On Christian Nationalism

Over the last few months Americans have seen the growth in the number of people identifying with a political theory known as Christian Nationalism. There are those who will say Christian Nationalism is nothing more than voting our Christian conscious, but this is untrue. I have been following Stephen Wolfe, a major proponent of Christian Nationalism, on Twitter recently because his new book is making a splash on Amazon and I want an idea of how he views the subject. Christian Nationalism is essentially built on the idea that because God gave Abraham a specific land apportionment, God has then given every nation a specific land to call home; each nation then is in covenant with God in a manner similar to Israel. The theologies that this ideology is founded on grew from early Reformation theologies built around locating a ruler’s power within Old Testament Israel. The logic is that since each nation has a covenant with God each nation fulfills that covenant by governing according to God’s laws and existing as a Christian Nation. They rest their case on the idea that a nation is a group of culturally bonded individuals who have a historic connection to a place. There are several obvious problems with this ideology some political/historical and others theological.

Place is Essential

The first claim of Christian Nationalists is that each nation has a right to exist because God has established its national boundaries. I said above this idea is grounded in the notion that God granted Israel the Promised Land and established its boundaries. First it is poor theology and logic to assume that because God made a covenant with Israel to provide them with land that other nations can claim the same promise. After all, Israel was God’s “chosen people” they claimed a unique relationship with God, and the Bible is in part a record of that distinct relationship. Expanding the idea of a promised land to other nations is deny the message of Scripture that Israel has a unique role within humanity and a special status with God. Rather than being scriptural the concept of God making covenants of land with the nations is a direct outgrowth of Medieval national myths. The theologians these modern authors are drawing from were in turn incorporating their own perceived national identities into their theologies. Further, when we apply this theology specifically to the USA we are left to conclude that the America then does not have a covenant with God because we have no historic tie to the land. Authors who believe this are forced to claim America is the Israel of the conquest, taking its rightful land by force from the those who wrongly inhabit it. The trouble with this theory should be obvious there is no reason to make this claim, there is no message from God promising the USA possession of Hawaii or Guam or Puerto Rico or any of the land that falls within our boundaries. The truth is Americans have always simply rationalized our conquests with a continuation of the Revolutionary War era claim that we won that means God has ordained it. Essentially Christian Nationalists are taking these post hoc rationalizations for conquest and giving them divine authority.

A Connected People

Like the connection to the land, Christian Nationalists believe that a nation is a group of people who share a common culture (or ethnicity). In the Bible the words often translated nation do in fact refer to “a group of people sharing bonds of kinship and culture”. Nationalists then see some evidence for their position in Jesus’ words in Matthew 28:19-20 “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” For Christian Nationalists Jesus is giving his followers a command to convert these nations as nations which would include a government that adheres as closely as possible to Bible standards of righteousness. The problem with this line of thinking is that it conflates two definitions of nation, the modern definition of “a nation state- a large group of people united by a specific government” and “nation- a people united by a common cultural heritage”. The USA is a nation in the first sense but not the second, which is the sense Jesus uses in Matthew. By accurately separating these definitions we deny the Christian Nationalist argument that nations (nation states) must be governed by Biblical principles. Nation states can be a conflagration of nations (in the cultural sense) and since not all of these differing cultures represent Christian cultures the nation state is under no obligation to mandate they conform to Christianity. Some Christian Nationalists, like Wolfe, have taken this misinterpretation of nation even farther to say that it is sinful for ethnic groups to intermarry. He attempts to create an isolationist definition of a nation as a distinct cultural group. However, that logically falls flat since there is no distinct American nation by this definition and one cannot defend the position of American Nationalism, since it is a sinful amalgamation of cultures (by their definitions). Further, one is also left questioning how this would square with historic Christian teaching which has taught that Galatians 3:28 (and other passages) reflect a principle that Christians are to overlook such cultural distinctions. Christians have always taught that distinct human cultures are good and should be celebrated as unique in how they glorify God but they should also not be barriers for Christians and this Christian Nationalist approach tries to use cultural distinctions as barriers of isolation.

Perhaps the biggest issue with Christian Nationalism is the coercive element to its theology. It is good for Christians to seek to influence the government around us and to endeavor to have our values represented within its scope. However, this good becomes destructive when we assume the Christian Nationalist theology that states the nation must specifically reflect Christian values and be led by Christians. Christian Nationalists are inherently arguing in favor of a Christianized Sharia Law. A Christian Nationalist government will exclude non-Christians from government and this has two unintended but destructive consequences. First, politically ambitious people will claim Christianity without actually believing in Christianity to gain access to offices. Such individuals will then seek to gain political power and abuse the system (the same way some politicians behave now) and this will have the effect of undermining the Christian element of the system. The second consequence of Christian Nationalism is that it will inherently become sectarian and not truly represent the wide breadth of Christian belief. This is precisely what happened in many New England institutions and colonies and led to numerous divisions, most famously the first truly non-sectarian colony, Rhode Island. In fact, it was this type of Christian power structure that led to the rise of New England in the first place. The truth is there can be some disagreement among Christians on matters pertaining to government and with a Christian Nationalist government in place some of those beliefs will be outlawed. This point is easy to illustrate with one issue, like immigration. Christian Nationalists are inherently isolationists and would take a very strong stance on controlling immigration, yet other Christians would be more liberal in allowing access to immigrants and allowing those of differing beliefs to have more freedom within this country. Even without allowing other groups in on the discussion we can see how Christian Nationalists can only protect their ideology by becoming very sectarian. I have seen circumstantial evidence of this in discussions with self identified Christian Nationalists who say Christians who are associated with Black churches are not to be given power because their beliefs are not in line with true Christianity.

Further, as I have looked into those who are ardently pushing Christian Nationalism they are associated with extremely problematic ideas, I will not go as far as some to say Christian Nationalists are inherently racist, but they certainly provide cover racist ideas in the ideas of ethnicity and claiming it is sinful to undermine these cultures through marriage. Others, like Wolfe blame America’s problems on “Gynocracy”, the belief that women are controlling the country and feminizing society (he has a section in his book dedicated to this topic). While I understand that Christianity has been used as a smokescreen to justify many horrendous beliefs we must be careful to recognize how are teachings are being used to give support to truly problematic ideologies. I find it very disturbing that adherents to this ideology will deny that Black Churches are truly Christian but are seemingly fine with lumping societies ills on women.

I do not want to suggest that Christians should not try to influence government, and to sway people’s minds, nor do I want to give the impression that we should endorse globalism. Countries are free to pursue their own national interests and Christians should encourage this are far as it is virtuous and not at the expense of others. But however some might try to hide behind such noble aspirations, Christian Nationalism is a cover for a deceptive political ideology that has less to do with Jesus and more to do with gaining political control for a small minority of Americans which will undoubtedly be bad for America and give Christianity a black eye.

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