PT 3209. Resentment vs Compassion Part 9
To Slay the Christian Nationalist Dragon
With a battle axe in one hand and a sword in the other, I’m dressing myself in the armor of Christian progressivism in order to engage in battle and to slay the Christian Nationalist Dragon. Would you please send me a donation? It’s a worthy cause, isn’t it?
Now, I must confess that I’ve never knowingly met a Christian nationalist. Perhaps living and teaching in Berkeley provides sufficient insulation. All my friends are progressives. They tell me that the Christian nationalist dragon is out there, breathing fire and threatening destruction of democracy. We need to extinguish that fire before it consumes us. So, I’ll don my progressive breast plate and take a fire extinguisher into mortal combat. Would you please send me a donation? It’s a worthy cause, isn’t it?
Here is my thesis in this post. Christian nationalism (CN) exists, to be sure. But the description of CN as a fire-breathing dragon in the form of a dangerous social movement is the fabrication of progressive Christians who want an excuse to engage in cultural warfare and to collect donation money. There is no Christian Nationalist Dragon to fight. A dragon’s egg, perhaps. A baby dragon, perhaps. But no dragon worthy of mortal combat.
I am far more worried about the scapegoating of the Christian nationalist dragon than I am about the dragon itself.
Christians Against Christian Nationalism
Perhaps like you, I almost daily receive requests to send money in support of the army fighting the Christian nationalist dragon. Today’s email [email@example.com] from Jaziah Masters includes this line: “Example after example proves that the ideology of Christian nationalism fuels violent extremism, especially white nationalist violence.” Now, if this is true, I wanna give money. Lots o’ money. If you’d like to fight against this pernicious foe, you can send your donation here. Your donation will increase the size of the anti-Christian nationalist army.
But, is this based on truth?
Where is the Christian Nationalist Dragon’s lair?
Wikipedia provides a succinct description.
Christian nationalism is Christianity-affiliated religious nationalism. Christian nationalists primarily focus on internal politics, such as passing laws that reflect their view of Christianity and its role in political and social life. In countries with a state Church, Christian nationalists, in seeking to preserve the status of a Christian state, uphold an antidisestablishmentarian position. Christian nationalists support the presence of Christian symbols and statuary in the public square, as well as state patronage for the display of religion, such as school prayer and the exhibition of nativity scenes during Christmastide or the Christian Cross on Good Friday
If it is true that Christian nationalism is “Christianity-affiliated”, then one would expect to find the dragon spitting fire within the Christian church. Now, which church? Which denomination? I have not found one yet.
I’ve gone to Google to look up “Christian Nationalism.” The first twenty or so entries on Christian Nationalism all linked me to anti-CN articles or sites. How many links were there to pro-CN sites that explained Christian nationalist policies, recruited new disciples, or solicited for CN donations? None. Zero. Zip. The only way to learn about CN is to ask anti-CN’ers.
Actually, I found one. Sorta. It was an Amazon link to a book by Andrew Torba, Christian Nationalism: A Biblical Guide for Taking Dominion and Discipling Nations. Yes, Torba fits the description of the CN dragon. But, no affiliation with a church or denomination is touted. Rather, Torba is a blogger on GAB. Other than his website, the long list of Google entries are as anti-GAB as they are anti-CN. Again, Wikipedia.
GAB is an American alt-tech microblogging and social networking service known for its far-right userbase. Widely described as a haven for neo-Nazis, racists, white supremacists, white nationalists, antisemites, the alt-right, supporters of Donald Trump, conservatives, right-libertarians, and believers in conspiracy theories such as QAnon.
Well, no wonder we see an explosion of anti-GAB commentary. Perhaps the knights in shining armor fighting the GAB dragon will keep this dragon at bay. I hope so.
Where is Christian Nationalism in the January 6 Congressional Committee Report?
Where is Christian Nationalism in the January 6 Congressional Committee Report? It’s hardly recognized. There are no referrals of Christian nationalist dragons to the U.S. Department of Justice for prosecution. Why? Well, simply because Christian nationalism played no decisive role in the insurrection.
What? Really? The anti-CN’ers are complaining. “There must be a Christian nationalist dragon there!” The anti-CN’ers want the committee to acknowledge the great Christian nationalist dragon. But, alas, the committee didn’t. “Christian Nationalism” was mentioned only once in passing. So, the complainers are whining:
“Flags and banners” may represent a dragon’s egg or even a baby dragon at most. But, certainly not a battle-ready dragon.
I find this pathetic, frankly. The anti-CN’ers who proffer the myth of the Christian nationalist dragon whine because the investigation into the January 6 , 2021 Capitol attack did not blame any “Christianity-affiliated” organization or movement. Blaming Proud Boys or QAnon or Donald Trump is not enough. White ‘n’ woke progressives want to blame some Christians too! What’s going on here?
