The Myth of Christian Nationalism

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Over the past few years, we’ve been hearing about Christian nationalism. Some have said it is just a made-up term from the Left. Others think, “What is wrong with Christian Nationalism?”—believing it is just another term for patriotism.

But is that true? Is Christian Nationalism only a slur from those threatened by those who embrace biblical values? Senior leaders in the Charismatic world such as Dr. Michael Brown, Dr. Mark Chironna, and Dr. Joseph Mattera have all warned about the dangers of Christian nationalism. In other words—they think it is real!

In fact, many people (including political leaders) own the moniker of Christian nationalist. Controversial congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Green recently said, “[The GOP] need[s] to be the party of nationalism, and I’m a Christian, and I say it proudly, we should be Christian nationalists.”

I will argue here that Christianity is real, and nationalism is real—but you cannot combine the two—the ideologies are opposite on another.

What is nationalism?
If you think nationalism is patriotism, you would not be the first to make that mistake. Nationalism is very different from patriotism. A patriot is someone who loves their country. As a patriot, I love the Declaration of Independence, that the Founding Fathers brought 13 colonies together with the idea that we are all created equal by God, and I love how the country came together after 9/11. I love Thanksgiving and the 4th of July. I have an emotional connection to the Star Spangled Banner and My Country Tis of Thee. When I see an American soldier surprise his family by coming home early, I can’t help but cry, knowing that his sacrifice was for the United States. That is patriotism.

Nationalism is different—it is typically a response to feeling put down or disrespected, as if your country is losing control to those who aren’t like you.

In most contexts today, nationalism is ‘the policy or doctrine of asserting the interests of one’s own nation viewed as separate from the interests of other nations or the common interests of all nations.’ In short, nationalism is a kind of excessive, aggressive patriotism.[1]

In modern times, nationalism is the merging of patriotism and national supremacy movements into something that becomes racist and sometimes violent. Vladimir Putin is an example of this. He has “embrace[d] ethno-nationalist motivations, driven by a sense of a historic mission to rectify perceived injustices and to regather lost Russian lands and Russian communities.”[2]

In America, the groups that openly embrace the term nationalism are white supremacy groups, decrying that the US is losing its white, European roots. William Regnery, the rich founder of … a white nationalist/supremacist think tank, believes the GOP has helped his cause. “I think Trump was a legitimizer,” he claimed. “White nationalism went from being a conversation you ‘could hold in a bathroom to a front parlor.”[3] This is not my claim—I am merely quoting the feelings of a white supremacist, which represents many white supremacists.

For some reason, white nationalists were devoted to President Trump in a way they never were with previous Republican presidents. Listen to the words of Richard Spencer, a spokesman for the alt-right and leader of the group that Regnery funds. “But we (in the white Nationalist camp) were connected with Donald Trump on this kind of psychic level. He was the first true authentic nationalist in my lifetime … We rode that wave.”

Nationalism and Nazism
The Nazi movement was a nationalistic movement. Hitler convinced the nation that the Jews were a powerful enemy who wanted to rob Germans of their culture. “From Hitler’s perspective, a campaign against the Jews was an essential part of the war for Aryan survival and expansion.”[4] Nationalism needs an “other”: Jews, Immigrants, blacks, gypsies, etc. Patriotism can celebrate the greatness of one’s country with “others,” whereas nationalism sees them as a threat.

The humiliation of World War I
It would be a mistake to assume that Hitler just appeared. It was a perfect storm for someone like the Fuhrer. A sociopathic antisemite doesn’t just get democratically elected. There were many factors that paved the way. The proud nation of Germany was soundly defeated in World War One. This was a great humiliation. The Versailles Treaty demanded they pay reparations. This sent the German economy into a spiral. “In 1921, the [reparations] commission concluded that Germany owed the Allies 132 billion gold marks ($31.4 billion) …The treaty stunned the Germans.”[5]

When the German government borrowed heavily to make its early Versailles debt payments, it started a period of inflation that the Weimar government later used to underscore what many Germans felt was Allied insensitivity to Germany’s depressed economy. The German mark rose from 8.4 marks to the dollar in 1919 to 18,000 marks to the dollar by early 1923.[6]

The German people felt disrespected and humiliated. Hitler tapped into this pain and used his oratory skills to stir up not merely patriotism but a racist nationalism. Over his 12 years in power, he would manipulate the German people into committing genocide. That is nationalism at its worse.

Nationalists hate the real Jesus
You might wonder why I entitled this piece, The Myth of Christian Nationalism. It is because it is an oxymoron. Nationalism is not Christian but antichrist. To be a Christian nationalist, you have to change Christianity. Christianity is outward reaching to the nations; nationalism is insular.

Hitler hated Jesus and Christianity. He felt that the Jesus of the Bible was effeminate and weak.

