The Dark Side of Christian Nationalism

He came to His own, and His own people did not receive Him.—John 1:11

Our nation appears more divided than perhaps since the days of the Civil War. But some of God’s children, all of whom are called to be peacemakers, are instead fueling division with a push for Christian nationalism.

The idea is that force-feeding Christian principles at any price upon those who do not share them will restore our country. Does our country desperately need restoration? Absolutely. But our hope doesn’t lie in a change of behavior or a change of leadership, regardless of where we stand politically. It lies in a change of heart, and that cannot be force-fed. It is the work of the Holy Spirit as God’s children live out their mandate to know God and make Him known.

Christian nationalism is a subtle type of idolatry that pairs patriotism with faith. I can’t help but cringe at church services that celebrate God and country. Did Jesus design the church to celebrate “God and” anything? 

No two-headed creature can survive long, so faith eventually succumbs to patriotism. We can see this in history, in Jesus’ first coming.

Israelites were desperate for the advent of their Messiah—not necessarily so He would save them from their sins but so He would save them from their enemies, the Romans who oppressed them. He came as Israel’s King, but He wasn’t the kind of king God’s people wanted. 

They wanted freedom, maybe mixed with a little vengeance.

But Jesus didn’t come as an all-powerful cosmic bully with a do-or-die political agenda. He came to establish His spiritual kingdom to bring salvation to a lost and dying world. 

And God’s people missed it.

They had lost sight of the greater need, just as we have lost sight of it today. Yes, we try to package our agenda in Christianese so it sounds righteous. But the truth is, we don’t want to seek the help of our ultimate Victor. We just want the victory.

Just like the Israelites of Jesus’ time, we want Him to wave His cosmic magic wand and set our world right. We want to bully our way toward furthering His kingdom. The problem is, it doesn’t work like that. 

Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.”—Luke 17:20-21

His kingdom is born out of love gone viral.

 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent His only Son into the world, so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.—1 John 4:7-11

Yes, our country is broken on multiple levels, and yes, it’s a far cry from what our Founding Fathers intended. More important, it’s an even farther cry from what honors God. But true change will not come from coercion. It will not come from division. It certainly will not come from an election. 

Change will only come as hearts are opened—and not hardened—to the truth. The truth, expressed in the person of Jesus, has the power to set our nation and our world free. But we have to walk in that truth, which is grounded in His love and grace. 

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal . . . So now faith, hope and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.—1 Corinthians 13:1, 13