Christian Nationalism in Politics
I’ve addressed the matter of religious nationalism extensively in an earlier series of posts. In my analysis, I’ve suggested that there is widespread ressentiment in many nations, including the United States. Something real is going on, to be sure. But, depicting what is going on as a movement dubbed “Christian Nationalism” is not helping our assessment.
Where does the Christian Nationalist Dragon breathe its fire?
Let’s ask: does anybody in the public square mouth the doctrines of Christian nationalism? Yes, indeed. But they are not Christianity-affiliated mouth pieces. They are politicians trying to elicit the evangelical vote. In the above posts I examined the role in public life of Governor Ron DeSantis and Congresswoman Margorie Taylor Greene. These colorful politicians make the news almost daily. But one can hardly equate them with a church or denomination that espouses the doctrines of Christian nationalism.
Among other considerations, I’ve suggested that anti-Christian Nationalism in America is promoted by progressives who are actually anti-Evangelical. The progressive tactic is to describe the January 6 Proud Boys and other Trumplicans as dragons, and then paint all evangelicalism with this dragon-colored brush. A Religious News Service report provides an illustration.
But, evangelicals do not see themselves this way. The Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, for example, repudiates Christian nationalism. “Christian nationalism is not Christianity,” says one Baptist leader, Amanda Tyler.
Despite the fact the media describes evangelicalism as a voting “block,” pastors and parishioners are not uniformly Trumpers. In fact, Donald Trump has excoriated the elusive evangelical block for failing to support him strongly enough. See: “Trump lashes out at evangelicals” on YouTube. To equate American evangelicals with American nationalism is a mistake, to say the least. Yet, progressives insist on misleading us with alleged connections to Trump, January 6, and more.
In the above posts, I note how virtually every evangelical theologian and church spokesperson who has publicly addressed Christian nationalism has denounced it. I browsed through my Patheos confrere bloggers–Roger E. Olson, Chris Gehrz, Melissa Borja, Nathan Rinne, Joao Chaves, Jim Denison, Jackson Wu, Shan Norwood, and others. I could not find a single evangelical theologian who embraces American Christian nationalism.
Now, why don’t our progressive Christian friends applaud with joy? White ‘n’ woke progressives–many of whom are post-evangelicals–could make alliances with the anti-CN evangelicals. But, our progressive colleagues want to hide the fact that, underneath, they’re really anti-evangelical. By kicking up anti-Christian nationalist dust, the underlying anti-evangelical agenda gets hidden.
Watch the move within anti-evangelical rhetoric in Diana Butler Bass and Julie Ingersoll or others. The sequence of propositions goes something like this. Once it’s established that we all oppose the January 6 uprising; and once we’ve established that the Christian nationalist dragon is responsible for this uprising; then the progressive adds something. What gets added? This did not begin with the Trump era. Oh no. It began long before. When? During the era of Christian reconstructionism? No. Still further back. All the way back to the entire history of American evangelical Christianity. Bingo. The progressive has now painted all evangelicals with the Trump era brush. Scapegoating evangelicals is the most fitting term I can think of to describe such anti-CN rhetoric.
As a progressive Christian in a progressive conext, frankly, I’m embarrassed that my progressive friends are stooping this low. In their haste to denounce American evangelical Christians as Trumplicans, bigots, racists, and Christian nationalists, the progressives are now contributing to false news and the disintegration of American rhetorical integrity.
Let me restate the thesis of this post. Christian nationalism (CN) exists, to be sure. But the description CN as a fire-breathing dragon in the form of a dangerous social movement is the fabrication of progressive Christians who want an excuse to engage in anti-evangelicalism. And, of course, to collect donation money. There is no Christian nationalist dragon to fight. A dragon’s egg, perhaps. A baby dragon, perhaps. But no battle-ready dragon worthy of mortal combat.
The scapegoating rhetoric directed overtly toward the Christian nationalist dragon and covertly toward evangelical Christianity is more dangerous, I think, than the dragon itself. I cower at the thought that progressives might provoke discrimination if not violence against evangelicals.
Where o’ where can we go to get sober and realistic assessments of our current situation?
Ted Peters is a Lutheran pastor an emeritus professor at the Graduate Theological Union. He co-edits the journal, Theology and Science, with Robert John Russell on behalf of the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences, in Berkeley, California, USA. His single volume systematic theology, God—The World’s Future, is now in the 3rd edition. He has also authored God as Trinity plus Sin: Radical Evil in Soul and Society as well as Sin Boldly: Justifying Faith for Fragile and Broken Souls. See his website: TedsTimelyTake.com.
He has just published a new 2023 book, The Voice of Public Theology, to be published by ATF Press.