Following the arguments of Hunter Baker and Warren Throckmorton about the nature of the United States with their follow up responses to each other, I am thankful for this country. We get to argue about the very nature of the nation and for most of human history, almost nobody could safely challenge basic ideas regarding their state! What do I think?
I think the United States has been very clever in our solution to the “church-state” problem up to this point in our history by not solving the problem! We did not establish a church, but tacitly privileged broadly Christian ideas and culture. The Founders could sign the Constitution “in the year of our Lord” without making a state religion. Christianity was in the air, even our deist Founders overwhelmingly were coming out of Christianity and so reacting to orthodox doctrines.
We know our Founders came from a range of religious perspectives, some congenial to Christianity and some not as much. We also know that the United States of America always has had (and retains) a Christian supermajority. Many of the nations that provided our first populations were themselves Christian nations. Many of the philosophers that gave content to our Revolution, such as John Locke, were Christian thinkers. Many, of course, but not all.
We have never been very consistent in our treatment of church and state, thank God. Washington hated profanity, but was not the most faithful church goer. We have always been a bit like Washington.
Why hate ideologues? Ideologues are always trying to make everything consistent with some overarching idea. Church and state must be totally separate! Church must bow to state! State must bow to church! All those solutions have produced madness. Americans have worked hard not to make things consistent. Let’s hope we keep it up: let’s celebrate Christmas, but let people say “Happy Holidays.”
Human things like politics must contain room for error, flexibility, and mercy. The US tolerated Amish people even though they were not mainstream. Atheists like Robert Ingersoll could make careers and the rogue Mark Twain got rich mocking us. At the same time, we told polygamists that this was too far and our civil religion included songs like the Battle Hymn. If you could support general Christian morality, then we were willing not to ask too many questions. Theodore Roosevelt was no Bible thumper, but his voters could leave an auditorium singing “Onward Christian Soldiers.”
The great danger is if Christians reject the muddle for Christian nationalism.
I am a patriot, not a nationalist. A patriot loves the country the way a person loves home: not absolutely, but decently. We love our nation, because she is our home and we are thankful for all the good she brings us. Just as homes need not be perfect to earn our love, so our nation can be deeply flawed and still be loved.
We do not have to hide from hard truths, but we also can celebrate where we have done well and any progress we have made. I want what is best for my national family!
A nationalist, however, risks preferring his national home too much. He puts his nation “first” above the reasonable needs of other nations. To an extent, the patriot will do this as well. My job is to be a good citizen in America, because America is my national home. What is happening in Great Britain, where my biological family originated, is of less immediate importance to me. There is nothing wrong with prioritizing family.
We do not love our family and ignore our neighbor. A Christian does not hustle past the Samaritan, because he is not part of our people group. There is a duty to love all humankind, even our enemies. As a result, we cannot treat other nations badly, because they are “other.” A Christian as a Christian is also a subject of King Jesus and so can never owe primary allegiance to any state. Nationalism over emphasizes my duty to my national home and under emphasizes obligations to our neighbors.
Balancing all our loves in this age when we know so much of what is happening in every nation is hard. A Christian patriot cannot simply accept whatever is best for his or her nation, but must also consider the impact on other nations and whether that impact is just.
Here is to patriotism in the Christian life: God save the Republic!