The Rev. Jessie Johnson, teaching pastor at Immanuel Bible Church in Springfield, Virginia, rejects the idea of a Christian nation. “The government doesn’t establish churches nor should it,” he said.
But Johnson also believes the Pilgrims who landed in Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 1620 were on the right track when they made a covenant with God to establish a Christian society.
“There has to be a moral compass for society,” he added.
Because Johnson and his wife believe American public schools lack that compass, they homeschool their three children.
A movement that originated among educators on the left in the 1970s, homeschooling was increasingly adopted through the 1980s and ’90s by conservative Christian families seeking to instill traditional values in their children and protect them from an increasingly secularized public school system.
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The homeschooling population consistently hovered at around 2 million students since then — a little more than 3% of the national student body — until the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered in-person school and forced children into Zoom classrooms.
In September 2020, six months into the pandemic, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that the share of homeschooled children had shot up to 11% of households. With the escalated numbers has also come increased attention to homeschooling.
Debates, meanwhile, have arisen over what children are being taught about American history, partly in response to the 1619 Project, a recounting of U.S. history that stresses the story of Black America, beginning with the arrival of the first slaves. The surrounding culture war picked up on the controversy, resulting in book bans and accusations that teachers are instructing elementary students using a legal and academic framework known as critical race theory.
These controversies have prompted the release of new, politically charged homeschool curricula such as Turning Point Academy, a product engineered by pro-Trump talk show host Charlie Kirk that promises to deliver an “America-first education.” Another, the Christendom Curriculum, touts itself as “America’s only Christian Nationalist homeschool curriculum” and includes “battle papers” that tell children how to argue with the liberals who supposedly hate white Christians.
Some of these programs have tiny reach — Christendom Curriculum only had 100 current subscribers as of September. But critics of religious homeschooling say the same Christian nationalist messages, if not the same partisan divisions, have been present in the most popular and long-established curriculums used by Christian parents.
“The ideology has been taking root for at least a generation,” said Doug Pagitt, an evangelical pastor in Minnesota and executive director of Vote the Common Good, a progressive voting-rights organization. Christian nationalist ideas are “all over the place” in Christian education companies’ materials, Pagitt said.
“It’s in there in theology. It’s in there in history. It’s in there in current events,” he said.
Some of the most popular homeschool curriculum textbooks, produced by publishing giants Abeka, Accelerated Christian Education and Bob Jones University Press, teach that the first Europeans to arrive in Virginia and Massachusetts made a covenant with God to Christianize the land.
“The History of the United States in Christian Perspective,” a textbook from Abeka, promises students: “You will learn how God blessed America because of the principles (truths) for which America stands.”
Those truths made America “the greatest nation on the face of the earth,” the book says, before issuing a warning: “No nation can remain great without God’s blessing.”
These companies’ books offer students an “unproblematic and unquestionably exceptional America,” said Kathleen Wellman, professor of history at Southern Methodist University in Dallas and author of “Hijacking History: How the Christian Right Teaches History and Why It Matters,” in a column for RNS.
Abeka’s history injects conservative values into more recent history as well, noting that, “since the 1960s, decisions of the Supreme Court and other judges have contributed to the moral decline of our country.”
Abeka, ACE and BJU Press declined to comment to media.
The Abeka curriculum was born at Pensacola Christian Academy, a K-12 school on Florida’s panhandle founded in 1954. Working initially from outdated public school textbooks, the school’s Southern Baptist founders, Arlin and Rebekah Horton, began publishing their textbooks in 1972 to supply the Christian schools that had proliferated after Supreme Court rulings ended segregation in public education and banned religious expression in the classroom.
Today, Pensacola Christian Academy’s website boasts that every class is taught from a biblical perspective, and science instructors are explicit about “God’s wonderful design,” but students also learn the basic principles of chemistry and dissect frogs, much as secular students do.
