The third and final empty Master-Signifier of evangelicalism is the Christian nation. Early evangelicals felt the mainline Protestant emphasis on the social gospel came at the expense of personal salvation, so these evangelicals became less involved in politics. But, the 1970's and '80's saw a return to caring about politics and change now, despite the common pre-millenial dispensationalist belief that this world would just pass away. A new narrative was formed: our founding fathers established America as a Christian nation, but starting in the 1960's, we have seen this foundation crumble, and America must return to her Christian ways. America has stopped following the Ten Commandments, and if we don't repent, we will see destruction.
Even if not all evangelicals hold to such a dramatic view, the Christian Right still sees nothing wrong with "reclaiming" America as a Christian nation. Through voting for leaders who say they are Christian, they can eliminate abortion and gay rights, bring back prayer to the public schools, and chip away at the separation of church and state.
To Fitch, this reveals a weak ecclesiology: "we do not see the church as having a social reality of its own" (p. 106). Christians are merely a collection of individuals, who have each made a decision for Christ, and must work to improve the moral fabric of our country through even more personal conversions. The Christian nation is a symbol to rally around, keeping actual justice at a safe distance "so that we rarely have to 'get dirty' ourselves" (p. 107). Rather than directly working on issues, evangelicals can just vote and lobby for "moral" legislation.
The Christian nation shows itself as a Master-Signifier when one asks what would really happen if Christians saw success with all of their political goals. Would students who pray in schools do so because it is required, or are they somehow more Christian? Would more people act like Christians if gay marriage were outlawed? Fitch thinks that little is accomplished, but the idea of a Christian nation persists because it's easy to rally around and comes at less of a personal cost for many (wealthy) Christians.
Moving away from the political-legislative process, Fitch's discussion of capitalism is excellent. Having organized around the illusory Christian nation, it becomes conveniently easy to ignore unjust economic realities. In fact, evangelicals have baptized market capitalism, and the indivudalistic property rights that come along with it, as the most biblical system. There is nothing wrong with hard work and individual responsibility, but evangelicals' embrace of market capitalism disregards structural problems and the effects of corporations/consumerism.
Evangelicals can individually donate huge sums of money to the poor, but Fitch notes that this generosity is performed at a distance. No one can question the gated communities, the comfortable suburban churches, and the isolation of the poor in many urban centers - look at all these individual monetary donations! Fitch sees evangelicals saying "I will help the poor and be generous, but only on the terms of Christian capitalism that provide me protection, security, and distance from the poor when I need it."
The CEO's who are devout evangelical Christians but plunder the retirement accounts of their employees are a great example of the contradictions that the Christian nation reveals. One CEO was very involved in his church and even served meals to the homeless; however, he was convicted and served prison time for $7 billion greed and mismanagement of WorldCom. Enron's Ken Lay was a Sunday School teacher. Even with capitalists like these CEO's abusing the system, evangelicals will still support this economic system, because it allows them to be "economically independent." This means that the gospel that shapes Christians is actually "justice done at a distance," because it doesn't touch the existing (exploitative) structures (p. 121).
I thought this chapter did a great job of pointing out the inconsistencies, especially economically, that evangelicals entertain with regard to living out the gospel in the public square. The only thing I took issue with was Fitch's characterization of Jim Wallis and Sojourners as the flip side of the Dobson/Falwell coin. I see Wallis as allying with other faith-based groups, or even the non-religious, to work toward a more just society - no one needs to convert or be forced to view specific Christian symbols or hear Christian prayers under Wallis' view. But the Christian Right pitches a fit when manger scenes are removed or the phrase "Merry Christmas" is outlawed. There is no room for other faiths because Christianity is the only right way. Otherwise, this was an excellent critique of the idea of a "Christian nation."