I learned how to play the drums in church, I must've been maybe around 12... 12 or 13. Had never touched a pair of drumsticks in my life. Our main drummer in the church was an army veteran. I think Kevin was still in the army. He may have just gotten out of the army, but his name was Kevin Three. Kevin was incredible on the drums. So I would sit on the front row, my mom sang in the choir. I would sit on the front row and I was like, "I got to know how to do this. I got to learn how to do this." So the first time I hopped on the drums, I'll never forget Ms. Clayvon. She was like, "Get that boy off the drums."




0:01:36.5 Torin Ellis: "Get that boy off the drums. He cannot keep a beat. He's messing up the entire tempo. Get him off the drums." But it only took a little bit of time and practice and I got it. And I was a pretty wicked drummer in church, like pretty good, pretty...


0:01:53.5 Julie Sowash: Are you still a wicked drummer?


0:01:56.6 Torin Ellis: Not as wicked, but I can keep a beat, now that I can do. But I can't do all of the things that I used to be able to do roll around and... I can't do all of that stuff. Are you a spiritual person, religious person?


0:02:06.8 Julie Sowash: Yeah, that's a great question. You and I both grew up in the church. I grew up in the very evangelical Pentecostal church, so I have conflicted feelings. But I would say I'm more spiritual than I am religious. I think God is real and he meets us or she or they meet us where we are. Doesn't come in in Christianity or Buddhism or whatever it is that you need, that's where we find our faith and our spirituality. What about you? You don't mention it very often, it's more of like my trauma.


0:02:40.9 Torin Ellis: Yeah, I know. Hold on for a second. This is... See right now you just fell in that 53% of White women thing. You actually said conflicted, but then you said, I believe God is real and all of that. And so, most people... I'm just being funny, which I'm teasing you right now. Most people would...


0:02:57.6 Julie Sowash: I try really hard not to be that White woman.


0:03:00.3 Torin Ellis: I know most people would lean on the backside of the conversation. Well, she amplified God and all that, but I'm zoning in on the word, conflicted. Back up a little bit. Why is it a conflicted relationship for you? And then I will answer the question.


0:03:16.1 Julie Sowash: Yeah. I don't see how someone that I am supposed to love and is all powerful and created this entire universe will happily condemn 99% of us to a fiery hellish eternity and only save this 1% of us, that's not a God that I'm into. That's not a God... I think that's a God that's been created by men of power who want to retain power and that the idea of a God has been ruined by the practice of religion.


0:03:55.3 Torin Ellis: Yeah. Okay. All right. I kind of get it confused sometimes, but I'm a very spiritual person. My favorite pastor is Tolan Morgan. He's out of the Georgia area. There's a sermon that he's done, it's on YouTube. It's titled, Touch Me Again. I have probably watched that sermon no less than 50, 60 times. And one little secret, this is a little secret that I've probably never said publicly. What I have shared with you, J, is that I normally am using life events and I'll write them down on little orange and yellow sticky notes and I had a wall in my office that I would put them on or I would place them in a book. And it could just be a random thought, a random event in life. And I'll just scribble it down and then I drop it in this place. And so I use that to help me form how I am going to move through whatever my keynote presentation is for that year. But before I speak, two, three days before I speak, there are two things that I always do. I listen to Cornell West and I listen to some of my favorite pastors and it keeps me grounded so that when my energy is so connected to humanity, that I am finding the right words and operating in a space where I can deliver where people are receiving, even that truth and that tough transparency that I'm giving them.


0:05:33.9 Torin Ellis: So I'm a very spiritual person. I'm not a hit you over the head with the Bible person. I'm not the guy who knows how to quote all of the Bible verses, nor do I want to be that guy. That's not who I'm trying to be, but I do believe in a much higher power. But because of that belief, I am not a person who feels like my belief should be the one that everyone else succumbs to or adopts, if you will. How do you handle that as it relates to our country acknowledging and being accepting of other people's beliefs?


0:06:14.8 Julie Sowash: Yeah. I think that we are seeing this play out in real time, again. Something I don't say out loud very often. I grew up in the church. I am for myself a pro-life decision maker. I would not terminate a pregnancy unless it was to save my life or the extreme things that we hear happen. And that's my personal choice. But I would never inflict upon another human being my requirements. And I think that's the thing that we see with forced birth believers, is that we are requiring people who are not Christians to legally accept that same belief system and that standard and impact that on our lives. And I think that's the really scary part about the overturning of Roe is that first drum beat, maybe not the first, it's probably in a series of drum beats, that starts to move us more towards a theocracy and further away from a democracy. You start to hear the word republic used a lot now by very right wing people who are saying, "Hey, you know what, just some of the people need to vote, not all of the people need to vote." And sort of that removal of rights, I think is based on religious belief is pretty scary, pretty profound. And so I think you believe what you believe and government should take care of all of the people, not just some of the people.


0:07:51.2 Torin Ellis: "Take care of all the people and not just some of the people." We should say that often, "Take care of all the people and not just some of the people." When you say that, you mean in as many ways as possible, not in a limited perspective, correct?


