Tag archives: Patriotism

Thinking Biblically About “Christian Nationalism”

by David Closson

March 4, 2021

On “Worldview Wednesday,” we feature an article that addresses a pressing cultural, political, or theological issue. The goal of this blog series is to help Christians think about these issues from a biblical worldview. Read our previous posts Thinking Biblically About Unity and Thinking Biblically About Safety.

The phrase “Christian nationalism” has been receiving a lot of attention in American public discourse recently. Conversations about this ideology predate the storming of the U.S. Capitol on January 6; however, there has been renewed interest in the topic since these events transpired. But what exactly is Christian nationalism, and is it something that Bible-believing Christians should support or oppose?

First, we must define our terms.

What Is Nationalism?

Webster’s dictionary defines nationalism as “loyalty and devotion to a nation.” Strong identification with one’s nation and its interests signifies a commitment to nationalism. Colloquially, nationalism and patriotism are considered more or less synonymous.

However, an excess of nationalism can have a dark side. It should be noted that, wherever there is strong nationalistic fervor, great care must be taken to uphold individual rights and the interests of those who do not hold political power at a given moment. Enthusiasm for one’s country and culture must never be prioritized over the human dignity of others. At various points throughout history, excessive nationalistic zeal has led to the exclusion, marginalization, or outright persecution of minority groups within nations. This likely describes what is happening today in the Xinjiang province of China, where the communist government has been committing genocide against its Uyghur Muslim minority.

What Is Christian Nationalism?

A broadly agreed-upon definition of the phrase “Christian nationalism” does not currently exist. However, it is commonly used in reference to a person conflating their Christian and American identities. Christian nationalism views one’s Christian and American identities as one and the same; a person’s American identity is inextricable from their Christian one. Christian nationalism considers being a “good American” and a “good Christian” as synonymous.

Some who adhere to Christian nationalist ideology argue that America’s very social fabric is overtly defined by Christianity and believe those in government ought to take proactive steps to keep it that way by force of law. In other words, they believe Christians deserve a privileged position in society. While America was certainly influenced by Christian principles at its founding and owes a debt to Christian notions of equal rights and human dignity, the impulse of Christian nationalism to exclude ethnic or religious minorities for the purpose of accruing more power runs counter to the Bible’s expansive view of religious liberty. 

Keeping these definitions in mind, we can draw a few conclusions:

1. Measured patriotism (defined as a love for the ideals and values of one’s country) is good.

Although not perfect, the United States has arguably been one of the greatest forces for good in world history. Whether it has been supporting democracy around the globe, championing human rights, providing billions of dollars in economic and humanitarian aid, or exporting life-saving technologies, America has been at the forefront of improving the quality of life for many around the world. American advancements in medicine, technology, and science have lifted countless people out of poverty, created cures for diseases, and expanded human knowledge in fields ranging from microbiology to astronomy. James 1:7 reminds us that every good gift comes from God, and American Christians should praise God for how He has used our nation to help those beyond our shores.

As historian Thomas Kidd notes, while Christian nationalism (properly defined) is misguided, “measured patriotism still seems appropriate, and somewhat unavoidable for most Christians.” Within proper bounds, if directed toward morally good ends, patriotism should be encouraged. It is appropriate for Americans to feel love and affection for the honorable things their country has stood for and done. Moreover, rather than viewing everything our nation has done through rose-colored glasses, we should engage in the type of patriotism that calls our nation to be even better. Seeking the welfare of one’s city or nation (Jer. 29:7) is a practical way for Christians to obey the commandment of loving one’s neighbor (Mk. 12:31).

2. Christian nationalism (defined as conflating one’s Christian and American identity) is wrong and ought to be rejected.

When a Christian’s devotion to their country becomes the prevailing and all-encompassing passion in their life, something has gone awry. Like all good things, love of country can become an idol if it supplants the ultimate allegiance owed exclusively to God. Christians should love what is honorable about their country, but their devotion to it should have limitations.  

How do we know when love of country has crossed the line? At what point does patriotism become idolatrous? Thomas Kidd, referring to Matthew McCullough’s work, argues that American patriotism crosses the line into Christian nationalism when it gives “an exaggerated transcendent meaning to American history.” In other words, if the “American nation has taken a central place in our understanding of redemptive history” (emphasis added), we have entered unbiblical territory. As much as America means to us, it must not become the central defining factor in our lives. God’s Word forbids that.

