Every day it is a new headline, but they all sound alike: “Christian Nationalism On the Rise.” “White Christian Nationalism ‘Is a Fundamental Threat to Democracy.’” “White Christian Nationalism Is at the Heart of ‘the Most Radical Fringe Groups.’”
I saw a headline yesterday that read something like, “Evangelicals Are Imperiling America’s Freedom.” As a Christian from an evangelical tradition, I want to object to being cast as the bad guy. But as an observer of the current political scene, I am not sure that I can.
Admittedly, the headlines are political hyperbole that expose an engrained distrust and misunderstanding of religious people. Further, such headlines reflect an editorial bias and serve a political agenda. Nevertheless, there is reason for concern, for there is an obvious link between American nationalism and evangelical Christianity.
To grasp what this is all about, it is necessary to understand the term “nationalism”. There is nothing necessarily religious about it. Nationalism has been around as long as nation-states have existed. It thrives in atheistic, irreligious societies as well as in religious ones.
Briefly defined, nationalism is an attitude that gives priority of place and standing to the nation. Nationalists subordinate other commitments to that of supporting the nation and seeking its wellbeing. This differs from patriotism, for a patriot can honor and sacrifice for their country without elevating its importance above other primary commitments.
It is all about what Augustine referred to as the “order of loves.” Nationalists elevate the nation within that order in a way that sets it at odds with Christian faith. When the nation assumes a place that belongs to God alone, when government crowds out the church in a believer’s thoughts, and when religion is used as a tool in the service of politics, then nationalism has become Christianity’s adversary.
Secularists denounce “Christian Nationalism” because they see it as a threat to democracy, or at least to their version of democracy. Committed Christians also denounce it, but for a different reason. They see it as a threat to the integrity of the faith.
A growing number of Christian leaders warn that nationalism distorts the gospel. This is true, but it could also be said that a diminished gospel causes, or at least leaves people susceptible to, an idolatrous nationalism. Both Christianity and nationalism have a gospel – a message of good news – but they are not the same gospel.
Nationalism, depending on which nationalist “denomination” one belongs to, proclaims the good news that the nation can bring justice, end poverty, rescue the oppressed (fetuses or LGBTQ folk, depending on one’s brand of nationalism), stop crime, protect our borders, punish the wicked (variously defined), bring prosperity, and defend democracy around the world.
The Christian Gospel, on the other hand, proclaims the good news that God has already acted through Christ to forgive our sins (some of which are listed above), to install his king, and to bring his kingdom which alone is peaceable, just, and secure. It is this kingdom that Christians are to “seek first.”
The nationalist longs for power over others. The Christian seeks submission under God. The nationalist serves as judge of the wicked (again, variously defined). The Christian leaves all judgment to God. Nationalists try to crush their enemies. Christians try to love theirs.
The willingness, even eagerness, of some evangelicals to embrace nationalism betrays a lack of confidence in, and even knowledge of, the gospel of Christ. They have relegated it to the religious sphere and to Sunday mornings. The rest of life belongs to the secular world, which is where they suppose the real power lies.
When the church proclaims a diminished gospel – one that is just about getting into heaven when you die – even Christians are drawn away to the gospel of nationalism, which promises to get things done in the here and now. Dressed up in religious attire, nationalism has been attracting liberal Christians for at least a century, and conservative ones since the 1980s.
The trend will continue in the absence of the proclamation of the authentic gospel of Christ, which is world-changing and life-transforming. Such a proclamation is our pressing need.
This is a distinction that should be shared nationally. I am neither evangelical nor nationalist, but can see the wisdom here. Than you.
Thanks, Catherine. It is an urgent concern.
Best to you, Shayne
I’m a Christian. I’m a USN Vet. I’m a nationalist. I find nothing wrong with Christian Nationalism. What I do have a problem with, is “Evangelicals”, whatever that means in English, trampling on that term as if it’s something evil, like the Jehovah’s Witnesses think that mans government is of the devil. I must say that I always cringe when I hear “evangelicals” indicate that Christian Nationalism somehow erodes the gospel of Jesus Christ.
God put us on this planet. We have to live here, like it or not. Gospel or no gospel, this is home…for now. And how we treat our home is of some huge importance to God, just as much as it is for how we treat our neighbor, for he owns the land, and the fullness thereof. And that’s why God and Country go hand in hand.
Benjamin Franklin, in a Pamphlet that he wrote regarding those who are considering Removing to America (immigrants), he said the following:
“Industry and constant Employment are great preservatives of the Morals and Virtue of a Nation. Hence bad Examples to Youth are more rare in America, which must be a comfortable Consideration to Parents. To this may be truly added, that serious Religion, under its various Denominations, is not only tolerated, but respected and practised. Atheism is unknown there; Infidelity rare and secret; so that persons may live to a great Age in that Country, without having their Piety shocked by meeting with either an Atheist or an Infidel. And the Divine Being seems to have manifested his Approbation of the mutual Forbearance and Kindness with which the different Sects treat each other, by the remarkable Prosperity with which He has been pleased to favour the whole Country.”
There is a wealth of info in that alone to take away. NO atheists, Morals and Virtue of a Nation, Constant Employment (work), and God favoring the WHOLE COUNTRY with BLESSINGS.
