Like others I have been shocked, astounded and concerned about some of what I have been reading regarding the evangelical church in America. In particular their apparent support of activities and attitudes that do not seem consistent with my Christian faith, things that appear to bring the gospel into disrepute and causing me to distance myself from them as a representative of Christ.
This has caused me to do a lot of reading, thinking, and praying to help me clarify what I think is going on and what I feel about it.
I have concluded that the issue is “Christian nationalism” and that this is a form of idolatry. Idolatry defined as making a good thing the ultimate thing. Let me go on to explain what I mean by Christian Nationalism.
What is Christian nationalism?
When the future of America (or any other country) as a “Christian nation” becomes the most important thing, that is idolatry and Christian nationalism. When America (or any other nation) is confused for the kingdom of God that is idolatry. When articles of state, such as the Bill of Rights or the Second Amendment, are revered and held as sacred as the Beatitudes or the command to love your neighbour as yourself that is idolatry. When democracy is seen to be as important as the Kingdom of God, we have got it wrong.
When being a good Christian and being a good American are seen as the same thing, we have got it wrong. When being a good Christian means supporting a particular party, it means that earthy citizenship has been exalted over heavenly citizenship. When allegiance to Jesus become mixed up with allegiance to a nation or party, we have got it wrong. Let us be clear this does not just happen in America; I have seen instances where this has happened in the UK.
The history of Britain includes periods where we too confused earthly kingdom with the kingdom of God. This happened regularly during the years of Empire, it is still proclaimed in some older hymns, e.g., the old favourite Jerusalem. It can still be found today within the UK church. Some during the Brexit debates got confused over this issue.
How widespread are these views?
Research in America suggest that 78% of self-identified evangelicals believe in Christian Nationalist to a certain extent. There are a much smaller number of hard-core adherents who spend their time thinking about this, praying about it, advocating for it, writing to politicians about it. These include several high-profile Christian leaders (e.g., Franklin Graham, and Pat Robertson) who are beginning to be called out for their views.
Where has it gone wrong, what is it a distortion of?
There is nothing wrong with patriotism and being proud of our nation. However, when we are in church, we should be celebrating our citizenship of the kingdom of heaven which includes people of every people, language, and nation on earth.
Neither America, nor any other nation, is the new Israel. That position is held by the people of God gathered from all nations. If anything, maybe, America is better seen as a kind of biblical Babylon, a superpower that seeks to encroach upon the sovereignty of God. Early Christians recognised that allegiance to empire was incompatible with the confession that Jesus is Lord.
There is nothing wrong is seeking to encourage our nations to adopt Christian values and for us to be involved in the public arena. We should advocate for justice based on the Bible. However, when our goal is earthly power then we are missing the mark.
Why is it such a problem now?
America, like many European nations, has become less Christian and less white, although the one is not necessarily the reason for the other! This has put certain parts of the population on the defensive, feeling the world is against them and their power is shrinking. It happens when we feel that “our nation” is being taken away from us and we are being persecuted. This is clearly impacting white people in the American church and causing them to support “Christian Nationalism”, wanting to return to the golden age where America was a white Christian nation that they imagined existed in the past.
As a result, issues of racial justice are not addressed; they are not even acknowledged because one culture is seen as better than another. Systemic factors that cause injustice are denied and therefore not addressed, causing victims of injustice to be alienated. Christians are called to be peacemakers in society, however what we see is that in many areas Christians are causing greater polarisation both in the church and wider society.
The danger is that white evangelicalism has its own distinctive way of seeing the world that it equates with Christianity. It can be a narrow, provincial community advocating for its own perks, power, and privilege. All this is far removed from the sacrificial community described in the New Testament.
It means that Jesus Christ is not being glorified.
How do we counter this?
The church must be proactive in confronting false teaching. Many are starting to do this, both in America and across the world. We need to preach about the kingdom of God, that is not limited to a nation or political party, that Jesus is king, and his kingdom is not of this world. We need to preach that we are in the world but not of this world. We engage as responsible citizens but do not take our identity from it. We are called to be salt in the world, engaging with activities that allow us to bring our distinctive whilst at the same time being light that shines truth and challenges darkness.
We need to do more than just preach truth; we also need to build healthy communities that give meaning to people beyond their political lives. Many are involved in Christian nationalism because of loneliness, fear, and anger of alienation. The church community is where these feelings need to be healthily addressed. The church community is a place for accountability. The church is not just a place you go to for a good lecture about the Bible. It should be a place where you go to live out the gospel in community with others, where you serve the church, and you serve your neighbourhood in love.
We should pray for
- justice and peace.
- clarity and truth. It seems to me that we are in a moment where again, pride is taking precedence over truth. We need humility to hear the truth.
- the rebukes that need to be spoken, to be spoken with courage, but also with love.
- gentleness in how we reach out to not the leaders, but the followers of this movement. Pray for gentleness and how we reach out to them and lovingly plead with them to steer away from the danger of this movement.
Other recent blogs on this subject.