God’s Country

Democracy in Danger / Episode 3

Who was President Trump trying to impress when he ordered armed guards to clear peaceful protestors from Lafayette Square so he could do a photo op with a bible? Arguably, the president was playing to influential voices on the religious right: white Evangelicals who would like to recreate America in their own image of Christianity.

Photo by Shealah Craighead for the White House.

The U.S. Constitution guarantees religious freedom, but also freedom from religion — an idea that many Protestant Evangelicals resist. Religion scholar Matt Hedstrom speaks with Siva and Will about the ideology of Christian nationalism and its harder-core variety, dominionism. Perhaps surprisingly, it’s not traditional notions of religious piety but a muscular resistance to pluralism that seems to make the biggest impression on Trump’s base, but not without political risks. Could a theocracy really emerge in the United States, or will the president’s posturing backfire?


About our guest

Matthew Hedstrom is a historian of religion at the University of Virginia and the author of The Rise of Liberal Religion: Book Culture and American Spirituality in the Twentieth Century. He also co-edits the American Spirituality book series from UVA Press and is currently working on The Religion of Humanity: Faith, Politics, and the United Nations.

Hedstrom joined us by video conference from his home in Charlottesville. The interview was recorded in June and posted August 4, 2020.

What we’re reading

By our guest

The Rise of Liberal Religion, from Oxford University Press, won the Frank S. and Elizabeth D. Brewer Prize of the American Society of Church History in 2013. It was also featured among other books on Protestantism in the New York Times.

You can also check out some of Hedstrom’s popular pieces in the Washington Post (on American Enlightenment), Religion & Politics (on the spiritual banality of Mad Men’s Don Draper), and in the magazine Tricylce (on Protestant fantasies of Buddhism).

From around the web

Last week the chief of the U.S. Park Police told Congress that President Trump’s photo op was not the reason for forcing protestors from Lafayette Square; read this report from CNN. But a National Guard officer told the Washington Post otherwise.

Learn more about the phenomenon of Christian nationalism and its protagonists in Religion Unplugged, Think Progress and Rolling Stone.

And in February, Washington Post reporters Sarah Pulliam Bailey, Julie Zauzmer and Josh Dawsey considered how Trump derides the religious beliefs of others even as his own seem vague at best.



A transcript of this show is available here

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