“What is Christian Nationalism?”Categories: Iron sharpens iron
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people… (1 Peter 2.9-10)
You’ve probably seen or heard the term, Christian nationalism, and with increasing frequency. What is it? Is it an acceptable ideology before God? Most of the time, when Christian nationalism is brought up in the public square, it’s for the purpose of demonizing the ideology and its adherents, and there are legitimate concerns. But they’re concerning because of God’s instructions, not some public figure’s opinion.
Broadly speaking, nationalism is the notion that the leaders of each nation-state should put that nation’s own interests first in its governance. This is distinguished from globalism, the idea that rulers’ responsibility is to the whole world, even at the expense of their own citizens. How, then, does “Christian” modify “nationalism”? The idea espoused by Christian nationalists in the United States is that this was founded as an explicitly Christian nation, should remain so, and that Christianity should be politically privileged over other religions. Inasmuch as Christianity is the true religion and every person on earth ought to hear and obey the gospel, that doesn’t sound so bad; but as noted above, there are problems to consider.
Some blur the line between Christ and the state, effectively making an idol out of the latter. This appears in a variety of ways, but is most easily observed in the tendency to make a political leader into an imitation of the Messiah, with the reasoning that, just as soon as so-and-so gets all the power, all of our problems will be solved. But Jesus said, “the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me” (Jn 12.8). God’s kingdom is heavenly, and so is his salvation. This is both foolishness and idolatry.
Another problem occurs when Christians treat their faith as nothing but a justification for their political beliefs. Our faith should determine our position on political issues, of course, but if you’ve never altered your stance on a political question based on what the Bible says, and instead have only used it to find justifications for your prior convictions, you’re doing it backward!
Then there’s the problem of reading God’s promises to Israel, and determining that modern America has replaced Israel as God’s chosen people, as if the passage in 1 Peter 2, quoted above, were aimed directly at America. This is absurd. It’s the same nonsense preached by the Black Hebrew Israelites (who claim they’re the true descendants of Abraham), and by the somehow even more ridiculous White British Israelites (who don’t call themselves that, but they’re definitely out there—in more ways than one!). God’s people are those who are faithful—“Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham” (Ga 3.7).
But despite these legitimate concerns, that’s not what those in politics and the media have in mind, when deriding Christian nationalism. They’re primarily concerned with things like getting rid of Christian words and symbols from the public sphere, and doing away with Christian morality in laws. In the case of religious art or teaching in public, what’s the alternative? Man is inherently religious. Remove religious symbols from public, and they will soon be replaced by others, perhaps of a false religion, or even more likely, by the symbols and teaching of the secular establishment, which is its own religion. What about the influence of Christian morality in the law? The alternative here is simply injustice. You can’t be a Christian, and believe that anyone other than God should be the final word on justice and morality.
Note that the term, Christian nationalist, deliberately evokes the similar-sounding but wildly different white nationalist. It’s possible to find avowed white supremacists who speak in support of Christian nationalism, but true Christianity demands we recognize the God-given worth of every person, regardless of race. Christ’s kingdom has, from the very beginning, cared not a whit about skin color or national origin—the first Christians came from a group of
Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians… (Acts 2.9-11)
Christian nationalism is mostly invoked to suggest that you’re a bigot, if you profess to be a Christian and believe that Christians have a duty to “make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28.19). This is done in order to pressure Christians to stop acting on their faith in public—in effect, to stop being Christians. Don’t take the bait.
For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ…(Philippians 3.18-20)
You’ll find the people of whom Paul warns, at both of the extreme ends of this argument—on one side, using Christ’s kingdom as a club to enforce their earthly will, and on the other side, the same thing, dressed up differently. But while we’re bound to be born into some kind of political structure and citizenship, our real citizenship, the one that matters, is in heaven. Live accordingly.