Christian Nationalism is a form of self-righteousness. It’s a spirituality that blends Colonialism and Manifest Destiny. It convinces people that the land, resources, and lives of outsiders exist to serve their desires and wealth. Adherents of Christian Nationalism assume they and “their” country can take the lives and possessions of others without any objection or resistance—even from the victims themselves.
Christian Nationalism is the belief that a country and everything it includes—laws, society, economy, government, religion, education, foreign policy, etc—should adhere to a very specific “Christian” worldview. In the United States, the type of “Christianity” fueling Christian Nationalism is a white-supremacist movement as old as the country itself.
Some Christians are starting to recognize the idolatry of Christian Nationalism. Trumpism has forced many to finally see the dangers of it, but in many ways Donald Trump is simply one manifestation of many generations of Christian Nationalism. And while he uses rhetoric and commits actions that are xenophobic, racist, and vile, the systems, ideologies, and marriage of Christianity with hate have been present since the very first colonizers started their genocidal quest for wealth and power.
The widespread scope of Christian Nationalism goes far beyond today’s political climate, and a serious study of American history—filled with continuous bloody and oppressive traumas—reveals the ugly truth that our nation has used Christian Nationalism for hundreds of years as one of its most common and effective weapons, often undetectable to those who embraced it as their preferred brand of faith.
The slaughter of Indigenous peoples was rationalized as a divinely inspired form of Manifest Destiny. Slavery was rationalized as a way to “Christianize” others and bring them to “salvation.” Segregation was reinforced by mainstream white churches throughout America.
We only have to look back a few years to see how completely poisoned American Christianity—especially white Christianity—has become with nationalism.
After 9/11, it passionately embraced “the Global War On Terror,” gleefully embracing the belief that it was a form of patriotism and holy righteousness to violently and clumsily invade the Middle East, killing hundreds of thousands of Muslims, and leaving behind poverty, death, destruction, and social and political chaos. If you think Christian Nationalism is bad now, remember when we convinced ourselves that WMDs were a justification for ending the lives of countless people loved by God.
It was also not that long ago when Christians helped create the legislation and laws that have now cemented a penal system that mimics modern slavery, where the rich are rewarded because of the legal representation they can afford, while the poor and BIPOC are disproportionately arrested and incarcerated. This was all sanctioned by a Christian society that spiritualized its racism and fear and pretended its actions were an act of protecting the country. Today, racism and xenophobia and bigotry and hate are being spewed by millions of people, and our nation continues to kill and oppress, and despite all of this many churches laud these acts as being honorable and holy—even promoting and participating in them.
Christian Nationalism has infiltrated every aspect of our society. Education, wages, government, military, policing, entertainment, healthcare, social services, and especially within the Christian faith community.
Christian Nationalism is more popular than you might think, and it’s become so mainstream within some communities that they can’t even recognize—or refuse to admit the association—that Christian Nationalism has overtaken their religious practices. Here are a few warning signs that your “Christianity” might actually be a form of white supremacy and Christian Nationalism:
- A church leadership that fails to publicly condemn racism and white supremacy
- Mission trips to “Third-world countries”
- Taking mainly white parishioners to “the city” to “evangelize” and “do ministry”
- Predominantly white Bible schools and seminaries with urban ministry programs and degrees–but no suburban or rural ones
- Predominantly white Bible schools and seminaries with predominantly white students, faculty, staff, and required reading lists and academic materials from predominantly white authors
- The American flag prominently displayed within a church
- Religious celebrations of the 4th of July and services that glorify military and law enforcement service
- End Times and prophetic “theology” that vilifies groups of people, countries, or political parties
- A theology of salvation that only works through a history of Colonialism and genocide (but is referred to as ‘Church History’)
- An overemphasis of “submitting to government authorities” whenever it is politically convenient, but downplaying Christ’s commands to love your neighbor and help the oppressed
- Prideful claims of “being biblical” while simultaneously having a notable absence of the life and words of Jesus
- Fearmongering rhetoric about “liberalism” or “the media’s agenda”
- Fearmongering rhetoric about “social justice” and “socialism” and critical race theory.
It’s important we address these things within our churches and faith communities, because it’s our responsibility as followers of Christ to help eradicate these forms of idolatry. Christian Nationalism is often subtle, a manipulation and tweaking of scripture, theology, and spirituality to rationalize evil. For example, of all the things Satan could have used to destroy Christ, he decided to tempt Jesus with the Bible. Sadly, for many white Americans, their version of the Christian faith has always been a form of Christian Nationalism. It’s so ingrained within their religion that removing it seems like an attack on Christianity itself. Growing from a faith that oppresses others to one that follows the sacrificial love of Jesus requires education, relearning, deconstruction, and a lot of work.
Evil attacks Christians by tricking them into believing they’re “being biblical” when in reality they aren’t being Christlike at all. To be Christlike is to love your neighbor as yourself. To be “biblical” is to quote verses that align with your personal agendas and contextualize scripture according to your own opinions. Too many people are being “biblical” without being Christlike. This is how Christian Nationalism captures so many people, convincing them of their righteousness while simultaneously using them to commit evil.
We must emulate Jesus and love our neighbors, and although Christian Nationalism dresses itself up as faith and freedom and patriotism and spirituality and even “Christianity,” it is hurtful and oppressive and hateful and violent towards others. It doesn’t exhibit love, peace, patience, or kindness. It doesn’t look or act anything like Jesus.
May we seek Jesus and serve the kingdom of God, pledging our allegiance to Christ above any other earthly ruler. May God help us to sacrificially love others to the best of our ability.
Stephen Mattson is the author of The Great Reckoning: Surviving a Christianity That Looks Nothing Like Christ and of the upcoming social justice devotional On Love and Mercy, which can be pre-ordered here. This article was originally published by Red Letter Christians.