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Is Christian nationalism really Christian?

Posted November 9, 2023 by Mark Anderson Leave a comment

Is Christian nationalism really Christian?

Posted November 9, 2023 by Mark Anderson Leave a comment

Many today wonder what Christian nationalism is and if it’s truly Christian. While Christian nationalism in America is a rather amorphous movement, it’s fair to say that it’s a political ideology with these five basic tenets:

  1. America is a Christian nation, divinely appointed by God.
  2. America’s founders established it on Christian principles, with white men as its leaders.
  3. Blacks, Browns, Indigenous Americans, etc. must accept this narrative and submit to their leadership.
  4. Biblically, America has a special place in world history related to the return of Christ.
  5. There is no separation between church and state.[1]

These tenets are plainly built on a false narrative, one we must correct. “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion,” says Senator Daniel Moynihan, “but not their own facts.” And the fact is that the American Constitution doesn’t mention God, Jesus, the Bible, the Ten Commandments, or Christianity. America’s founders never made America a Christian nation, though many of them were Christians who wanted their religion to be a stabilizing factor in the nation. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, two key founding fathers, were deists strongly committed to the separation of church and state. They made sure that America had no state religion, though some others were unhappy with the separation of church and state and though many whites used Christian nationalism to justify the enslavement of millions of Africans.

However, the movement to make America officially Christian gained ground over the years. By the 1940s most states either required or allowed daily recitation of the Lord’s Prayer in public schools. And in the 1950s “In God We Trust” was added to American money and “under God” was added to the pledge of allegiance. But in 1962 a series of Supreme Court decisions basically banned mandatory recitation of the Lord’s prayer in public schools.[2] So, there’s been tension over how Christian America would be, with pluralism increasingly prevailing.

America’s secularization has increased since the 1960s. Statistics plainly show that church attendance in America is now at an all-time low, with 31% of American adults attending church weekly in 2019, down from nearly 50% in the 1950s.[3] According to Ryan Burge, 39% of self-proclaimed evangelicals attended church once a year or less in 2020.[3a] Also, non-white Americans have been the majority for over a decade. Nevertheless, fueled by disinformation, Christian nationalists meld white Christian identity with American identity, boldly claiming that they’re going to “take back America for God” from the supposed minority of godless secularists who have wrested control of it from believers. Today 45% of Republicans and over 50% of American evangelicals consider themselves Christian nationalists.

President Donald Trump has heavily relied on Christian nationalist support. Despite his depraved lifestyle, he is willing to say what he must to tickle Christian nationalist ears—for example, “We are Americans, and Americans kneel to God and God alone.”[4] While Mike Pence had a very different lifestyle from that of Donald Trump, Pence did all he could to cement President Trump’s connection with Christian nationalists. This connection led many leaders of the independent Pentecostal tradition to prophesy that Trump would be re-elected in 2020.[5]. In the weeks leading up to the January 6 riot, Christian nationalist and Donald Trump’s one-time security adviser Michael Flynn worked tirelessly to make the insurrection a success.[6] Christian nationalists played a significant role in the breaching of the US Capitol, and they continue to play a key role in Republican politics, arguing that white Christians are under attack and must take their country back.

Jan. 6 insurrection

Despite white Christian nationalists’ insistence to the contrary, their militant commitment to an idealized white version of America’s founding narrative distorts the Gospel beyond recognition. They ultimately worship political power and are prepared to use any means necessary to achieve their goals. Those means include such things as

  • Fear-mongering, promoting disinformation that sows division, and lying about election results
  • Marginalizing Black, Brown, and Indigenous minorities especially by suppressing their right to  vote
  • Rejecting the Constitution as illegitimate to the degree that it thwarts their lust for power
  • Using extreme and violent rhetoric to stoke hostility toward anyone threatening their agenda
  • Engaging in physical violence to overthrow any leaders they consider illegitimate

But with no basis—either historical or biblical—for its key claims, America’s Christian nationalism is wrong on all counts:

  1. America is NOT a Christian nation, divinely appointed by God.
  2. America’s founders did NOT establish it on Christian principles.
  3. NO ethnic group should have to submit to their distorted narrative and their ill-informed leadership.
  4. Biblically, America has NO special place in world history related to the return of Christ.
  5. Biblically, church and state are clearly SEPARATE.