Just if I left it right there, I’d like to also bring in the book of James, where FAITH WITHOUT WORKS is Dead. So we have the “evangelicals”, whatever that means in English, wishing to spread the gospel. Great. Spread away. But until you have to WORKS to prove that faith, what good is your gospel?
Thomas Jefferson said:
“And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for ever: that considering numbers, nature and natural means only, a revolution of the wheel of fortune, an exchange of situation, is among possible events: that it may become probable by supernatural interference! The Almighty has no attribute which can take side with us in such a contest.”
Major takeaways from that is that God gave us freedom, hence, the Inalienable rights that we enjoy are considered GOD GIVEN Called, not only, Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, but also those contained in the first ten amendments to the constitution, The Bill of Rights. Those are Natural rights given to us by Natures God (and if you study Jefferson a lot more, he declared himself a Christian several times in letters to individuals, but I’ve seen “evangelicals” call him all sorts of names, none of which were Christian). Did you know a Deist is a person that believes in ONE GOD? He believed in the God of the Jews, just like we do. HE didn’t trust the Church of England who told him that Jesus is that God of the Jews. And Ben Franklin didn’t trust the Church of England in that regard either. Hence the use of the word DEIST. They were not TRINITARIANS. I know, I know, some will declare that you cannot be a Christian UNLESS…well, I don’t buy that, and neither does Benjamin Franklin, in that he said that he doesn’t think that God will punish those who have doubts, as it would be out of ignorance.
But since it was considered that God gave Americans Freedom, then Christian NATIONALISM is a good thing, not a bad thing.
George Washington Inauguration:
“Since we ought to be no less persuaded that the propitious smiles of Heaven, can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right, which Heaven itself has ordained: And since the preservation of the sacred fire of liberty, and the destiny of the Republican model of Government, are justly considered as deeply, perhaps as finally staked, on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people.”
“No People can be bound to acknowledge and adore the invisible hand, which conducts the Affairs of men more than the People of the United States. Every step, by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation, seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency. And in the important revolution just accomplished in the system of their United Government, the tranquil deliberations and voluntary consent of so many distinct communities, from which the event has resulted, cannot be compared with the means by which most Governments have been established, without some return of pious gratitude along with an humble anticipation of the future blessings which the past seem to presage. These reflections, arising out of the present crisis, have forced themselves too strongly on my mind to be suppressed. You will join with me I trust in thinking, that there are none under the influence of which, the proceedings of a new and free Government can more auspiciously commence.”
In short, with both Jefferson, and Washington, if we lose God, we lose Freedom. We would not have freedom OR BLESSINGS ON THIS NATION without God being INCLUDED in our Nationalism. Some might call that Divine Providence?
Do you know why Benjamin Franklin hated going to church? Because his preacher was more concerned about worshiping God the “proper” way, but not so concerned about making people better citizens.
Jesus left us with just 2 Commandments under the New Test. Love God, and Love People. Well, his church got the love God part down, but neglected the love people part. And that is the problem today with the EVANGELICALS, whatever that means in English.
I think that what needs to be addressed here is the likes of King David, in that God chose a leader of a NATION to rule over the people, a people who believed in God. To me, that is the closest example of an already existing Jewish Nationalism. They were, of course, Set Apart.
Our nation was founded on the principals of God. The founders had left the church of England, But were still Christians, none the less. Yes, there was also Jews here, because they didn’t have a homeland. The Bible morality was that foundation.
Christian Nationalism is not a dirty word. We can’t have Freedom without God. Inalienable rights come from God, not man. When man takes away those rights, that means that God has LEFT THE BUILDING, because our nation isn’t looking to God for his blessings. Therefore, we cannot separate God and Country. They both go hand in hand. And that is what sets America apart from ANY OTHER nation, and any other “democracy”. We are an exceptional nation. And I’m sick of the EVANGELICALS diminishing that.
Thanks for reading and taking the time to respond to the column on Christian Nationalism. I appreciate the thoroughness of your response and your concern that people who profess faith do good deeds. As far as that goes, I believe I am on the same page with you. 1 Peter 2 gives us an idea what purpose those good deeds serve, which is to bring glory (and, I think, people) to God. I suspect I am also on the same page with you regarding the need of people, especially Christians, to fulfill their responsibilities to their government.
I do not know that we are on the same page regarding the U.S.’s status as a “Christian Nation.” When John Adams (who would fit the picture of a disciple of Jesus better, I think, than many of the founding fathers) was asked if the United States was a Christian country, he answered that it was not. Neither Washington, Jefferson, nor Franklin, to my knowledge, ever asserted that we are a “Christian” country.
My objection to the Christian Nationalist movement is not so much that it erodes the gospel (though that may happen) as that it conflates the gospel of nationalism with the gospel of Jesus Christ, as if the two were the same thing. To do this is to misunderstand what the gospel of Jesus Christ is.
In some cases, this conflation has not been done innocently by those who do not know better, but intentionally by those in power who try to use religion (and religious people) to secure their position. This has happened throughout history and in many different religions. When it happened in Israel, God exacted punishment. (You can read about this in 1 Samuel 4, but especially in 1 Kings 12, where Jereboam son of Nebat attempted to use religion to secure his throne. His name, mentioned nearly 100 times in the Old Testament, became a byword in Israel.
My own view is that an understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ (too often reduced to a prescription for getting into heaven when one dies) makes people better citizens here on earth.