". . . and having done all . . . stand firm." Eph. 6:13


Politico Reporter Responds to Demand for Apology

March 5, 2024

After Family Research Council President Tony Perkins signed a letter demanding that Politico reporter Heidi Przybyla apologize for viral Christian nationalism comments, Przybyla wrote another article addressing the topic, which almost qualified as an apology. However, the story also reinforced suspicions among conservative Christians that the mainstream media is “stoking fear of Christian nationalism” by “crafting a narrative that the reelection of Donald Trump is going to unleash an army of Christian nationalists,” as Family Research Council Action President Jody Hice put it on “Washington Watch” last week.

Przybyla wrote that reporters “have a responsibility to our audience to make sure the questions do get asked and answered with fair coverage.” I agree. And it’s out of a concern to ask questions and fairly answer them that I believe Przybyla’s article merits a response.


For those with better things to do in life than fixate on Washington’s internal squabbles, here’s a brief summary of the controversy. On February 20, Przybyla co-authored a lengthy article for Politico titled, “Trump allies prepare to infuse ‘Christian nationalism’ in second administration.” She then followed that up with an appearance on MSNBC, where she made the controversial comments that have gone viral among political media:

“The thing that unites them as Christian nationalists — not ‘Christians,’ because Christian nationalists are very different — is that they believe that our rights as Americans and as all human beings do not come from any earthly authority. They don’t come from Congress, from the Supreme Court, they come from God. The problem with that is that they are determining — men are determining — what God is telling them.”

These remarks struck Christians as deeply concerning, and in fact threatening. “This is not just a surprise but really, I think, a shot across the bow,” Catholic Vote President Brian Burch, who also signed the letter demanding an apology, said on “Washington Watch.” “There’s a growing effort to intimidate and silence us, particularly in an election year.” Burch added that “this kind of rhetoric is leading to a growing sense of hatred and animus against Christian people, whether it be attacks on our churches or the weaponization of our government against Christians, or a larger cultural climate that holds that Christian believers are no longer legitimate Americans.”


The fact that Przybyla authored a response article at least tacitly acknowledges that she or someone at Politico recognized, at minimum, that these comments were a mistake.

Yet, after reading her article, it’s difficult to decipher exactly what, if anything, Przybyla was apologizing for. In the comments that mostly closely approached an apology, she acknowledged that “reporters have a responsibility to use words and convey meaning with precision, and I am sorry I fell short of this in my appearance.” She also stated that, “in the real world of political and investigative reporting,” principles for handling the political involvement of people with religious beliefs “can become a bit complicated,” and she “made them even more complicated” with “some clumsy words.” In particular, she admitted, her viral comments were “not a good definition of Christian Nationalism.”

To “make sure the questions do get asked,” here are a few questions about Przybyla’s piece: Did Przybyla apologize for anything? If so, what did she apologize for? If not, why did she write a superfluous piece addressing the controversy? After reading her article, I don’t know how to provide a fair answer, or any answer at all.

Hice, for one, wasn’t convinced that Przybyla’s fault was “clumsy words.” “This was well thought out,” he insisted. “It could not have been more clear … what she was trying to say.” Burch agreed, “Her response, frankly, was a pretend apology that ultimately turned into another attack on Christians.”

Blame Shifting?

Indeed, some of Przybyla’s comments do indicate an attempt to shift the blame to those who objected to her viral remarks. “I was interpreted by some people as making arguments that are quite different from what I believe. The confusion from my words was compounded when they were wrested from the full context of my appearance,” she said. “Excerpts of what I said were promoted widely in some political circles by some activists whose primary objection, I feel sure, was not my television appearance but my coverage in POLITICO about the tactics and agenda of political activists who subscribe to a philosophy they call ‘Christian Nationalism.’”

In the last sentence, the clause, “I feel sure,” describes a hunch Przybyla has, not something she can prove with factual reporting. Use of the first person is generally appropriate in a reflective article where the author is herself a major character. However, it is used inappropriately here to ascribe nefarious motives to people, when the author does not, in fact, know their motives. In this instance, the reason (self-defense) is understandable, if not sympathetic, but the result falls short of the journalistic ideal, “fair coverage.”

This raises another question: When Przybyla reports on Christians who are politically engaged, does she understand what motivates them? Again, I’m unable to provide a fair answer.


The central confusion in Przybyla’s article was whether she repudiated or revised her viral definition of “Chrisian nationalism” as the belief that our rights come not from government but from God. It’s true that in her latest piece she denied it three times — “clumsy words,” “not a good definition,” “quite different from what I believe.” But she never provided an alternate definition of Christian nationalism.

To heighten the confusion, Przybyla has repeatedly described Christian nationalism with the same set of words she most recently said was clumsy and not what she believed. In a February 23 tweet (after her MSNBC appearance), Przybyla stated, “While there are different wings of Christian Nationalism, they are bound by their belief that our rights come from God.” In the February 20 article, she repeatedly used belief in natural law as evidence of Christian nationalism. In one instance, an alleged Christian nationalist “makes clear reference to human rights being defined by God, not man.”