It is in the humanities, especially history, that former PCA students say they were indoctrinated into a form of Christian triumphalism, in which American society was at its best when it hewed to Christian faith.
“It was just pure propaganda — nationalist propaganda,” said Tyler Burns, a graduate of Pensacola Christian Academy. Former Republican President Ronald Reagan was treated as practically the “fourth member of the Godhead,” Burns recalled.
An African American, Burns remembers feeling disoriented while 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 about the ways Christian education affected his ability to embrace his Black identity.
The white supremacist ideas that dismayed Burns can be found in Abeka’s home history curriculum as well. It implies that Southern land owners had little choice but to buy slaves to keep up with the demand of raising cotton and tobacco. “The Southern planter could never hire enough people to get his work done,” it reads, noting at the same time that “only one out of 10 Southerners owned slaves.”
In practice many homeschooling parents fashion their own reading lists to suit their views or their children’s abilities. Stephanie Rotramel, who has homeschooled her three children off and on since her oldest, now 17, was in preschool, said homeschooling allows her flexibility to meet specific educational needs.
This year, as her kids head back to school at home, she’s using mostly Christian curricula, though none of the ones mentioned in this article. She wants to expose her kids to diverse perspectives, though, and plans to supplement the curricula with YouTube videos from Trevor Noah and with a “year of nontraditional lit” — books such as “Everything Sad Is Untrue,” by Daniel Nayeri, and “I Am Malala,” by the Pakistani education activist.
She doesn’t see giving a warts-and-all account of the country’s history while sharing a Christian worldview with her children as contradictory.
Rotramel said, as a Christian, she sees America as a place “full of sinners who need Jesus.” That includes the Founding Fathers. It includes Ronald Reagan, too.
“I feel like that’s the message of the Bible,” she said. “We’re all messed up. We need Jesus.”
The Rev. Johnson agrees. He said he and his wife try to teach their children about the ways the United States has fallen short of the values of Christianity — in particular when it comes to race.
So while the Johnsons have their children read the Mayflower Compact, the Pilgrims’ charter for their new society that would honor the glory of God and the “advancement of the Christian faith,” the family has traveled to Charleston, South Carolina, to study the history of slavery and have made repeated trips to the Manassas National Battlefield Park, not far from where they now make their home, where two major Civil War battles were fought.
“We know whose side we are on,” said Johnson, adding that slavery violated the Christian ideal that all people are made in God’s image — a founding American principle, he said.
The drumbeat of white supremacy and Christian nationalism in the past few years has also convinced some conservative Christian curriculum writers that they should revise their materials.
Charlene Notgrass, who runs Notgrass History with her husband, Ray, a retired pastor, from their home in Tennessee, has been writing U.S. history and civics lessons for Christian homeschool families since the early 1990s.
At the time, most homeschoolers were either “conservative Christians or hippies,” said Charlene, 68. Most of the early homeschool textbooks reflected that.
Today, they say, homeschooling is more diverse — both politically and ethnically. The couple said they’ve had to keep learning about overlooked parts of history and to reflect that new knowledge in their products.
In 2020, amid the George Floyd protests and a contested election, Charlene Notgrass finished a new revision of “America the Beautiful,” their high school history text. “Too often,” it reads, “people have not believed that we are all equally valuable creations of God. Therefore, sometimes people treat people who are different from themselves — in skin color, in nationality, in political party, in the amount of money they have — as less valuable.
“No two Americans are likely ever to think exactly alike about everything,” it concludes, “but we still must respect each other.”
The Notgrasses describe themselves as “patriotic Americans” and want students who read their lessons to love their country, but they also want them to know the truth.
“We don’t think Americans are God’s chosen people, the way the Israelites are God’s chosen people,” said Charlene Notgrass. “The Bible tells us point-blank that God chose the Israelites. It does not tell us point-blank that God chose America.”
Bob Smietana and Emily McFarlan Miller are national reporters for Religion News Service.
