Fortunately this isn’t something that has particularly filtered through into the British Evangelical conscience but because some of my readers are from the USA and also because directly or indirectly, stuff happening there filters through here, I wanted to pick up on a particularly concerning cultural trend in America.
Increasingly I’m hearing talk about Christian Nationalism. There are a few aspects to this with different theological factors affecting them. First, there is the general idea that it is good when governments seek to observe God’s ways and so Christians should speak up for the things we value. I guess most of us would be reasonably comfortable with this as a good thing in general.
However, Christian nationalism tends to push things a bit further by returning to the concept of a Christian nation. This is more than simply the idea that a country might be culturally Christian due to its heritage or that a significant majority of people have become Christians. The idea is rather that the nation is Christian formally through its institutions. Again, this is more than simply having an established church. The idea is closely associated with Theonomism with the laws implemented being those that the Government interprets as applying Old Testament Law.
There are a number of issues with this. First, it turns legislators, policemen and judges into theologians, interpreting Scripture. Or it turns pastors into legislators and judges. Secondly, it puts the focus on external Christian growth. This is similar to the problem with pedobaptism when the baptism is seen as bringing the child into salvation and the church. It means that the church risks losing its evangelistic zeal and focuses instead on large families and political action.
However, there is an even more toxic aspect to Christian Nationalism because it is sadly often the case that people are not thinking in terms of Christian nations but of a or the Christian Nation. This means that it becomes associated with American exceptionalism. In other words, there is a difference between what we might call Christian Nationism -the idea that nations can be Christianised (problematic in its own right as we’ve seen above) and Christian Nationalism, the idea that one country is uniquely Christian, uniquely special and therefore worthy of particular honour.
Let’s be clear that there is nothing Christian about this at all. It is simply nationalism with all of the danger that entails particularly around racism and the temptation towards imperialism/empire building. Traditionally, this kind of nationalism (distinct from patriotism or the desire for national independence) is associated with mythology. For example, Hitler attempted to trace German heritage back to an Aryan super race. Britian and America have been plagued by some pretty weird mythology about being connected to lost tribes of Israel. There was once a bizzare theory called “British Israelitism” which claimed that the US and Britain were really Ephraim and Manasseh. Mormonism is rooted in a similar bit of mythology.
So, I want to be clear that Christian Nationalism is heresy. It’s false teaching and therefore not only ridiculous but is sinful and evil. Any false teaching is evil because it is idolatrous by presenting false ideas about God or encouraging the worship of other Gods. We must not turn western, American, British or European culture into an idol. The racist overtones we often see in nationalism make it morally despicable too.
You cannot and must not attempt to Christianise idolatry and sin. Whatever adjective you attempt to tag in front of nationalism, it is never Christian.