in the 20th Century
As many of you know, I have spent the past few weeks working on my final research paper for graduate school. The topic that I have chosen centers on how the "Christian Nation" thesis can be construed as an imagined community, according to Benedict Anderson's definition. Now, I know I have already posted small segments of this paper, so this might be a little repetitive, but I have made a few adjustments here and there based on some of your comments and the comments of others. Over the next three days I plan on posting three different segments of my paper. A couple comments a preface: this paper does adopt the angle that the "Christian Nation" argument is false. I know this will likely ruffle some feathers on this blog, but that's the angle I have chosen. In addition, this paper does not use any sources from the founding era. My class was on modern American history, so there's no need for 18th century sources to be cited here. Again, my intent was to look at how the 1960s and 1970s served as the "incubator" for the Christian Nation movement, which then evolved into a palpable and legitimate imagined community.
So, without further delay, I give you part I, Roots of an Imagined Community:
The December, 2008 grand opening of the five-hundred-eighty–thousand square-foot, six hundred million-dollar Capitol Visitor’s Center in Washington D.C. was the culmination of an almost forty-year project to provide tourists with an all-encompassing understanding of America’s proud founding heritage. The building’s construction, which has been hailed by renowned architects across the globe, crates an atmosphere of awe and amazement as guests witness first hand how the technologies of the twenty-first century present America’s proud history as, “an intellectual and emotional encounter comprised of highly personal moments that will inform, involve and inspire those who come to see the U.S. Capitol.” 
Yet despite its obvious beauty and extravagance, not everyone has been pleased with the new Visitor Center. Congressional Representative Randy Forbes, in conjunction with Christian-based organizations like Wallbuilders, WorldNet Daily and the American Christian History Institute have criticized the new D.C. center for its negligence in referencing America’s “Christian heritage.” As Representative Forbes stated:
Our Concern is not with the Capitol Visitor Center, but with [an] increasing pattern of attempts to remove references to our religious heritage from our nation’s capitol…The Capitol Visitor Center is just one example of the efforts to censor God, faith and religion from our historical buildings and ceremonies…Historical buildings like the Capitol Visitor Center are there to tell the story of our nation. When religious history is removed from these displays, the American public is not able to observe an accurate depiction of our nation’s story. We owe it to those who have gone before us and to our future generations to provide a complete representation of our nation’s heritage. We will continue to fight until this is achieved in the Capitol Visitor Center. 
And while his comments helped to trigger a quasi-custody battle over the type of history to be presented at the Capitol Visitor Center, Representative Forbes is far from alone in his sentiments. Over the past couple of decades, American society has witnessed a literal upheaval over the “founding legacy” of this country. Politicians, ministers and even some historians from all walks of life have endeavored to “save” America’s “lost” Christian heritage from the hands of those who they believe seek to remove God from the halls of government and the chronicles of American history. As historian Frank Lambert put it:
During the last two decades of the twentieth century and continuing into the twenty-first, Americans have engaged in a culture war that informs the country’s discourse in the new millennium. One side of the debate are those who insist that America has been since its conception a “Christian Nation,” and that somewhere along the way, as such it has lost its bearings. They blame “liberals” for not only turning their backs on the country’s religious heritage but openly attacking those who embrace “traditional” Christian values. 
It is this “Christian Nation” debate, which has successfully woven religion, politics, and history into a fabric of quasi-nationalism that has spawned a large grass roots movement to “resurrect” America’s lost heritage. Originally conceived out of the surge of Christian Conservatism in the 1960s and 1970s, this “Christian Nation” movement has evolved to encompass the majority of devout American Evangelicals, who, as a result of their religious and political devotion, have used the “Christian America” argument to create a new form of American Nationalism, or as Benedict Anderson would call it, an imagined community.
I. Roots of the Imagined CommunityTo effectively understand the “Christian Nation” phenomenon as being a nationalistic movement, it is important to recognize some of the key elements of nationalism itself. In his highly acclaimed book, Imagined Communities, Professor Benedict Anderson defines nationalism as:
an imagined political community -- and imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign. It is imagined because members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lies the image of their communion...it is limited because even the largest of them, encompassing perhaps a billion living human beings, has finite, if elastic, boundaries, beyond which lie other nations...Finally it is imagined as a community, because, regardless of the actual inequality and exploitation that may prevail in each, the nation is always conceived as a deep, horizontal comradeship. Ultimately it is the fraternity that makes it possible. 