0:08:11.3 Julie Sowash: Absolutely. Absolutely.


0:08:13.8 Torin Ellis: Yeah. So health, education, housing, occupation. We have as a government a responsibility to make sure that we are taking care of our people, correct?


0:08:27.8 Julie Sowash: Yeah, the government exists to protect our sovereignty and to create stability within the nation. And when we ignore with our policies and our belief structure, three quarters of a country that's changing rapidly, we're setting ourselves up for failure. If we don't, we are about to drop out of the top 50 countries in healthcare and our lifespan is going down in America, our education is in crisis. These are things that we have to do if we want to continue to be a great nation. And if we don't take care of all of the people in the most broad way possible, it will never be perfect. But if we don't allow access, if we don't provide for the basic liberties of Americans, we're going to fall. And I think that's really where this sort of level of right wing Christianity is taking us.


0:09:29.4 Torin Ellis: Yeah. Well, I asked those two questions to set up what I believe is going to be a compelling and informing conversation with our guests today. And I asked those questions also because there are those, and I'm going to read this because I don't want to mess it up, but there are some that frame the US as a Christian country, whose politics and institutions should be guided by Christian principles. In other words, they want the government to promote a specific cultural template as the official culture of the country. And our guest has plenty to say about that. So let's get him set up during the break to have a great conversation. We'll be right back.


0:10:12.6 Julie Sowash: All right. So welcome back. I am excited to introduce our guest, Dr. Andrew Whitehead, who is an associate professor of sociology and co-director of the Association of Religion Data Archives, the world's largest online religion data archive at the Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture at my alma mater, Indiana University, Purdue University, Indianapolis. His research focuses on how religion both shapes and is shaped by contemporary American culture. He is the lead author of Taking America Back for God, Christian Nationalism in the United States, which won the 2021 Distinguished Book Award from the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion. What a bio. Dr. Whitehead, welcome to Crazy and the King.


0:11:04.1 Andrew Whitehead: Oh, thank you. It's really good to be with you both.


0:11:07.6 Torin Ellis: Absolutely. Dr. Whitehead, now let me ask you this. You know, we're going to get the formalities out of the way. Do we call you Dr. Whitehead? Are you okay with us calling you Andrew?


0:11:18.6 Andrew Whitehead: Andrew is good.


0:11:20.3 Torin Ellis: Is there another nickname? Because I mean, I looked high and low. I searched... Here's what's funny. I actually searched for Dr. Andrew Whitehead nickname. Couldn't find anything.


0:11:32.3 Andrew Whitehead: That's hilarious.


0:11:33.5 Torin Ellis: Couldn't find anything. So I said, at least we're going to ask him in the beginning, how do we refer to you? We certainly want to give you all of the deference that you have earned and are so deserving. Thank you for joining us for real.


0:11:46.3 Andrew Whitehead: Yeah, no, thank you. Andrew is wonderful. But yeah, thank you.


0:11:52.3 Torin Ellis: Beautiful thing. So I think about anthropologists and they have long known that public displays really are common for helping us to craft identities. The US is very evident with their holiday parties, with our thematic parades, with our celebratory events and different things that we do throughout the entire year. Tell us in your opinion, what is Christian nationalism and is it a problem with people expressing that the same way that they express some of these other noted marked events?


0:12:35.1 Andrew Whitehead: Yeah, no, that's a great question. So Christian nationalism, as we define it in our work and in the book, we highlight it as a cultural framework that idealizes and advocates for a fusion of a particular expression of Christianity, so you can put a little asterisk by Christianity, with American civic life. So it combines a number of different elements. The first element is a strong sense of moral traditionalism, based on creating and then sustaining social hierarchies. And a lot of times these revolve around gender and sexuality. The second element is a comfort with authoritarian social control. So the world is a chaotic place. And at times society needs strong rulers, generally men, to take control and either under the threat of violence or to enact violence, maintain order. And then the final element is a desire for strict ethno-racial boundaries around national belonging, civic participation, basically who is a true American. And so a Christian nation, in quotes, according to Christian nationalism, is generally understood to be one where white natural born citizens are held up as the ideal with everyone else coming after.


0:14:00.6 Andrew Whitehead: It isn't as though other groups can't live and operate and participate in a sense. But those with the privileged access to political power, social belonging, all of those things as a very particular group of people. So when we're talking about Christian nationalism, it really is a White Christian nationalism. It upholds and supports whiteness where, again, as our social hierarchy is structured, where White Americans have the most access, or at least unquestioned access, to the social sphere and political power. Now one thing that you said that I want to come back to is identity, and the power of narrative and tradition and ritual and what we do and how we do it to define who we are. And that's what White Christian nationalism is really about, is identifying this, is who we are, this is what we're all about, this is where we should go, and this is how we should get there as a nation. So cultural frameworks like Christian nationalism, you can understand them really as the scaffolding around which human interaction in society is formed. So they tell us stories about, again, who we are and where we should go and how we should get there.


