Home History How the battle over Christian nationalism typically begins with homeschooling

How the battle over Christian nationalism typically begins with homeschooling

How the battle over Christian nationalism typically begins with homeschooling
The Rev. Jesse Johnson speaks at Immanuel Bible Church in Springfield, Virginia. Photo courtesy of Johnson

The Rev. Jesse Johnson speaks at Immanuel Bible Church in Springfield, Virginia. Picture courtesy of Johnson

This text is a part of a sequence on Christian nationalism supported by the Pulitzer Middle.

(RNS) — The Rev. Jessie Johnson, instructing pastor at Immanuel Bible Church in Springfield, Virginia, rejects the thought of a Christian nation. “The federal government doesn’t set up church buildings nor ought to it,” he mentioned.

However Johnson additionally believes the Pilgrims who landed in Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 1620 had been heading in the right direction once they made a covenant with God to determine a Christian society.

“There must be an ethical compass for society,” he added.

As a result of Johnson and his spouse imagine American public faculties lack that compass, they homeschool their three youngsters. 

A motion that originated amongst educators on the left within the Seventies, homeschooling was more and more adopted by way of the Eighties and ’90s by conservative Christian households looking for to instill conventional values of their youngsters and defend them from an more and more secularized public faculty system.

The homeschooling inhabitants persistently hovered at round 2 million college students since then — a bit of greater than 3% of the nationwide pupil physique — till the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered in-person faculty and compelled youngsters into Zoom lecture rooms.

Photo by SofaTutor/Unsplash/Creative Commons

Picture by SofaTutor/Unsplash/Inventive Commons

In September 2020, six months into the pandemic, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that the share of homeschooled youngsters had shot as much as 11% of households. With the escalated numbers has additionally come elevated consideration to homeschooling.

Debates, in the meantime, have arisen over what youngsters are being taught about American historical past, partly in response to the 1619 Undertaking, a recounting of U.S. historical past that stresses the story of Black America, starting with the arrival of the primary slaves. The encompassing tradition warfare picked up on the controversy, leading to guide bans and accusations that academics are instructing elementary college students utilizing a authorized and tutorial framework often called important race principle.

These controversies have prompted the discharge of recent, politically charged homeschool curricula akin to Turning Level Academy, a product engineered by pro-Trump discuss present host Charlie Kirk that guarantees to ship an “America-first schooling.” One other, the Christendom Curriculum, touts itself as “America’s solely Christian Nationalist homeschool curriculum” and consists of “battle papers” that inform youngsters the right way to argue with the liberals who supposedly hate white Christians.

A few of these applications have tiny attain — Christendom Curriculum solely had 100 present subscribers as of September. However critics of non secular homeschooling say the identical Christian nationalist messages, if not the identical partisan divisions, have been current in the most well-liked and long-established curriculums utilized by Christian dad and mom.

Doug Pagitt. Courtesy photo

Doug Pagitt. Courtesy picture

“The ideology has been taking root for a minimum of a technology,” mentioned Doug Pagitt, an evangelical pastor in Minnesota and government director of Vote the Widespread Good, a progressive voting-rights group. Christian nationalist concepts are “in all places” in Christian schooling corporations’ supplies, Pagitt mentioned.

“It’s in there in theology. It’s in there in historical past. It’s in there in present occasions,” he mentioned.

A few of the hottest homeschool curriculum textbooks, produced by publishing giants Abeka, Accelerated Christian Schooling and Bob Jones College Press, educate that the primary Europeans to reach in Virginia and Massachusetts made a covenant with God to Christianize the land.

“The Historical past of the US in Christian Perspective,” a textbook from Abeka, guarantees college students: “You’ll learn the way God blessed America due to the rules (truths) for which America stands.”

These truths made America “the best nation on the face of the earth,” the guide says, earlier than issuing a warning: “No nation can stay nice with out God’s blessing.”

These corporations’ books provide college students an “unproblematic and unquestionably distinctive America,” mentioned Kathleen Wellman, professor of historical past at Southern Methodist College in Dallas and creator of “Hijacking Historical past: How the Christian Proper Teaches Historical past and Why It Issues,” in a column for RNS. 

Abeka’s historical past injects conservative values into newer historical past as effectively, noting that, “because the Sixties, selections of the Supreme Court docket and different judges have contributed to the ethical decline of our nation.”

Abeka, ACE and BJU Press declined to remark to RNS.

Photo by Jessica Lewis/Unsplash/Creative Commons

Picture by Jessica Lewis/Unsplash/Inventive Commons

RELATED: The best’s assaults on important race principle are an try to hijack historical past in faculties — once more (COMMENTARY)

The Abeka curriculum was born at Pensacola Christian Academy, a Ok-12 faculty on Florida’s panhandle based in 1954. Working initially from outdated public faculty textbooks, the college’s Southern Baptist founders, Arlin and Rebekah Horton, started publishing their textbooks in 1972 to produce the Christian faculties that had proliferated after Supreme Court docket rulings ended segregation in public schooling and banned non secular expression within the classroom.

As we speak, Pensacola Christian Academy’s web site boasts that each class is taught from a biblical perspective, and science instructors are specific about “God’s great design,” however college students additionally study the essential rules of chemistry and dissect frogs, a lot as secular college students do.

Tyler Burns. Photo by Hawa Images

Tyler Burns. Picture by Hawa Photographs

It’s within the humanities, particularly historical past, that former PCA college students say they had been indoctrinated right into a type of Christian triumphalism, through which American society was at its finest when it hewed to Christian religion.