To be clear, Christians should actively participate in the political process. Scripture teaches that believers have a responsibility to engage in “good works” (Eph. 2:10). For American Christians this means stewarding their political responsibilities by voting for and supporting candidates and causes that advance biblical values in the public square.

America has been (and hopefully will continue to be) a great blessing to the rest of the world. Still, Christians must be careful not to ascribe a status to the United States that is not warranted by Scripture.  

3. The broad use of the term “Christian nationalism” is being used in an attempt to silence American Christians.

Christians can engage in the public square without it being Christian nationalism. Unfortunately, the ideological Left has seized upon the “Christian nationalism” buzzword in an attempt to belittle all American Christians and drive them from the public square. In most of their discussions about Christian nationalism, the term is rarely defined. This is by design. In the aftermath of the January 6th attack on the Capitol, many on the Left have exploited the disordered nationalism of a few to call the motives of politically engaged Christians into question.

Most American Christians love their country and do not subscribe to a political ideology that seeks to marginalize other Americans based on faith or doctrinal differences. The overwhelming majority of believers do not wish to impose any sort of theocracy on their fellow citizens. However, these realities make no difference to those who wish to cast a shadow of doubt on Christians’ true intentions and beliefs.

For many on the ideological Left, this is the end game. By equating Christians with fanatics and conspiracy theorists, secular progressives believe they can more easily “cancel” Christians and exclude them from society and the political process. By radicalizing the term “Christian nationalism,” many see an opportunity to further the narrative that Christian political engagement is dangerous for America and motivated by evil.

This means that although Christian nationalism (properly defined) ought to be opposed within Christian circles, there is a larger agenda behind much of the recent public condemnation of it. This is a crucial point for Christians to understand. Those who invoke the phrase “Christian nationalism” as part of their political fearmongering have one goal: to scare Christians from engaging on important issues and give others a reason to distrust Christians.

But as Christians who recognize our dual calling as citizens of the City of God and the City of man, we must recommit to speaking the truth in love (Eph. 4:15) and living peaceably with our neighbors (Rom. 12:18) when engaging in the public square. Now, more than ever, our witness is needed, and we must not be silenced by those who want to drive us out.

Intentional Christian Citizenry

Debates on Christian nationalism require the very best of Christian thinking. They also require discernment and awareness of the prevailing political and cultural winds. Those who follow Jesus are commanded to take “every thought captive” in order to follow Jesus faithfully (2 Cor. 10:5). This admonition applies to every political and moral question and situation, including Christian nationalism. May our efforts to be intentional Christian citizens be marked with love, faithfulness, and wisdom.

Hallowed Grounds, Hallowed Name

by Family Research Council

July 28, 2014

One solemn guard proceeded on the well-trodden 21-step march in front of the tomb. The clock was striking three o’clock, and the sound reverberated off the surrounding marble as silence fell. A baby gave a cry. My cousin leaned over to me and whispered, “Eerie.”

There was something eerie about it, but also something beautiful, hushed, a kind of respectful awe that pervades a sacred place. This place is sometimes called “our Nation’s Most Sacred Shrine”—Arlington National Cemetery.

Here is the place where rest those who have given the last full measure of devotion to the protection of a country worth defending. Here a ground consecrated by blood, sweat, and tears, here the bones of men who carried a nation to victory on their backs, spurred by the fire of patriotic allegiance. From the greatest of men to the humblest, all now are equal.

These hallowed grounds draw some three million visitors each year, many of whom flock to witness the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. They gather for the history, the renown, for the memory of the fallen. They assemble to witness the famed and sacred ritual in honor of the soldiers known but to God.

Our country is losing such rituals, such attention to sacred details. There are other sacred shrines in this country, but this cemetery, this ground hallowed by the sacrifices of dead patriots, is the most sacred. Many religious ceremonies still maintain a level of liturgy, but the state has forsaken public liturgy and replaced it with an informality that trivializes sacrifice. Perhaps this is why Arlington draws such crowds, because tourists see such things that have become unknown in the life of the nation.

The crowds gather before the hour strikes, witness the ceremony, and leave before the new guard takes even one march. Rather than accepting the challenge, “Could you not spend one hour with me?” as have the soldiers who guard the tomb for their hour-long shifts, tourists spend the bare amount of time seeing the “exciting” parts, and then they depart.

The demands of schedules, of young children, or perhaps of a sense of emotional overwhelmedness press-out lingering. Yet should contemplation of sacrifice be only transient? Are there ways that, in our daily lives, we can ponder why we live in the freedom we enjoy?

