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.
Several years ago, I had a bad car accident. After several hours in the Emergency Room, I was released. I had broken my right hand in three places and had torn the ligaments on the top of my right foot. This made walking without a crutch impossible and using a crutch almost impossible. When I finally go to my house, I tried to hop up the front steps. I fell and the pain brought me to tears.
“Are you going to let me help you now?” My pastor at that time asked. He was the person who brought me home from the hospital and I refused his help so far getting up to the door of my house. However, now I had to let him help me up and hobble on in.
It is hard to ask another person for help. I would much rather figure out a way to help myself. In American culture, we honor and support this idea. We even have a saying (as inaccurate as it is) that, “God helps those who help themselves.”
On Sunday, my pastor taught on the very end of Ephesians, where the Apostle Paul says his good-byes. He pointed to Ephesians 6:23 where Paul concludes with three things: Peace, Love, and Faith. These are perhaps intended to be his final words to them and thus the legacy that he desires to leave.
Our pastor then challenged us with this question: Am I leaving the same kind of legacy? Am I blessing others with peace, love, and faith?
So today, I have been thinking about this notion of Peace. American Christianity is often associated more with bickering and political strategizing, so I find it hard to point to a good example of this peace. My own life (as any of my readers know) has the internal chaos of depression and anxiety. That’s the opposite of peace!
The Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible defines Peace as "Total well-being, prosperity, and security associated with God's presence" A quick glance at most popular Christian television shows and books suggests that Christians today are pretty focused on well-being, prosperity, and security. But would we say that is Peace?
Did the Baker Encyclopedia get it wrong? After all, a major struggle for me as always been to find peace with myself, and one need not look far for examples of those whom enjoy the most prosperity having this same struggle.
There are two missing keys here. The first is right in front of me in the Baker definition: Total well-being, prosperity, and security associated with God's presence. So often, we think of our faith as something we use to attain things like well-being, prosperity, and security, and we get frustrated when despite our best efforts at believing, these things are still lacking. That is because we are striving for a notion of peace that is found apart from God. Seeking God's usefulness is not the same thing as seeking God's presence. I would imagine the difference is something like the difference between sitting in a room, talking with a good friend, and sitting in a room, barking orders at my good friend so that he is reduced to being my butler.
This leads to the other missing key, that peace is something to be shared. For the Christian, the way to experience God's presence is found far more often in gathering with other believers than it is in being alone. This is the necessary value of the church. If our desire for our well-being, prosperity, and security leads to making God our butler, then it will also lead to the church becoming nothing more than a supply closet. It becomes a place we go when we feel we need something. However, if we are seeking God's presence then the church is no longer a place but those fellow believers where we experience that presence together. In the New Testament, the word for "Church," always refers to a group of people rather than place or building. It would be hundreds of years later, and sometime around when Governments started to see Christianity as a tool for political power, that the use of the word changed.
So my desire for peace, and thus, my desire for total-well being, prosperity, and security must be focused on the presence of God and sharing these things amongst one another.
That is the hard part. Something in our nature wants us to seek our own well-being over that of others, but in Christ, we are to seek our well being in that of others.
This is why it is not only helpful, but necessary to both rely on others and serve others. It is easy for a person like myself to try to isolate myself. I’d love it if I could just sit somewhere and write all the time. Of course, a story that is not read, like a song that is never heard, hardly exists. Likewise, for the Christian to exist in and experience peace, requires that our lives, messy as they are, be intertwined with others.
Peace to you!
In my personal Bible Study, I am focusing on one particular passage this week:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.
(Proverbs 3:5-6, ESV)
There are three simple instructions here:
And there is one promise: He will make straight your paths, or as Eugene Peterson put it, “He will keep you on track”
One of the things I have been working hard to do since my hospital stay is reworking my negative thoughts. This is not easy work. It is scriptural, for sure (take every thought captive), but when you have enslaved yourself with your own negative self-talk for so long, getting all untwisted is exhausting at times.
As I reflected on this verse, it occurred to me that this provides an additional check against my thoughts. [My psychologist in the hospital suggested that I take ever negative thought and ask: Is it true? Does it make me feel how I want to feel? Does it help me reach my goals?].
Now here is a little peek into my therapy sessions. One of the overriding negative thoughts that I tie myself down with is:
I am a failure. I failed at church planting. I failed at insurance. I failed at time shares. I fail, I fail, I fail. I am a failure.
So I worked in my notebook at the hospital to take a serious look at this thought. After I answered the questions, I came up with this thought to rehearse instead of thinking “I am a failure.”
Hawaii did not work out the way I wanted it to, and I am not a salesman, but there are plenty of things that I can do that I have yet to try.
That’s not bad, and it is a lot more hopeful, but after spending some time in Proverbs 3:5-6, I decided to do some additional work on this thought:
I added the question: Am I leaning on my own understanding or am I trusting the Lord? The notion that I am a failure is based solely on my own understanding of things that have happened and the silly idea that I can predict the future. Next question? What would it mean to acknowledge Him in this situation?
For the answer there, my mind went to Philippians 4:13: I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
So I edited my reworked thought at bit and now this is what I will tell myself whenever I start to think I’m a failure:
Hawaii did not end the way I wanted it to but good things happened there. I have learned that I am not a salesman but there is still plenty of things I have not tried, and as I seek the Lord, it will be His power and not my own on which I may rely!
Author, Parent, Husband, Christ-follower