In addition, the imagined community sees itself as a uniquely sovereign entity, free to determine its own fate as determined by its own set of rules. In essence, the imagined community becomes a collective body united by a common intangible creed, which is exalted by the masses to be an infinite and abiding truth.
When looking at the “Christian Nation” movement on the surface, it may seem far too vague to be considered an imagined community. After all, a mere hope or belief in the providential nature of one’s country hardly substantiates any claims of it being an imagined community. However, a more detailed analysis reveals the fact that the rise of Christian conservatism in the 1960s and 1970s spawned a highly organized and thoroughly indoctrinated mass movement (predominantly of Evangelical Christians), which does indeed constitute an imagined community. In his popular work on fundamentalism in America, historian George Marsden explains how the Christian culture evolved from a “soul-saving” enterprise into a vast and influential political machine. He writes:
The most striking feature of fundamentalism since the 1970s that distinguishes it from its forbearers is its deep involvement in mainstream national politics. This point must be stated carefully. Fundamentalism has always had political implications. One of the several dynamics shaping early fundamentalists was a sense of alarm over the demise of Christian culture…The question to be addressed then is: How did a soul-saving revivalistic movement that mostly steered clear of direct political involvement emerge at the end of the twentieth century as known especially for its political stances and influences? 
It is to the 1960s and 1970s that we must look to witness the birth and infancy of the Christian Nation movement, and its eventual evolution into an imagined community. As Marsden points out above, the emergence of Christian conservatism as a legitimate political force, allowed Evangelical Christian leaders to immerse themselves in the turbulent waters of American politics. As one prominent evangelical leader put it, “if ever there was a time when God needed a job done, it was during the 60s and 70s. The very future of our nation was at stake.”  Faced with an impending moral crisis brought on by the popular rights movements of the 1960s, Christian conservatives were forced to reassess their loyalties by proclaiming that it was time for Christians to reclaim America for Christ: “There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come. And the idea of reclaiming America for Christ has definitely come.” 
The reasons behind the Christian Nation’s desire to save America for Christ are simple. As George Marsden points out, “In the 1970s distress over rapidly changing public standards regarding sexuality and the family combined with longstanding anti-communist patriotism to make fundamentalistic evangelicals ripe for political mobilization.”  With the passage of several landmark Supreme Court cases restricting religious ceremonies in public schools, changing standards regarding sexual intimacy, and the right of a woman to choose an abortion, conservative Christians experienced a literal crisis of conscience, which pitted religious and patriotic loyalties against each other. 
In an effort to remedy the apparent dichotomy of religious and national duties, Evangelical leaders attacked what they saw as a blatant disregard for God’s laws. By casting the United States in a Sodom & Gomorrah-like role, Christian conservatives branded their dissent as the truest and holiest form of patriotism. As the Reverend Jerry Falwell stated, “All across the land people were just as afraid of the dangers that threatened the American family as we evangelical Christians were. It wasn’t necessary to be born again to hate abortion, the drug traffic, pornography, child abuse, and the immorality in all its ugly, life-destroying forms.”  By uniting together under the blanket of American immorality, Evangelical leaders were perfectly positioned to take the moral “pulse” of the nation, which was then infected with a fever of conservative Christian rhetoric aimed at polarizing the masses to embrace a new doctrine of politics mixed with religion.
In an effort to capitalize on an apparent political swing, Evangelical Christian leaders set out to establish a new breastwork of political ideology, which incorporated religious piety with political action. The result was an unlikely but extremely effective union of multiple faiths under the banner of a “new Christian Right” known effectively as the “Moral Majority.”  This new faith-based political organization included not only faithful evangelicals, but also brought disaffected Catholics, Mormons, Jews, and other religious denominations to the political table. 
