We Have a Much Higher Calling
Christian Nationalism is simply nationalism and nothing more. How else could churches in both Ukraine and Russia celebrate Easter while calling themselves right and their opponent wrong? Yes, that is a form of Christian Nationalism, albeit not what we usually mean in the U.S.A.
We have forgotten what the soldiers of WWI who created an impromptu cease fire on Christmas Eve 1914, by singing carols understood: walking with Jesus transcends all human walls, boundaries, and borders.
Since at least the 1970s, Evangelicals and other Christians have conflated the United States with “God’s Nation”, appropriating Old Testament promises and prophecies and selfishly applying them to 20th century America. This movement was encapsulated and promoted in the popular Hal Lindsey book, “The Late Great Planet Earth,” and its subsequent musical and sequels.
The problem is these promises were not spoken to America. Even if you accept that they are spoken to Christians as God’s people (and not the Israelites of the time), then you must acknowledge that they apply to all Christians worldwide.
Let’s take a closer look at the issue.
Nationalism is tribalism on a larger scale. It’s a very human social phenomenon: we like being with people whom we see as “like us”. When we feel empowered, it is easier to expand our definition of who is “like us”. When we feel threatened, those definitions narrow, and the walls of separation become less permeable.
Christian Nationalism dangles a vision of a nation of people “like me”: going to a church like mine, following a morality like mine, having a family like mine, dressing like me, even talking like me.
But who is “me”? Who gets to define the standard? “The Bible, of course,” some may say. That’s a pretty broad answer.
So what did Jesus say—and do?
- He castigates the Pharisees for following the letter of the law and not the heart. (Matt. 23 et al)
- He refuses to condemn the woman caught in adultery. (John 8)
- He blesses the poor, the disenfranchised, the marginal, and even the outcast. (Matt. 5, Luke 6)
- He preached to the Samaritans, considered half-breeds and spiritual bastards by the Jews of the day. (John 4)
- When the people welcome him as the Messiah on what we call Palm Sunday, they are looking for a political hero to overthrow Roman Rule. But when the soldiers come to take him, and his disciples try to fight, he says, “My kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18)
- In the Great Commission, he sends his disciples into “all the world”. (Matt. 28)
- Peter gets this reinforced when challenged to eat “unclean” food—the old laws no longer apply. (Acts 10)
- Paul, the trained Jewish scholar, says bluntly, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:28, NASB)
Nothing in that list sounds anything like what the Christian Nationalists are championing.
Nationalism then, by nature, is at best non-Christian and at worst anti-Christian, because it requires divisions that Jesus tore down.
As Christians we are called to live above and beyond man-made distinctions. It doesn’t matter if my neighbor had ancestors on the Mayflower, or on the Amistad, or who trekked across the Beringia Bridge, or flew in from Afghanistan. Jesus commands me to love them all.
Is this always easy? No. But by and because of God’s grace, I can.
Here’s an example.
We have a neighbor known as the “Crazy Old Lady”. At one point early in the pandemic, she accused my husband of watching her while each one was working in their respective yards. She complained that he scared her when he started up his pickup which was parked under our carport next to the fence. She even called the cops about it. The deputy sheriff never stopped at our house about it, so you can guess their opinion.
Meanwhile, I tried to stay friendly, waving when I saw her and texting her when her son’s mobile home sprang a water leak.
Not long ago, she called me with a problem. She needed someone to stay with her bedridden daughter while she went to her other daughter’s house to board up the windows. That daughter had just passed away, and someone had broken in. Her son wasn’t available (work or jail, take your pick.)
I’d never been inside her house or met the disabled daughter, but I went.
Two weeks later, she apologized for her previous behavior and comments about my husband. She still complains about the “ugly fence” my husband put up so she couldn’t see him staring at her, especially if she thinks he can hear her. That’s her problem. She’s old, tired, and gets little to no help from a family that tends to leach off of her. I figure she’s entitled to a little crazy.
But that doesn’t matter. Because God loves her. His grace pours over her as much as it does me. Does she accept it? I don’t know; I can’t see her heart. But God knows. This grace not only fulfills but supersedes the Law and the laws of humans. And as Christians, we are called to live by this grace and this love.
But Christian Nationalism is divisive. Sure, it sounds great on the face of it, but its intent is to raise one group above another. On the issue of morality alone, it is a vipers’ pit, even among Christians. While the current hot button issues are abortion and LGBTQ+ related, it goes much further. In our country, amongst just the Christian groups, you have people who restrict what men and women can wear, whether a woman can work outside the home, whether a married woman must cover her head or not, the role of women in church leadership, what the age of consent is for marriage. Whose values are going to be codified into public law? Then consider the various non-Christian groups—Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Native Americans, and others—some of whom have very divergent opinions on the above issues. They too are Americans, regardless of what many would like to believe. (No, we can’t “send them home” anymore than we can send all the Irish, and Italians, and Brits, and so forth.)
So Christian Nationalism is not only a misnomer, it is an oxymoron for the person who wants to live in—and demonstrate—the love and grace of Jesus. For the love and grace of God know no bounds, or walls, or borders.