With God on our Side: The Perils of Christian Nationalism
You should always be very, very suspicious of any politician who says, “And, with God on our side, we will …” Or else, any attempt to conflate Christianity with a political tribe or to conflate Christianity with a certain ethno-nationalist culture is very, very bad! If you don’t believe me, look at what Patriarch Kirill is doing and saying in Russia right now!
Probably the worst example of this I have seen in recent days is Michael Flynn’s Reawaken American speech where he said that pastors and priests “need to be talking about the Constitution from the pulpit as much as the Bible.”
And then there’s Marge Greene: “We need to be the party of nationalism. I’m a christian, and I say it proudly - we should be christian nationalists.”
Here’s my response:
In church history, you won’t find John of Damascus telling Byzantine priests that they need to be preaching from the Law Code of Justinian just as much as they preach from the Anagignoskomena (i.e. Scriptures).
Now, to be fair, you can find Christian nationalism in other parts of the world, even in Australia in certain forms, see Nilay Saiya’s recent article on Why Christian nationalism is a global problem for examples. However, this type of American Christian nationalism, with its identification of the US Constitution as Holy Writ, is a species of heresy unique to the American context.
But there are other people out there, who should know better, who are also embracing rather than spurning the idea of Christian nationalism.
For example, SBTS president Al Mohler, recently told Israeli philosopher Yoram Hazony, while he is often labeled as a “Christian nationalist” as a pejorative term, that he in fact embraces it. He said: “[They call me a] Christian nationalist, as if we are supposed to be running from that. I’m not about to run from that. I’m not about to join their one world order, which has no roots for the human rights they claim to be preserving in the first place” (24:00 mark).
I do not think that “Christian nationalism” is something that a Christian leader should be promoting.
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Look, I’m also sceptical about facets of the progressive left. I think that they increasingly represent the gentrified urban upper middle classes and have a condescending contempt for the working class. I’m sceptical of the European Union because, at times, it looks like a shell company for a Bond villain.
But the antidote to progressive authoritarianism is not Christian nationalism.
Yes, a bit of patriotism is okay, remembering great achievements of the past, celebrating your country’s distinctive culture, seeking the best deal for your country in terms of its economy and security, or even cheering for your country on the sporting field. That’s cool.
Also, arguing that Christianity has been part of our nation’s history and has something positive to contribute to our nation in the future, that’s fine too!
But we must be wary of allowing Christianity to be coopted into nakedly nationalist ventures.
Christianity might be good for the nation, but that doesn’t mean that Christian nationalism is good.
Christian nationalism, if designed to preserve the hegemony of some Christians (i.e., white Protestants), if intended to provide religious capital to a political faction, if it equates divine authority with political office, if given to ethnic prejudice or weaponized for propaganda, is absolutely wrong, now, tomorrow, yesterday, and always. Amen.
The conclusion I’m coming to, gradually, as I still work my way through the Constantinian Conundrum, is that Christianity represents the best way to fight the forces of autocracy and evil even as it is simultaneously tempted to join them.
As stated, I am patriotic. But patriotism is not equivalent to Christian nationalism. When we place anyone or anything at a level to being equal to or above God, we now bow before an idol. The best thing I can do for my country (U.S.) as a conservative is to place Christ above all else and the proclaiming of the Gospel as paramount, preeminent in my thinking and actions. It is only when we bow before Christ as King that we can better our nation. In the coming age something quite different will be true as it also is prefigured today in the church. People of all ethnicities, languages and nations will be in absolute unity, absolute equality in the global rule of Christ the King of Kings. Then as now it will be Jesus only!
In my heart I want the first century church that existed under the Roman Empire. No participation in governance, abiding by laws where they did not conflict with Christ’s “laws”. Being totally non-aligned.
In my mind I know that I live in a community (USA) where that doesn’t seem possible. The church is composed of Christians who do participate in all arenas of government. Just as, in my family, I am compelled to involve my self in my church family and in doing so the politics of the church family.
Just because I was born American doesn’t mean my allegiance is to America. My allegiance is to God. That to me means no flags in my church, no pledges of allegiance to the flag, no nationalistic songs, no recognition of national holidays, no recognition of veterans. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be possible today.
But that is how I feel.