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What Is the Meaning of Christian Nationalism?

A current hot-button topic and issue in the USA is Christian Nationalism. But what is it?

A man at the capitol insurrection holding a Bible, what is Christian nationalism

A current hot-button topic and issue in the USA is Christian Nationalism. But what is it?

Various authors, commentators, and political pundits have taken a shot at its definition. In short, Christian nationalism is a desire to have a God-centered nation run by godly people—namely, Christians, therefore “taking back” the nation for God. Some other nations have had experience with Christian Nationalism (e.g., South Africa and Germany). We will focus on American Christian Nationalism because it is in America that this movement has recently been the strongest. 

What Is the Definition of Christian Nationalism?

Dr. James Emery White’s fine Crosswalk article on this subject references Andrew Whitehead, associate professor of sociology at Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis and co-author of Taking Back America for God: Christian Nationalism in the United States. The book describes Christian Nationalism as follows: 

“a cultural framework that idealizes and advocates a fusion of Christianity with American civic life. It contends that America has been and should always be distinctively Christian from top to bottom—in its self-identity, interpretations of its own history, sacred symbols, cherished values, and public policies—and it aims to keep it that way. But, the Christian in Christian Nationalism is more about identity than religion. It carries with it assumptions about nativism, white supremacy, authoritarianism, patriarchy, and militarism.”

Matthew McCullough defines American Christian Nationalism as “an understanding of American identity and significance held by Christians wherein the nation is a central actor in the world-historical purposes of the Christian God.” 

War has generated the “strongest expressions of Christian Nationalism,” McCullough explains. As he and others have shown, Christian Nationalism can give “an exaggerated transcendent meaning to American history, and undergird American militarism.”

Christian Nationalism has shouldered the blame for the January 6, 2020 Insurrection, which resulted in supposedly Christian groups storming the White House and holding a prayer vigil on the Senate floor. Signs held by many of the protestors included “Jesus Saves 2020” and “Jesus is my Savior: Trump is my president.” According to Andrew Whitehead, “it sanctifies and justifies violence in the service of what they deem the greater good or even God’s plan.”

Where Does Christian Nationalism Come From?

Today’s (American) Christian Nationalism stems from the time of the Cold War, which some white evangelical leaders portrayed as a fight between America’s Christian values vs. Soviet atheism. A nation blessed by God vs. a Godless nation. Many of these leaders admitted that they filtered most Cold War politics through their Christian worldview. They thought whosoever had the toughest stance against the Communists was “the Christian choice” for whichever office he pursued: “God was on his side.” Christian leaders would promote this candidate or officeholder as part of a Christian mandate, often regardless of the true state of the candidate’s spiritual life. For instance, the lines between Christians and Republicans, who were deemed the pro-life party, became mixed to blending instead of maintaining their distinct characteristics. We saw that fusion in the above-mentioned insurgency.

Is Christian Nationalism Biblical?

Jesus said to “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21). When people are so tied up in their ideal of nation-building, their focus moves away from kingdom-building (heavenly kingdom building), becoming a “my way or the highway” mentality. The nation we serve here on earth is not the still-to-come kingdom of God. Christian Nationalism serves no purpose but to promote one’s misguided motives. This is not the action our Lord Christ commanded us to obey (Matthew 28:19-20; John 13:35, etc.).

Yes, we are to submit to the authorities God has placed over us (Romans 13:1). Yes, we are to pray for those authorities (1 Timothy 2:1-5). The 1 Timothy passage is Gospel-centered. It’s about evangelism and being obedient to the Lord. Paul says:

“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” (italics added)

God will not cram Christianity down peoples’ throats. If we ascribe to Christian Nationalists’ syncretic agenda and methods, we risk producing and becoming like the Pharisees: whitewashed tombs. We will “outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness” (Matthew 23:27). And our culture will remain just as godless as before.

Aren't Christians Supposed to Care for Our Nation?

