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What is Christian nationalism?

Christian nationalism
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Christian nationalism is most often employed as a derogatory term. It is crucial to realize that labels can be unfairly used to trigger an emotional response. Beliefs require more than superficial connection to biblical faith to be truly “Christian,” just as vague similarities between two ideas do not make them equivalent. Such distinctions are often lost in the exaggeration and melodrama of modern communication. It’s common to attack opposing views using the most provocative language possible. Terms like communist, hate, radical, racist, fascist, supremacist, and traitor are applied to views that don’t reasonably fit those definitions. Nationalism falls into this category, at times.

Broadly speaking, biblical Christianity neither implies nor includes “Christian nationalism.” Christians are obligated to individually submit to the will of God (Romans 12:1) and to support one another along those lines (John 15:12). In practice, this means advocating for government actions consistent with a Christian worldview (Proverbs 14:34). It includes defying government commands to commit sin (Acts 5:29). At the same time, a believer’s primary mission is not earthly, let alone political (John 18:36). In fact, the main descriptor for a Christian’s relationship to government is “submission” (Romans 13:1), not “domination.” Perspectives such as Christian Dominionism or Kingdom Now theology rightly invite accusations of “Christian nationalism,” though such perspectives are not reflected in Scripture.

Nationalism is a sense of loyalty and commitment to one’s country. It includes belief that the country ought to self-govern, pursue self-interests, and encourage shared cultural attributes. Such goals are neither good nor bad in and of themselves. Appreciation for one’s culture, language, traditions, music, history, or achievements is a fine thing. The same holds true for efforts to sustain those legacies. What’s inappropriate is an idolatrous, idealized vision of the country that presumes some clique within the nation is superior to all others. Therefore, “nationalism” is rarely used as a criticism without qualification: it is tied to factions such as “white nationalism” or “Christian nationalism.”

The core of those criticisms is not that it is wrong to be nationalist, in the blandest sense of the word. Rather, the implication is that it’s wrong to promote a narrow caricature of the “ideal” nation. Such details separate healthy love of country from the idolatry of factional nationalism. Any yet the word nationalist is what provides these criticisms with emotional punch. The term is something of a political boogeyman, evoking a sense of control, oppression, subjection, or dominance. Decrying a position as “[whatever] nationalism” implies an effort to force society to kowtow to [whatever] perspective.

Critics will often claim “Christian nationalism” when there is the slightest connection between a person’s faith and his or her political or social views. From that perspective, any desire to see laws reflecting godly morality or protecting Christian expressions of faith in public life is invalid nationalism and should be rejected. The same strategy is often used against pro-life or pro-Israel sentiments or support for biblical sexuality. At times, any politically conservative stance conflicting with progressive morality is waved away as “Christian nationalism.”

By that standard, any approach to politics could be belittled as invalid “nationalism.” It would be misleading and unfair to characterize all support for LGBTQ civil rights as “homosexual nationalism.” Those who believe in the separation of church and state are not “atheist nationalists.” The activists who opposed Jim Crow-era segregation were not “black nationalists.” And voters whose morality is defined by the Bible are not “Christian nationalists.” That’s not to say persons identified with sexual, religious, or ethnic groups can never be described as extremists; rather, the point is that advocating specific perspectives does not automatically imply radical nationalism.

Many people identify as “Christian.” With careful context, reasonable persons can identify as “nationalists.” Modern culture uses the phrase Christian nationalism to imply something well beyond a simple overlap of those terms, however. Attitudes that follow biblical principles can’t be fairly described using the popular definition of Christian nationalism; the attitudes that the label implies are not part of a biblical worldview.

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This page last updated: April 26, 2021