36 thoughts on “How the Battle Over Christian Nationalism Often Starts with Homeschooling”
Yeah, the “moral compass” that led the Mass Bay Puritans to kill Quakers and Baptists a go to war against other colonies to keep their version of of Christianity “pure” I’m sure you material covers that 🙄
I never heard of them going to war against other colonies. Where can I read more about that?
The Mayflower Compact also says that they are loyal subjects of King James.
And it also limits them to the northern parts of Virginia.
And the Jamestown Colony existed before the Plymouth colony, and they didn’t have such a compact.
“We don’t think Americans are God’s chosen people, the way the Israelites are God’s chosen people,” said Charlene Notgrass. “The Bible tells us point-blank that God chose the Israelites. It does not tell us point-blank that God chose America.”
It was an informative article.It was fairly good in fact. However, much as Christian nationalism has become a term used by many, it is really an oxymoron if there ever was one! The last statement of the article quoted above did somewhat point that out.
Again, I will mention the following thesis that was written by a Lutheran pastor of a fairly conservative nature- -though who certainly would not be considered a “Christian Nationalist”!
‘”Heal their land”: Evangelical political theology from the Great Awakening to the Moral Majority’
Joseph P. Harder PhD.
The above article is a free PDF to download, and perhaps even it should be used in homeschooling? ;-)
Why in the world are they quoting Doug Pagitt? He is a self-proclaimed “Progressive Christian,” which is an entirely different gospel than Christianity (note that the term has nothing to do with politics). Why not get some mormons, jehovah’s witnesses, and Christian Scientists to weigh in while they’re at it? Someone call up Mitt Romney.
Good point. What direction is Roys Report going? This was a really shallow article.
I agree. I was troubled by his use as an authority as well. It automatically gives the impression that the article is sneaking in editorializing under the guise of reporting. I felt the later part of the article was more restrained and balanced, but the first part bothered me.
Randal Rauser has been trying for months to find someone who will defend this position popularized by Alisa Childers that progressive Christians and not real Christians.
Curiously enough, he’s found no takers willing to defend Childers’ thesis. One wonders why the reluctance to defend her arguments (a couple of which she’s already had to walk back)
Purity tests are not a great look for any Christian.
Sorry, but I can’t take Rauser seriously. And Childers is more right than wrong.
By the way, I didn’t need Alisa Childers to know that the majority of what passes for progressive Christianity is a departure from what the apostle Jude calls ” the faith given once for all the saints.” Contrary to your comment about purity tests, we are called to contend for that faith and to reject and rebuke false teachers and false teaching.
Thanks for the article – as long recognized, evangelical home-schools are a hot-bed of radical extremism – and simply blatant misinformation….
Being taught by people with no business teaching children other than the basics of how to speak their native language.
We homeschooled four children into adulthood, went to conventions, and saw the good, bad, and ugly that is usually present in any movement, including the homeschool movement. But it was mostly good, not the bigoted stereotype that is sloppily portrayed by this article.
I’m not surprised when I see the source is Religious News Service (RNS), as they tend to lean left. What does bother me is that RNS and its bias seems to be more and more the “go-to” for the Roys Report. I’m worried the Roys Report is becoming what it sought (I believed) to correct: big money, growth-hungry organizational imperatives that overshadow sound doctrine, accuracy, and honest reporting.
I can assure you, The Roys Report is not big money or growth-hungry. And our number-one commitment is to the truth. This article was published by RNS. And through an agreement with RNS, we are able to republish some of their articles. Some we reject because we detect a bias. I knew this one would be controversial, but I thought it raised an important issue and presented both sides. The article may not have reported both sides well enough to satisfy some. But I believe the authors intended to be fair, and TRR did, as well.
There is so much more to this account, which seems to be tracking homeschooling twenty years ago, not today. It doesn’t even mention the Story of the World, the most widely used curriculum among home schoolers. If there are reporters out there who want to do a deeper dive, I’m available to chat.