If only such beautiful liturgy could be reintroduced to daily life. Americans should meditate on the sacrifices that have made freedom possible, and remember that the work of the dead is not finished, but advanced. We must be dedicated to the furthering of such work. We should allow beauty to permeate the soul, whether it be in the form of artwork, music, or prayer. And we should put ourselves in the state of mind to receive such beauty, and allow the blessings that have been passed down from our ancestors to elevate our minds to a greater purpose. If only such reverence would be given not only to the dead, but to the Creator of the living and Reviver the dead. If only we would have the patience and the mindset to witness and enter fully into the entirety of sacred ritual, and, along with the guard, spend one hour on the hallowed grounds to revere the hallowed, unknown name.

O Say Can you Sing?

by Robert Morrison

March 1, 2011

Okay, Ill admit it: I cannot sing anybodys national anthem. When I sing in the shower, the water stops. To carry a tune, Id need a forklift.

So I think Im an impartial judge of anthems. And I dont take kindly to liberals knocking the Star Spangled Banner. Their latest excuse is the mess of a job done by Christina Aguilera at the Super Bowl. They call it the star mangled banner in Washingtons political insider sheet, The Hill.

First, the singers at these events arent singing the national anthem at all. Theyre singing their own made-up versions. The national anthem is a sprightly military air. That means theres one way to sing it. All the improvisations, all the fresh and new interpretations, are not our national anthem.

Now, Ray Charless America is a wonderful adaptation of the century-old patriotic song. Nobody is saying you cant have variations in old music. And, too, you can add new tunes all the time.

God Bless America was once new before it was the Republican national anthem. It was especially moving, however, when it was first aired. Then, war in Europe seemed inevitable and Kate Smiths rendition of the Irving Berlin song struck a powerful chord with Americans who thought God had indeed blessed Americawith 3,000 miles of anti-tank trench to keep Hitlers panzers away.

Similarly, Lee Greenwoods God Bless the U.S.A. hit at exactly the right moment in history. After a decade of oil shocks and the humiliation of seeing Americans held hostage in Iran, Americans yearned for affirmation. Lee Greenwoods hit song came at the moment when Country and Western music even took Manhattan. Its hard to imagine Greenwoods song taking off if Fritz Mondale had been elected president.

So, there are plenty of ways to interpret old chestnuts and, if youre not satisfied with that, write a new one. But leave the Star-Spangled Banner Alone.

We are coming up on the two-hundredth anniversary of the War of 1812. Maryland is already out with a commemorative license plate that shows the bombs bursting in air over Baltimores Fort McHenry. I know; its confusing. Its the War of 1812, but most of the exciting stuffthe burning of Washington, D.C., the shelling of Fort McHenrytakes place in 1814.

More confusing still, the war was concluded with the Treaty of Ghent, signed by British and American negotiators in that Belgian town on Christmas Eve, 1814. Yet the greatest battle was fought on January 8, 1815, when Gen. Andrew Jackson, crushed the invading British at New Orleans. If peace treaty-maker John Quincy Adams had only friended Old Hickory on Face Book when the war was over on paper, we might never have had our great victory, or Johnny Hortons classic country hit, The Battle of New Orleans:

We fired our guns and the British kept a’comin.

There wasn’t nigh as many as there was a while ago.

We fired once more and they began to runnin’ on

Down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico.

Now, Ill concede it, if Christina Aguilera wants to do her own interpretation of Johnnys song, Id say: Honey, have at it. She can probably only improve it.

Deep down, I suspect, liberals dont like the national anthem because theres all that talk of the rockets red glare, the bombs bursting in air. They dont like to be reminded that sometimes you have to fight for freedom.

In fact, if the Toronto Blue Jays play the Baltimore Orioles at Cambden Yards, youll hear a battle of the bands. O Canada contains the lines: We stand on guard for thee.

Those rockets and bombs in our anthem were British and hostile. Those Canadians were loyal to Britain and were standing on guardagainst us Yankees.

The final reason liberals dont like the Star-Spangled Banner, I think, is that last stanza. Check out these lines:

Oh! thus be it ever when free men shall stand

Between their loved homes and the war’s desolation,

Blest with victory and peace, may the Heaven rescued land

Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.

Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,

And this be our motto, “In God is our trust.”

And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave

O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

It took an Act of Congress to make the Star-Spangled Banner our national anthem back in 1921. That was a Republican Congress. It seems the new House majority has shown up just in the nick of time.

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