Resentment vs. Compassion Part 11
Christian Nationalism vs Anti-Christian Nationalism
As I wade deeper and deepr into the turbulent waters stirred up by the skirmish of Christian Nationalism vs Anti-Christian Nationalism, I’m becoming inundated with confusion and even a sense of terror. I fear I’m drowning in a flood of anxiety, victimization, and cries for help. A deluge of revisionist histories, outright lies, and sinister strategies is choking off any breathing space for a trustworthy assesment of what’s actually going on. I would like to engage in discourse clarification, but I myself lack clarity.
In my recent post, “Don’t Trust Your Pastor,” I reported my disturbance at learning how Tucker Carlson of Fox News and his minions have with uncanny subtelty swept Christian symbolism up into the trash bin of Republican rhetoric. This makes my stomach recoil to the point of….well, I’ll stop here.
In my previous studies on sin, I sought to distinguish between garden variety every day evil, on the one hand, and demonic evil, on the other hand. I concluded that ordinary sinning consists of pursuing evil in the name of the good. Ordinary sinning typically includes self-justification of oneself and scapegoating of one’s enemy, whether that enemy be real or imaginary. Demonic evil is a special case. Demonic evil twists and turns religious symbols so that they no longer communicate grace.
When you or I are overwhelmed by evil and suffering, we can turn to God in prayer. We address God symbolically as our shepherd, father, savior, lord, or king. And with resonant symbols such as the cross of Jesus Christ we can gain strength and confidence to face adversity. Yet, if those symbols have been perverted by corrupters, they can no longer convey God’s gracious love and protection. This, I fear, is what’s happening at least in part with American Christian Nationalism (ACN).
But, this post is not about me and my confusion or fear. Rather, it’s about sorting through the signs of the time to discern what the Word of the Lord might be saying to us. One of the signs of our time is the malestrom of doubletalk, distortion, and outright lies. When a pastor ordained to speak the Word of God engages in doubletalk, distortion, or deceit, then we are set adrift in the whirlpool of discombobulation.
Who is a Christian nationalist?
“Faith, flag, and family.” Reconsolidation of the nation around the strong God of the Christian past. That’s what R.R. Reno, editor of First Things, would advocate. Unfortunately, Reno contends, we live in a regime that is hostile to the public expression of religious convictions. Movements in Washington are rife to eliminate government holidays such as Christmas and Passover. This reigning secular ideology is hidden under labels such as “open society.” As an act of restoration, contends Reno, the U.S. government should acknowledge symbolically its dependence on its distinctive Christian history. Although Reno gives voice to ACNer’s desire for a strong God and a strong nation, he eschews the label, “American Christian Nationalism.”
Disestablishmentarian political scientist, Paul D. Miller, worries that religious nationalism is a form of identity politics that seeks to reform America to match its own identity. This makes ACN both divisve and repressive. Miller gives us a definition: “If you think America is a Christian nation and the government should keep it that way, that’s Christian nationalism.” This makes R.R. Reno an America Christian nationalist whether he accepts the label or not.
In earlier posts I made it clear that evangelical Christian theologians and denominational leaders uniformly renounce American Christian nationalism, especially when CN takes on a racist component. On February 21, 2023 Matthew Harrison, President of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, threatened excommunication to those who spread “horrible and racist teachings of the so-called ‘alt-right’.” On his list of banned ideologis are “white supremacy, Nazism, pro-slavery, anti-interracial marriage, women as property, fascism, death for homosexuals, even genocide.” The Lutheran spokesperson declares, “This is evil. We condemn it in the name of Christ.”
Progressive Christians are also among the condemners. Where is the secure ground within this hurricane of condemners and counter-condemners?
Christian Nationalists vs Christians Against Christian Nationalists
In the rhetorical war of Christian nationalism vs Anti-Christian nationalism, one formidable army is made up of Christians Against Christian Nationalism (CACN). Sociologist Samuel Perry tells us that White Christian Nationalists support authoritarian repression and violence. Christianity and whiteness are identified, he contends. This is claim is made in a Christians Against Christian Nationalism broadcast.
Most of what the world knows about ACN is what CACN says about them. It is difficult to find an ACN catechism or manifesto or party platform. And, as I’ve frequently mentioned, I’ve never personally met a Christian nationalist to interview about this belief system. I hesitate to simply take the word of the CACNs about what the ACNs believe.
