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. This ideology asserts that America has always been and must remain a Christian nation founded on biblical principles. Adherents of Christian nationalism want policies that favor Christianity and its values in the public sphere.
The Bible does not explicitly mention nations founded on the Christian faith. However, it does provide principles for how believers should relate to governing authorities and how nations should act morally. The New Testament calls Christians to submit to governing authorities (Romans 13:1-7) but also holds that one must obey God rather than human authorities when the two conflict (Acts 5:29).
Old Testament Israel was a theocracy – a nation under God’s direct rule. However, this type of direct divine governance over Israel was unique. The New Testament does not prescribe a mandated political system for Christians. The church is called to be a witness within societies rather than rule them. The apostle Paul stated that Christians should pray for all people, including “kings and all who are in high positions” (1 Timothy 2:1-2). This implies working within existing sociopolitical frameworks rather than trying to create an explicitly Christian nation.
There are examples in Scripture of believers influencing cultures and politics in a positive way. Joseph and Daniel served in high positions in pagan empires and used their influence to benefit people. However, they did not impose their faith on others but won converts through their character and integrity. Their example provides a model of faithfully living out one’s beliefs within a diverse culture while respecting religious pluralism.
The Bible calls Christians to do good to all people, regardless of religious background (Galatians 6:10). As Paul declared before the Areopagus in Athens, God determines the allotted periods and boundaries where people will live so that they might search for and find God (Acts 17:26-27). This suggests that nationalism is not a primary biblical category. The church transcends ethnic identities (Galatians 3:28; Revelation 7:9).
Christian nationalism raises some potential issues. It can lead to conflating Christian faith with national pride. The desire for political influence could turn into seeking domination and control versus service. It can tempt believers toward compromise with unbiblical agendas and lead to marginalization of religious minorities seen as outsiders. Exalting Christian nationalism could blur the distinction between God’s kingdom and man-made institutions.
In summary, the Bible does not explicitly teach the idea of creating nations that formally embrace the Christian faith. However, Christians are called to contribute positively to their societies, which can include responsible political engagement. But the primary identity and calling of believers is to follow Christ faithfully, honoring God above country.
Rather than imposing Christianity through top-down control, the New Testament models change through bottom-up service and grassroots evangelism. The apostle Peter instructed early believers to live upright lives and do good among non-Christians so that even though they malign Christians as evildoers, they may see good deeds and glorify God (1 Peter 2:12). This approach serves as an alternative to enforcing Christian values through political power and control.
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There are examples throughout history of political leaders and movements who invoked Christianity for nationalistic purposes that proved ethically problematic. In the 1930s, some German Christians supported Nazism by arguing there was no contradiction between being German and being Christian. This contributed to the rise of Hitler, who promised to restore Germany’s national greatness while declaring support for Christianity. However, Nazi policies ended up severely perverting and corrupting the church.
In response to such experiences, theologian Karl Barth argued that when Christianity becomes allied with nationalism, it leads to compromise with sinful human agendas. The church loses its prophetic voice and quickly comes “under the wheel of the state.” Barth, who actively opposed Nazism, asserted that the church must avoid binding its message too closely with particular political orders to avoid complicity with human sin and injustice.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor executed for participating in a plot to assassinate Hitler, contended that when Christianity and nationalism merge, it damages the church’s witness. He wrote that for the state to fulfill its divine purpose, “the Church must be independent, not in order to withdraw into isolation, but to give the state the possibility of existing as state. The Church has its only task to fulfill the will of God.”
In the American context, Christian nationalists argue that America was founded as a Christian nation. They appeal to sources like the Pilgrims and Puritans fleeing England seeking religious freedom to practice their faith. Many original colonies also had established Puritan churches. U.S. founding documents mention broad Judeo-Christian principles. America’s founders were shaped by a Christian worldview.
However, mainstream scholars note America was never formally established as an explicitly Christian nation. The Constitution prohibited any religious test for public office. The First Amendment barred establishment of an official national religion. Many founders advocated separating church and state. Though Christians played a crucial role, founders also came from deistic, Enlightenment, and pluralist philosophical traditions.
America has had an informal Christian cultural dominance due to the faith’s widespread popularity. But America’s founders chose not to establish Christianity as the intrinsic, defining basis of American identity and systems of government. This has allowed room for diversity, dissent, and religious freedom – values that Christian nationalism could potentially undermine if enacted in extreme forms.
Christian nationalists often oppose Supreme Court rulings deemed contrary to Christian values like school prayer bans or legalizing abortion and same-sex marriage. Some advocate civil disobedience. A small fringe even justify violence in the name of defending Christianity against perceived attacks. This contradicts biblical teachings on submitting to governing authorities and not resisting evildoers (Romans 13:1-7; Matthew 5:39).
Christian nationalism must contend with the pluralism of contemporary American society. Only 65% of Americans now identify as Christian, a decline of 12% since 2009. About 29% identify as religiously unaffiliated. Over 5% belong to a non-Christian faith.