0:15:12.8 Andrew Whitehead: And the symbols and narratives and traditions that dramatize those values that we should hold dear, a lot of times we don't even notice them. And to the extent that we don't, that's when they're most powerful. And so in this country, this unspoken assumption of, this is what we should be and how we should look. White Christian nationalism plays a very strong role, we find, over and over in organizing Americans' views on what should be and how we should get there.


0:15:42.1 Torin Ellis: So I am reminded as I make a quick note in our show notes, I'm reminded right now of a statement by Lee Atwater in what I believe to be the early 70s.


[video playback]


0:15:57.3 Lee Atwater: Here's how I would approach that issue as a statistician, or a political scientist... Or no, as a psychologist, which I'm not, is how abstract you handle the race thing. In other words, you start out, and now y'all want to quote me on this, I love this. You start out in 1954 by saying, nigger, nigger, nigger. By 1968, you can't say nigger, that hurts your backfire, so you say stuff like forced busting, mistakes, rights, and all that stuff.


0:16:27.9 Lee Atwater: And you're getting so abstract now, you're talking about cutting taxes, and all of these things you're talking about are totally economic things, and a byproduct of them is Blacks get hurt worse than Whites. And subconsciously, maybe that is part of it, I'm not saying that. But I'm saying that if it is getting that abstract and that coded, that we're doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me? Because obviously sitting around saying, we want to cut taxes, we want to cut this, and that's what we're doing, is much more abstract than even the busting thing. And a hell of a lot more abstract than nigger, nigger. So any way you look at it, race is coming on the back burner.


0:17:12.4 Torin Ellis: And basically what Lee Atwater said back in that statement, and I'm paraphrasing it, But you can't say certain things explicitly. And what I just heard you say was this nationalism, while they won't say that it's for White men and or White people, it is cloaked in the Second Amendment, it is cloaked in words like patriotism, it's cloaked in subversive, if you will, or softer language, softer description, softer illustration, the dulcet tones of how we describe what it is. And to me, that's a bit dangerous, nefarious. Am I being hyperbolic?


0:18:04.6 Andrew Whitehead: No, no, you're not. And I think this is the really interesting part, too, of our research. So in the book and in other research we do... I'm a sociologist, and a lot of my work focuses on looking at large nationally representative surveys of the American public. And so when we measure Christian nationalism among Americans, what we do is we ask a handful of questions, like, how strongly they agree or strongly disagree on a scale, with questions like, the federal government should declare the US a Christian nation? Or should advocate Christian values? Or the United States plays a special role in God's plan for the world? And in all of these questions, not one of them do we mention race.


0:18:52.9 Andrew Whitehead: It's all about how they think Christianity or God or religion should be a part of our public sphere. But what we find over and over, when we combine those questions together and create our Christian nationalism scale, if people are on the upper end of that Christian nationalism scale and we ask them questions about race in the United States, like, how strongly they agree that interracial marriage should be legal, we find that those on the upper end are much more likely to oppose interracial marriage than those at the lower end of the Christian nationalism scale.


0:19:30.1 Andrew Whitehead: When we talk about transracial adoption, those at the upper end of the Christian nationalism scale are more likely to oppose adopting outside your race than those at the lower end of the scale. When we talk about the use of deadly police force and whether Black Americans that die at the hands of police, are they dying because they're more violent? Those at the upper end of Christian nationalism scale, say that the reason that Black Americans die at the hands of police more often is because they're more violent, so more racist understanding of police violence in the Black community. When we talk about structural inequality or why wealth is unequally distributed in the US, those at the upper end of the Christian nationalism scale are more likely to say it's because of individual shortcomings among racial minorities, rather than the effects of slavery, Jim Crow, or historic structural inequality. So those are just a couple, but across all these different studies, what we find over and over is that, for Americans that strongly embrace Christian nationalism, especially for White Americans, we're not asking them about race when we talk about Christian nationalism, but it is inextricably tied to race.


0:20:49.0 Andrew Whitehead: And so that's where we identify it as a White Christian nationalism, that it really essentially cloaks these racialized understandings of American society in religious rhetoric. And as you said, I think really well, is that they can talk about, "Well, we want it to be a Christian nation," but with it comes all that cultural baggage of racial inequality and racialized views. And so as we look through our history, the rhetoric used by the KKK is the same, where they want to protect a Judeo-Christian culture, and they had very explicit views. Now, not every American who embraces Christian nationalism is a White nationalist, but that rhetoric is the same, and so a broad acceptance of Christian nationalism creates fertile ground, where extremism, like the KKK or White nationalism, can take root and flourish. And so, yeah, we have to be really careful when we talk about trying to institutionalize a particular expression of Christianity with American civic life, because it comes with a lot of these other racialized understandings for White Americans.


0:22:01.9 Julie Sowash: Wow, that was awesome. I guess, again, as someone who sort of grew up... Not sort of, definitely grew up in the church and grew up with a belief that there should be a Christian nation, all the things that you're talking about, I read an article that you wrote in Time last year that 30 million Americans strongly, strongly embrace Christian nationalism. How do we... Who are outside the church, or as scientists, academics, how do we distinguish Christian nationalism from Christianity itself? Because I think it's important that we recognize and say not all Christians are Christian nationalists. That's not a blanket statement that anyone should be using, and I think it's easy to get in that habit.


