Evangelicals Against Christian Nationalism
I don’t get it. My progressive friends — especially former evangelicals — fire arrow after arrow at White American Christian Nationalism (WACN). But they never hit this target. Instead, these arrows get stuck in the breasts of evangelical churchgoers. I tremble at the thought that we are watching anti-evangelical prejudice rise up behind the smokescreen of anti-Christian nationalism. This confounds me, because the evangelicals I know personally and read about in the media all oppose Christian Nationalism (CN). So, just what does “Evangelicals Against Christian Nationalism” mean?
Is there a case made for Christian nationalism? Yes.
Does the ideology of CN actually exist? Yes, it does.
Take political philsopher Stephen Wolfe, for example. In his book, The Case for Christian Nationalism, he asks that the state provide civil justice, to be sure. But the state should also provide a culturally homogeneous context within which individuals are free to make a faith commitment. Such a government might require a “measured theocratic Caesarism.” A Christian nation would not coerce outward religious affiliation. But it would support the conscience of inner religion. In this way church and state together would better imitate the kingdom of heaven. Wolfe holds that the ideology of CN is a means to a further end, namely, “the earthly and heavenly good of the people of God.” Christian nationalism means this for Wolfe: “a Christian nation is a nation whose particular earthly way of life has been ordered to heavenly life in Christ”(Wolfe, 2022, 174).
Do evangelical readers praise Wolfe’s book? Apparently not. Chemistry homeschooler and Christian apologist Neil Shenvi trumpets: “Christians should not embrace the ‘Christian nationalism’ label (which is simultaneously nebulous and pejorative) and should not embrace this book [The Case for Christian Nationalism] as its standard-bearer.”
In his Gospel Coalition review of Wolfe’s book, Covenant pastor Kevin DeYoung fires the sixteen inch cannons.
“The message—that ethnicities shouldn’t mix, that heretics can be killed, that violent revolution is already justified, and that what our nation needs is a charismatic Caesar-like leader to raise our consciousness and galvanize the will of the people—may bear resemblance to certain blood-and-soil nationalisms of the 19th and 20th centuries, but it’s not a nationalism that honors and represents the name of Christ.”
The Statement on Christian Nationalism and the Gospel
Here’s a second example of CN theology. On May 23, 2023 abortion abolitionists James Silberman and Dusty Deevers released the Statement on Christian Nationalism and the Gospel. Here’s a creedal affirmation of just what Evangelicals Against Christian Nationalism fear.
Article X: On Nationalism and Policy Priorities
WE AFFIRM that nations possess an inviolable right to establish justice and safeguard the peace and prosperity of their own citizens. We affirm that implementing Christian Nationalism in each nation will pursue punishment of each nation’s great evils and promote each nation’s thriving. We affirm that the specific, short-term priorities of Christian Nationalism in the context of the United States are to call our nation, in her laws, formally to acknowledge the Lordship of Christ, to declare solemn days of humility and repentance, to abolish abortion, to define marriage as the covenant union of a biological male a biological female, to de-weaponize the federal and state bureaucracies which target Christians for censorship and persecution, to secure our borders and defend against foreign invaders, to recapture our national sovereignty from godless, global entities who present a grave threat to civilization like the United Nations, the World Health Organization, the World Economic Forum, etc., and, to exercise restraint in international military intervention and adventurism in overseas “democracy building.”
Yuck! Ouch! “As I help students study and communicate the Hebrew Bible’s vision for a nation,” writes Jewish scripture scholar Jacob Wright in Soujourners, “they have to confront how Christian nationalism perverts the Bible’s notion of peoplehood.”
Is CN a dragon or a mouse?
Now I ask: how big is the CN movement? The size of a fire-breathing dragon? Or the size of a squeaking mouse? The only way to expand a mouse to dragon size would be to apply the name, Christian Nationalism, to another larger group. Might the agglomoration of evangelical Christians provide a large enough group to turn a mouse into a dragon?
The only such movement bigger than Christian Nationalism, apparently, is Anti-Christian Nationalism.
