“Seek first the kingdom of God…” (Matthew 6:33, NIV)
“Thou shalt have no elohim acherim [other gods] in My presence.”
(Exodus 20:3, Orthodox Jewish Bible)
I’ve been mulling on this for some time now, the idea of Christian Nationalism. Certainly, the concept of nationalism has entered more and more into our nation’s dialog over the last few years and seems to be favored by more than a few. This is one of the issues for which I feel the need to put a stake in the ground and to say so: Jesus was not a nationalist. Christianity and nationalism are irreconcilable ways of believing and behaving. They are unequal yoke partners. They are in direct opposition to one another. Christian Nationalism is an oxymoron if such a thing as an oxymoron ever existed.
What is nationalism? Well, the term has a broad definition, but a representative one is “devotion, especially excessive or undiscriminating devotion, to the interests or culture of a particular nation-state.”1 With it comes a belief in acting independently rather than collectively, emphasizing national rather than international goals. In its mildest forms it is patriotism. The problem as I see it is that, too often, the milder forms of nationalism morph into things not so mild. The more extreme forms of nationalism have often started as patriotic fervor and then gradually transitioned into something more extreme and xenophobic. It’s like the proverbial frog placed in a pot of cold water and the heat is gradually increased until the pot is boiling and frog never saw it coming. Too late! The same thing has happened in nations where national values shifted gradually to become not only important values but the supreme values.
The history of highly nationalistic nations reflects some combination of these characteristics: 1) an inflated sense of superiority and exceptionalism; 2) the assumption of privilege as a result of being members of a nation’s dominant culture; 3) dismissal, distrust, fear, or hatred of those outside of that dominant culture such as minorities and/or foreigners; 4) the assumption of the right to exclude those outside of the dominant culture from full or even partial participation in the nation; and 5) demonstration of oppressive behavior under the guise of protecting national interest.
Let’s take a look at some historical examples of nationalism:
- The Persian Empire – Grew to conquer most of the Near and Middle East; tried to conquer Greece
- The Roman Empire – Saw itself as the rightful ruler of the world
- The British Empire of the 19th century – Held a prevailing attitude that anything not British was intrinsically inferior
- Nazi Germany – We know what they did
- Fascist Italy – We know what they tried to do
- South Africa during apartheid – The minority in power saw themselves as a modern-day “chosen people” in a modern-day land of Canaan with the right to subdue, subjugate, and brutalize the majority who had inhabited the land for centuries
- Japan during WWII – Nearly 80 years later both North and South Korea still has beef with them over things the Japanese did and failed to fully acknowledge
- The Soviet Union – We know a lot of what they did, what they have tried to do, and a lot is still unknown
- The People’s Republic of China – See above
- Cambodia under Pol Pot (1975-79) – A complete horror show, literally
- Russia – Vladimir Putin. Enough said?
The characteristics mentioned earlier in the full paragraph above are not anything I want reflected in my life, nor should anyone who wants to be associated with Christ. Biblical Christianity is inclusive (see John 3:16). The basis of biblical Christianity is unselfish love for GOD and for our neighbors. The parable of the “Good Samaritan” (Luke 10:25-37) makes it emphatic that Jesus recognized no national or ethnic boundaries on who constituted a neighbor.
If the “Great Commission” (Matthew 28:16-18) is missionally directed toward all others who might be considered “outsiders,” then the tenets of nationalism don’t fit and can’t fit. John Wesley, the great 18th century Anglican priest and credited with founding methodism said, “The world is my parish.” This was not from a man who felt superior, who felt entitled, who dismissed, distrusted, feared or hated, who excluded or oppressed others. He was very much the opposite.
I think the concept of Christian Nationalism depends on closely linking personal religious beliefs to one’s national identity so that they become inseparable, what some call civil religion. The problem with this is such notions are far from orthodox Christian faith. Instead, faith is expressed in some hybrid view of GOD and nation. This is strikingly close to polytheism and idol worship if it places nation on or near the same plane as GOD, in direct disobedience to the first commandment. Nation becomes a contemporary version of the ancient Israelites’ golden calf. It undermines one’s ability to commit one’s life to the “Great Commandment” to love GOD with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:36-40). No, I don’t believe it is possible to be a Christian and a nationalist whenever that nationalism manifests more than common patriotism.
Perhaps those who claim to be Christian Nationalists don’t sufficiently grasp Christianity or perhaps there is an inner transformative work that has not yet been accomplished in their lives. Another alternative is that they really are nationalists and are wearing the outer clothing of Christianity.
- American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 5th edition. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2016.
© Byron L. Hannon, 2021. All rights reserved to text content unless otherwise noted.