0:22:54.8 Andrew Whitehead: Right. Yeah, no, that's a great point and great question. So yeah, when we do our work, I think it's really helpful to talk in terms of Christian nationalism, like the ideology, and try not to label anybody a Christian nationalist. Because a lot of times when we label it just shuts down. Either they're saying, "Well, yes, I am, and I'm not going to listen to you," or they don't know what that term is. And so I think talking about the ideology is key, because then we can talk about ideas. And I think, too, we can talk then about implications of those ideas. So we can look at the evidence and say, Hey, when we strongly embrace this understanding of Christian nationalism, those folks are more likely to ignore racial inequality, or are more likely to ignore gender equality, and all these things that, for most folks they might be supportive of generally. And so when we talk about Christian nationalism, I think there's kind of two sides to the same coin regarding your question. So Christian nationalism as ideology, it is in some cases rampant within white Christianity, right? So in the White evangelical church, or even White mainline, or White Catholicism, there are a lot of Americans in those religious communities that do embrace Christian nationalism to some extent.


0:24:16.8 Andrew Whitehead: But as you point out, not all, right? And so it is somewhat separate. But Christian nationalism in the US wouldn't exist without the White church, generally. And so they are just strongly intertwined. But we have groups, so like 20% of White evangelicals oppose Christian nationalism, and larger numbers within White mainline or White Catholic churches. But by and large most of those folks do embrace it. So when we're talking about Christianity, I think a really important point is that the Christianity of Christian nationalism, we shouldn't ever say that, "Oh, they're not real Christians." They are. It's that this expression of Christianity, and it's a particular type, brings with it all these other cultural beliefs, and really cultural baggage that has been intertwined with it. But there are other expressions of Christianity that oppose that. So one is the Black church, historic Black church in the US. Those expressions of Christianity, they might even agree that the US should be a Christian nation, but in their terms, they're looking at it as though, "Hey, if we were truly Christian, we would treat everybody equally, we would have equal rights for all people."


0:25:29.0 Andrew Whitehead: It's a very different expression of Christianity than the Christianity of Christian nationalism, which wants to kind of uphold racial hierarchies and differences and access to power. And so I think broadening our view of the different expressions of Christianity is really key. Because I think a lot of times, and I'm sure you both have seen this in the media, when people talk about religious Americans or Christianity, they're usually just speaking to White religiously and politically conservative folks, and that's the Christianity that we see over and over. But there are a lot of different expressions of Christianity. And so recognizing the religious left or the historic Black church, these are other expressions. And I think that's part of the way that we can find our way out of this mess in some sense is... Yeah, is that there are more expressions that lay aside the dangerous aspects of White Christian nationalism.


0:01:01.6 Torin Ellis: You know, speaking of finding our way out of this mess, I do love your insertion around ideology over labels, ideology over labels. And to that end of finding our way out of this mess, Julie mentioned... Geez, what did you mention earlier in the show, Julie, it's going to come to me in a moment. But you mentioned, Andrew, number of data points and studies and surveys that you all have done, and what you found versus the one end of the spectrum versus the other end. Whether it be around racism, transnational adoption of babies, you found a number of different examples that separate them, that clearly mark them in a particular camp. Are there some other examples that are currently happening right now through Christian nationalism that are having an impact on the trajectory of how we are as a country, society, world, maybe?


0:02:06.6 Dr. Andrew Whitehead: Yeah. Yeah. Great question. And truly there are. So right now we're living through a moment when we look back just a year and a half ago in January 6th and the insurrection at the Capitol in response to the big lie, right? That the election was stolen, even though we had a fair and free election. So when we look at the Capitol insurrection, we're finding that Americans who embrace Christian nationalism as we move further away from January 6th are becoming more supportive of the insurrectionists and the use of possibly the use of political violence if the outcome isn't in their favor. And so a redefining of what happened January 6th is ongoing among those Americans that strongly embrace Christian nationalism. And so that's really dangerous, right? As we look back at the Civil War, even the Lost Cause, right? Where there was this redefinition of what it was all about, that is still influential today. And so we see that taking place. Another aspect is threats to democracy and whether all Americans should have access to the vote, right? Because having access to the vote, being able to give voice to where you want to see your state, community, the country go is obviously fundamental to democracy.


0:03:31.6 Dr. Andrew Whitehead: And we find over and over Americans who strongly embrace Christian nationalism, who in the book we call ambassadors, they're at the very upper end of the scale. They're more likely to deny that voter suppression is a problem. They're more likely to believe that the US makes it too easy to vote. They're more likely to believe that voter fraud is rampant, even though there's no evidence of that. They're more likely to support laws that would disenfranchise Americans who might have committed certain crimes and saying they should never be able to vote again. And so there are real threats to this understanding of what democracy is and who should be able to participate in it. And again, those are, I think, pushing folks to say that, you know, only a particular type of American should be able to fully participate. And again, that comes down to White, natural born, religiously and politically conservative Christians. So again, enshrining this very particular expression of Christianity as what should be kind of highlighting where we are as a nation and what we're all about.


