For me, this all came to a head on January 6, 2021. The attempted insurrection that occurred in Washington, DC, January 6, 2021, by an angry, wild, and violent mob included many who carried Christian signs and banners. There was even a prayer to God made by a person in the Senate chambers asking that God bless the rioters and their attempt at an overthrow of the United States government.
As a result, I published a blog post that included the article “Is Christian Nationalism True?” written by Dr. James Emery White the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the adjunct professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. To read the article LINK.
In his article Dr. White asks three very important questions; is Christian nationalism true historically, is it true biblically, and it is true culturally?
If you consider Scripture, early America was not unique or even predominantly Christian. This doesn’t mean there were no Christian values in American history. There has been a great deal of Christian belief, practice, and influence in the history of the United States and the colonies that formed our country. Christian goals and aspirations were part of the settlement of North America. Christian factors contributed to the struggle for national independence. Christian principles played a role in the founding documents of the United States.
However, the truth was that we were a religious country, but not necessarily a uniquely Christian one. When our forefathers and foremothers were attempting to flesh out Christian principles, they weren’t always very consistent. For example, when you think of the Puritans of the 1600s, do you focus on their desire to establish Christian colonies and live by Scripture, or do you focus on the stealing of Native American lands and their habit of displacing and even murdering those Native Americans when it was convenient?
Is Christian nationalism true biblically? Yes, Israel enjoyed a special status as a nation under God but, since the coming of Jesus, Christians have disagreed as to whether the modern state of Israel remains special as a nation to God, much less whether the Jewish people are still God’s chosen people. So, is it appropriate to look at the United States as unique among the other nations of the world as the special province of God and agent of God?
Because of their belief that America is a “new Israel” of sorts and needs to get back to its “Christian roots” in order to prosper, others advocate for establishing Christianity as the nation’s official religion, restricting immigration from countries they believe will dilute the nation’s “Christian culture,” and federally recognizing English as America’s official language.
Is Christian nationalism true culturally? Is it the best way for Christians to work for the Kingdom in our day? Let’s be clear that politics do matter. We are to be salt and light, and that includes being salt and light politically. How we vote matters—there are values we should work to uphold. Who is President, who is a Senator or Representative, who is on the Supreme Court their values, worldview, decision making matters.
Christian nationalism has become something of a buzzword in both political and religious circles, with passionate debate on either side. Christian pastors, politicians, and pundits have long advocated for the idea that their Christian convictions should form the basis for their civic engagement, but until 2018 most of them avoided being identified with the kind of Christian nationalism that has historical associations with white supremacy and the view of restricting freedom of thought or behavior with the idea of government policing religious life in America. However, that seems to have changed.
Here’s an example: Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene suggested that Christian nationalism is the future of the Republican Party. Here’s what she said, “We need to be the party of nationalism,” Greene said at a conference for conservative students in July 2022. “And I’m a Christian, and I say it proudly: we should be Christian nationalists.”
While you may say that she is just one person we must admit that many conservative church leaders defend this ideology. I submit that there are serious dangers in this ideology.
To Congresswoman Green and those that agree with her Christian nationalistic ideology Christian nationalism is defined by the belief that America is a Christian nation, not only by virtue of the fact that a majority of Americans are one stripe of Christian or another but by government creed or fiat.
While most Christians truly care about the nation and want to see it turn to Jesus the truth is that you can’t legislate morality. You can’t pass a law that changes a human heart. As much as people want to make politics cause the United States to reflect a Christian nation, the thing that we should strive to be is a nation of Christians.
Christian Nationalism Is a Quest for Political Power Rather Than an Embodiment of the Christian Mission which is to bring People to Christ.
The early Christian church faced violent political pressure augmented by government crack downs, including torture and execution. However, the church subverted the value of pagan governments. Not by military might, or political protest, but by virtue of their unwavering belief in who Jesus is, their radical generosity, their inexplicable care for the people whom everyone else had forsaken, and their undeniable love for one another that knew no cultural boundaries.
Christian nationalism today often does the opposite. Christian nationalism turns this ethic on its head, setting its sights firmly on political power for a specific subset of Americans, disregarding those outside its theological tradition and ethnocultural heritage.
