Christian Faith vs Christian Nationalism

It is likely that many of you have heard of “Christian Nationalism,”  but you may not know what it means.  Basically Christian Nationalism is the idea that America was founded on Christian principals so America should have Christianity as a “national religion.”  In this scenario, Christians have a divine mandate to assume political power to ensure people live according to “Christian” ideals.  Ideally, only Christians would hold office.   Christian businesses would be favored over other businesses owned by other faith groups and may even be subsidized by public funds because of their Christianity.  On the surface this might be appealing to some.   Why is it misguided?

1.  America was founded on Religious Freedom, not Christian Ideals.

Remember, early colonists came to the “new land” so they could practice religion different than that of the Church of England at the time.   For example,  the Massachusetts Bay Colony so believed that a “pure belief” in their interpretation of Christianity would lead to a better  society, that they had a difficult time separating sins from crimes.   Only men who were “vetted” by the church could vote in that colony and its early government was theocratic.   Committing a sin and breaking a law were very synonymous.  One might truly be put” in the stocks” for skipping Sunday School.  This type of government did not work and as time moved on, the governments of the colonies  became much more tolerant of various religious beliefs.

Though most of the founding fathers attended church they believed it would be a mistake to have a “state religion.”    In the words of Ben Franklin, “When a Religion is good, I conceive that it will support itself; and, when it cannot support itself, and God does not take care to support, so that its Professors are oblig’d to call for the help of the Civil Power, it is a sign, I apprehend, of its being a bad one.”   When the US Constitution was written in 1787, its’ only mention of religion was that “no religious test shall ever be required as qualification for federal office holders.”   Later, religious freedom was clarified in the Bill of Rights (1791): “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; ….”  Christian Nationalism is in direct conflict with freedom of religion as expressed in the Bill of Rights and in the Constitution itself.

2.  The Bible does not promote a national faith.

Exodus 23:9 says,  “Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt.  Every time the  Israelites began to oppress others, they themselves became subject to another nation.  Jesus, in John 10,  told the Jewish authorities that he had “sheep not of this pasture,” because they believed their religious pedigree was what reconciled them to God.  It is not adherence to our religious tenants that makes us righteous.  Jesus does that by his sacrifice and reconciling work.  Paul reminds us  in Philippians 2 that it is by our witness that, one day, every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord.  This is why he says we must work out our own salvation with fear and trembling.   Zechariah 4:6 says “not by might” but by my Spirit, says the Lord.   “Might” is equated with political power.   1 John 2 reminds us that we are not to “love the world,” and Jesus said a firm “no” to ruling by political power when Satan tempted him (Luke 4:5-8).    Ephesians 6:12, reinforces this by reminding us: For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

Make no mistake, we are told to make disciples of all people but, not by using the might of this world.  Rather, we make disciples by teaching others about Jesus and to obey his commandments (Matthew 28:20), not by forcing them to obey an interpretation of his commandments through political power.
Jesus says if we would but “lift him up” all persons would be drawn to him (John 12:32).   Note:  Jesus will draw people to him, not Government will compel people to follow him. If the kingdom of God could be brought in by political power we would not have needed Jesus.

3. Jesus’ Kingdom is not of this world. 

In John 18:36 , Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”   The very idea that God allowed the crucifixion of Jesus tells us that God favors voluntary submission to God’s will over a use of force.  If we believe we can “bring in the Kingdom” of heaven by legislating a Christian Morality then we have forgotten Jesus’ assertion: By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35)

To be sure, it is harder to “take up our cross and follow Jesus” (Matthew 16: 24-26) than it is to vote for the “God’s Man” to lead the country.  But there is the rub.  We do not put our trust in man but God.   Read Psalms 146:3,  Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save.  When we believe that a political candidate is the “only one who can save us or that person is “Gods only choice” to lead then we have committed a form of idolatry.
For those who believe that Revelation is literally about one antichrist, it would be good to remember that chapter 13 describes that being as a political leader who fools the people into believing he is the only one who can save their society.  True followers of Christ know that we cannot elevate our country or its leaders to the position that belongs solely to God.

Christians are called to live in this world, and witness to this world by caring for those whom Jesus cared for and by giving allegiance to God.  That is our witness.   To be sure we should exercise our rights as citizens of this country to practice our faith and act in ways that will support the compassion of God.   Remember, based on Matthew 25:31-46, the countries of this world (including the USA) will be judged on compassion and justice not political positions.

–Rev. Lynn McLaughlin