I totally agree with Susan Wise Bauer and I’m glad you’ve left a comment. Why all the focus on Abeka – one curriculum, when there are so many history curriculums and books being used? A very shallow article.
It is clear that there are “cultural Christians” and Christians who are bound to biblical admonitions for behaviour. Just as there are “cultural atheists” like Stalin and Mao and your friendly neighbourhood atheist.
I agree! Susan Wise Bauer wrote an excellent, four year curriculum for world history which I used for about twenty of my thirty two years of homeschooling. I do not espouse Christian Nationalism, but also do not deny that there were, and still are, many who take that stand.
I feel that our children received both a godly and balanced and well informed education , which enabled them to enter high school , join the military, work as accountants and book keepers and clerks, teach English overseas for ten years, and become skilled construction labourers. All with a view to glorifying God in their jobs and families, and not constructing a Christian nation…though here in Canada, we sing, “God keep our land, glorious and free” in our anthem.
The Abeka and Bob Jones curriculum “educated” me for four and a half years of elementary school. Decades later I’m still having to both deprogram from it and finally learn the things I was kept from studying. Some say the most important part of school is what one learns outside the classroom, the social aspect that comes from interacting with other students. Not only does homeschool rob a child of that this type of “learning” material takes away a full and healthy academic foundation as well, leaving them socially and intellectually weak. That is the type of kid that cults, such as Christian Nationalism, prefer since they are easier to control. God is truth, not fearful of it… Thanks for this information.
I beg to differ. My wife and I homeschooled our ten children using ABeka curriculum. Our children learned socialization skills from us, the parents, not from other children. Our children, without exception, were leaders among their piers and stood out as examples of the virtues young people are called to project.
All my son learned in public school was how to be laughed at, bullied, made fun of,feel like a failure, feel worthless, suicidal, because he was different than everyone else. He was special Ed. And struggled to learn. I was able to work with him at home. I coached him with reading, biology, astronomy, history. (We watched historical docudrama together like I Claudius, and such I took him to JPL, natural history museums, science museums. I taught him some basics of medicine and first aid ( I was working on my RN at the time) He learned more from me than he ever did in public school!
Before we go criticizing home schooling, perhaps we should consider the state of public schools.
In 2004, the Thomas Fordham Foundation released the results of a study showing that eleven percent of the general public in America send their children to private schools. Among public school teachers that figure nearly doubled to twenty percent and the same study found that in America’s big cities, between thirty and forty percent of public school teachers choose private education for their children. What do these public school teachers know about public schools that the rest of us don’t that they have evidently decided that the public schools are no place for their children.
I appreciate your post, Mark!
“ I’ve noticed a fascinating phenomenon in my thirty years of teaching: schools and schooling are increasingly irrelevant to the great enterprises of the planet. No one believes anymore that scientists are trained in science classes or politicians in civics classes or poets in English classes. The truth is that schools don’t really teach anything except how to obey orders. This is a great mystery to me because thousands of humane, caring people work in schools as teachers and aides and administrators, but the abstract logic of the institution overwhelms their individual contributions. Although teachers to care and do work very, very hard, the institution is psychopathic — it has no conscience. It rings a bell and the young man in the middle of writing a poem must close his notebook and move to a different cell where he must memorize that humans and monkeys derive from a common ancestor.”
John Taylor Gatto, Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling
“Public” schools really are State schools.
I appreciate your posts Mark and Kenly. Everyone should read John Taylor Gatto, John Holt, and Ivan Illich. People seem to forget that almost every child was educated at home in the past. I also do not think that this article is well measured or accurate. The reality is that if you want your child to remain excited about learning, self-motivated, and able to read, write and do basic math by age 16, removing them from U.S. public school is a *must*.
I think this article calls for a more nuanced response than maybe how things were presented, and also in how it is being received.
Seeing a link and wanting to investigate it is not inappropriate in my experience.
I also homeschooled my children. I also used materials from publishing houses that have been questioned in the article.