The immediate impact of the Moral Majority was tremendous. Within three years of its conception the organization had raised over ten million dollars and had amassed a following of religious devotees who were willing to become Christian American soldiers at a moment’s notice. In addition, the Moral Majority had persuaded a large number of congressional representatives to not only support but also participate in the Moral Majority’s various activities across the nation, thus giving the organization added influence in the halls of government.  As the self-proclaimed chief of the Moral Majority put it, “This was war, and temporarily it was necessary to put aside the issues that divided us to work together for then goals we had in common…We registered voters. We informed them of the issues…We held rallies and parades. We filled tiny churches and great coliseums.”  These rallies often brought in huge amounts of cash along with new loyal recruits to the cause. The “I Love America” rallies, which were held in forty-four state capitols in the late 1970s, brought together conservative local, state, and federal legislators with Christian leadership, all of which served to promote the “new Religious Right” in its agenda of saving America from its immoral self.  As a result of these various rallies and their massive propaganda machine, the Moral Majority succeeded in uniting Christian groups with various conservative political associations, who before would never have considered such a union.  In fact, prior to the Moral Majority’s efforts to politicize their base, most Christian conservatives did not believe that America was facing a major moral dilemma, nor did they believe that America needed to be reclaimed for Christ.  Simply put, the Moral Majority achieved huge success in swaying the majority of Christian voters to their side. As a result, the line between the godly and the damned became clearer than ever.
With evangelical leaders now allied with policymakers in Washington, the question of where to draw the line between church and state became more problematic than ever. In an effort to justify their intrusion into politics, evangelical leaders were forced to redefine the role that religion (or Church) could have on government. D. James Kennedy, a prominent Evangelical leader, member of the board of directors for the Moral Majority, and passionate advocate for the “Christian America” movement, illustrated just how convoluted the church/state relationship had become for Evangelical Christians when he wrote, “The great misunderstanding of ‘the separation of church and state’ is closer in spirit and letter of the law to the old Soviet Union than it is to the spirit, letter of the law, and actions of the founders of this country.”  Or as one Mormon publication of this time put it, “Not only is the American constitutional system a freedom system requiring a religious citizenry for its successful operation, but its philosophical presuppositions are also rooted in a religious orientation toward life.”  By attempting to suggest that a separation between church and state was preposterous, Christian Nationalists had effectively declared war on those who sought to maintain a secular government. As a result, the Christian Nation had taken its first “baby steps” towards becoming an imagined community. By blaming all of America’s faults on the perceived alienation of Christianity, along with eliminating the annoying prerequisite of a separation between church and state, the Christian Nation was beginning its evolution towards becoming a legitimate and palpable entity in American culture and politics. The imagined “Christian Nation,” though still volatile and in its infancy, was born.
 Frank Lambert, The Founding Fathers and the Place of Religion in America (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003), 5.
 Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (New York: Verso, 2006) 6.
 George Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), 232.
 Jerry Falwell, Strength For the Journey: An Autobiography of Jerry Falwell (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1987), 362.
 D. James Kennedy, Beginning Again (Nashville: Coral Ridge Ministries Media Inc., 1989), 2.
 Marsden, Fundamentalism, 241.
 Sydney Ahlstrom, A Religious History of the American People (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1972), 1080-1082.
 Falwell, Strength for the Journey, 362.
 David Snowball, Continuity and Change in the Rhetoric of the Moral Majority (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1991), 50. Snowball points out that the establishment of the Moral Majority effectively united a mass of “disaffected conservatives” who numbered between 250,000 and 8 million strong, which was hardly a number to constitute a “majority” of the American population in 1979.
 Marsden, Fundamentalism, 242.
 Falwell, Strength for the Journey, 364.
 Michelle Goldberg, Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2006), 40-41.
 Falwell, Strength for the Journey, 364-365.
 Snowball, Continuity and Change, 64.
 Christian Smith, Christian America: What Evangelicals Really Want (Berkley, CA: University of California Press, 2000), 15.
 Ibid, 25. Smith points to several surveys in which only 40% of American Evangelicals stated that they believed America was or should be a Christian Nation, and that the nation was facing moral issues of an apocalyptic nature. After the efforts of the Moral Majority, however, these numbers drastically changed.
 D. James Kennedy, What If America Were a Christian Nation Again? (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1982), 5.
 Jerome Horowitz, The Elders of Israel and the Constitution (Salt Lake City, UT: Parliament Publishers, 1970), 29.