Identifying Christian Nationalism

This week, I am preaching on Hebrews 12:1-2 for All Saints Sunday. In the text, the author reminds the reader that we are surrounded by a “great cloud of witnesses” and that we should look to Jesus who is the “author and perfector of our faith.” While not part of my sermon, this got me thinking about Christian Nationalism.

What is Christian Nationalism? It is

“the “belief that the American nation is defined by Christianity, and that the government should take active steps to keep it that way. Popularly, Christian nationalists assert that America is and must remain a “Christian nation.”

Paul D. Miller (What is Christian Nationalism)

Christian Nationalism is not the same as patriotism, according to Miller. Patriotism is the love of country. Christian Nationalism seeks to define our country as a Christian nation- and that Christians have a special place within the framework of our nation.

This was easily spotted back at the Republican National Convention back in 2020. Vice President Mike Pence, a self-described Christian, quoted the passage I am preaching from in Hebrews.

Did you catch that? Hebrews 12:2 says

“Let us run with perseverance the race that is set out before us, Looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith…”

Pence says,

“Let us run the race marked out for us; let’s fix our eyes on Old Glory…”

Pence leverages the Scriptures for political purposes. He replaces “Jesus,” and tells viewers to look to “Old Glory.” This is a pretty straightforward instance of Christian Nationalism contained in a speech.

The Democrats also know how to warp scripture for political leverage. In August of 2021 following a suicide attack in Kabul that killed several Marines and Afghan citizens, President Joe Biden attempts to communicate that the Marines know the dangers they face in their call to serve the country. Biden quotes Isaiah 6, “Here am I! Send me!” to describe Marine’s willingness to go and serve where called.

If you’re unfamiliar with Isaiah 6, it is the text of God calling Isaiah to go to the people and call them to repentance. Isaiah is calling them back to God. There is nothing regarding the military in the text. This is a gross misinterpretation and misapplication of the text for political purposes.

There is a great danger when we use Scripture out of context to defend, describe, or inspire a nation or army. There is an even greater danger when Scripture, out of context, is used to describe or define an ideology. The Bible never mentions America. America is not, somehow, a new Israel (as I heard occasionally growing up), and our military is not God’s army. Using Scripture in this way enables us to justify the treatment of those not like us as “enemies of God” since they are enemies of our country.

As Christians who are American, let us seek to read and understand the Bible in its own context. It is not an American text. Jesus was a brown-skinned Palestinian Jew. As the author of Hebrews reminds us, let us look to this very same Jesus (and not at Old Glory) who is the author and perfector of our faith.

About Steve LaMotte

Husband of Andrea and father of four amazing children. Pastor at Avenue United Methodist Church in Milford, Delaware.
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