0:04:41.3 Julie Sowash: So I think one thing that you said kind of caught me, right? So we often, I think, at least I'll speak for myself. When I think of Christian nationalism, I think of a violent movement. And I think we've seen that come out and play and be more predominant over the last five to six years, at least in my lifetime. But I have to assume that there are also, I'm going to use the word passive, even though I don't know if that's the right word, passive Christian nationalists who really empower and reinforce the more violent tendencies of Christian nationalism and allow it to continue to exist. Can you speak to kind of how someone who is nonviolent, but is quietly supportive, how they have that kind of impact on our democracy and the empowerment of more violent, extreme nationalists?


0:05:39.6 Dr. Andrew Whitehead: Yeah, no, that's a great point. And I think is so important to this conversation is that, as we look at our book, again, Americans are spread all across this scale, right? With some strongly rejecting Christian nationalism, some resisting it. Then we have this group that we call accommodators. So they're right above the mean, but they aren't our ambassadors that are the very upper end of the scale. But these accommodators are folks when we interviewed them, and we share kind of their words in the book, think Christianity is obviously a good influence in American society, should play a role.


0:06:13.6 Dr. Andrew Whitehead: They wouldn't go so far as to say other religious groups shouldn't be able to, you know, participate or have influence, but generally they see Christianity as a positive force. But I think what you're highlighting is so important. Because, you know, Jemar Tisby in his work, he wrote a really great book, The Color of Compromise, looking at the historical White church and how it played a role in perpetuating racism throughout its whole... Throughout the history of the US. He talks about it in terms of... You know, you could be standing on a moving walkway, at the airport, and you might be standing still, but it's still carrying you somewhere, right? You may not actively be walking forward, but you're still moving with it.


0:06:56.9 Dr. Andrew Whitehead: And in the same way, when we look at, in this particular example, let's say racism in the US, you could be embracing Christian nationalism as an accommodator, so not strongly, but you're not speaking out against those more violent or racialized elements. And so our country is a smoothing walkway, it's pushing us this way. So you may not actively be walking that way, but you're still being carried along. It's only when we turn around and actually start trying to walk against the moving walkway that we're going to make any progress.


0:07:30.3 Dr. Andrew Whitehead: And so, for those folks that, quietly embrace Christian nationalism or don't want to speak out, I think that's what creates this kind of fertile ground where the extremism can take root. I think Americans will have to try and turn around on that walkway, as Jemar Tisby talks about, and try to move the other way. Which means recognizing Christian nationalism, speaking out against it, saying that, no, we don't have to enshrine this particular expression of Christianity, but that we should welcome Americans of all faiths or no faith to the table, and they should all have a voice. They should all be a part of it. We don't have to codify, again, this particular understanding of Christianity.


0:08:12.9 Dr. Andrew Whitehead: And so it's only when we do that specifically, right? And on purpose, kind of thinking in terms of your question, that we're able to then essentially point out that this group on the far end that can resort to violence or maybe wants to, is not who we are. But if we quietly just accept it, then those more violent or extremist elements can still exist and find opportunities to do the work that they want to do in our culture.


0:08:45.5 Torin Ellis: You know, I'm actually processing. J, I want you to stay on frequency. I want you to push the next question, you know, because I'm processing what Dr. Whitehead just said. And part of the challenge that I... And when I use the word challenge, let me frame it in the sense of I am forcing myself, I am being sort of devil's advocate, if you will, because that's a familiar phrase. I am listening to what you are saying. And I'm asking myself, but there would be some who would say, there's nothing wrong with me being that passive Christian nationalist, there's nothing wrong with that.


0:09:33.0 Torin Ellis: There are some that would say, "But I don't have to be extremely vocal and animated around being an anti-racist. That it's okay for us to push back against critical race theory and having cartoons that have LGBTQ parents and our removing certain books around the Holocaust from reading lists. It is okay for us to be that and I'm not a bad person. We're not bad people."


0:10:07.7 Dr. Andrew Whitehead: Right.


0:10:09.4 Torin Ellis: I am processing what you are saying. Because you hit on so much, from an institutional standpoint, structural standpoint, systemic standpoint, and the whole escalator or what do you call that thing at the airport example by Jemar Tisby, compelling.


0:10:32.4 Dr. Andrew Whitehead: Yeah.


0:10:32.6 Torin Ellis: And so I guess... I do want Julie to ask a question, but I'm going to in my pushing back and challenge, how much do you believe what you just said?


