A group of us “Geezers” hosted a dinner recently with eight young men, some not yet Christians. One of the young men asked a great question, “What does the America First idea have in common with Christianity? “Nothing”, I told him! Obviously he and others asked me to explain. Very simply:
“Christianity is love for God and others more than ourselves.
Patriotism is love for one's country.
Nationalism is the belief that one's own nation is superior and deserves to be superior to the other nations.
So, Nationalism is antithetical to almost everything Jesus taught- an “oxymoron.” Incompatible with Christianity.”
Historically, most Americans were both Christian and patriotic. To love one’s country is a virtue, not a sin. They could love God, others and their country without any moral, or spiritual conflict. But true Christianity and Nationalism, are incompatible with each other. Because it is saying Americans, and the interests our country must come first and regardless of how it affects other people in other countries. What makes anyone think that God favors Americans, or American Christians over other Christians or people living anywhere else in the world? War I and World War II and the current war in Ukraine are great example of true Christianity and patriotism because the U.S. did not put its interest above all others. Millions of Christians and non-Christians alike literally sacrificed their lives and livelihoods and deprived themselves for the sake of people in other nations. It was not America First, it was the freedom we want for others first. The Marshal Plan after WWII provide billions to help our former enemies. That was true Christianity in action!
Then what is this Christian Nationalism we hear so much about? These excerpts are edited from an excellent article in Christianity Today in Feb. 2022;
What is Christian Nationalism?
Christian nationalism is the belief that the American nation is defined by Christianity, and that the government should take active steps to keep it that way. Popularly, Christian nationalists assert that America is and must remain a “Christian nation”—not merely as an observation about American history, but as a prescriptive program for what America must continue to be in the future. It's a belief that Christianity should enjoy a privileged position in the public square.
The term “Christian nationalism,” is relatively new, and its advocates generally do not use it to describe themselves. But here’s the first problem: In the U.S. we already have Muslims, atheists, agnostics, Hindus, and a hundred other “non-Christian” groups with all the same rights we Christians have. What do we do with them? They may not want to be governed by the Judeo-Christian ethic and as a country with religious freedom, Christians currently may not legally force them to do so. In the absence of any constitutional authority to enforce these ideas, nationalists can only establish themselves and their policies by force, or false information to persuade their followers that Christians are victims in a country they founded and must be taken back! Scholars are almost unanimous that nationalist governments tend to become authoritarian and oppressive in practice.
“Do not look out only for your own interests, but for the interest of others.” Phil. 2:4
Short of out-right violence, Christian nationalists want the government to promote a specific cultural template as the official culture of the country. Some work to enshrine a Christian nationalist interpretation of American history in school curricula, including that America has a special relationship with God or has been “chosen” by him to carry out a special mission on earth, both provably false. We find nothing in our Bible where God called for the established any other government other than Israel. Would we Christians love to have our laws and morals in line with Scripture? Of course. But in our democracy the Founding Fathers and we have all agreed to be governed by the Constitution, not the Bible
Other Christian Nationalists advocate for immigration restrictions specifically to prevent a change to American religious and ethnic demographics or a change to American culture. Others want to empower the government to take stronger action to make illegal certain immoral behaviors like abortion, or same-sex marriage. And in a democracy if enough the voters approve it and the country upholds it so be it. That's how democracy works. Christians have prayer, the ballot box and free speech to bring these things about, but not anger, hate or violence, or voting for elected officials who promote, or tolerate either.
What do Christian nationalists want that is different from normal Christian engagement in politics?
Historically, nationalism advocates tend to treat others as second-class citizens. For Hitler the Aryan race was superior to all others. In English colonies, English citizens were superior and deserved to be superior to all others. In America there are white supremacists like those who marched in Charlottesville who truly believe white Christians are superior to all other races. If their views were fully implemented, it would not respect the full religious liberty of all Americans. Empowering the state through “morals legislation” to regulate conduct always carries the risk of overreaching, setting a bad precedent, and creating governing powers that could later be used against Christians, if and when we are the minority.
Additionally, Christian nationalism is an ideology held overwhelmingly by white Americans, and it thus tends to exacerbate racial and ethnic, us versus them divides. In recent years, the movement has grown increasingly characterized by fear and by a belief that Christians are victims of persecution. Some are beginning to argue that American Christians need to prepare to fight, physically, to preserve America’s identity, an argument that played into some who participated in the January 6 riot.
How is Christianity different from Christian nationalism?
Christianity is a religion focused on the person and work of Jesus Christ as defined by the Christian Bible and the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds. It is the gathering of people “from every nation and tribe and people and language,” who worship Jesus (Rev. 7:9), a faith that unites Jews and Greeks, Americans and non-Americans together. Christianity is apolitical, in the sense that its adherents have always understood their faith transcends their worldly loyalties—but there is no single view on what political implications flow from Christian faith other than that we should “fear God, honor the king” (1 Pet. 2:17, NASB), pay our taxes, love our neighbors, and seek justice. But for certain, “Love your enemies,” requires us at very least to be civil, kind and respectful with others who we disagree with.
Can Christians be politically engaged without being Christian nationalists?
Yes, of course! American Christians in the past were exemplary in helping establish the American experiment, and many American Christians worked to end slavery and segregation and other evils. They did so because they believed Christianity required them to work for justice. But they worked to advance Christian principles, not Christian power or Christian culture, which is the key distinction between normal Christian political engagement and Christian nationalism.
Normal Christian political engagement is humble, loving, and sacrificial; it rejects the idea that Christians are entitled to primacy of place in the public square or that Christians have a presumptive right to continue their historical predominance in American culture. Today, Christians should seek to love their neighbors by pursuing justice in the public square, including by working against abortion, promoting religious liberty, fostering racial justice, protecting the rule of law, and honoring constitutional processes. And all of this done with kindness and respect toward others who disagree with us. That agenda is completely opposite from promoting hatred or fear for those political opponents who have views we disagree with. Christians ought to adventure for their ideas opponents. Nowhere in the New Testament does Jesus ever make non-Christians, or even the Roman Government out to be his, or our enemy.
If you agree with the general concepts in this blog, what is to be done? As Christians it’s simply not enough to agree. We need to speak out. How? By pushing back on any social media post or a video someone sends us to question how it’s message is truly Christlike. Christian’s shouldn’t vote for “Christians” who claim to love Jesus but want themselves or you to “war against” others, or appear to be indifferent to the weak, minorities, or the poor. Or they want you to fear liberals and expect you to be loyal to your political tribe. True believers have their loyalties in this order; Christ, Our families, Fellow Christians, Others, Our Country, our political party. Devote you time and energy to “first things.” Our enemy is the Evil One, not our liberal neighbor. “Love your neighbor.”