Robert K. Vischer (Interim President & Former Dean, St. Thomas; Google Scholar), Christian Nationalism and the Rule of Law:
Current threats to the rule of law in the United States emerge, at least in part, from a nationalism shaped by a distinctly American vision of Christianity. Defenders of the rule of law must therefore respond in terms that confront the religious dimension of the threat directly. Religiously affiliated law schools should be key contributors to this conversation, modeling a faith-shaped discourse that avoids invoking Christianity as a conversation-stopper, as a signal of self-righteousness, or as a means to stir up hatred of “the other.” How might the public witness of our faith support, rather than impede, the rule of law?
Understanding what healthy Christian political engagement looks like — and how Christian nationalism has fallen short — is important for law schools, which are tasked with training attorneys to be faithful stewards of the rule of law. Too often, we overlook the extent to which this stewardship must include a recognition of, and response to, religion’s role in American politics. Becoming familiar with First Amendment case law is not sufficient. Learning to “think like a lawyer” need not (and should not) preclude the meaningful exploration of faith, both because faith will often be among the lawyer’s own deeply held and professionally relevant commitments, and because even non-religious lawyers will counsel and advocate in a deeply religious society.
The fact that our faculties lean decidedly to the left may tempt law schools to embrace the nation’s deepening political tribalism and neglect to undertake the hard work of building understanding across the cultural divide. This is especially true when one’s political opponents are motivated, at least in part, by religious belief. Few law schools devote significant time to understanding the relationship between faith and law, much less recognizing and articulating instances when faith traditions have been twisted to support new political ends.
Pushing back against Christian nationalism does not require a retreat to some sort of imagined secular space — the resources for resistance are available within Christianity itself. We are, as Harold Laski put it, “bundles of hyphens,” and American Christians who are lawyers and law professors should speak to this cultural moment, not only as stewards of the rule of law, but as stewards of their faith tradition. Christian nationalists are espousing a version of the faith that has profound and dangerous consequences for the rule of law. We cannot defend the rule of law by relying solely on arguments that fail to address the foundational claims from which threats emerge. Christian nationalism is one such threat, and we need to respond — as lawyers, and perhaps more importantly, as Christians.