Representative Steve King of Iowa is a racist, a bigot, and a xenophobe. I don’t intend these adjectives to be polemical but rather merely descriptive. Representative King recently insisted that we “can’t restore our civilization” with “other people’s babies.” For him civilization is Western civilization, which is European, white, and Christian, and more particularly American civilization. King argues that immigrants, particularly non-white and non-Christian immigrants, threaten American civilization with a “demographic transformation” that will lead to “cultural suicide.” This is not unfamiliar territory. For many America is a self-consciously white Christian nation. But are they right?
There were certainly people who made such claims in the past. Andrew Johnson was president when he declared the United States to be a white man’s country in which others could play only a subordinate role. Josiah Strong, a leading evangelical intellectual and reformer, wrote in his 1885 Our Country that the progress of civilization depended on “first, a pure, spiritual Christianity, and second, civil liberty.” Both, Strong wrote, had found a home in the United States, a country of Anglo Saxons. They were “time’s noblest offspring” threatened by, among other things, immigrants, Catholics, Jews, and Mormons. The United States had to become “God’s right arm in his battle with the world’s ignorance and oppression and sin.” The United States was the “elect nation . . . the chosen people” destined to lead “in the final conflicts of Christianity for the possession of the world.”