Today’s Evangelicals Against Christian Nationalism
The difficulty with the progressive plan to discredit evangelicals is this: most of America’s evangelical leaders are fighting the CN dragon just like the rest of us are. Renowned Baylor evangelical systematic theologian Roger E. Olson declares, “Americanism…is a false religion, even an idolatrous one”
“The Bible is not a prop. A church is not a photo backdrop. Trump’s version of Christianity provides cover for white supremacy and racial subjugation. My fellow Christians who feel the same: join us in denouncing #Christiannationalism.”
In an earlier post I mentioned that I had 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 who embraces WACN. Every one of my evangelical and progressive Christian friends are opposed to American Christian nationalism.
Still, I’m befuddled. Frederick Clarkson and André Gagné blow the warning trumpet in their article, “CHRISTIAN RIGHT DENIALISM IS MORE DANGEROUS THAN EVER: A REPORTER’S GUIDE TO THE NEW APOSTOLIC REFORMATION.” Yet, according to the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) Christian Nationalism Statement…
WE REJECT as unbiblical the belief that America is a uniquely chosen nation, similar to Old Testament Israel being the chosen nation of God.
WE ALSO RECOGNIZE that there is a dangerous and unhealthy form of “Christian nationalism,” one that speaks of a potential Christian uprising against the government or hints at the use of force to advance God’s kingdom.
WE CATEGORICALLY AND UNEQUIVOCALLY DENY any affiliation with or connection to that form of Christian nationalism.
Because WE BELIEVE that God made one human race expressed through different ethnicities and races, all of which deserve dignity and respect as His image bearers, WE REJECT all ideologies and movements claiming ethnic or racial superiority.
I do not personally know any NAR individuals. So, what should I believe? What the NAR itself says about itself or what commentators say about it?
Is WCN political or religious?
Oh yes, in the U.S. House of Representatives, the Honorable Marjorie Taylor Green (R Georgia) titles herself a CN. “We need to be the party of nationalism and I’m a Christian, and I say it proudly, we should be Christian nationalists.”
But the ever colorful MTG speaks on behalf of no church community.
If you want to become a Christian nationalist, don’t go to church. CN is not found in the churches. The horns of CN are blown at political rallies, not congregational worship. Some progressive anti-Christian nationalists such as Patheos blogger Daniel Henderson even admit this important fact.
I signed the Christians Against Christian Nationalism statement. Whew!
Even so, I fear that someone is scapegoating evangelicals. What?! Really?!
How might that happen? Perhaps in the face of the Trump steamroller the progressives among us are feeling fearful, helpless, and resentful. We need someone to blame, someone we can call demonic. We need to place ourselves on the right side of the line between good and evil, on God’s sign of the line. To feel godly is to feel powerful.
So, we progressives ask ourselves: how could we describe the dragon to look larger, fiercer, and more threatening? We could do this by painting all of American evangelicalism with the Christian nationalist brush. Suddenly, the enemy has grown to goliath proportions. Now, we have a good reason to conscript soldiers into the anti-Christian nationalist army, blow the trumpets, and march proudly into the culture war.
Obery Hendrickson’s War on White Evangelicals
In a previous post in this Patheos series on Resentment and Compassion, “Anti-White Christian Nationalism,” I introduced Obery Hendrickson’s new book, Christians against Christianity: How Right-Wing Evangelicals are Destroying our Nation and our Faith. One can tell from the title’s reader line that this is not a book about CN. Rather, it’s a diatribe against white evangelical Christians. Why? Because three quarters of them voted for Trump.
“Despite his [Donald Trump] unequaled agglomeration of ungodly assaults on the peace and well-being of American society, 76 percent of white evangelicals still voted to reelect him [in 2020]. This is an abdication of moral authority of a magnitude not seen in this country since the widely entrenched Christian defense of human enslavement” (Hendrickson 2023, 174).
Regardless of repeated public renouncements made by evangelicals against Chritian nationalism, evangelicals are still allegedly guilty of theocratic politics and white supremecy.
