by ProfDave, ©2022
(Nov. 12, 2022) — It has become politically incorrect to be Christian and the N-word is a synonym for Nazi. Putting the two together in one sentence, let alone one title makes me a member of the Taliban. Perhaps I am completely out of touch, but this makes no sense to me. Is there a cult or white supremacist militia out there that calls themselves “Christian nationalist?” Considering that the CP police call everyone to the right of Joseph Stalin a Nazi, I am not overly concerned. On the other hand, I do not wish to offend my left friends unnecessarily, so let me explain.
By “Christian” I mean a committed Jesus-follower, with primary citizenship in heaven. By “nationalist” I mean I am a dual citizen (heaven and the USA). I believe that each of the kingdoms [nations] of this world and their peoples have a place in the plan of God and will one day become His kingdoms – including the USA. Even if things get worse before they get better. And I love and feel a citizen’s responsibility for the USA, where God has placed me. She is a huge player on the world stage. When she abdicates, as in 1914 and 1938, the whole world suffers. I am proud when she does the right thing and ashamed when she does the wrong.
In our day, belligerent ideologues play fast and loose with the meaning of words. “Nationalist” is no exception, trending to weaponization in the hands of progressives. I take “nationalist” to mean someone who places a high value on nations and/or takes his nation as part of his conscious identity. For example, I am a Jesus-follower, an American – and after that we can talk about the rest.
But what is a nation? So glad you asked. Nations, in any modern sense, did not exist before the 18th century. A modern nation is a political unit with geographic boundaries, a common history and language, and some degree of common ethnicity or ideology. USA is built more on “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” than on a specific people-group — we are multi-ethnic.
Does my God care about political units and people-groups? Peoples were the “nations” of ancient times. Clearly, the God of the Old Testament is concerned with peoples as well as individuals. In Genesis God dispersed the peoples of the earth by language from the pan-civilization of Babel. In the book of Exodus we see God assembling a distinct people (Hebrews – descendants of Israel) with a distinctive faith. They are to be a nation of missionaries to the rest of the world. We see god-Pharoah and his empire humiliated. Isn’t it interesting that the Hebrew occupation of Palestine was delayed for four centuries because “the iniquity of the Amorites” was not complete? Is the iniquity of the USA complete yet? We see cities destroyed (Sodom) and evil cultures rooted out at Jehovah’s bidding (the 7 peoples of Canaan). We are told that “blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord,” but nations that forget God are turned into hell.
What about the New Testament? St. Paul, speaking to the Athenians, summed up the Creator’s attitude towards nations: “He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their pre-appointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord” (Acts 17:26-27). There is only one race, bearing the image of God, yet a wide variety of peoples and languages. The Almighty has designated a time and a place for every people in history. Jesus made it clear that He came for all peoples. In the end, all the kingdoms of this world – all authority will return to Him who gave it. This is the Judeo-Christian position on nations. There is no place for dynastic, ideological and imperial conquest-states, no superiority of one race or people over another, but it is God’s prerogative to choose a people for a specific purpose, as He did the Hebrews. “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.”
Back to history. Not until the 17th and 18th centuries did “nations” take on a distinctively political flavor. Medieval kingdoms and empires were based on rulers and personal loyalties. In early modern times, identifiable nation-states arose – England, France, Spain and Portugal – that had contiguous national boundaries, languages, and self-conscious citizenry. The Liberal idea that sovereignty arose from the people rather than descending from God to the king eventually separated the state from the person of the monarch. Romantic nationalism explored who those people were. Romanticism (1770-1830), a cultural and ideological reaction to international standardization, viewed Europe as a flower garden rather than a cabbage patch. The French Revolution spread national consciousness into central and eastern Europe. Europeans of all nationalities glorified the distinctive folk ways, folk music and folk costumes of different regions. English poet Lord Byron gave his life for Greek independence. Nationalism became itself a cosmopolitan ideology of distinctiveness. Combined with Liberalism, it led to a series of revolutions as ideas of national self-determination and self-government clashed with old regimes and multi-national empires.
The nationalism of the early 19th century valued the distinctiveness of the land, culture/ethnicity and the history/myth. Each nation had its own character and mission, its Geist. It was in this era that the United States was founded. Unlike European nations, the USA chose not to identify with its predominant British history and ethnicity, but with the creed of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness (free enterprise) — with a heavy faith component. Washington’s first act as president was to consecrate the nation to the Almighty. We were to have no king but God. Our national mission was to show the Old World how to do freedom, peace and justice for all – under God, freely worshiped. Our ethnicity was “the melting pot.”