“It was simply pure propaganda — nationalist propaganda,” mentioned Tyler Burns, a graduate of Pensacola Christian Academy. Former Republican President Ronald Reagan was handled as virtually the “fourth member of the Godhead,” Burns recalled.

An African American, Burns remembers feeling disoriented whereas being taught slavery was a “blessing in disguise” for introducing enslaved Africans to Christianity. Burns, now president of The Witness: A Black Christian Collective, has spoken extensively concerning the methods Christian schooling affected his potential to embrace his Black identification.

The white supremacist concepts that dismayed Burns might be present in Abeka’s residence historical past curriculum as effectively. It implies that Southern land homeowners had little selection however to purchase slaves to maintain up with the demand of elevating cotton and tobacco. “The Southern planter might by no means rent sufficient folks to get his work accomplished,” it reads, noting on the similar time that “just one out of 10 Southerners owned slaves.”

RELATED: What subsequent? Christian leaders provide recommendation for confronting Christian nationalism

In observe many homeschooling dad and mom vogue their very own studying lists to go well with their views or their youngsters’s skills. Stephanie Rotramel, who has homeschooled her three youngsters on and off since her oldest, now 17, was in preschool, mentioned homeschooling permits her flexibility to fulfill particular instructional wants.

Stephanie and Mark Rotramel with their children Becca, left, Nathan, rear, and Nicholas, front. Photo courtesy of Stephanie Rotramel

Stephanie and Mark Rotramel with their youngsters Becca, left, Nathan, rear, and Nicholas, entrance. Picture courtesy of Stephanie Rotramel

This yr, as her children head again to high school at residence, she’s utilizing principally Christian curricula, although not one of the ones talked about on this article. She desires to reveal her children to numerous views, although, and plans to complement the curricula with YouTube movies from Trevor Noah and with a “yr of nontraditional lit” — books akin to “Every part Unhappy Is Unfaithful,” by Daniel Nayeri, and “I Am Malala,” by the Pakistani schooling activist.

She doesn’t see giving a warts-and-all account of the nation’s historical past whereas sharing a Christian worldview together with her youngsters as contradictory.

Rotramel mentioned, as a Christian, she sees America as a spot “stuffed with sinners who want Jesus.” That features the Founding Fathers. It consists of Ronald Reagan, too.

The Rev. Jesse Johnson takes his three daughters on a field trip to Ellis Island in New York. The family studied how the founders of America saw the nation as a “city on a hill” and a “light to the world” (Matthew 5:14). Photo courtesy of Johnson

The Rev. Jesse Johnson takes his three daughters on a discipline journey to Ellis Island in New York. The household studied how the founders of America noticed the nation as a “metropolis on a hill” and a “mild to the world,” from Matthew 5:14. Picture courtesy of Johnson

“I really feel like that’s the message of the Bible,” she mentioned. “We’re all tousled. We want Jesus.” 


The Rev. Johnson agrees. He mentioned he and his spouse attempt to educate their youngsters concerning the methods the US has fallen wanting the values of Christianity — particularly in relation to race.

So whereas the Johnsons have their youngsters learn the Mayflower Compact, the Pilgrims’ constitution for his or her new society that might honor the glory of God and the “development of the Christian religion,” the household has traveled to Charleston, South Carolina, to check the historical past of slavery and have made repeated journeys to the Manassas Nationwide Battlefield Park, not removed from the place they now make their residence, the place two main Civil Warfare battles had been fought.

“We all know whose facet we’re on,” mentioned Johnson, including that slavery violated the Christian supreme that every one persons are made in God’s picture — a founding American precept, he mentioned.

The drumbeat of white supremacy and Christian nationalism prior to now few years has additionally satisfied some conservative Christian curriculum writers that they need to revise their supplies.

“America the Beautiful" resources from Notgrass History. Image courtesy of Notgrass History

“America the Stunning” sources from Notgrass Historical past. Picture courtesy of Notgrass Historical past

Charlene Notgrass, who runs Notgrass Historical past together with her husband, Ray, a retired pastor, from their residence in Tennessee, has been writing U.S. historical past and civics classes for Christian homeschool households because the early Nineteen Nineties.


On the time, most homeschoolers had been both “conservative Christians or hippies,” mentioned Charlene, 68. Many of the early homeschool textbooks mirrored that.

As we speak, they are saying, homeschooling is extra numerous — each politically and ethnically. The couple mentioned they’ve needed to continue to learn about missed components of historical past and to mirror that new data of their merchandise.

In 2020, amid the George Floyd protests and a contested election, Charlene Notgrass completed a brand new revision of “America the Stunning,” their highschool historical past textual content. “Too typically,” it reads, “folks haven’t believed that we’re all equally priceless creations of God. Subsequently, generally folks deal with people who find themselves totally different from themselves — in pores and skin shade, in nationality, in political celebration, within the sum of money they’ve — as much less priceless.

Ray and Charlene Notgrass. Photo courtesy of Notgrass History

Ray and Charlene Notgrass. Picture courtesy of Notgrass Historical past

“No two People are probably ever to assume precisely alike about every little thing,” it concludes, “however we nonetheless should respect one another.”


The Notgrasses describe themselves as “patriotic People” and need college students who learn their classes to like their nation, however additionally they need them to know the reality.

“We don’t assume People are God’s chosen folks, the way in which the Israelites are God’s chosen folks,” mentioned Charlene Notgrass. “The Bible tells us point-blank that God selected the Israelites. It doesn’t inform us point-blank that God selected America.”

READ THE FULL SERIES: Christian nationalism after the Jan. 6 assault

RNS nationwide correspondent Yonat Shimron contributed to this report.


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