Many are asking why the United States is having such a hard time curtailing the coronavirus within its borders. An equally perplexing point of discussion is why adherence to things like social distancing measures, designed to slow the spread of the virus, have become politicized in the U.S. According to a new study, Christian nationalism may give us some insight into both of these questions. The study, published in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, proposes that Christian nationalists are the ones most likely to eschew precautionary measures and engage in “incautious” activity, thus “potentially worsening the pandemic.”
“We find Christian nationalism was the leading predictor that Americans engaged in incautious behavior like eating in restaurants, visiting family/friends, or gathering with 10+ persons (though not attending church), and was the second strongest predictor that Americans took fewer precautions like wearing a mask or sanitizing/washing one’s hands,” the authors of the study write. In other words, Christian nationalists are less likely to do the things that scientists and government officials have proposed to slow the spread of the coronavirus and are more likely to engage in activities that spread it.
Furthermore, the study proposes that what prompts this incautious response is Christian nationalists’ beliefs. Namely, “belief in divine protection, distrust of scientists and the news media, and devotion to Trump.”
The study, titled “Culture Wars and COVID-19 Conduct: Christian Nationalism, Religiosity, and Americans’ Behavior During the Coronavirus Pandemic,” was authored by Samuel Perry, Andrew Whitehead, and Joshua Grubbs and published on July 26, 2020. (It is important to note that this study has not yet been peer-reviewed.)
Who Is Considered a Christian Nationalist?
To determine who falls into the category of Christian nationalists, the authors constructed a scale from measures other surveys, like the Baylor Religion Surveys and the Chapman University Survey of American Fears, have asked. Participants of these surveys are asked how strongly they agree or disagree with the following statements:
“The federal government should declare the United States a Christian nation,”
“The federal government should advocate Christian values,”
“The federal government should enforce strict separation of church and state (reverse coded),”
“The federal government should allow prayer in public schools,”
“The federal government should allow religious symbols in public spaces,” and
“The success of the United States is part of God’s plan.”
Respondents are then placed on a scale from 0-24 based on their responses, to give an indication of the level to which they agree with Christian nationalism.
According to the authors of the study, what sets Christian nationalists apart from other devout Americans is “an ideology that connects disregard for scientific expertise; a conception of Americans as God’s chosen and protected people; distrust for news media; and allegiance to Trump.” Christian nationalists are even distinguished from theologically conservative Christians in the study. However, the authors are coming from the understanding that there is some overlap between Christian nationalists and white evangelicals, for instance. In a separate article, two of the study’s authors make a case that 70-75 percent of white evangelicals are “friendly” to Christian nationalist views.
Christian Nationalists Are Less Likely to Practice Precaution
The study defines incautious behavior as doing things like eating in restaurants, visiting family or friends, and gathering with ten or more people. Cautious behavior (or taking precaution), on the other hand, is defined as avoiding large gatherings of people, avoiding non-essential shopping, washing or sanitizing hands more often, wearing a mask, and avoiding touching one’s face.
According to study results, Christian nationalists were less likely to do each of the precautionary things, with the exception of using more hand sanitizer than normal. They were also associated with engaging in five points of incautious behavior more often than others. Namely, eating at restaurants, attending gatherings of ten or more people, visiting family and friends, going shopping for nonessential items, and going to the grocery or drug store.
Conversely, religious people who don’t ascribe to Christian nationalists beliefs, on the other hand, were associated with being more observant of the precautionary measures. This group was associated with every precautionary measure and didn’t engage in incautious behavior more than the average respondent. “Once we account for Christian nationalism, devout Americans are more likely to alter their behavior and wash hands or sanitize more often, wear a mask, and avoid touching their face,” the study reads.
The study was conducted using surveys given in three segments starting in August 2019, then February 2020, and finally May 2020. The conclusion the authors came to was based on 1,255 respondents.
Study co-author Perry, who is a Sociology professor at the University of Oklahoma, spoke to the Christian Post to unpack some of the findings. Perry pointed to Christian Nationalist’s allegiance to Trump and explained that because the president “wasn’t really encouraging a lot of precautions regarding coronavirus early on,” it should come as no surprise that this group has also neglected these behaviors. Additionally, because of their distinct beliefs, Perry says Christian nationalists believe “the solution to coronavirus is not necessarily to wash your hands more or use hand sanitizer, or wear masks or social distance.” Rather, they believe the solution is to “repent … of our … immorality publicly.”