(It’s relevant to note that the February 20 article directly defined Christian nationalism as the belief that “the country was founded as a Christian nation and that Christian values should be prioritized throughout government and public life.” However, that’s not the definition Przybyla has repeated.)

Here are more questions without satisfactory answers: If the belief that rights are “defined by God, not man” is a bad definition of Christian nationalism, and not what Przybyla believes the term means, then why does she keep using this definition? What does she think the term means? And why did she not provide the correct definition?

Adding to the confusion in her clarification statement, Przybyla reiterated one part of her viral comments, “Christianity is a religion. Christian Nationalism is a political movement. As I said on air, there is a big difference between the two.”

This raises even more questions: If Christian nationalism is defined as a belief in natural law and natural rights, something many Christians believe, then how are they different? If there is a difference between Christianity and Christian nationalism, what is it? Is it simply what she stated, that one is a religion and the other a political movement — making them two facets of the same thing?


In fairness, we should also recognize what Przybyla understood to be the more important part of her viral argument, that “men are determining … what God is telling them.” As she wrote in her follow-up article:

“In my full remarks, I noted that many other individuals and groups on all sides of the political equation have cited natural law, including the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who invoked the concept in his fight for civil rights. But, of course, the question of which policies and rights and values can be ascribed to natural law is in the eyes of the beholder.”

This is consistent with other statements Przybyla has made. “I said men are making their own policy interpretation of natural law,” she wrote on X, formerly Twitter. “MLK did so w[ith] social justice. You’re welcome to as well, but you don’t speak for all Christians & certainly not for God.” Again, she insisted that Christian nationalists were invoking natural law “for a man-made policy agenda.”

Przybyla contended that, while some people acknowledge natural rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” Christian nationalists extend their application of natural law to cover abortion, same-sex marriage, and other social issues.

This argument obviously comes from a certain political viewpoint, but it at least has the virtue that it can stand on its own, without relying on the bizarre definition of Christian nationalism. In fact, it contradicts that definition. If Przybyla meant to say that Christian nationalists put their own spin on natural law, it does not follow that belief in natural law is equivalent to Christian nationalism.

Przybyla appears, at the very least, to be skeptical of natural law. But she could afford to at least understand it more completely. It is not true, for instance, that “the question of which policies and rights and values can be ascribed to natural law is in the eyes of the beholder.” In an absolute sense, man is limited in his ability to speak for God by the words God has actually spoken to man. If someone claims to speak for God, but others can easily prove that God’s Word contradicts them, then no one takes their claims very seriously.

In an earthly sense, the idea of natural law is a deep and rich tradition dating back thousands of years. When contemporary political figures appeal to the principles of natural law, they make arguments based on the same truths other thinkers acknowledged many years ago. Natural law is persuasive because it is a feature of our shared history and is consistent over time, despite the brief aberrations of injustice. For instance, Dr. King’s reapplication of the Declaration of Independence’s “all men were created equal” was powerful because it appealed to what everyone acknowledged to be true. When people today apply the same phrase to unborn children, their arguments are more or less plausible depending on whether the hearers recognize a connection with this centuries-old principle.

Przybyla’s skepticism of natural law seems to accompany a preference for at least pluralistic democracy, if not secular democracy. “In a democracy — filled with people of all faiths, as well as non-believers — politics and lawmaking is an emphatically earthly enterprise,” she wrote. “No one gets to impose their wishes on others simply by asserting their confidence that heaven is on their side.” Most Americans readily acknowledge this, even those who apply their religious beliefs to politics and policy. Christians who engage in politics readily understand that not every American shares their faith, so they acknowledge the need to find common ground with others and persuade them with non-religious arguments for the common good.

Here, our path is hedged in by more unanswered questions. Does Przybyla deny that rights come from God? If so, where does she think rights come from? What authority does that source have to make rights inalienable? If the people or their elected representatives have authority over rights, do they also have authority to revise those rights?


Relatedly, Przybyla also introduced confusion over whether she believes that religious beliefs deserve respect, equal treatment, or particular scrutiny.

“Every person’s spiritual motivations are entitled to respect,” wrote Przybyla. “Once these motivations take them onto the stage of politics and lawmaking that will affect the lives of fellow citizens, however, they will be treated the same as any other political actor.” This seems to suggest Przybyla will “respect” other’s “spiritual motivations” (is that the same as religious beliefs?) up to the point that they begin to live out their faith publicly. If “faith apart from works is dead” (James 2:26), this would suggest the only good faith is a dead faith.

However, respecting people’s religious beliefs doesn’t prevent a reporter from treating them “the same as any other political actor.” That isn’t the issue. No, what is problematic is when sincere Christians enter politics and the media holds their faith as a mark against them. Such treatment is not what other political actors receive, and it shows that the media actually detests their religious beliefs.