Hendrickson justifies his assault against white evangelical Christians by appeal to their former relation to slavery, Jim Crow, and the Moral Majority. What Hendrickson does is recite history — featuring some of its most embarrassing moments such as Jerry Falwell’s opposition to desegregation in the 1960s — as if it were data for a WACN movement today. Falwell’s atrocious Moral Majority – now a dead letter – gets connected with the Tea Party that appeared subsequently. “The Tea Party is not a Christian movement per se, but it does include a strong and influential evangelical core membership” (Hendrickson 2023, 28). In short, Hendrickson renounces right wing politics and blames white evangelicals for embracing an Anti-Christ spirit.
But, I ask, in light of recent events, is this a shoe that fits the evangelical foot?
Repenting Evangelicals Against Christian Nationalism
In response to the insurrection on January 6, 2021, a large number of evangelical clergy took a public stand against both CN and white supremecy. Here’s their confession in Evangelical Leaders Statement Condemning Christian Nationalism’s role in the January 6th Insurrection.
“We recognize that evangelicalism, and white evangelicalism in particular, has been susceptible to the heresy of Christian nationalism because of a long history of faith leaders accommodating white supremacy. We choose to speak out now because we do not want to be quiet accomplices in this on-going sin. But we also want to celebrate the long tradition of prophetic Christian witness in this nation that has challenged white supremacy and violent Christian nationalism.”
Even though evangelicals against Christian nationalism repent from the very past Hendrickson describes, Hendrickson continues to badger evangelicals for their pre-repentant past. This misleads his readers into thinking that all evangelicals today are fire breathing Trumpers and racists.
Loss of Trust in Religion
The Mini-Cooper of Christian Nationalism is dwarfed in size by the Anti-Christian Nationalist Escalade. By scapegoating evangelicals and stirring up anti-religious fury, the anti-CNers are desecrating, denigrating, and degrading all of religion.
New York Times reporter Jessica Grose has been studying the disaffiliation of young people from the churhes and other institutions. Distrust is the reason given.
“…what distinguishes the under-30 set is a marked level of distrust in a variety of major institutions and leaders — not just religious ones.”
The net impact of Hendrickson’s diatribes, malheureusement, is likely to enhance public distrust of religion. It is likely to inspire more Americans to take a stand “…against Christianity.”
In my opinion, Christians of all stripes along with other conscientious citizens of all stripes should recognize the potential for fascism exhibited by the Donald Trump juggernaut. America dare not risk falling into civil strife by electing a self-professed tyrant.
Also in my opinion, the doctrines espoused by Christian nationalism — theocracy with an underlying racism — should be renounced by Christians. I’m thankful that our evangelicals against Christian nationalism have made these renouncements.
What I fear is a movement to scapegoat American evgelicals in order to defeat Trumper politics. Not only is this unnecessary, it fuels the fires of mistrust directed toward all religion.
This post is PT 3215: Evangelicals Against Christian Nationalism
For previous posts in this series on Resentment vs. Compassion, click away.
Resentment vs Compassion Part 7: Christian Nationalism’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
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. His new 2023 book, The Voice of Public Theology, has just been published by ATF Press.
Notes “What does White Christian Nationalism even mean, anyway?” asks Mitchel Atencio at Sojourners. Kristin du Mez, author of Jesus and John Wayne, answers.
“For evangelicals, domestic and foreign policy are two sides of the same coin. Christian nationalism—the belief that America is God’s chosen nation and must be defended as such—serves as powerful predictor of intolerance toward immigrants, racial minorities, and non-Christians. It is linked to opposition to gay rights and gun control, to support for harsher punishments for criminals, to justifications for the use of excessive force against black Americans in law enforcement situations, and to traditionalist gender ideology. White evangelicals have pieced together this patchwork of issues, and a nostalgic commitment to rugged, aggressive, militant white masculinity serves as the thread binding them together into a coherent whole. A father’s rule in the home is inextricably linked to the heroic leadership on the national stage, and the fate of the nation hinges on both.”
Hendrickson, Obery, 2023. Christians against Christianity: How Right-Wing Evangelicals are Destroying our Nation and our Faith. Boston: Beacon.
Wolfe, Stephen, 2022. The Case for Christian Nationalism. Moscow ID: Canon Press.