0:10:45.9 Dr. Andrew Whitehead: Right. Yeah. Well, I think... You know, one thing that I want to make clear too, is that we're all on a journey. Right? And so when we look at this evidence... So I've been studying this for 15 years, but I have my own personal journey with this too. So having grown up in a White evangelical church tradition where, yeah, race wasn't talked about. Right? It just wasn't a part of it. And any sort of talk about, you know, racial justice, that's politics. That isn't anything to do with the gospel or, you know, the kingdom of God or anything like that. And so I've been on a journey for a while. Right? And so, too, there's an aspect of, for most folks, I don't want it to come across as like, you've got to understand this, you know, after one podcast and you've got to be on board, but you need to explore.


0:11:35.2 Dr. Andrew Whitehead: And so I think that's the hope is an invitation to say, "Well, yeah, I hear this talk of a Christian nation." Or you hear politicians use this rhetoric. What are they saying? What are they actually going to? When they paint the other side of the aisle as evil and against God's will, what does that mean for democracy? Right? Where we're supposed to share power and compromise to find a way forward for everyone to flourish. And so I think that's the hope is for me when I start to see what Christian nationalism, you know, saying that the government should advocate Christian values, should declare the US a Christian nation. When I see what those beliefs are associated with regarding race, gender, violence, fear or disdain towards immigrants and refugees, even Christian refugees, that's where I start to say, okay, there's something going on here because that doesn't look like the gospel where, you know, all should be welcome and be able to flourish.


0:12:41.9 Dr. Andrew Whitehead: So these other expressions of Christianity that want to see... To see folks be able to live and flourish and work together. And so I think that's a big part of it. So, yeah, as some would maybe say, "Well, I think these things, but I am not racist or these other things." That's not the message that I hope they take away from this. But just understanding that while we may not personally be, we may... You know, I didn't personally create this society where racial minorities don't have the same opportunities as White Americans, but I still benefit from it. And so learning more about that and how to try to hear the voices of those who have had very different expressions or experiences as mine. Learn how I can support them, how I can come alongside or to follow their lead. Those are things that I want to be able to do.


0:13:46.0 Dr. Andrew Whitehead: And I think in a pluralistic democratic society, where all should have a say, we have to be able to be committed to that. And so it's a journey and a process. And that's what I would hope folks would see is that you have time, you don't have to have anything decided or figured out today. But it is important because people are being harmed and losing their lives or their livelihoods because of this. And so it is important for us to figure it out, especially if we want to see our democracy continue on, which in some ways it is under attack. So yeah, hopefully that kind of gets at your question and what we're thinking about.


0:14:31.2 Julie Sowash: Yeah, I think it absolutely does. And I think you hit on a couple of different things. You know, what are the forces at play right now in our society, which make us, I don't want to say uniquely, but make us vulnerable to the allure of a Christian nationalism ideology?


0:14:53.0 Dr. Andrew Whitehead: Yeah, that's a great question. I think, you know, a couple of things. So Christian nationalism as an ideology is so powerful because, again, going back to something we talked about earlier in our conversation, is that it really is a powerful tool to tell us who we are, right? To give us an identity, a collective identity. In any group, the quickest way to know who we are is to know who we're not, right? To say, well, we're not that. And so in times of social change and upheaval, which we're living through, right? Racial demographics are changing in our country over the past decades. Religious demographics have been changing for decades.


0:15:32.3 Dr. Andrew Whitehead: So it is a different looking country than it was 50, 60 years ago. And so for some Americans, they look at that and they might fear that or fear... Have a sense of threat. And so in times of social upheaval or change, cultural frameworks like Christian nationalism are kind of readily available for some groups to say, well, we should try to stop this change. We need to go back. We need to be who we were, right? So that people can feel comfortable, not have to deal with that change. And so it isn't as though we should ignore the fact that change is happening around us. But I think we have to be really wary of people or groups that want to say, "Hey, this change needs to be opposed no matter what. And we need to ensure that we maintain access to power. And it is a battle of good and evil."


0:16:25.6 Dr. Andrew Whitehead: All these terms, right? They get wrapped up in Christian nationalist rhetoric. We have to be careful of that because again, that's where those that are on the margins get harmed because they're denied access. And so, yeah, it isn't as though change or... It isn't scary or can create upheaval. But when we look towards ideologies like Christian nationalism that are kind of hinging on keeping others out of power without a say in society, that's where the danger comes. And so that's where we have to kind of, yeah, be aware and listen to those things.


0:17:06.2 Torin Ellis: You actually reinforced one of the questions that I was going to ask as we wrap up this segment. What was one of the takeaways that you wanted to make sure listeners keyed in on? And I want to reiterate that you said about three, four minutes ago that we don't expect you to have it all buttoned up after one podcast. And when you say one podcast, it could be this one with Julie and I here, at Crazy and the King. It could be a person who has listened to 10 different podcasts, a number of episodes. More importantly, you said a journey that we are all on together. I absolutely love that you frame it that way, that it's not a destination, that it is absolutely a journey.


0:17:57.0 Torin Ellis: My final question for you, Andrew, is this. And it may be a bit invasive, but I'm going to ask it anyway. Choose not to answer it. Totally your choice. You've earned your right. Totally your choice. But when you think about the 15, close to 20 years of work that you've done in this space, when you think about your matriculation through being a teen... Where'd you grow up, by the way?


