One of the biggest frustrations I hear from people about the institutional church is its embrace of Christian nationalism. This can play out in a variety of ways: the overwhelming endorsement of Trump, the need to fight culture wars, the emphasis on abortion laws, the celebration of America’s military, the willingness to justify almost any means for the sake of the end goal, etc.
Some pastors have found ways to grow their church using this idealogy, some pastors try to quietly distance themselves from it, and some pastors are trying to speak against it.
This week my dad shared with me a document he wrote for a pastor’s gathering he was recently a part of. He picked the topic of Christian Nationalism to address. I was incredibly encouraged that he was willing to even dive into this topic and acknowledge the concern over it. In hopes that it might also offer you a note of encouragement, I asked him if I could share what he wrote.
He began by asking them to consider their answers to the following questions.
- Was America founded as a “Christian” nation?
- Was the Bible the Founding Fathers’ main philosophical influence during the creation of the founding documents of America?
- Did our Founding Fathers intend “a strict separation” between church and state?
- Has America been “uniquely blessed by God” for the purpose of positively influencing other countries in the world to know and love Jesus?
- Should Christians actively strive to maintain the presence and placement of religious symbols such as the Ten Commandments, nativity scenes, crosses, etc., in the public square?
- Should the church be actively involved in pursuing “taking America back for God?”
- Should prayer and Bible reading be part of the public curriculum in our public schools?
- Should holidays like the Fourth of July, Memorial Day, etc., be special days for the church to celebrate God’s unique involvement in our country’s success and agenda?
- Did Jesus intend for his followers to become actively involved in political issues?
- Do you think most people who are in fact Christian Nationalists believe they are Christian Nationalists?
- Should the United States government declare the United States a “Christian nation?”
- Should taxpayer dollars be used to support or subsidize faith-based initiatives and programs that conform to the agenda of the church and Christians in general?
- Would our country be better off if our government declared us to be a “Christian” nation?
- Should other religions be given the same freedoms and privileges Christians expect to be given in this country?
- Is a Christian’s view of immigration, gun control, patriarchy, poverty, civil rights, gender roles, etc., strongly affected by their views on Christian Nationalism?
- Should the evangelical church be known to consist primarily of one political party over any other?
- Does being a “white Christian male” play a disproportional role in how one views, supports, or interacts with the subject of Christian Nationalism?
- Should Christians have been involved in the January 6th , 2021, attack on the Capitol?
- Do you believe the church’s future is at risk regarding the issue of Christian Nationalism?
- Should we as Pastors be using our pulpits to influence issues such as abortion, immigration, gun control, gay marriage, and a pro-America agenda?
On Christian Nationalism, by Cal Jernigan
Let’s begin with a couple of clarifying definitions. Christian Nationalism is an ideology that
venerates and advocates a fusing together of civic life and polity with a particular
interpretation of Christianity. “White” Nationalism is similar yet distinct from “Christian”
Nationalism, as in the former no particular faith identity is expected or required, yet there
are notable similarities between the two. A couple of things Christian Nationalism is not: It
is not unique to the United States, and it is not synonymous with patriotism. One can love
and appreciate one’s country and not adhere to the Christian Nationalist agenda.
Christian Nationalism is also not a new phenomenon in America, but it is on the rise and its
effects are increasingly being felt. As the influence of Christianity wanes in America and the
white population of America declines, the embracing of Christian Nationalism will continue
to intensify. The Christian Nationalist movement as we now know it began to emerge
roughly seventy-five years ago and has picked up considerable momentum in the last
Many Christian Nationalists would deny they are such. Just as people tend to deny they are
racist, or greedy or prideful, there is a tendency to not see one’s own Christian Nationalist
tendencies. While we might be able to easily identify these issues in others but are blind to
our own predispositions. I would contend that most Christians in America are now so
deeply immersed in Christian Nationalism we in fact do not recognize it, or the part we play
in promoting it. As fish are unaware of the water they swim in, we cannot imagine living
out our Christianity in any other way. Because of this we have made normative a
Christianity that Jesus himself would never recognize, much less live and die for. Christian
Nationalism represents a pseudo-Christianity, a false gospel packaged and promoted by
churches and Christians in the name of Jesus for the sake of politics.
Christian Nationalism is built on the premise that America’s Founding Fathers were godly
virtuous men who founded this country to be a Christian nation. Some believe the US
Constitution is a divinely inspired document and thus America has been blessed by God for
its effort to live according to the virtues and values held within. Because of this, America
serves an “exceptional” purpose to the greater plan of God for the redemption of the world.
The problem is that only Christians believe this (and not all do). Secular historians
excoriate this founding narrative and openly mock historians like David Barton as frivolous and irrelevant. Further, they mock the Christian “world view” because it is based on an
alt/right narrative that is inconsistent with the world they live in. They believe we are
deluded over history (and the Bible specifically), and since our world view is based on this,
our message of hope is compromised and denigrated.
Christian Nationalists long to “take America back” simply because they believe it has been
taken from them. Secular thinkers see an increasing effort being made by Christians to
normalize this belief and have intensified their efforts to counter this movement. They see
the assertion of claims like “In God We Trust” and “One Nation Under God” to be an affront
to their rights and are fighting to have them removed because they feel they are having
something taken from them. The battle intensifies.
At the center of all of this is the will to power, specifically the will to possess power over
others. Power to control the narrative and power to effect laws that support one’s
worldview. Power to benefit those who conform and power to punish those who don’t.
When people take up a sword, they tend to lay down their cross.
Here is where the problem lies. Jesus never reached for power or made a play for power.
His coming to Earth was a surrender of power. When offered all the nations of the world by
Satan, he declined. When his followers wanted to make him a king, he declined. When
prodded to take Israel back from the Romans, he declined. When his rights were stripped
from him and he was subject to the ignominy of a crucifixion, he freely submitted himself.
He never sought to gain “power over” anybody; his death was a demonstration of what
“power under” looks like. He never allowed people use power to motivate him or fear to
manipulate him. He trusted in his sacrificial death, burial and resurrection to transform
people’s hearts. He trusted in his Father to accomplish through the cross the purpose of
drawing the world to Him. As Andy Stanley has stated, he was simply “not in it to win it.” By
losing, he accomplished what he came to accomplish. The “win” in this is in loving others
like he loved and living like he lived. This is exactly how the early church “conquered”
Rome. Jesus gave his life to build the Kingdom of Heaven; no earthly kingdom was worthy
of his life and death.
Last thoughts: The only way Christian Nationalism can be checked is if pastors like you and
me teach our people what it is and the damage it is doing. Our emphasis must turn back to
teaching the principles of the Kingdom of Heaven, the only Kingdom Jesus cared about. If
we fail at this, our people will continue to prefer their political tribe and its platform over
the values of the Kingdom. Their vision will be worldly not heavenly. If this happens, and
we continue to justify an “anything goes” morality for the sake of political power, we can
write off the hope of retaining future generations for the cause of Christ. We will have
obfuscated the person of Jesus to an unrecognizable faceless illusion. And this will have
absolutely no appeal or power to transform anyone.
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