Ideals are great, but we do not always live up to them. The classical liberal nationalism of poets and patriots failed to give parliaments and national self-determination to central Europe. Distinctiveness gave way to pride and chauvinism, cultural movements to blood and iron in Germany and Italy and ethnic terrorism in the Balkans. Nationalism was co-opted by the state at one side and by anarchism on the other. Pan-Slavism, Pan-Germanism, and similar movements discarded national boundaries to unite ethnicities by force – racist malignancies on the national theme. Imperialism neglected the homeland to exert domination over others – sometimes in the name of development, but it wasn’t nationalism. Fascism was of an entirely different spirit – almost a direct opposite – but took the name captive to serve its own purposes and ideology. Christians reject anything that calls itself nationalism but puts itself in the place of God.
Obviously, nationalism can be either positive or negative. “Breathes there the man, with soul so dead, who never to himself hath said, ‘This is my own, my native land!'” (Sir Walter Scott). In order for God’s world and human society to work right, we need to love our country and our people: the green hills of home, our family and our neighbors, the music of our own language, our laws and customs, our traditions and our heroes — our nation. Because God’s world is messed up, we need to stand up for our nation in order to preserve our mutual freedom. Unfortunately, we also need to stand up to correct what is wrong with our nation. Love is the operative word. There is nothing in the love of my country that makes me hate anyone else.
Nationalism is negative when it is invaded by hatred, prejudice, resentment and greed. All too often historically nation has exploited, gobbled or exterminated nation – sometimes at the behest of nationalism, more often the international ambition of demagogues. Nationalism without love can despise and exploit other people groups, internal and external, leading to imperialism, slavery and the mistreatment of immigrants. Christ does not allow us to despise anyone made in the image of God.
Christian nationalism cannot be unqualified. The First Commandment means that no nation, ethnic group, demagogue or human institution can take the place of the Almighty. We can have no other god before Jehovah. Jesus-followers cannot support ungodly action, domestic or foreign. We are conscience-bound to honor and pray for lawful authority and to respect the law as long as it is not contrary to the law of God. That much is incumbent upon all Christians, nationalist or not.
Not all Christians are nationalist. They all respect the authorities that God has placed over us. Some cosmopolitans are relatively indifferent to national differences, have little preference for the distinctiveness of their own people, or they desire the whole world to have one language, culture, and polity – that “the whole world would be one.” The latter viewpoint is much more common among secularists than Christians. Many of us believe that the appearance of one world order would be the day of the Anti-Christ. Is this the new Tower of Babel or the coming of Messiah? The world-wide revival of faith (Christian and otherwise) and nationalism seems to stand in the way of this development.
Does God have a mission for the USA? Did the Pilgrims commit us to be a “shining city on a hill?” Does George Washington’s inaugural vow bind us forever? If so, we, like ancient Israel, have wandered far from the One Washington called our King. Should we expect destruction?
Can nationalism (forgive me) “make America great again?” Great slogan, by the way, but America’s greatness was never found in what we acquired, in exclusiveness or isolation but in what we gave to the world. America is great only when she is good. Power and wealth – gifts of Providence – are temptations unless they are used for others. Are we doing what is right – internally and externally? God help us!
Disclaimer: my use of the MAGA slogan is rhetorical rather than a political endorsement.
My 18th century style nationalism is an appreciation for the distinctive heritage of the USA: freedom, faith, and family values. We have a system of majority rule that respects minority positions. Let’s keep it. Our foundations are in European civilization, the “rights of Englishmen” and Christian teachings, but we are not a people defined by race or ethnicity, denominational or class system – we left that behind when we crossed the Atlantic. We are a mostly Christian nation, our constitution saturated by Christian ideas, one of which is voluntarism in religion – religious liberty. We try to love our neighbors. We are a melting pot refined by our great struggles to assimilate native, African and Asian peoples into one American people of common ideals. We are not there yet, of course, but we are closer than most. We bear the burdens of world power, for the most part unselfishly – without the imperialism of our European predecessors. As we respect the distinctive flavors of our own multicultural nation, so we respect the distinctive flavors of our own multicultural world. Let us keep that greatness – Keep America Great Still (KAGS?).
But what about Christian nation-ism? Is America, was America ever, or should it be a Christian nation? I have written on this topic before. Hmmm. Depends on what you mean by Christian. In the sense that Israel was or is a Judaic nation? In any Evangelical sense, America has never been a majority Christian nation. And yet, the founding leadership of Plymouth Plantation, the Massachusetts Bay Colony, Pennsylvania, Maryland and other settlements explicitly intended theirs to be Christian Commonwealths where the Word of God would be the law of the land. The very separation of church and state was to protect the independence of these commonwealths from federal interference. Yet, with the exception of times of great “awakenings,” the majority of citizens – even in New England – were never active, pious congregants. Our faith ebbs and flows, but is the situation any different today – even in the Bible belt? Should it be? What do you mean by Christian?
