Understanding Christian Nationalism
Slowly over the last several years and heightened in the last several weeks, we’ve seen the phrase “Christian Nationalism” crop up. While undertones of Christian nationalism have always been in existence, it seems like it’s been percolating more than usual in recent history and then exploded in the wake of Joe Biden’s election. I’ve been intrigued – appalled is probably a more accurate word – to read and learn about a Christian nationalist movement that is sweeping through many churches across our nation right now. And I began to ask the question – what’s the responsibility of the church and what’s my responsibility as a Christian when it comes to calling out the danger or “seductiveness” (as Beth Moore put it) of such an ideology?
For a while now, I’ve been frustrated by the way many Christians have been using their faith to hide their idolatry of politics and American identity. Turns out there’s a name for this, and it’s Christian nationalism. In an insightful article from Christianity Today, we read the definition of Christian nationalism, which at first doesn’t necessarily sound dangerous. “Christian nationalism is the belief that the American nation is defined by Christianity, and that the government should take active steps to keep it that way.”
But the way this has played out throughout history is dangerous – from the time when states used the Bible to justify slavery to January 6, 2021 when we saw Christian symbolism right there alongside Trump t-shirts, Confederate flags, QAnon signs and a noose. The article goes on to say:
“Christian nationalism takes the name of Christ for a worldly political agenda, proclaiming that its program is the political program for every true believer. That is wrong in principle, no matter what the agenda is, because only the church is authorized to proclaim the name of Jesus and carry his standard into the world.”
Christian nationalism is not a religion but a dangerous blending of politics and religion. It’s a political ideology about American identity that cloaks itself in religion. It differs from patriotism, which is a love of and loyalty to country, and instead becomes a prescription for what our country should be like. It takes the name of Christ as a “fig leaf to cover its political program, treating the message of Jesus as a tool of political propaganda and the church as the handmaiden and cheerleader of the state.” [What is Christian Nationalism]
I’ve read both sides of the argument. I know there are different levels of extremism within the movement. But it’s not enough to brush off extreme incidents as coincidences or isolated instances. According to research in the book Taking Back America for God, roughly 52% of Americans are either “ambassadors” or “accommodators” of Christian nationalism. The ambassadors likely come to mind first – they’re the ones we saw on the news as they carried their crosses and religious signs at the Capitol insurrection. But then there are the accommodators – the people who don’t necessarily carry out these blatant acts but also who don’t actively object to it. Christian nationalism can be subtle, like the seemingly innocent re-share of a “prophecy” online or questioning the “belonging” of someone who doesn’t speak English as their first language. The subtle instances might be even more dangerous because they’re not as easy and obvious to call out.
I don’t want to accommodate anything that is not of Christ. That is why I believe Christians must actively and fervently denounce this distortion of Christianity, from the smallest deeds to the loudest. We must call it out specifically. Because we can’t claim that these occurrences misrepresent Christianity without showing what true Christianity should look like.
So, here’s my attempt to get specific.
Christian nationalism undermines Christ as our king (“Do not put your trust in princes, in mortal men, who cannot save.” Psalm 146:3). It focuses on our American identity, not the global church (“I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language…” Revelation 7:9). It concerns itself with preserving cultural inheritance instead of celebrating diversity, welcoming the immigrant and learning from other cultures (“You are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in the land of Egypt.” Deuteronomy 10:19). It rebels against governmental leadership when it doesn’t suit them (“Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established.” Romans 13:1). It prioritizes personal freedom at the expense of humility and caring for one another (“Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Philippians 2:4). It exploits fear and uncertainty (“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear.” 1 John 4:18). It capitalizes on confusion and chaos (“For God is not a God of disorder but of peace.” 1 Corinthians 14:33). And at its worst, it incites violence and anger (“How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace.” Isaiah 52:7).
Christian nationalism is antithetical to the teachings of Jesus, who recognized that his purpose in life was not to preserve any government entity, any one person, any one law or ruler – it was to live sacrificially, bring hope to a broken world and point people back to the Father.
None of this is to say that I don’t want Jesus to be a part of my everyday life. I want the Holy Spirit to move through our society. I want people to come to know Christ. I want my life to point others to him. It’s also not to say that Christians shouldn’t worry about politics. I want to be involved in the public square and vote and sign petitions and raise my voice about issues that concern me. But there is a difference between letting your faith guide your politics and letting politics be your faith.
If I come across as frustrated, it’s because I am. I’m frustrated that we’re hearing more about Christian nationalism than about the gospel. That we talk more about saving America than saving souls. That we care more about making America great than making the name of Jesus great. So, over the next few weeks, I’m going to dive deeper into a few different problematic areas for me when it comes to Christian nationalism. I’m learning too. I don’t have it all figured out. Though I know not everyone will agree with what I say, I feel compelled to educate myself about this and share my thoughts. I hope it will open the door to thoughtful conversation, self-reflection and ultimately a realignment of our priorities.
“But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives.” – Philippians 3:20
*To understand this topic better, I’d recommend listening to this episode of the “Quick to Listen” podcast that really helped me!