A few days ago, I sent out a tweet on Twitter that said, “Nationalism and Christianity are mutually exclusive.” This is a concise statement (as they must be on Twitter) and deserves some explanation.
The first thing to be examined is definitions. Labels are useless unless clearly defined. Nationalism does not simply refer to love or devotion to one’s country. According to Marriam-Webster, Nationalism is: “loyalty and devotion to a nation; especially : a sense of national consciousness exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations or supranational groups.” Further, Merriam-Webster separates patriotism as being only the first part of the above definition. Loyalty and devotion to one’s nation is patriotism. Nationalism goes beyond patriotism. Also, I am not referring to duty. The Apostle Paul taught that Christians should respect the rule of civil authority and Jesus taught that people should perform their civic duties. So I am not stating that a Christian cannot love his or her country nor am I stating that a Christian cannot perform his or her civic duties.
Nationalism goes beyond love and devotion to a primary emphasis on the promotion of a nations culture and interests. The American Heritage Dictionary also includes this definition, “Devotion, especially excessive or undiscriminating devotion, to the interests or culture of a particular nation-state.” [emphasis mine] Again this is not simply devotion to a country but undiscriminating devotion.
Nationalism warps the good and edifying notions of civic duty and patriotism to become something else. The Nationalist will not discriminate, i.e. discern between nation and God. Nationalism asserts the nation as the highest good and thus, to the nationalist, identity is found in the nation, and what is best for the nation is the moral compass. This stands opposite Christianity in that to the Christian, God is the highest good and identity is found in Christ.
Thus, where civic duty and even patriotism are acceptable, and even encouraged, in the Christian life, nationalism has no place.
I do not bring this up because I think that Donald Trump is a nationalist per se. Such conjecture is not helpful. I do believe he is an authoritarian, a brand of leadership that nationalists generally favor. He does surround himself with people who are nationalists and his election has given rise to the voice of nationalists in what is being called the “alt-right.”
Despite its recent time in the spotlight, the “alt-right” is nothing new. Over the years, I have received emails from those who call themselves “Pro-Western Christianity.” They define Christianity as a devotion to God, Race, and Family. Back then, they were marginalized. Their hatred of adoption (particularly international adoption), their hatred of global missions, etc were hardly noticed. Now, they are finding a place in mainstream politics. Moreover, they have found a place in the party that many Evangelicals feel shares their values. The camel’s nose is well into the tent.
However, while Christians may love their country and perform their civic duties, Christians cannot ignore the fact that we are first part of a Kingdom which transcends nations and ethnic groups. Christians cannot ignore the fact that we are called to make disciples of all nations, and that our true home is not of this world.
The Nationalists are finding their place in mainstream politics. I urge those Christians who work within the GOP to stand against this. However, all Christians must now work to prevent nationalism from finding a place within our churches before it poisons our mission and our very faith.
Aaron Davis is the author of the novel Street Preacher and is currently working on a memoir, Baggage Claim. He is developing a speaking and coaching ministry to address mental health in the church and ministry. If you are interested in having him speak to your church or organization, click here for more information.
Author, Parent, Husband, Christ-follower