0:18:25.1 Dr. Andrew Whitehead: Northern Indiana, actually.


0:18:27.0 Torin Ellis: Okay.


0:18:27.6 Dr. Andrew Whitehead: Near the Michigan border. Yeah.


0:18:30.0 Torin Ellis: And is that where KKK country is? Is it close to KKK country?


0:18:35.5 Dr. Andrew Whitehead: Yeah. Indiana has a history of that. Yeah. There's some counties around Indianapolis, but yeah, Northern Indiana, a neighboring county, I think did have... Yeah, it was quite a stronghold in some sense.


0:18:44.0 Torin Ellis: Yep. Absolutely. Absolutely. Okay. Got it. So 15 years, body of work, your matriculation through and up into adulthood, something that you've never said publicly before that you have uncovered. When you think about all of that, something that you've never said publicly before.


0:19:05.8 Dr. Andrew Whitehead: Yeah, that's a really good question. I would probably need more time to think about that. Well, one thing I'll say, so this is... I'm not trying to dodge, but in some ways you could interpret it that way. So I'm working on my next book, which is written to Christians about Christian nationalism. And so it'll come out next August. But it's not academic and it's sharing a bit of my story and then looking at the research on Christian nationalism. And then making a case for Americans, Christians to move towards expressions of Christianity that oppose Christian nationalism and are focused on the flourishing of all folks, whether they're Christian or not, or even religious or not. That Christians should be a part of the work of flourishing in society. That doesn't mean we have to enshrine again, this particular expression of Christianity.


0:20:09.5 Dr. Andrew Whitehead: So in that book, I do share some of my own personal stories as growing up in the White Christian church and in a very White part of the US, conservative, politically, religiously part of the US. Those different moments that kind of poked holes in the veil that had me starting to ask questions. So when we talk about wanting to go back, well, going back to the good old days, were those days good for everybody? So as a White male, I can go all the way back in the history of the US, any decade you want, and I'm going to be fine. Right? But you don't have to go too far back to where African-American brothers and sisters couldn't vote.


0:20:58.2 Dr. Andrew Whitehead: Don't have to go too much farther back than my female sisters can't vote. Don't have to go too far back to where we see slavery and Jim Crow and all these things to where if I grew up in a different racial socioeconomic group, if I was born in that group, I would have had a very different experience. And so growing up and starting to ask those questions and thinking about, well, if we were always a Christian country, why did we treat indigenous Americans the way that we did? Why did we enslave and steal people from their country and bring them here and enslave them? Why did we keep women from full access to power and politics and the social culture?


0:21:51.9 Dr. Andrew Whitehead: So these are questions I think that I started to ask. And so that's something that I haven't ever really shared my personal journey that I will obviously next time. But I'm doing that a little bit here, too, that that was a part of me trying to come to terms with, well, what is Christianity? What does it mean to me? And what should it mean for us as people of faith? Are we living out the gospel? What is the gospel of Jesus? What does that look like? Those are things I had to wrestle with and it's been a part of my journey.


0:22:24.8 Dr. Andrew Whitehead: And so, yeah, just wanting to invite other people, whether they're Christian or not, or they know Christians or not into faith anymore, or have no faith at all. We have to find a way to live and work together. And so that's what I want to be a part of is ensuring the flourishing of all my neighbors, not just the neighbors that look like me or believe like me. So I don't know. Hopefully that gets to your question.


0:22:51.0 Julie Sowash: So I have a few people I'm going to send that book to, but also looking forward to reading it myself. Please let us know when it gets published next year. We'd love to have you back on the show. We're already planning a couple other times to have you on the show, so you may become a regular around here. We're going to hop to our last ad break and jump in for Her Voice segment where Dr. Whitehead is going to join us as well.


0:23:19.8 Torin Ellis: Yes, indeed. Yes, indeed. An incredible conversation. This is where we do Her Voice, where we amplify women that are making moves, women that are making moves. First up this week is Tamara Van Dyken. She actually drafted Worship Wars, Gospel Hymns, and Cultural Engagement in American Evangelicalism for the period of 1890 to 1940. Put some context around that. Her article argues that gospel hymnody was integral to the construction of modern evangelicalism. Through an analysis of the debate over worship music in three denominations, the Methodist Episcopal Church, the Christian Reformed Church, and the Reformed Church in America during that period, she reveals how worship music was essential to the negotiation between churchly tradition and practical faith between institutional authority and popular choice that characterized the 20th century liberal conservative divide.


0:24:29.4 Julie Sowash: That was a mouthful. Next we have Kristin Kobes Du Mez, who is a New York Times bestselling author and professor of history and gender studies at Calvin University. Her most recent book is Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation. You can follow her @kkdumez on Twitter.