Przybyla described the scrutiny she would apply to “activists asserting a religious imprimatur for their policy agenda.” First, “are they respecting the American principle of separation of church and state?” Second, “are they ready to play by the same rules that everyone in a democracy must?” Neither question would be applied to other political actors, demonstrating that this is extra scrutiny reserved for religious believers alone. The second, in particular, noxiously presumes that religious adherents cannot be assumed to participate in the democratic process in good faith.

Przybyla demands that religiously-motivated political actors must commit to “making arguments and presenting evidence in a truthful and transparent way is part of the process of winning democratic consent.” The irony is, American Christians engaged in politics regularly do this, and the media regularly vilifies them for doing so. In addition, as in Przybyla’s own “Christian nationalism” scare piece, consider the legacy media’s disproportionate reaction to the Alabama Supreme Court’s recent decision holding that a law protecting all children without exception applied to all unborn human embryos.” It was “theocracy,” they declared, for one justice to explain that the phrase “sanctity of unborn life” is deeply rooted in Christian tradition.

This was transparent. This was truthful. This was done according to democratic process (the justices were elected, and the laws were duly passed). This was, to the media, the utmost abomination. They can’t have it both ways.

But they might try anyway. Some religious conservatives are complaining that the media is mounting a deliberate campaign to force committed believers to the margins of American life. Burch described Przybyla’s “Christian nationalism” piece as a “not so subtle attempt to kind of push religious people to the margins of this country and tell them, ‘Keep your mouth shut,’ and ‘Make sure you don’t vote.’”

As it turns out, Przybyla’s follow-up piece provided additional insight on that point. “Neither side should try to assert that they have unique insight to represent God’s will, or that the other side is in opposition to that will,” she wrote. First, this comment implies religions shouldn’t have doctrine. Second, if that statement doesn’t mean that religious believers should keep their faith out of politics, I don’t know what it does mean.

Once again, we arrive at unanswered questions for Przybyla, now somewhat sharpened in tone. Do Christians in politics really enjoy equal treatment if their faith is engaged? Is it respectful of religious beliefs to use them as a weapon against those who hold them in the public square? Would you rather have Christians be transparent or secret about their religious motivations in politics? If Christians are engaged in America’s democratic processes, why question their sincere allegiance to those processes?

Media Bias?

Christians engaged in politics don’t have a problem. The reality is that they “cannot expect exemption from criticism … nor any extra deference,” nor do they mind that the policy views of those aligned with a major presidential candidate are “inherently newsworthy,” as Przybyla put it. They don’t mind having to “expect journalistic scrutiny” or “fair and well-reported coverage of their political aims and the tactics used to advance them.”

Instead, the mainstream media delivers outrageously biased coverage. Burch expressed “utter shock that somehow in mainstream media [it] now is a credible position to hold” that mainstream Christian views about natural law now constitute some form of dangerous extremism. Yet activists on the Left, “feel so strongly in their views and the righteousness of their position,” to quote Przybyla, that they are actually murmuring against democratic institutions and largely get a pass.

Przybyla concluded with a quote from Abraham Lincoln, in which he described how both sides of the Civil War “read the same Bible and pray to the same God” and ended with an acknowledgement of the Almighty’s sovereign providence over the affairs of nations. Just imagine the uproar about “theocracy” that would erupt if House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) had used that quote.

In fact, just the statements in Przybyla’s own pieces should point to another conclusion than the one she drew, that there is a conspiracy of Christian nationalists ready to take over the government. “The thing that unites” all the factions around Trump, she said, is their belief that rights come from God, not government. She elsewhere acknowledged that this was not a good definition, and this same belief was also held by everyone from Thomas Jefferson to Martin Luther King, Jr. In other words, this notion is a basic tenet of American political thought, not a unique feature of Christian nationalists. The proper conclusion to draw is that the Republican Party represents a broad political coalition of disparate interests that share little in common beyond core American principles.


I don’t think Przybyla is uniquely to blame for this anti-Christian bias in the mainstream media. This is a widespread problem, and there are some media figures who have made a career out of shaping media opinion in an anti-Christian direction. Her recent comments just illustrate clearly a much deeper ailment.

I don’t think Przybyla’s biased coverage is motivated by malice so much as by misunderstanding. She appears to hold the instinctive prejudices of her political tribe and might not even know any conservative Christians in her personal life. A little exposure or study to what Christians actually believe and what motivates them in the political arena would likely make her reporting more accurate and incisive. She freely acknowledged, “I am a reporter, not a historian or theologian;” we can all continue to learn. I hope, in the unlikely event that anyone from the mighty Politico ever reads this analysis in the humble Washington Stand, that it will persuade more than infuriate.

Joshua Arnold is a senior writer at The Washington Stand.