Christian nationalism on the rise in some GOP campaigns

PITTSBURGH (AP) — The victory party took on the feel of an evangelical worship service after Doug Mastriano won Pennsylvania’s Republican gubernatorial primary this month. As a Christian singer led the crowd in song, some raised their arms toward the heavens in praise.

Mastriano opened his remarks by evoking Scripture: “God uses the foolish to confound the wise.” He claimed Pennsylvanians’ freedom would be “snatched away” if his Democratic opponent wins in November, and cast the election in starkly religious terms with another biblical reference: “Let’s choose this day to serve the Lord.”

Mastriano, a state senator and retired Army colonel, has not only made faith central to his personal story but has woven conservative Christian beliefs and symbols into the campaign — becoming the most prominent example this election cycle of what some observers call a surge of Christian nationalism among Republican candidates.

Mastriano — who has ignored repeated requests for comment from The Associated Press, including through his campaign last week — has rejected the “Christian nationalist” label in the past. In fact, few if any prominent candidates use the label. Some say it’s a pejorative and insist everyone has a right to draw on their faith and values to try to influence public policy.

But scholars generally define Christian nationalism as going beyond policy debates and championing a fusion of American and Christian values, symbols and identity.

Christian nationalism, they say, is often accompanied by a belief that God has destined America, like the biblical Israel, for a special role in history, and that it will receive divine blessing or judgment depending on its obedience.

That often overlaps with the conservative Christian political agenda, including opposition to abortion, same-sex marriage and transgender rights. Researchers say Christian nationalism is often also associated with mistrust of immigrants and Muslims. Many Christian nationalists see former President Donald Trump as a champion despite his crude sexual boasts and lack of public piety.

Candidates seen as Christian nationalists have had mixed success in this year’s Republican primaries, which typically pitted staunch conservatives against opponents even further to the right.

There were losses by some high-profile candidates, such as U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn and an Idaho gubernatorial hopeful, Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin. The former spoke of a “spiritual battle” on Capitol Hill and a need for “strong, God-fearing patriots.” The latter was photographed holding a gun and a Bible and said, “God calls us to pick up the sword and fight, and Christ will reign in the state of Idaho.”

Some of Idaho’s Republican primaries for the Legislature were won by candidates touting Christian values or sharing priorities with Christian nationalists, such as sports bans for transgender athletes. U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., who uses biblical phrasing to “be a watchman on the wall” against those seeking to “destroy our faith,” easily won her primary.

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