To make matters more difficult, American Christian nationalism is not a doctrine propounded by any Christian church, denomination, or school of theology. In fact, denominational and theological spokespersons, including the Baptist Joint Committee on Religious Liberty, have publically stated their opposition to ACN. So, I ask, where do I go to meet an advocate of Christian nationalism?
There is an answer to my question. This video, recommended to me by Valerie Miles-Tribble, is helpful: “The Right’s Fight to Make America a Christian Nation” [CBS Reports / CBSNews Originals, March 4, 2021]. What we hear in the interviews of ACNers by CBS gives voice to anxiety and a deep need to regain solid ground by traditional Christians who feel they’re being blown away by secularism and pluralism.
To find out more officially what ACNer idealogues think, we need to go online to political websites. The political website that sends willies up and down my spine is Turning Point USA.
What do Christian Nationalists believe?
Unsystematically, here is my collection of what I think I hear American Christian nationalists voicing as their concerns and goals.
America was founded on a covenant with God and that defines this country
God has blessed America more than any other country in the history of the world
Americans need to return to this original commitment
Americans should embrace nationalism, not globalism
Americans should deny public services to LGBTQ+ couples in adoption
“One nation under God” should be recited in public schools
America is not a hopelessly racist nation; rather, the constitution guarantees racial equality
True America begins in 1620 with the arrival of European Pilgrims, not in 1619 with the arrival of African slaves
Public schools should suppress “woke indoctrination” in Advanced Placement courses
Young people should not go to college, because the universities teach Critical Race Theory and other liberal doctrines
Young people should fight to overturn the older generation and return our country to its original Christian covenant
Warrior soldiers are our heroes
Civil disobedience if not civil war may be required for revolution
And, of course, vote for Republicans in the 2024 election
Ted’s Timely Take in Four Observations
I offer four observations regarding this list. First, the voice we hear here expresses ressintement. In earlier posts, I tracked anxiety-prompted ressintement in France and America due to rapid and uncontrolled changes in culture which seem to threaten traditional values. Second, Republican Party strategists have perceived the potential energy in this ressentiment and are unleashing it to propell policies and candidates they favor. Third, if Karl Marx were alive to witness this, he would say that the Christian religion has become an opiate the Republican Party administers to manipulate a segment of the population for the party’s design.
Symbol Mayhem on January 6, 2021
Before I turn to my fourth observation, let me remind you that Anti-Christian nationalists contend repeatedly that Christian nationalism is responsible for the January 6, 2021 Capitol insurrection. A Yale scholar I admire, Philip Gorski, grasps what I deem to be important, namely, the symbol mayhem.
“…the violent riot was also a riot of images: a wooden cross and a wooden gallows; Christian flags and Confederate flags; Jesus Saves and Don’t Tread on Me banners; button-down shirts and bullet-proof vests. But these confusing—and even seemingly contradictory—symbols are part of an increasingly familiar ideology: white Christian nationalism. [Gorski, Philip S.; Perry, Samuel L.. The Flag and the Cross (p. 1). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition].
Note how Gorski adds “white” to Christian nationalism. Is Christian nationalism primarily a matter of race? To this question we now turn.
The Issue of Race
My fourth observation has to do with race. The matter of race is so complex and nuanced that I’m not confident I’ve got it right. So, what I offer here is preliminary. Here’s what I think at the moment: it would be a mistake to paint ACNers as racist. To call them white Christian nationalists distorts their self-understanding. If we listen carefully to ACN self-expression, we hear a firm commitment to racial equality. African American clergy and African American political leaders are prominent within American Christian nationalism.
South Carolina’s Nikki Haley has just announced that she’s a presidential candidate for the Republican Party. This candidate considers herself a person of color, of Indian heritage. Haley announces: “America is not a racist country.” What does this mean? This message communicates to white voters that she’s not out to denounce them for being hopelessly mired in intractable racist institutions. White voters should feel unthreatend by Haley. This is a standard Republican rhetorical tactic.
What makes this confusing is that Republicans in the public eye denounce Critical Race Theory (CRT) and “woke indocrination” in public schools. Republicans blow a dog whistle intended to perk up the ears of racially prejudiced voters.