I do not live in the USA. Through homeschooling I was exposed to a now defunct organization that had its roots firmly planted in the Christian Nationalist camp. One family that we were friends with attempted to actually move to the USA so they could be part of the “move of God” that was happening there. The idea of a “Christian Nation” came through very strongly in our materials, and caused some degree of confusion and a feeling of belonging to a “second class citizenship” for my non US kids.
Whilst I agree that the title of the article is maybe too incendiary, the issues that it is trying to raise should perhaps be looked into and addressed with a willingness to listen -and to consider other viewpoints, rather than a “it worked for me, period,” approach.
Our family’s story doesn’t really end with school material. The one who was most affected by our family’s foray into homeschooling and the subsequent shift into the Christian Nationalist movement is my ex husband. A much longer story there.
It’s that public schools are horribly underfunded, poorly run, and overwhelmed by bureaucratic systems that stifle criticism and creativity.
I have no problem with homeschooling or private schools. (I started in public school, then moved to private as the public school I was in did not have funding for Gifted and Talented – leaving teachers to just give me additional homework, which made me feel punished for having high test scores). I DO have a problem with parents giving “I don’t want my child to learn that” excuses that are simply the same brainwashing of which public schools are accused. This Christian Nationalism movement is both an oxymoron and a reaction to children learning that our history is not so black and white, full of complex humans versus saintly heroes.
Teach kids to be ethical, critical thinkers, writers, and doers who remain curious and studious well beyond their formative years. That will position them to excel in their careers and be innovative creators for the next generation.
This isn’t at all about Christian Nationalism, but about a Christian Worldview. It is the parent’s responsibility and duty to oversee what the child is being taught in school and out of school. There really is no higher calling in parenting than to ensure your child has a grip on the Word of God and that they come to know Christ at an early age—for sure before the teen years. If we fail at that, then we have indeed failed and the world system will engulf them.
Yes, it is a parents’ responsibility to ensure your child has a grip on the Word of God. BUT you can do that without brainwashing or shielding. I learned about all sorts of social, political, economic, and religious movements in school; and my parents would ask me what I agreed with (or not), and have me back it up with scripture. I hated it at the time (am grateful now), but I recall my parents having me write short essays about my views. I love they were teaching me to think for myself, not recite “I was raised to think..” or “my parents told me…” arguments that I heard (in disbelief) from the mouths of educated adults even after college.
IMO teaching kids how to critically think is better than demanding schools stop (or start) teaching things because of your beliefs. The world does not work that way. What about families who hold other beliefs? Must they bow to yours or just change schools?
I say this as someone who saw my mom’s efforts for a more robust Black History Month curriculum shot down by other parents because “MLK and Harriet Tubman are sufficient enough, and that’s not enough for a full month of material”. Yes, that was the argument of other Christian parents. Parents don’t like hearing this, but they can be wrong. Go look at pics of parents holding “segregation forever” signs outside of schools a few decades ago.
Instead of fighting against teachers (who are certified), how about coming together and working WITH teachers on HOW to introduce and discuss topics?
My husband and I homeschooled our two children for their K-12 education. We are Christians and what initially led us to consider homeschooling was tht both of us had taught in the Community College system and were troubled by what we saw in learning for too many high school graduates. We are both graduates of a top school and take education seriously. We liked being able to experience even more ‘firsts’ in learning with our children, not just, e.g., first steps… We grew tired of the comments we initially received about how would our children be ‘socialized’. The public school setting of grouping you with people only in your age group is an artificial setting that most will never encounter again in life. Our children grew up routinely interacting with people of all ages and repeatedly drew the attention of others for their ability to interact.
