American Idolatry

How Christian Nationalism Betrays the Gospel and Threatens the Church

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Foreword INDIES 2023 Book of the Year Award (GOLD Winner for Religion)

2024 Midwest Book Award Winner (Religion & Philosophy)

"Heartfelt, incisive, and worthy of thoughtful consideration."--Library Journal

"A fascinating investigation of politics and racism in American Christian evangelicalism."--Foreword Reviews

Power. Fear. Violence. These three idols of Christian nationalism are corrupting American Christianity.

Andrew Whitehead is a leading scholar on Christian nationalism in America and speaks widely on its effects within Christian communities. In this book, he shares his journey and reveals how Christian nationalism threatens the spiritual lives of American Christians and the church.

Whitehead shows how Christians harm their neighbors when they embrace the idols of power, fear, and violence. He uses two key examples--racism and xenophobia--to demonstrate that these idols violate core Christian beliefs. Through stories, he illuminates expressions of Christianity that confront Christian nationalism and offer a faithful path forward.

American Idolatry encourages further conversation about what Christian nationalism threatens, how to face it, and why it is vitally important to do so. It will help identify Christian nationalism and build a framework that makes sense of the relationship between faith and the current political and cultural context.

1. A Hollow and Deceptive Philosophy
2. What Is Christian Nationalism?
3. Turn the Other Cheek?
4. Do Not Be Afraid?
5. Lay Down Your Sword?
6. May Your Kingdom Come, on Earth as It Is in Heaven?
7. And Who Is My Neighbor?
8. Remaking American Christianity


"American Idolatry is the book I would hand to anyone who is just beginning their journey of understanding white Christian nationalism or who is suspicious that it is even a problem. Andrew Whitehead combines his incisive perspective as a sociologist with his personal journey as one whose early faith was shaped by this ideology. American Idolatry moves beyond an academic analysis and reveals the deep and harmful human impact of white Christian nationalism."

Jemar Tisby, New York Times bestselling author of The Color of Compromise and How to Fight Racism; professor of history, Simmons College of Kentucky

"What is Christian nationalism and why does it matter? Andrew Whitehead cuts through the confusion with this powerful and timely book. Crisply written and utterly compelling, American Idolatry will serve as an essential primer for anyone seeking to understand our current moment so we can chart a path toward a more just and compassionate future."

Kristin Kobes Du Mez, New York Times bestselling author of Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation

"This is a book whose time has come. With the precision of a scholar and the passion of a faithful Christian, Andrew Whitehead clarifies the difference between Christianity and Christian nationalism. He calls out Christian nationalism for what it is: 'a cultural framework . . . draped in religious rhetoric . . . irrevocably linked' to white racist and xenophobic attitudes. He also makes clear that it is not enough simply to declare that one is not a Christian nationalist; rather, one must embody what it means to be Christian--beginning with recognizing Christianity's complicity in creating and sustaining racism and actively working for racial justice. By the end of this book, one discovers that it's not only Christian nationalists who betray the gospel but also those Christians who remain quiet in the face of it. American Idolatry is required reading for anyone who claims to be Christian in this time of Christian nationalist fervor."

Kelly Brown Douglas, former dean of Episcopal Divinity School, Bill and Judith Moyers Professor of Theology, Union Theological Seminary

"We need this book. Now. Whitehead uses his academic expertise and personal experience to explain how we can be both faithful Christians and faithful citizens without being seduced by Christian nationalism. With skill and grace, he explains the dangerous ideologies undergirding Christian nationalism, traces how it has infected the church, and provides practical guidance for those of us fighting it in our own communities. This is a book you should give to your friends, your family, and your pastor."

Beth Allison Barr, James Vardaman Professor of History, Baylor University; author of The Making of Biblical Womanhood: How the Subjugation of Women Became Gospel Truth

"With a rare combination of sociological insight and pastoral concern, Andrew Whitehead has given us an invaluable field guide to recognizing the threat that Christian nationalism poses for the integrity of Christian theology and the health of American churches, particularly those that are predominantly white. This timely and practical book serves as a much-needed moral compass in these bewildering times."