The sound of this dog whistle drowns out CRT’s music therapy. The radar of our critical race theorists within jurisprudence has detected the stubborn resistance of institutions to shed racist practices. We need to thank CRT for making institutional racism visible. To encourage the hearing of CRT’s voice by our school children could only enrich us. But, alas, the malevolent scapegoating of CRT by Florida’s governor Ron DeSantis and Fox News is as self-penalizing as it is volatile.
Let me test out a hypothesis. What some interpreters of CRT hear is a kind of hopelessness. Allegedly, America’s institutions are so racist that we have no hope of reforming them. To Republican ears, this sounds like we are condemning the white race to original sin. When accused of sin, our first response is denial. No, America’s institutions can’t be hopelessly racist! This is why, I surmise, that Turning Point USA along with Nikki Haley announce repeatedly: “America is not a racist country.” Saying this has a hopeful ring.
Within American Christian nationalist circles, spokespersons of color join the chant against CRT. Really? Why? Because opposing CRT keeps hope alive that we can and will achieve genuine racial equality.
It seems to me that an authentic advocate of ACN does not personally identify with neo-Nazism or the KKK. Republicans want the votes of the KKK and neo-Nazis plus the votes of American Christian nationalists. Combining opposition to CRT with “America is not a racist country” is a snare to capture a large swath of voters of all colors. You, dear reader, may correct me if I’m wrong about this assessment.
Resources on Christian Nationalism vs Anti-Christian Nationalism
My GTU colleague, Valerie Miles-Tribble, is teaching a couse this spring semester that takes up the challenges posed by American Christian nationalism. Here are some resources she heartily recommends.
*Kathryn Joyce. “How Christian Nationalism drove the insurrection: A religious history of Jan 6. Salon, January 6, 2022.
*How White Christian Nationalism Threatens Our Democracy (Oct 26, 2022) – Hosted by Georgetown University- Center on Faith and Justice, Jim Wallis, Director and Host.
Then, listen carefully at this debate yet is it really a privilieged apologetic? *Is Christian Nationalism Dangerous? A Conversation with Paul Miller and R.R. Reno
(Oct 2022) – Host Dr. Sean McDowell, Biola Univ.
Resentment vs Compassion: Understanding Christian Nationalism
Where have we been in this Patheos series?
Resentment vs Compassion. Part 1: From Resentment to Ressentiment
Resentment vs Compassion Part 2: From Ressentiment to Reparations
Resentment vs Compassion Part 3: Russian Christian Nationalism
Resentment vs Compassion Part 4: American Christian Nationalism
Resentment vs Compassion. Part 5:” Ressentiment in the White ‘n’ Woke Unhappy Consciousness
Resentment vs Compassion. Part 6: Ressentiment with Copmpassion
Resentment vs Compassion Part 7: Christian Natiionalism’s Decline Narrative
Resentment vs Compassion Part 8: The Unhappy Consciousness Narrative
Resentment vs Compassion Part 9: To Slay the Christian Nationalist Dragon
Resentment vs Compassion Part 10: Don’t trust your pastor
Resentment vs Compassion Part 11: Christian Nationalism vs Anti-Christian Nationalism
What curdles the fibers of my soul is symbol stealing. Christian symbols are meant to mediate divine grace to forlorn and sin-sick souls. To confess our sins to a forgiving God or to pray to “Our Father in heaven” is to fill our mind with the good news that the God of the universe loves each of us unconditionally. To remind ourselves that our creating and redeeming God transcends our particular nation comforts us with the knowledge that our salvation is not subject to the results of the next presidential election. To recall that John 3:16 tells us how God so loved the entire world–our planet and even our cosmos–enjoins us to think globally and not nationally. Jesus’ commandment to love our enemy inspires the pursuit of justice on behalf of all marginalized persons whether at home or seeking asylum.
The cynicism endemic to American Christian nationalism subverts symbols of divine grace and redirects their energies to bolster not just patriotism but also manifest destiny, jingoism, militarism, and most importantly, the dominance of the Republican Party. What we may be witnessing is the theft of the human soul by powers that could become as destructive as they are demonic.
Well, that’s Teds Timely Take on this matter at this time. I certainly hope I’m mistaken in this assessment.
For Patheos, Ted Peters posts articles and notices in the field of Public Theology. He is a Lutheran pastor and 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.
Watch for his new 2023 book, The Voice of Public Theology, to be published by ATF Press.