Half of residents in 11 Southern states believe that America was founded as an explicitly Christian nation, a recent Winthrop University poll found.
The view is a crux of Christian Nationalism, said poll director Scott Huffman. Those who espouse Christian Nationalist beliefs support the idea that the United States should be governed as an explicitly Christian nation, protecting Christians and Christian values.
“Research has shown that increases in Christian Nationalist beliefs lead to more exclusionary views on immigration and more negative views of multi-culturalism in America," Huffmon said. "Those who hold these views care more about whether they have a strong leader who will protect their religious and cultural values than whether a leader is individually pious.”
The Winthrop University Poll randomly dialed and questioned 969 residents in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia between Nov. 10-20 and Nov. 26-Dec. 2. Results have an error margin of plus or minus 3.15 percent.
The poll found that half of residents either agree or strongly agree that America was founded as an explicitly Christian nation.
This position is particularly popular among white evangelicals. In the survey, three-fourths of white evangelical respondents agree or strongly agree with this belief about how the nation was founded.
Some evangelicals were surprised at the survey's results. The Rev. Dr. Kevin Baird, a conservative who pastors Charleston Legacy Church in West Ashley, said he thought there would have been less agreement among Southerners on whether the nation was founded as a Christian country.
"I'm surprised in a good way," Baird said. "My presumption would have been that there would have been less that would have been agreed with that. I’m heartened that I would have been wrong."
Baird, who said America was founded on Christian precepts, added that there are many topics about which most conservative Christians agree, like abortion and same-sex marriage. But other areas, like immigration, can be dicier.
“How to deal with the immigrant is a challenging one because safety is in the hands of civic government. ... But at the same time, we're under mandate to deal appropriately with the foreigner and stranger," Baird said.
This survey also provided insight into President Donald Trump's popularity in the South.
More than 80 percent of evangelicals voted for Trump in 2016. The poll found that 80 percent of Republican (or Republican leaning) Southerners approve of Trump, while only 4 percent of Democrats do. Trump has a 44 percent approval rating among all respondents and a 48 percent disapproval rating.
“Make America Christian Again: Christian Nationalism and Voting for Donald Trump in the 2016 Presidential Election," by Andrew L. Whitehead, Samuel L. Perry and Joseph O. Baker, asserts that many evangelicals voted for Trump to preserve the United States' perceived Christian heritage, even though they thought Trump behaved immorally.
Baird, who noted that he did not vote for Trump in 2016, agreed.
"In 2016, evangelicals were so concerned about the direction of the country that when they were comparing Hillary Clinton, they held their nose and voted for Donald Trump.”
The Rev. Joseph Darby, first vice president for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in Charleston, disagreed with claims that the country was intended to be explicitly Christian.
Darby, who also pastors Nichols Chapel AME in Charleston, didn't mince words in describing Christian nationalists and white evangelical denominations with exclusionary views on immigration and multiculturalism.
"It's called Christian hypocrisy," Darby said.
Darby added that the country should not be in favor of one particular religion. Rather, he said politicians and voters should "love God and love others as we would be loved."
"If the laws reflect that, we’d be one nation under all," he said. "If you have something that’s exclusively Christian, you’re walking a very slippery, nationalist slope. Everyone in America is not Christian."