Christian Nationalism

Published by DonDavidson on

Politicians such as Georgia’s Marjorie Taylor Greene and Pennsylvania’s Doug Mastriano are embracing something called “Christian nationalism.” I don’t know that there is a universal definition for that phrase, but it seems to boil down to this: the belief that the United States is, and should be, a Christian nation, and that our laws should reflect and enforce Christian values.

Now I see nothing wrong with using your conscience and your values to evaluate the merits of candidates and issues. I do it all the time, particularly regarding the character of the people who are running for political office.

But I see a number of problems with Christian nationalism.

First, there is the obvious problem that not all Americans are Christians, and therefore have no desire to live by “Christian values.” But let’s move on.

There is also the practical problem of whose Christian values should our laws reflect? Sincere Christians have different views on issues such as abortion, immigration, gun control, and the social safety net, among others.

But the biggest problem I see with Christian nationalism is with its goals and values.

The primary goal of Christianity is, and should be, to spread the Good News of God’s love and forgiveness throughout the world—to “make disciples of all the nations.” (Matthew 28:19) History teaches that Christianity is most effective in doing this when it seeks to persuade and inspire rather than coerce.[1]

In contrast, the primary goal of Christian nationalism is power—the power to use the law to coerce others to conform to the religious values of those wielding the power.

The 19th century historian Lord Acton warned us that “Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Power in the hands of religion corrupts religion, and when religion is corrupted it loses its ability to persuade and inspire. History has many examples of power corrupting religion, such as the Papacy in the Middle Ages, the Inquisition, the Salem witch trials, the “German Christians” in Nazi Germany,[2] or the theocracy of modern-day Iran. Experience teaches that government and politics tend to change Christianity, and not for the better, rather than the other way around. So I am skeptical of those who want to use religion as a means to power, for that is not religion’s purpose.

Furthermore, if the primary goal of Christianity is, and should be, to spread the Good News, Christian nationalism is counter-productive, for it does not present Christianity in a favorable light. When I look at Christian nationalism, I do not see Jesus’ love, mercy, and forgiveness; instead, I see arrogance, judgment, and intolerance—things that drive people away from the church.

[1] Christianity grew rapidly during its first three centuries when it had no power to coerce, and was in fact opposed and persecuted by the mighty Roman Empire. Christianity spread throughout the world primarily through the efforts of missionaries and evangelists, not armies (in contrast to Islam, which was spread primarily by military conquest in its formative years). 

[2] The German Christians, with the help of the Nazi government, gained control of the German Lutheran Church, embraced Nazi racism and anti-Semitism, and excluded those Christians who refused to conform, such as Martin Niemöller and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The German Christians even sought to remake Christianity in the Nazi image. For example, they presented Jesus as an Aryan rather than a Jew, put the Nazi swastika inside churches, and excised parts of the Bible which cast a favorable light on Jews, including Jesus’ Jewish heritage and background.


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