0:24:52.7 Torin Ellis: And speaking of following individuals on Twitter, Dr. Andrew Whitehead is also on Twitter. He's @ndrew. He took the A off, so he's @ndrewwhitehead on Twitter. Now here's why I am smiling. Because as we were preparing for the show, in this segment, we amplify women. And I know at the top of the show, I made a joke around doing a Google search in reference to Andrew, Dr. Whitehead, and a nickname. But on a serious note, I did a Google search looking for women that had some relationship to religious and cultural implications and impact and all. I just used a variety of different phrases. And I struggled to find the two women that I came up with. So Dr. Whitehead, before you give us the third person in Her Voice, is it because there is an absence of women in this space? Or am I just not putting the right terminology in Google?


0:26:05.1 Dr. Andrew Whitehead: That's a great question. We'll have to get an expert on the Google algorithms and stuff. Because I do think that's a part of it. But yeah, there's no absence of women. Honestly, you said come up with one. But in my journey or even in my next book, there are a lot of women in their writings that have really been influential. So I might list a couple names. I'll highlight the first one here. Ruth Braunstein. So she's a fellow sociologist. She's an associate professor at the University of Connecticut. She wrote a great book called Prophets and Patriots: Faith in Democracy across the Political Divide.


0:26:42.8 Dr. Andrew Whitehead: And then she's had some great work looking at the religious right, the religious left, the rise of secularism, you know, trying to understand all these religious movements, contemporary to US. So she's really great. She's on Twitter, too. You can follow her. She leads a democracy lab there at UConn. So we're kind of colleagues and her work has been influential. And so really want to boost her. She's great.


0:27:12.2 Dr. Andrew Whitehead: You know, for my next book, which is titled American Idolatry, there are a couple of women who wrote books that have been really influential. So one is Sarah Bessey. She's written a number of books, Jesus Feminist is one. Another one that I keep coming back to is called Out of Sorts. And so for folks that maybe grew up Christian who are on a journey and trying to make sense of the Christianity we were handed versus maybe, you know, what we hope to see Christianity look like now, that's a great book, you know, talking about the kingdom of God and what that means.


0:27:49.2 Dr. Andrew Whitehead: Another name is Kaitlyn Schiess, and I think I have her last name right. She wrote a book called The Liturgy of Politics. And so again, this is written to Christians, but thinking about how political participation really does form us spiritually and how the flourishing of all people is a part of our kingdom work as Christians. And so that's a really great one.


0:28:11.4 Dr. Andrew Whitehead: And then the final one... I could go on, but I'll just stick with these three, is Kat Armas. And she wrote... Her book is on women who have been marginalized throughout scripture. It's called Abuelita Faith. And so she's looking in and doing theology. It's really engaging, but, through the lens of, you know, for her as a religious minority. Or I mean a racial minority in the US and her grandfather came from Cuba, her grandma and grandfather came from Cuba. And just their whole experience. And so looking at Christianity through the lens of racial minorities and those who have been marginalized.


0:28:58.1 Dr. Andrew Whitehead: And so that's really powerful. For me as a White man, right? I've never been marginalized in Christianity or in America. And so I think listening to those conversations and being formed by them have been really helpful. So yeah, those three, well, four Ruth Braunstein, Sarah Bessie, Kat Armas, and then Kaitlyn Schiess. Those are the ones that right now are really forming me.


0:29:22.7 Julie Sowash: And as a woman, let me just take a second and say, thank you so much for amplifying the voices of the women who work alongside you, who've influenced you, who are your peers. Dr. Andrew Whitehead, author of Taking America Back for God, Christian Nationalism in the United States. Thank you so much for joining us today.


0:29:43.8 Dr. Andrew Whitehead: Yeah, it's really good to be with you. Thank you for the work you all are doing.


0:29:47.6 Torin Ellis: Julie and I close reminding each and every one of you to share the pod with your digital tribe to find your voice, be a better human. Let's create better workplaces, stronger cultures, keeping in mind that the ROI of D&I is greater humanity. For now, J and I are ghost.


0:30:10.7 Julie Sowash: See ya.


Andrew WhiteheadProfile Photo

Andrew Whitehead


Andrew L. Whitehead is an Associate Professor of Sociology and Director of the Association of Religion Data Archives (theARDA.com) at the Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture at IUPUI.

Whitehead’s research focuses on religion, politics, and power in contemporary American culture. He is the co-author of Taking America Back for God: Christian Nationalism in the United States (Oxford University Press, 2020)—along with Samuel Perry—which won the 2021 Distinguished Book Award from the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion. He is the author of over forty-five peer-reviewed journal articles. In 2019 his co-authored article “Make America Christian Again: Christian Nationalism and Voting for Donald Trump in the 2016 Presidential Election” (Sociology of Religion, 2018) won the Distinguished Article Award for both the Association for the Sociology of Religion and the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion. His next book, American Idolatry: How Christian Nationalism Betrays the Gospel and Threatens the Church, is due out in 2023 from Brazos Press.

Whitehead’s research has been featured across several national outlets including The New York Times, NPR, The New Yorker, The Washington Post, CNN Today, The Economist, and The Guardian and he is routinely contacted for perspective on religion and politics from national and international news media. He has also written for The Washington Post, Time, NBC News, and the Religion News Service, among others. Along with his work on Christian nationalism, Whitehead also explores childhood disability and religion.