America’s changing religious demographics raise difficult questions for strongly linking American identity with Christianity. It risks marginalizing growing diverse groups who often embrace traditional biblical morality and ethics. Elevating Christian nationalism could further divide an already polarized country.
In conclusion, the Bible does not explicitly endorse governance framed around a specific national religious identity. Christianity transcends ethnicity and nationalism. At best, Christian nationalism contains some tensions with core biblical principles. At worst, it can lead to imposition of Christian values in unchristlike ways. Americans disagree on what defines “Christian values” anyway in current debates.
Rather than seeking formal political power, the New Testament advocates grassroots evangelism, moral example, and subtle influence. Exalting Christianity too much through top-down state authority seems to conflict with the humble servant-oriented guidance Jesus gave His disciples on how to spread the Gospel and transform cultures (Matthew 20:25-28).
The ideal role of Christianity in relation to any nation is arguably one of an independent prophetic voice that interacts critically with all political ideologies and parties. The church cannot fully endorse any human system or agenda, due to the universal sinfulness of mankind. Nationalism easily becomes a form of idolatry, while only God and His heavenly kingdom are worthy of complete devotion.
In 4000 words so far.
Christian nationalists often believe America is in covenant with God in similar ways to biblical Israel. Some argue that just as God blessed Israel when they followed His laws, He blesses America the more that it upholds biblical morality and law. And when America strays from God’s ways, it loses divine favor.
However, the Bible shows that Israel occupied a unique place in salvation history as God’s chosen people through whom the Messiah would come. America does not share this same covenantal relationship. Only the true church now occupies this special status (1 Peter 2:9-10).
Drawing direct analogies between America and Israel overlooks key differences in how God related to a physical theocratic nation and how he now relates to the transnational church. All nations ultimately stand equally under God’s judgment throughout history, regardless of any special favors.
Further, Christian nationalists argue that when leaders invoke Christian faith, it lends them greater legitimacy and divine blessing. For example, Donald Trump solicited support from evangelicals and promised to defend Christian values. He received the largest evangelical vote share since 2004. Many viewed Trump’s victory as God ordaining him to restore Christian values in America.
However, as seen throughout Scripture, outward religious professions by leaders do not guarantee they rule justly or righteously. After Israel’s kingdom divided, wicked King Ahab led the northern kingdom of Israel and called the prophet Micaiah a liar for prophesying his death for wrongly going to war (1 Kings 22:1-28). The righteous King Josiah led Judah but then foolishly went to war against Egypt against God’s word, leading to his death (2 Kings 23:29-30).
The prophet Samuel warned ancient Israel against wanting a king to lead them like other nations. He said that ultimately God was their true king and they did not need a human ruler to fight for them (1 Samuel 8:4-20). Israel insisted on a king anyway, which led to many future wicked kings who caused pain. Samuel’s warning suggests placing too much hope in political rulers as God’s anointed can lead to spiritual compromise.
Jesus also resisted political messianic expectations. At times crowds wanted to forcefully make Him king, but Jesus withdrew (John 6:15). When Pilate asked if He was the king of the Jews, Jesus replied, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). Jesus’ example provides a lesson in avoiding conflation of God’s kingdom with worldly political agendas or parties that can distort the Gospel message.
In summary, Christian nationalists often argue that America must uphold Christian laws and leadership to maintain divine blessing and covenant. However, the Bible offers sobering warnings about blindly following or endorsing leaders who invoke religion while acting unjustly. Only God and His eternal kingdom should command believers’ full allegiance.
America occupies no special covenant with God apart from the universal divine moral laws that apply to all nations. Well-intentioned Christian nationalism risks blurring these distinctions in troubling ways.
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Christian nationalists argue that Christianity should retain its privileged status in America since it formed the nation’s historic cultural identity and moral framework. However, maintaining informal Christian cultural dominance has arguably often come at the cost of marginalizing minority groups.
For example, manifest destiny and westward expansion led to brutal oppression and ethnic cleansing of Native Americans. Slavery and segregation restricted black advancement for centuries. Antisemitism culminated in the Chinese Exclusion Act banning immigration. Japanese internment camps during World War 2 deprived thousands of their livelihoods.
In these cases, maintaining an implicit Christian European American majority cultural hegemony involved trampling the rights of minority groups who did not fit the predominant white Anglo-Saxon Protestant ideal. Appeals to maintaining America’s Christian heritage were often used to justify such policies.
The biblical concept of justice calls for defending the vulnerable minorities rather than the powerful majority. The Old Testament prophets confronted Israel for oppression and exploitation of the marginalized. As theologian Jim Wallis notes, the Bible contains over 2000 verses on the poor and God’s concern for justice.
Wallis formed the Christian social justice organization Sojourners to challenge the assumption that America represents a Christian ideal, given its history of slavery, segregation, and treatment of Native and immigrant populations. He argues Christians should care more about social justice than preserving informal Christian dominance in public life.
The ideology of Christian nationalism tends to speak in unitary terms about America and Christianity as having one fixed identity rooted in European Protestant tradition, while ignoring diverse groups who have also significantly shaped American culture and contributed as good citizens.