Who’s afraid of Christian Nation-ism? Certainly no one today would wish to re-enact and enforce the Massachusetts Bay Colony’s capital punishment for denying the Bible. The threat of a Christian Taliban is an absurd straw man that no one could mistake for the real thing. Common sense and common good would probably enforce something very like Christian morality – it might be a very good thing. Existing acknowledgments of God in the Pledge, the currency, oaths of office etc, do little harm to any reasonable person. The only way to become a Christian is to believe and receive – saying the words with a gun to your head accomplishes nothing. Massachusetts could shut the mouths of Bible deniers (or Holocaust deniers, or election deniers?) but it could not make people believe. Faith cannot be coerced.
As a Christian who happens to be an American and a nationalist, I certainly wish America was a Christian nation in a religious sense. I am commanded to love my neighbors, so of course I wish you were all on your way to heaven. I have to persuade you to accept the call of God in your hearts and I know very well that many Americans do not believe in or choose to submit to the Creator. We have religious freedom, so I can invite you to join me in heaven, can’t I? Also believing, as I do, that the Creator’s instructions for life would make everyone a lot happier, I must advocate for that way of life.
Was the USA ever a Christian nation? Certainly not in any devout sense. Active, practicing Christians have always been a minority. But culturally it is quite another matter. Western civilization has been pervasively Christian since late Roman times in law, morality, and social organization. The Ten Commandments (particularly the second tablet) are the foundation of Western law. Vernacular languages were formed by scriptural translations. Political concepts of responsible monarchy and democracy, ideas of human dignity and equality, marriage and family – all were molded by Judeo-Christian revelation. Education and public discourse in the early days of our nation were saturated by quotations and allusions from the King James Bible. The masses were familiar with just one book! The early universities were all founded by clergy to prepare clergy. Was America Christian?
Ancient Israel had a covenant with God. George Washington tried to make an American covenant with God. The Declaration of Independence was an explicit appeal to the judgment of Divine Providence and Canadians found themselves in Psalm 72:8, “He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth.” Early Americans saw the hand of Providence in their survival in the hostile wilderness and their amazing successes against the greatest empire on earth in the Revolution. They cited many miracles. Were they right or was it just coincidences of weather and poor enemy marksmanship – incredibly good luck?
Did God have a purpose for the USA? Covenant or not, American missionaries and relief funding have spread goodwill and the gospel around the world until Christianity is now no longer a Western religion. The positive benefits of Western Christian influence in the world can be seen in democracy, private enterprise, hospitals and multiple forms of health care, asylums, prison reform, women’s equality and much more. But no theocrat is authorized to tell us what God expects our nation to do next. Even in the days of David and Solomon, priests and prophets held no political office. They spoke truth to power, often at the risk of their lives, as the word of God came to them. Today we depend on the written Word, expounded from the pulpit, and read by believers, in and out of public office — and we are still called to speak truth to one another, powerful or not.
Does God have a purpose for the USA? Do we still have a mission to display righteousness to the world? Or just to lead the free world in keeping the peace and spreading liberty and foreign aid? Quite possibly both – and we may be failing miserably in our mission. On the other hand, the Almighty of the Hebrew scriptures is patient. That is why there are still Hebrews in the world. Jesus-followers know that the orbits of galaxies and of electrons are all known and ultimately governed by the Creator. There is no such thing as chance or coincidence, only the purposeful providence of God. Our mission, should we choose to accept it, is to serve His purpose, and our destiny as a nation is to be His domain.
Should the USA be a Christian nation? In what way and what sense? Certainly not as a theocracy. Billy Graham would not have made a good president and the Pope is not an American citizen. Not all Americans want to go to heaven (after all, it is full of God and they are allergic), let alone do things God’s way. You cannot get in unless you are willing. However, life is better when there are laws against killing, stealing, lying and adultery — a lot better. The Big Ten still embody “liberty and justice for all.” Most, if not all, of what is good and healthy is associated with the Judeo-Christian Creator, whether we like it or not. “Good” is “God” with an extra “o.”
So, repressing and denying Christianity, Christian morality, and our national history is not a good idea. Compared to North Korea, Iran, and/or India, we are a predominantly Christian – or post-Christian – nation. The tolerant position is to acknowledge it without posturing, and with the Christian provision of religious liberty and freedom of conscience for all. No presidential proclamation, congressional resolution or constitutional amendment is needed. Just stop denying the obvious and cancelling its benefits. Since the foundation of America, unlike societies – especially Marxism – Christianity has provided the best guarantees of freedom of conscience to minority faiths. To be called a Christian nation is to be called free – yes, “a shining city on a hill.”