Robert P. Jones, president and founder of Public Religion Research Institute; author of The Hidden Roots of White Supremacy: And the Path to a Shared American Future

"In American Idolatry, Whitehead enters the belly of the beast, where he ventures forth not with a sword or with a dagger but with a light--shining beautifully and brightly in the form of his own journey, his own imagination, his own witness. It is said that salvation is not only about life in the future but also about life right now. Whitehead reveals that life, that love, and the truths that remake us. At a moment in time when people are not taking Christianity seriously, or have been hurt by the faith, Whitehead invites us into repair. American Idolatry is a reckoning with a faith that desires power more than love. But it is also a redemption. A resurrection. And quite possibly for those who need it--a revolution. Stories indeed can save us and heal us. Whitehead has an important story to tell."

Danté Stewart, award-winning author of Shoutin' in the Fire: An American Epistle

"Sociologist Andrew Whitehead's scholarship has greatly deepened America's understanding of white Christian nationalism. In American Idolatry he powerfully engages the subject on intimate terrain, that of a Christian believer deeply grieved by the ways white Christian nationalism has weaponized the faith he loves. With both passion and acuity, he cites the dangers it portends for both American society and the Christian faith: its grotesque distortion of the gospel message of peace and love for neighbors, its poorly veiled inherent racism, its antidemocratic obsession with authoritarian power, its fearmongering and 'us' versus 'them' view of the world, and its willingness to use violence to fulfill what it believes to be its ultimate duty of dominating every aspect of American society. But just as importantly, he also looks at the ways that it is being confronted on the terrain of faith. A lively and lucid read, American Idolatry is a significant contribution to our understanding of white Christian nationalism and the social and psychological forces that underlie it."

Obery M. Hendricks Jr., author of Christians against Christianity: How Right-Wing Evangelicals Are Destroying Our Nation and Our Faith

The Author

  1. Andrew L. Whitehead
    Heather Gregg, 21 Vines Photography

    Andrew L. Whitehead

    Andrew L. Whitehead (PhD, Baylor University) is associate professor of sociology at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, where he codirects the Association of Religion Data Archives at the Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture. He...

    Continue reading about Andrew L. Whitehead


Foreword INDIES 2023 Book of the Year Award (GOLD Winner for Religion)
2024 Midwest Book Award Winner (Religion & Philosophy)

"With a mix of scientific and insider perspectives, sociologist Andrew L. Whitehead's American Idolatry is a fascinating investigation of politics and racism in American Christian evangelicalism. . . . Sharing eye-opening data and stories from American history and an evangelical childhood, American Idolatry is an informative text that asks Christians to reject xenophobia and love their neighbors instead."

Meredith Grahl Counts,

Foreword Reviews

"[Whitehead] has written a moving plea for white, American evangelical Christians to look in the mirror and actively reject Christian nationalism. His call to action is well supported as he draws upon his expertise as a sociologist who has developed surveys and measured changes in U.S. Christianity over time. The author tells his own story of being an evangelical Christian, and he looks honestly and critically at the recent history of that identity. . . . However, Whitehead does not attempt to distance himself and say Christian nationalists are not really Christians. Instead, he takes it all in and uses the first-person plural word 'we' to take responsibility and to hope for a future where evangelical Christians see Christian nationalism as antithetical to the Christ they claim to follow. . . . Heartfelt, incisive, and worthy of thoughtful consideration."

Zachariah Motts,

Library Journal

"Along with Whitehead, I agree that white Christian nationalism 'makes us bad Christians.' It encourages us to be selfish rather than selfless, to build a human empire instead of growing the Kingdom of God, and to shift trust from God onto the idols of power, politics, and personal privilege. This is an important book with an important message."

Stephen R. Clark, Englewood Review of Books

Englewood Review of Books