It’s good to have Christians in various public offices, but we cannot legislate Christianity upon everyone—that’s not our goal. Nation-building is the crux of the problem with Christian Nationalism. We are kingdom-of-God builders, not earthly nation-builders—our building efforts are through one-to-one interactions empowered by the Holy Spirit.

In the Scriptures, we do not see the Apostle Paul striving to change the culture. That’s a wondrous act only the Lord can achieve. Instead, we are to “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2). We are to be the people God created us to be, not who we think we should be. We are not to usurp God’s agenda and insert our own. 

As Scripture commands us in 1 Timothy 2:1-5, we are to pray for our leaders. Romans 13:1-4 tells us “there is no authority except from God,” so praying for them is an act of obedience to and worship of God.

As believers, we are to be an advocate for the least of these (Matthew 25:40), which may include promoting policies to help the disadvantaged. We are also to pray for each other, including those brothers and sisters caught up in Christian Nationalism.

Also, as creatives (not just Christians in the arts, also Christians analyzing and making public policies), we should use our God-given gifts and talents in a redeeming way. We use our values to guide our decisions without calling them “God’s one decision for our nation.”  Using this framework, we can find ways to redeem culture and promote beauty within.

The passage above (1 Timothy 2:1-5) also adds the requirement that Jesus is the Mediator between God and men. Nowhere does the Bible say a nation is to submit to any takeover plan in the name of the Lord. We must mention not everyone who desires the nation to be Christian is a Christian Nationalist. It should be our collective desire as Christ-followers that everyone comes to faith, just as it’s God’s desire (1 Timothy 2:4), and this desire leads to obedience to the Lord and getting in on what He’s doing.

To reference Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who urged restraint on the part of the Christian church amid the rise of Naziism. Bonhoeffer said his stance was based on the “right concept of the church,” and the church “is not encouraged to get involved directly in specific political actions of the state,” because the “true church of Christ lives by the gospel alone.” “This definition of the church in terms of the gospel sets the guidelines for the character of the church’s resistance.”

How is Patriotism Different from Christian Nationalism?

Patriotism is a contrast to Christian Nationalism. Patriotism is an individual’s loyalty and submission to the nation in which he lives. As Christians, however, obedience to God always takes supreme precedence over compliance to a nation (Acts 5:29). 

Christian Nationalism—on the other hand—seeks to usurp God’s role in His redemptive plan. The movement may have good intentions, yet more times than not, it compromises the Gospel and foments conformity to cultural and political values instead of being transformed and renewed into disciples conformed to the image of Jesus Christ (Romans 12:2).

Sometimes the harshness of the world accentuates the glory of the Gospel. When God allows catastrophic or man-centered heinous events in various parts of the world, the events will raise our awareness of our complete dependence upon the Lord, and He gets the glory (Judges 7:1-2). The only lasting effectual change is made through proclamation and acceptance of the Gospel, and with that comes repentance. Jesus is the One who affects these changes.

He deigns to use us, yes, but not to His exclusion. We work for His glory alone. If America were an entirely Christian nation, would we give God the glory or raise ourselves and try to take the glory for what we have done?

What Does Christian Nationalism Mean for Our Witness?

On another note, we need to realize Christian Nationalism’s effect on missions. Dr. James Emery White again provides us with a sobering reminder. Unbelievers are watching us, and our efforts to bring the Gospel to them are besmirched by the violence Christian Nationalism has invoked. He says they are “frightened and appalled.” Attaching violence to a peaceful and compassionate message (Eph. 4:15-16; 1 Peter 3:11-17) will push people away rather than draw them in. It may even draw people in for the wrong motives.

Photo Credit: ©RNS/AP Photo/John Minchillo

Lisa BakerLisa Loraine Baker is the award-winning author of Someplace to Be Somebody (End Game Press, February 2022). Lisa writes fiction and nonfiction and is currently co-writing a Christian living book with her husband, and a suspense novel.
Lisa is a member of Word Weavers, Int’l (as a critique partner and mentor), AWSA, ACFW, Serious Writer Group, and BRRC.
Lisa and her husband, Stephen, inhabit their home as the “Newlyweds of Minerva” with crazy cat, Lewis. 

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