Hence, Christian nationalism is not Christian at all. It merely hides its evils behind empty claims of Christian allegiance, something the Klu Klux Klan has always done.

To be clear, white Christian nationalism is not synonymous with conservative Christianity: you can be a conservative Christian angry about some things the political left is doing without being a Christian nationalist. Neither does the Bible ask Christians to set their moral principles aside when entering the political arena. Nor is patriotism per se wrong, though patriotism that swallows up and spits out the Gospel has no place in the life of a follower of Jesus.

According to the gospel, Jesus could have marshalled heaven’s armies to destroy those who opposed him if he’d wanted to. But instead, he renounced violence in the name of religion, calling his followers to “turn the other cheek” when attacked (Mt. 5:38-42; 26:51-53). And he died willingly at the hands of an angry mob, proving his commitment to love his enemies. He didn’t advocate ceding the public sphere to others, but he insisted that his followers put his kingdom first and live pure and honorable lives (Mt. 6:33; 11:28-30). His kingdom is not to be confused with America, and his approach is entirely compatible with Western pluralism.

Many non-Christians struggle to understand how America’s evangelical Christians can be so strongly committed to Donald Trump, a man now convicted of both fraud and sexual abuse. The sad fact is that most of the evangelicals who voted to return Trump to the Oval Office worship the same idol he does: political power at any cost. They’re in such agreement with him there that they’re willing to reinterpret any biblical teaching necessary to make their marriage of convenience with the former president work. They’re blind to the fact that, by promoting violence as a means of taking power, Trump put them on the same path Hitler put German Christians on in the 1930s.

Jesus calls us to stand up to hate. He said those who don’t do what he commands us to do will come to him on the judgment day, crying, “Master, Master, we prophesied in your name, didn’t we? We cast out demons in your name! We performed lots of powerful deeds in your name!” But because they paid only lip service to his teachings, he’ll reply, “I never knew you! Go away from me, you evildoers” (Mt. 7:22-24). I fear this will be the fate of many American evangelicals whose support for Donald Trump pulls them into the orbit of white Christian nationalism.

As a Canadian, I experienced militant white Christian nationalism firsthand while attending college in the United States. Ironically, I’m encountering it again now in Canada as evangelicals swept along by American Christian nationalist rhetoric do their best to transpose it into a Canadian version of Christian nationalism. Christian nationalists in Canada have been very active in protesting the government’s COVID mandates. Some protesters in the convoy protest that paralyzed Ottawa’s Parliament Hill and Windsor’s Ambassador Bridge, Canada’s biggest trade route to America, were Christian nationalists. Those sieges were also partly funded by Christian nationalists in America.[7]

Canadians, however, have no more biblical basis than Americans for viewing their nation as especially appointed by God to fulfill his purposes. And historically speaking, Canada has an even shakier claim to being a Christian nation than America does.

 

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vZukWuT9lcA  Accessed Nov. 7, 2023.

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/School_prayer_in_the_United_States   Accessed Nov. 8, 2023.

[3] https://www.pewresearch.org/religion/2019/10/17/in-u-s-decline-of-christianity-continues-at-rapid-pace/pf_10-17-19_rdd_update-00-012/ and https://today.usc.edu/the-1950s-powerful-years-for-religion/  Accessed Nov. 8, 2023.

[3a] https://twitter.com/ryanburge/status/1380184604066332673  Accessed Nov. 11, 2023.

[4] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vZukWuT9lcA  Accessed Nov. 7, 2023.

[5] https://www.politico.com/news/magazine/2021/02/18/how-christian-prophets-give-credence-to-trumps-election-fantasies-469598  Accessed Nov. 8, 2023.

[6] https://www.cnn.com/2023/07/08/politics/michael-flynn-trump-what-matters/index.html  Accessed Nov. 8, 2023.

[7] https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/02/07/canada-protesters-fundraising-platform/  Accessed Nov. 9, 2023.

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