A Faith for Weaklings: It was not only Jesus’ Jewishness that provoked Nazi hatred of orthodox Christianity. Along with worshiping a Jewish God, traditional Christianity praises virtues that Nazis found repugnant: love of neighbor, forgiveness, peacemaking, and humility, to name but a few… but in Nazi speech these are replaced by hatred, rejection, brutality, final victory, obedience to Hitler, and rejection of the weak, the ill, and the marginal.[7]

Theologians in Germany recreated Jesus in the image of the Third Reich. I fear that some today are recreating Jesus in the image of the American Revolution. We say, don’t tread on me, and connect it with the image of a snake, but Jesus came as a humble worm (Ps. 22:6). When you step on a worm, he does not bite. Do we? We are ready to fight for our freedom, but Jesus rebuked Peter for such revolutionary actions. And it was the Jewish nationalists that were destroyed by Rome in 70 CE, while the primary focus of the Jewish apostles was to spread the gospel around the world. Had they focused on Jewish nationalism, most of us would not even know about Jesus!

What does that mean to us today?
Let me be very clear. Americans enjoy what I believe is the greatest form of government ever established. The fact that we can participate in the political process was unheard of in generations past. No, we’re not the first democracy, but we are the most unique. Once somebody becomes a believer, that does not mean they should no longer have a political opinion. Just as Jesus told us to pay taxes to Caesar, in our democracy, we can challenge Caesar. Russian journalists salivate at the freedoms our journalists enjoy. I think Christians should absolutely be involved in the political process, but as good citizens, not as part of my religious devotion. My devotion to Jesus is seen in how I let my light shine while being a part of the political process. If I go off to fight a way for my country against an evil enemy, that is my duty to my country. But how I conduct myself in that war as a witness of the Messiah is my duty to God.

I know many Americans on the Right were very tired of being put down by the elitist Left. Who can forget Barack Obama speaking to a group in liberal San Francisco, referring to those in small towns as “bitter…clinging to their guns and religion”? I don’t think there is any question that people like AOC and Adam Schiff look down on evangelicals as out of touch, uneducated and backward, if not outright racists. It is understandable that evangelicals are agitated.

How should we respond?
While we do have a responsibility as Americans to the political process, we also have citizenship in Heaven. And those laws (of the Kingdom of Heaven) require us to do certain things—and when we do, we release the grace of God on our nation. So, while we can run for office, vote, write blogs, and go to pro-life rallies (personally, I was arrested for blocking the entrance to an abortion clinic many years ago), we have to remember that we are also representing Jesus.

It doesn’t matter that they call me a racist; I’m still going to walk in love. I’m going to forgive. I’m going to turn the other cheek. I’m going to pray for my enemies. The Bible tells me that as much as it’s up to me, I am to live at peace with everyone (Rom. 12:18) and to pray for my leaders (for Paul, that would have meant Nero, a butcher!). I know of a church that prayed every week for Donald Trump—as they should have. When I asked my friend if they pray for Joe Biden, he said, “No, he’s hell-bound.” I responded, all the more reason to pray for him!

Peter addresses how we should act in front of unbelievers in the public square. “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” (1 Pet. 2:12). I applaud the boldness and willingness of many believers to confront issues that will affect our families and churches. But often, I see certain leaders behaving more like angry politicians than Jesus. I see them mocking unbelievers with the latest hashtag. Just read some of the mocking tweets, and ask yourself, “are they emulating Jesus or some other influence on their lives?”

Let’s be bold. Let’s preach the gospel. Let’s confront the culture. Let’s do it like Jesus would.

In summary…

Patriotism is good

Nationalism is bad

We should speak out on the political issues of our day, from transgenderism to racism.

We have to remember that as we’re speaking out, we are called to model Jesus to the world.

[1] “‘Patriotism” vs. “Nationalism’: What’s The Difference?” April 17, 2020, https://www.dictionary.com/e/patriotism-vs-nationalism/
[2] Neil Melvin, “Nationalist and Imperial Thinking Define Putin’s Vision for Russia,” March 2, 2022
[3] Deborah E Lipstadt, Antisemitism (New York: Schocken Books, 2019), 51.
[4] Crowe, David M.. The Holocaust (p. 103). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.
[5] Crowe, 90.
[6] Crowe, 95.
[7] Dean G. Stroud, Preaching in Hitler’s Shadow: Sermons of Resistance in the Third Reich (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans 2013), 45.

This article originally appeared on roncantor.com, September 1, 2022, and is reposted with permission.

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Ron and wife Elana make their home in Tel Aviv. He serves on the pastoral team of Tiferet Yeshua—the Glory of Yeshua—a Tel Aviv-based, Hebrew-speaking Messianic congregation. Ron is a published author with Destiny Image Publishers, having written books like “Identity Theft”, “Leave Me Alone, I’m Jewish” and “The Jerusalem Secret”. Ron is a sought-out conference speaker and shares passionately about the Jewish Roots of the New Testament and God’s broken heart for His ancient people Israel.