Is the United States sliding toward theocracy?

Warning signs are flashing. Overtly religious rhetoric is on the rise, especially among Republicans who support a second Trump presidential term and those who tout his stolen election lie. Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, who says she is a “proud Christian nationalist,” compared Trump to a “persecuted” Jesus Christ when the former president was arraigned on 34 felony counts in Manhattan last year. “Jesus was arrested and murdered by the Roman government,” she said pointedly. Trump himself claims to be “a very proud Christian” who will protect “the cross of Christ” from secularists. MAGA-style red caps are distributed at his appearances with the slogan “Make America Pray Again.”

Christian nationalism is gaining influence, including in Congress and state legislatures, although its definition is murky even among some who claim to be adherents. The nonpartisan polling firm Public Religion Research Institute tried to home in on a definition in a survey last year of 22,000 adults. Those who said they identified or sympathized with Christian nationalism upheld five key principles, most fundamentally that “The U.S. government should declare America a Christian nation.” Many believed not just that religion should be brought more fully into the public square but that “God has called on Christians to exercise dominion over all areas of American society.”

All areas. So, not confined to restricting abortion rights or even birth control. The Heritage Foundation — once a mainstream conservative think tank now completely in thrall to Trumpism — has produced a blueprint for a second Trump term known as “Project 2025.” The agenda calls for overturning policies supporting gay rights and single motherhood, and, for good measure (in a tweet), “ending recreational sex.” Trump has pledged to create a federal task force to investigate and prosecute “anti-Christian bias” should he win a second term.

The establishment clause of the Constitution’s First Amendment (“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”) periodically creates friction in a country where 63 percent of the population still identify as Christian. Protest, albeit muted, greeted president Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1954 when he signed legislation adding the words “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance. Skirmishes over symbolic displays of the Ten Commandments or a nativity creche in front of town hall have kept the American Civil Liberties Union busy for years.

But what’s happening now isn’t just symbolic. A religious divide between political parties has been widening for years: Fully 99 percent of Republicans in Congress identify as Christian, far outpacing both Democrats (76 percent) and the public at large. Now Trump — manifestly not a pious man personally — wants to finish the job. Speaking to religious broadcasters in Nashville last month, Trump bluntly chose up sides. “How any Christian can vote for a Democrat — Christian, or person of faith, a person of faith — how you can vote for a Democrat is crazy,” he said.

Let’s be clear that the problem is not individual Americans allowing their religious beliefs to determine how they vote, or even the merging of faith with public life more broadly. Plenty of social movements, from civil rights to environmentalism, derive their moral power from sincere religious beliefs. The danger comes when one particular religion imposes its beliefs on others, denying pluralism, compromise, and free expression — the very pillars of American democracy.

Do we really want to live in a country where the prime minister consecrates a temple to the nation’s majority religion built on the ruins of a minority religion’s mosque, destroyed in a spasm of sectarian violence (India, dominated today by Hindu nationalism) or where being part of a peace movement is conflated with the worst kind of religious bigotry (Israel)? The United States has in the past several decades been roiled by culture wars and stressed by a red-blue civil war. It’s not entirely clear the republic can survive a religious war.

Renée Loth’s column appears regularly in the Globe.

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