To Christian nationalists, individuals who live in America but fall outside their specific definition of America’s “Christian culture” are seen as something less than fully American. Add to that their belief that America is unique among the nations and enjoys a special covenant with God, Christian nationalists believe that security and significance for their tribe is a sign of God’s favor on the nation as a whole.
That seems to fly in the face of what the bible says about Christians being citizens of of a “kingdom not of this world”
1 Peter 2:11-12 NIV Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.
Philippians 3:17-21 NIV Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do. For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.
John 18:36 NIV Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”
Christian nationalism, far from being an effort to make the name and way of Jesus known in America, is fundamentally a battle for cultural recognition and legal privilege.
Some of the battlegrounds include the institution of Christian (specifically Protestant) prayer in public schools, Christian symbols on government buildings, and “sabbath” laws that would require businesses to remain closed on Sundays, and other more traditionally conservative values such as a traditional view of marriage and the protection of the unborn.
Since Christian nationalists believe that the nation itself is at stake, virtues such as kindness, gentleness, and compassion can be placed aside if doing so will advance the cause of “taking the country back.”
Christian virtue is often surrendered as a necessary concession for Christian “victory.”
Christian Nationalism Is as Unconstitutional as it Is Unbiblical
While it is enough that Christian nationalism is a quest for power and control at odds with the New Testament’s depiction of Christ’s Kingdom being “not of this world,” it is worth noting that it is also unconstitutional.
Christian nationalists believe that the founding documents of America are divinely inspired, or at least firmly Christian. The Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution are wonderfully inspired documents, but they were not divinely inspired. The Declaration of Independence, the U. S. Constitution and Emancipation Proclamation are great documents and the authors showed great wisdom which resulted from God’s common grace which is available to all people. The scriptures alone enjoy the distinction of being divinely inspired.
The First Amendment of the Constitution, states that the government is explicitly prohibited from creating any law “respecting an establishment of religion.” What ii ensures is that every American has the right to worship, or not worship, in any manner they choose, as long as their religious practice doesn’t harm or otherwise trample on the liberty of another person.
Christians have benefited from this, but the Constitution doesn’t place Christianity above other religions. Protecting religious liberty is foundational to respecting the dignity of other humans created in the image of God if if they don't agree with you.
If Christianity was established as the official American religion, it begs the question as to which Christian tradition reigns supreme. Baptist? Catholic? Pentecostal? Presbyterian? If a specific religious agenda were set forth by the government, Christians could conceivably begin to persecute other Christians based on their doctrinal differences. If that happened, we would create a version of the very government system of religious persecution that was the major reason for the creation of America as a new nation marked by freedom and liberty.
Christian Nationalism Is Connected with Xenophobia and Conspiracy Theories
Christian nationalism as espoused by Congresswoman Green and those that agree with her ideology, and as I said earlier that includes many Christian leaders, invariably devolves into rhetoric and language that has elements of white supremacy, discrimination, and xenophobia.
Conspicuously absent from the Christian nationalism definition of the kind of “righteous” culture that would earn God’s favor, is any mention of racial justice, something that is central to the political vision of most African American Christians in America who hold all the same theological convictions as their white counterparts.
We have seen this played out in the private Christian school movement, which was wrapped in the language of returning to “Christian values” but was largely a response to racial integration in public schools. Many of the policy stances, in the name of Christ, produce the kind of racialized outcomes on immigration, healthcare, welfare, and police reform.
Additionally, Christian nationalist rhetoric is also often found alongside the perpetuation of conspiracy theories, such as the “Big Lie” that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Donald Trump and “The Great Replacement” theory that global elites are colluding to flood the American population with people of color as a way to marginalize the white population.
These are the kind of conspiracy theories that have resulted in real-world violence, like the Capitol Riot of 2021, wherein violent protesters sought to infiltrate the United States Capitol Building, many of them carrying symbols of Christianity, QAnon, or both.
Where to Go from Here
None of this is to suggest that Christians should retreat from political engagement, that we should renounce our national identity, or that we should deny or downplay the elements of Christian thought that have helped to produce the American values of liberty and justice.
We don’t need to stop talking about politics, but the way we speak about politics does need to change.
We don’t need to stop voting with our consciences, but we do need to allow our consciences to be directed by a desire to vote for leaders and policies that will best serve the common good rather than merely the ones that we believe will serve our own best interests.
As much as people want to make politics cause the United States to reflect a Christian nation, the thing that we should strive to be is a nation of Christians.