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"What Were They Thinking?" Let Me Tell You

In 2013, for reasons I am not sure I fully understand today, I decided to return to school in my 50s, to pursue a Ph.D. in American history. Eight years later I was looking forward to the release of a book that was a re-work of my doctoral dissertation. This book, ONE LIFE TO GIVE, shows how ancient traditions of English Protestant martyrdom helped shape the American Revolution.


And then came January 6, 2021.


In the aftermath of that tragic day, I heard observers of American politics ask over and over again: "What were they thinking?"


The answer to this question can be found in my new book, AMERICAN HERESY: The Roots and Reach of White Christian Nationalism, which you can pre-order now:


A frank assessment of early American history reveals that dramatic displays of cultural resentment, political extremism, and white racism reflect deep convictions that are neither marginal nor novel to American culture. Rather, they reflect a brand of Christian religiosity that is intrinsically American. This religiosity can be traced to the very earliest English colonization of North America. It played a critical – I believe indispensable – role in the founding of the United States. It has never ceased from shaping the spiritual lives of white Americans and our nation’s public landscape.


White Christian Nationalism is not a fringe movement embraced only by a violent few. It is not something that exists “out there,” in a group of “others.” Polling shows that the attitudes associated with White Christian Nationalism thrive along a spectrum and can be found within every Christian denomination.[i] If those of us who are White and American and Christian are honest with ourselves, we will recognize ourselves on this spectrum.


American Heresy invites all Americans to accept that our national history has been shaped by a pernicious strain of the Christian tradition that is rightly called White Christian Nationalism. It extends a more intimate and personal challenge to those of us who consider ourselves white and Christian and American. It is easy to denounce extreme examples of white supremacy as perversions of the Christian faith. But White Christian Nationalism is a spiritual inheritance shared by all white American Christians, not just those who march in white supremacist demonstrations or who stormed the U.S. Capitol building on January 6, 2021.


Thank you to all who have followed my writing in the past. Moving forward I hope to share reflections like this with you in the form of a monthly newsletter, to which you can subscribe here. And whether you'd like an autographed copy from me, or a print or e-book from your favorite bookseller, thank you for pre-ordering now. Pre-orders make for an important measure of a book's long-term success.


John Fanestil



[i] For an excellent elaboration of this point, see Robert P. Jones, White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2020), 9. What Jones says about “white supremacy” is equally true of White Christian Nationalism: its “norms … have become deeply and broadly integrated into white Christian identity, operating far below the level of consciousness.”.

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