I recently started following Sarah Pulliam Bailey on Twitter. She’s a reporter from the Washington Post covering faith, politics, and culture.
Today, she tweeted about one of her recent articles on the rise of ‘patriotic churches’ under the Trump administration. The mantra of these churches is essentially to ‘love Jesus and love this country’. They are, as Bailey goes on to explain, part of the Christian nationalist movement that has gained a significant amount of traction under Trump’s presidency.
What I got from the thread is that under these new ‘patriotic churches’, while Jesus may come first, the country, America, comes “right behind”. One pastor that Bailey spoke with commented in response to John Piper’s recent article ‘Policies, Persons, and Paths to Ruin’, that “Piper and his friends want to make it seem like we love America more than heaven. It’s not true.”
The first thing that came to mind when reading about this new wave of ‘patriotism’ is how Western Christianity, or what I like to call ‘White Jesus’, has banalised the faith into a taggable cliché opposed to an actual way of life. It’s as if the word Christian, which in its original usage is a noun and not an adjective (Acts 11:26), has nothing to do with Jesus but everything to do with conservative politics and who’s in the oval office or number 10 (depending on which side of the Atlantic you’re reading from).
When we remember that the original usage of the word Christian is a noun and not an adjective which we can use to prefix any idea, occupation, or movement, sorting through trends like ‘Christian nationalism’ becomes much easier. When you accept Christ, Christian is who you are, not a personality trait, political stance, or a series of ‘conservative’ values.
With that being said, ‘Christian nationalism’ is a fallacy because it’s oxymoronic. Nationalism prefixed by the word ‘Christianity’ is no more godly or righteous than murder prefixed with the word ‘Christ-like.’ It just doesn’t make sense.
To say that there is space to reconcile nationalism (i.e. ‘loyalty to a government or nation; specifically, a sense of national consciousness exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations or supranational groups’) and Scriptural doctrine is implausible.
There is no room for ideologies that exalt oneself, one’s culture or one’s government above all others in the Christian walk. The entire idea of being Christian is to be a follower of Christ; not a follower of self-motivated desires or goals, a political party, or a Western conservative ideal.
The leaders of these ‘patriotic churches’ have conveniently missed the passages of Scripture that teach one to love their neighbour as they love themselves (Mark 12:31), the scriptures that say that earthly labels like male, female, Gentile, or Jew are no longer the primary identities for those who are in Christ (Galatians 3:28), and the scriptures that tell of the stupidity of those who think only of themselves and sneer at others who have sense (Proverbs 18:1).
The theology of ‘White Jesus’ and all of the so-called ‘Christian’ movements birthed from it are as far from Biblical truth as one can get. Any doctrines that praise oneself or one’s country above the needs and the realities of the world around them is not Scripturally sound. Neither is it right.
No one gets a gold star for not loving their country more than they love heaven. To think that the promise of eternity is the primary determiner of the Christian faith is quite short-sighted. The Christian faith is about a reconciled relationship with the Creator, God the Father. This reconciliation enables us to truly love the world unconditionally, regardless of political stance, sexuality, gender, race, or class.
Does the Word not teach in Colossians that through Christ, God the Father reconciled this world to Himself, “making peace with everything in heaven and on earth” (Colossians 1:19–20)? Heaven may be the endpoint, but the salvation of the world right here and the people we see right now is the goal.
If there is one thing that these ‘patriotic church’ leaders did get right is that the Christian faith in America is “under attack.” I absolutely agree. Biblical Christianity has been clouded by Western materialism, selfism, hedonism, politics, white supremacy…the list goes on and on. I could speak forever about how ‘White Jesus’, Western saviorism, religious politics and ‘voting Jesus’ (whatever that means) are literally killing the world. But maybe I’ll save that for another day.
A part of me wishes that I could be in the room with some of these ‘Christian nationalist’ thinkers. I’d love to ask them what they thought of the ‘colluding churches’ in Nazi Germany, or how how they believe the Scriptures mentioned throughout this article find their place in nationalist ideology.
Then again, most of these folks believe that Covid-19 is a hoax and refuse to wear masks, so I think I’m good on being in the same room.