Perhaps you are keenly aware of the public discussions of something called “Christian Nationalism.” On the other hand, you may be relatively unfamiliar with this movement. It would take a lengthy reflection with lots of words to define, dissect, and dialogue with this growing phenomenon. You don’t have time to read it. I don’t have time to write it (at least today). Yet, it does seem important to shed a little light on the matter.
What is Christian Nationalism? It is 99% nationalism whitewashed with a thin coat of language drawn from the Christian faith. It is not a faithful expression of the Christian faith. “Nationalism” is the keyword, and it is not unique here in the United States. Nationalism is growing around the globe. It is behind Putin’s drive to conquer Ukraine, Brexit in England, and countless other attempts to retain a mythic national identity that is exclusive, restrictive, and rooted in romantic notions of the past.
Paul D. Miller, a professor of the practice of international affairs at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, offered this analysis in a recent interview:
“It’s easiest to define Christian nationalism by contrasting it with Christianity. Christianity is a religion. It’s a set of beliefs about ultimate things: most importantly, about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It's drawn from the Bible, from the Nicene Creed, and the Apostles’ Creed. Christian nationalism is a political ideology about American identity. It is a set of policy prescriptions for what the nationalists believe the American government should do. It’s not drawn from the Bible. It draws political theory from secular philosophy and their own version of history as well.” https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/podcasts/quick-to-listen/christian-nationalism-capitol-riots-trump-podcast.html
Some say that it was the intention of the founders of the nation that we be a “Christian Nation.” This is a troublesome assertion. Yes, some of the founders were devout and faithful Christians. John Jay and Samuel Adams, for instance. Others had rather tentative relationships with Christianity. Washington professed Christian faith but refused to partake in the sacraments. Jefferson produced his own bible, editing out the parts that conflicted with his rationalism. John Adams was a congregationalist who drifted into a unitarian faith as he aged. Other founders, like Thomas Paine (whom I’m told is a distant relative of mine), were deists who rejected all things Christian. What the founders valued was the freedom to express one’s beliefs apart from governmental interference. This is the opposite of Christian Nationalism which seeks to favor and promote Christianity as it is defined by a few.
The most disturbing characteristics of Christian Nationalism, as revealed in lots of surveys and research, seek to further the privilege and power of those who already have both. This leads to a preferential option for being white and/or prosperous. It leads to intolerance of diversity of any kind. It leads to the diminishment of democracy and voting rights (which was called for by the Moral Majority decades ago) so that “true Christians” can have the power to set all agendas. It led to the insurrection of January 6, where the name of Jesus was invoked to advance violence. Christian Nationalism does all this in the name of Jesus.
The rejection of Christian Nationalism is neither “un-patriotic” nor unfaithful. In fact, it is just the opposite. Nationalism, like any “ism,” is a form of idolatry. We make America (or ‘merica) our God. To then use the name of Christ to validate our idolatry is blasphemy.
I invite you to read the statement offered by religious leaders, including our Presiding Bishop, Elizabeth Eaton. In an interview posted by the Religious News Service, Eaton and Bishop Michael Curry of the Episcopal Church USA offered this advice:
“One good first step for Christians is to learn more about Christian nationalism — and why it conflicts with Christianity, Eaton said. The presiding bishop of the ELCA pointed to Whitehead’s book as a good place to start. Christian nationalism is different from being a patriot. God knows I love my country,” she said. “But my primary allegiance as a Christian isn’t to my country, but to God.”
Curry pointed to the famous words of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” That means Christians should offer a positive alternative to Christian nationalism, he said. “We must counter these negative perversions of Christianity and of our humanity. We must counter them with an affirmative, positive way of being Christian,” he said. “Christianity must recenter itself on the teachings, the example and the spirit of Jesus of Nazareth.” https://religionnews.com/2021/01/28/what-next-christian-leaders-offer-advice-for-confronting-christian-nationalism/
Tim Olson – Lead Pastor