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3 Ways You're Falling for Christian Nationalism

3 Ways You're Falling for Christian Nationalism
Posted by Patrick Miller

The following is adapted from our recent conversation with Paul D. Miller. Check out the full episode, “Why Christian Nationalism Corrupts Christianity,” wherever you listen to podcasts. 

In the last year, the conversation around Christian nationalism changed dramatically. The “Christian nationalist” label, previously considered derogatory, is now embraced by some Christians as a badge of honor.

So, what is Christian nationalism anyway, and is it really so bad? 

Our recent podcast guest, Paul D. Miller, defines Christian nationalism as 1) believing that America is a Christian nation, as well as 2) believing that the government has a role in keeping it that way. The emphasis on the latter. 

Put differently: it’s the belief that Christians own and operate the American brand and that America ought to have primarily Christian rulers instigating a Christian moral order in order to survive. While Miller advocates that Christians should have a place in the public square and ought to persuade people of their perspectives, Christian nationalists argue that Christians must take power and use it to enact Christian law (for example, blasphemy laws). 

Persuading people of Christian principles is different than demanding Christian power. One option is comfortable in a pluralistic society, while the other seeks to sacralize society. But in practice,  the difference can be a fine line to walk. So, let’s make it simple. Here are three ways you can diagnose whether or not you’ve embraced Christian nationalism: 

  1. You’re discriminating against non-Christians. Protestants once sought to prevent Roman Catholics from holding public office. If a “Christian” cause requires you to discriminate against others, withholding opportunities from those who do not share your religious or cultural identity, then you’ve embraced a form of Christian nationalism. The apostle Paul taught us to persuade people into faith, but creating Christian requirements for voting, serving, or holding office creates a coercive environment where people falsely agree to Christianity out of political expedience. 

  2. You're being impractical and unrealistic. There’s a limit to how much a secular government can enforce Christian values. The apostle Peter called the church a “holy nation,” suggesting that any Christian projects to establish a new “holy nation,” are fundamentally misguided.

    One example: A hundred years ago, Christians got together and successfully passed the 18th Amendment, banning the sale and transportation of alcohol, also known as prohibition. This spectacularly backfired. It was a terrible idea. (Many Christians today agree!)

    Christians do not expect human governments to stand in for the Kingdom of God. This means that (in a democratic republic) we tread a fine line between order and freedom. On the one hand, we want well-ordered societies that promote flourishing. On the other hand, we understand that God has given humans the freedom to organize their lives and that in a pluralistic society some will choose to do so in disordered ways.

    Christian Nationalism prioritizes order over freedom, seeking to stringently limit the degree to which non-Christians order their lives. This inevitably risks the very tyranny into which most nationalistic projects devolve. Christians want neither tyranny (too much order) nor anarchy (too much freedom), which often means living in a pluralistic gray zone, where Christian values can be argued, but not always enshrined in law.

  3. You're blurring the boundaries between church and state. The non-establishment clause sought to prevent the state from establishing a state church. This is a good thing because state-sponsored churches often become propaganda outlets for the nation, not embassies for the kingdom of God.

    For example, some Christians want to see prayer and bible study back in public schools. But do Christians really want to allow a government employee to be in charge of teaching the Bible or leading prayers before children in public schools? What if that employee’s theology isn’t Biblical? What if their prayers are out of alignment with your theology?

    Public religion in a “Christian” state always begs a question: whose version of Christianity will reign supreme? Hundreds of years of religious wars after the reformation should remind us that these debates are rarely resolved with words alone.

Want to learn more about what Christian nationalism is (and isn’t)? Check out our recent podcast episode featuring Paul D. Miller for more.


Posted by Patrick Miller

Patrick Miller (MDiv, Covenant Theological Seminary) is a pastor at The Crossing. He offers cultural commentary and interviews with leading Christian thinkers on the podcast Truth Over Tribe, and is the coauthor of the forthcoming book Truth Over Tribe: Pledging Allegiance to the Lamb, Not the Donkey or the Elephant. He is married to Emily and they have two kids.

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