"Vote The Bible" banner during the 2004 US presidential election campaign in a rural southern Ohio neighborhood.

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Christian Populism

Until recently, according to an article, scant attention had been paid to the role of Christianity in Western populist movements. In Italy, Poland, Switzerland, Hungary, Austria, and to a lesser or different extent Russia, Germany, the UK, and the Scandinavian countries, populist parties have drawn on Christian language, Christian imagery and superficially Christian concerns. A handful of examples illustrate this.

The article states that for over a decade now, Italy’s Lega Nord (‘Northern League’) has repeatedly emphasised the defense of ‘the Christian people’, and focussed on Christian symbols in public and state spaces, seeking to protect crucifixes from the encroachment of human rights, multiculturalism and Muslims. The Austrian Freedom Party has explicitly identified Christianity as the ‘spiritual foundation of Europe’, spoken out against hedonistic consumption and aggressive capitalism, and launched campaigns in favour of church bells over against the Islamic Muezzin.

The Swiss People’s Party has campaigned vigorously against new mosques and minarets. In Hungary, Viktor Orban’s governing Fidesz party and, even more so the far right Jobbik party, have repeatedly placed stress on the need to protect Christendom against Muslims, and the evils of liberalism and multiculturalism that make straight the path for them.

Apart from its theological definition, according to an article by Olivier Roy, when the populists refer to Christianity it is as an identity, with the explicit goal of excluding Islam from Europe. “Christianity is for them a cultural factor, not a value system. Their support for the exhibition of Christian symbols or for the exclusion of Islamic symbols is never connected with a rise of Christian demonstration of faith (church attendance, enrolment in seminaries),” said Roy.

To Roy, the Christian identity defended by the populists has little to do with Christianity: “It is a tautology, ‘we are what we are’, and thus ‘we’ should reject Islam. They turn Christianity into some sort of a folkloric set of tribal symbols, not into a culture, and when they contrast European values with Islam it is often the same values that are rejected by the Church and the evangelicals (feminism, sexual freedom etc.)”.

There is no correlation between the rise of the populists in elections and the rise of Christian and/or conservative values in opinion polls, or even in laws made by the different parliaments,” said Roy and added that “The Church position is ambiguous. On one hand, it clearly rejects the values defended by the populists (on migrants), but it also rejects liberal, secular views (for instance, on the family). Many bishops see support for the populists and the conservative right as a lesser evil in terms of defending the Church’s values but are reluctant to openly join the anti-immigrant stance which is the very core of the populist mobilization.

Read More

Arter, David; The Finnish Christian League: Party or ‘Anti‐Party’? Scandinavian Political Studies, June 1980, Vol.3(2), pp.143-162.

Berlet, Chip; The Christian Right’s Staying Power, Ragsdale, Katherine; The Progressive, Jul 2008, Vol.72(7), pp.26-28.

Berlet, Chip; Christian identity: the apocalyptic style, political religion, palingenesis and neo-fascism, Totalitarian Movements and Political Religions, 01 January 2004, Vol.5(3), pp.469-506.

Arzheimer, Kai and Elisabeth Carter. “Christian Religiosity and Voting for West European Radical Right Parties.” West European Politics 32.5 (2009): 985–1011. doi:10.1080/01402380903065058 

De Koster, Willem and Jeroen van der Waal; ‘Cultural Value Orientations and Christian Religiosity: On Moral Traditionalism, Authoritarianism, and Their Implications for Voting Behavior.’ International Political Science Review 28(4), 451-467.

T. Immerzeel, E. Jaspers, M. Lubbers, Radical right parties have the potential to colonise the traditional support base of Western Europe’s Christian DemocratsLSE European Politics and Policy (EUROPP) Blog.

Siegers, Pascal, and Alexander Jedinger. 2020. “Religious Immunity to Populism: Christian Religiosity and Public Support for the Alternative for Germany.” German Politics online first. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09644008.2020.1723002

“Christian Violence in America.” Annals of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (special issue on Religion in America, edited by Wade Clark Roof), v 558, July 1998, 88-100.