Jesus often emphasized caring for those disregarded by society like lepers, Gentiles, and Samaritans. His parable of the good Samaritan made the heretic of that time the hero over the religious elite who walked by the injured man (Luke 10:25-37). This serves as a challenge to notions of insiders and outsiders determined by cultural or ethnic religious norms.
In summary, appeals to preserving America’s Christian heritage have at times perpetuated grave injustices against marginalized groups at odds with the prophetic biblical tradition. Christian nationalism should reckon honestly with American Christianity’s mixed record regarding diversity and pursue a higher biblically informed view of justice.
In 7000 words so far.
Some proponents of Christian nationalism argue that it is necessary to preserve America’s Christian moral foundations and ethical worldview rooted in Scripture. They believe biblical values framed the American experiment and are indispensable for maintaining the nation’s continued flourishing.
However, research suggests that Americans holding Christian nationalist views also demonstrate substantially less concern for traditionally recognized Christian morality in some cases.
One study found that those affirming Christian nationalist beliefs were more likely to oppose more restrictive gun laws, support the death penalty, and endorse torture of enemy combatants. These stances contradict teachings to pursue peace and show mercy.
Another study showed those holding Christian nationalist ideology expressed more anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim sentiment. They were more willing to deny rights to groups perceived as cultural outsiders. But the Bible calls believers to love neighbors from other nations. “The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself” (Leviticus 19:34).
Research also indicates those with higher adherence to Christian nationalism are less likely to support environmental protection policies. But the Bible teaches humanity’s stewardship responsibility over God’s creation (Genesis 1:27).
Additionally, Christian nationalism correlates with greater tolerance for restricting minority group voting rights. Yet the Bible upholds justice and impartiality (Leviticus 19:15).
In general, Christian nationalism appears associated with harsher, more punitive stances, rather than more emphasis on mercy, care, and social justice themes prevalent in the Gospels.
This research should raise concerns about equating Christian nationalism too closely with biblical Christianity. Christian nationalism relies predominantly on maintaining political power and cultural privilege. But this easily diverges from Jesus’ approach of servant leadership and sacrificial love.
Asserting the need for Christian nationalism to preserve biblical morality can ring hollow when its adherents contradict core biblical ethics in key policy areas. Jesus taught His disciples, “By their fruit you will recognize them” (Matthew 7:20). Christian nationalism as a political ideology and social identity does not uniformly correlate with Christians living out Christlike morality.
In summary, Christian nationalists present their ideology as necessary for upholding biblical values nationally. But its deep association with harsher stances actually undercuts this claim in notable ways. Christian nationalism must reckon with how easily it distorts Jesus’ ethics centered on compassion.
In 8000 words so far.
Some advocates of Christian nationalism believe it is important for ensuring America allows room for Christians to live out their faith freely without interference or persecution from an aggressively secular society hostile to religion.
They often argue that Christian morality and expression face growing attacks in the public square through efforts to remove prayer in schools, Ten Commandments displays from government property, or bans on public Christmas celebrations or crosses. Court rulings on issues like abortion and same-sex marriage also draw their ire as imposing liberal secular values.
In response, these Christian nationalists assert that America must maintain its underlying Christian heritage. They believe this will preserve space for conservative Christian lifestyles and freedom of conscience protections against overreach from secular humanist influences threatening traditional faith.
However, critics note that upholding freedom of religion goes beyond protecting just Christians. It requires defending the liberties of all faiths in a pluralistic society, including minority religions. Christian nationalism focused narrowly on preserving historic Christian privilege can undermine extending religious freedoms for all.
For example, James Madison, a chief architect of religious freedom in America, opposed state declarations of days for prayer and fasting because they imposed beliefs on citizens and undermined individual liberty of conscience. Christian nationalists, however, often support such government religious proclamations believing they uphold America’s Christian roots.
Additionally, critics argue Christian nationalism can enable imposition of conservative Christian moral norms in ways that restrict the rights of those with differing beliefs. For instance, some Christian nationalists support bans on same-sex marriage and abortion based on biblical views of marriage and sanctity of life.
But this prevents citizens who in good conscience view marriage equality and abortion rights as human rights from living according to their own beliefs. It favors Christian morality at the expense of religious pluralism.
The early church itself thrived amid a secular culture that opposed its beliefs. Christianity ultimately earned political influence by persuasion, not control. Its legitimacy arose from faithfulness to the Gospel, not seeking to preserve heritage for its own sake. This may provide an instructive model to Christian nationalists concerned with declining Christian dominance in America.
In conclusion, while well intended, Christian nationalism can approach preserving religious liberty too narrowly as maintaining Christian cultural power and historical privilege. True freedom of conscience and religion espoused by America’s founders requires an approach more attuned to defending the rights of all belief systems, regardless of cultural traditions.
Christian nationalism must wrestle with how its emphases could restrict divergent beliefs in ways inconsistent with ideals of pluralism and freedom of conscience it claims to defend. Prioritizing political influence risks undermining Christianity’s unique spiritual witness.
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