As for curricula, we did not use a particular curriculum, preferring rather to identify what books were considered good sources of knowledge and would appropriately challenge our children. While making math, reading, and writing non-negotiables, we also let them identify areas of interest to further explore. We used outside sources for music and art, and when a health issue arose for me, supplemented with some community college courses (our children placed in college level). Our main desire was for them to love learning and not lose their natural curiosity. One is now enjoying working in the world of software and the other is pursuing a PhD in the sciences at a top university. Both love God and look to serve Him, and give of themselves to serve others. It is God’s grace.
We agree with others who comment that this article started with a needless and unhelpful negative bias.
Thanks for sharing. It’s encouraging to hear stories like yours.
This is very encouraging to hear. I work in education and can state from firsthand knowledge that, regardless of political and/or religious concerns, public schools in the U.S. have been failing miserably for over 50 years. The very structure and organization of institutionalized schooling makes it nearly impossible for the singularly strong teachers and staff in schools to overcome institutional inertia. Everyone should read anything by John Taylor Gatto, John Holt, and Ivan Illich. They offer reasoned arguments and sane solutions.
Skyler, you said “ …public schools in the U.S. have been failing miserably for over 50 years.”
I would respectfully disagree in that Horace Mann would most likely be very proud of how his state run system of schooling has indoctrinated most of its pupils since he established it. In other words, it has accomplished the very thing it intended.
Having gone through state schooling early on, then Christian finishing K12, then Christian university, I can personally testify that I was mostly indoctrinated, or “schooled”, with a smaller amount of legit education here and there (successful indoctrination doesn’t happen apart from some solid education).
An example of the result of “schooling” from the above article:
“ The homeschooling population consistently hovered at around 2 million students since then — a little more than 3% of the national student body — until the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered in-person school and forced children into Zoom classrooms.”
The overwhelming evidence is that the state, not the “pandemic”, shuttered in-person schools.
“…I can personally testify that I was mostly indoctrinated…”. Well, that’s interesting that you can testify that. Can you prove it? Here’s an example of proof. My inexperienced sixth grade public school teacher “forgot”(her term) to send my paperwork for our systems gifted and talented program for two years. She admitted it. The system admitted it. And my mother insisted on sending my sister to a private school through 12th grade. That’s proof.
Christopher, Here’s a quote from a site regarding Sasha Latypova (MBA degree from Darmouth, retired pharmaceutical R&D executive):
“Sasha, who was born in the Soviet Union, observed that it really shouldn’t be hard to understand, because it’s one of the most common features of governments. Sooner or later, most of them kill off a lot of their own people, and a lot of people of other countries.
It’s a blind spot for many Americans mostly because Americans don’t learn about the government-run genocides of history in public schools, because that information is deliberately suppressed in American public school curricula.
I grew up in a psychologically-abusive family system my parents created and maintained, due to the forces that shaped them when they grew up in the 1940s and 1950s. Those forces shaped my strong critical thinking and bullshit-detection skills. I had to learn through painful, personal experience to see through lies, gaslighting and suppression of relevant counter-evidence, in order to maximize my odds of emotional and cognitive survival.”
Most Christian private schools/universities and homeschoolers don’t learn about it either – I know I didn’t.
The concept of Christian Nationalism concerns me for a number of reasons. One of which is?
There are many versions of Christian Nationalism all competing for power.
The large majority of evangelical parents do not send send their kids to a Christian school or home school their children. However, they are totally happy with sending their kids to a public school to learn all types of secular/materialistic thought.
Oh by the way only 6% of adults in the U.S. have a biblical worldview…… yea….go figure…..
Isn’t it the parents responsibility to instill the word in their children? That way their children know what to ask and how to approach learning and thinking about beliefs and events that don’t line up with scripture.
To expect a public school – where we have separation of church and state, freedom of religion, and students, teachers and administrators of various faiths and belief systems – to instill Christian views is very flawed.
Education is not all on teachers NOR is it all on parents. It takes a village to raise a child, and it’s important teachers and parents work together. If anything, what I’ve seen over the decades is a war brewing between teachers and parents – a war of blame shifting, finger pointing and accusations. And students are the casualties.
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