New poll sheds light on Southern Baptists' views on Christian nationalism

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Most Southern Baptists maintain a firm commitment to religious liberty for all Americans and support a government that doesn't favor any specific religion, putting them at odds with Christian nationalism, according to a recent study.

Lifeway Research released the findings of a poll last week on the subject of Christian nationalism, which was sponsored by the Land Center for Cultural Engagement at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, named in honor of Dr. Richard Land, who served as president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, where he was also honored as President Emeritus. Land also serves as executive editor of The Christian Post.

The survey found that, among Southern Baptists, 58% of churchgoers and 62% of leaders say the government should not favor any specific religion, while about a third of church members (36%) and leaders (33%) believe the government should favor Christianity.

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The survey also found that 95% of key leaders and 92% of churchgoers affirm that "religious liberty should apply to all persons and religions." Additionally, 66% of church members and 75% of leaders do not believe religious liberty should advance the Christian faith exclusively, and 81% of churchgoers and 85% of leaders agree the government should not give one religion preference over another.

“Asked in several different ways, large numbers of Southern Baptists consistently want religious liberty to encompass all religions and desire space for differing opinions on religion among Americans,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research, as quoted in the report.

“This likely is less altruistic and more pragmatic, reflecting numerous historic governments that tried to establish Christianity with less than desirable results.”

The study drew from a survey of 500 self-identified Southern Baptist churchgoers conducted Jan. 3-12, with a margin of error of plus or minus 5.6 percentage points. Also, 507 individuals in key leadership positions at Southern Baptist churches were surveyed Jan. 9 to Feb. 9, excluding senior pastors.

“These findings reinforce that Baptists in our pews generally hold historic Baptist beliefs about the role of the church and the state,” said Dan Darling, director of the Land Center for Cultural Engagement, as quoted in the Lifeway report.

“Baptists desire robust engagement in the public square and strongly believe in a free church in a free state. This research should inform the discussions surrounding Southern Baptists, especially in a political season.”

The survey also found that Southern Baptist churchgoers are divided over whether Christianity deserves special privileges due to the religion’s role in United States history. While more than 90% acknowledge Christianity’s influence on the founding of the nation, 51% disagree with the idea of Christianity receiving special privileges, while 38% agree.

In recent times, there has been a great deal of debate over what constitutes Christian nationalism and how harmful the ideology might be to freedom in the U.S. 

Some link Christian nationalism to the 1970s and '80s Religious Right movement and recent events like the U.S. Capitol riot on Jan. 6, 2021. Scholars and religious leaders have provided varying definitions of the term, ranging from the belief that the U.S. is and should be a Christian nation to the idea that it uses the Bible to impose a conservative political agenda.

In March, Pastor John MacArthur of the nondenominational Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California, denounced Christian nationalism as an attempt to usher in the Kingdom of God on Earth through political means. 

“There is no such thing as Christian nationalism,” MacArthur said. “The Kingdom of God is not of this world. Jesus said, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would fight.’ His Kingdom is not of this world. The kingdom of this world is a separate world. They’re not linked together.”

MacArthur clarified that Christians should still care about their nation’s political landscape and vote for righteous leaders when possible. He urged Christians to avoid electing leaders who support abortion or the LGBT movement, but acknowledged that finding candidates who align with Christian values can be challenging.

Land, president emeritus of Southern Evangelical Seminary, has highlighted the importance of not allowing the term to be used to undermine the fundamental relationship between Christianity and the nation as defined by the U.S. Constitution.

In a previous interview with CP, he urged American Christians to resist blanket descriptors like “Christian nationalism,” which he said are used pejoratively to label those with patriotic beliefs.

Land noted that many of the Founding Fathers were Christians or operated with a Christian worldview, but that does not mean the U.S. was founded as a Christian nation. He emphasized that America’s unique role in the world stems from its combination of Judeo-Christian values and Enlightenment ideas, suggesting that defining the nation exclusively through a Christian lens might not capture its broader ideals.

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