Much good work is being done to explain and counter the growing presence and damaging effects of Christian nationalism.
If strong repudiation of this heretical religious-political mess is unsuccessful, then we can look for a continuing perversion of the faith intended to form faithful followers of Jesus.
Christian nationalism — or white Christian nationalism, as it is often called and seen — is Christian only in name. It does not reflect the ways of Christ.
In one of the better resources, Taking America Back for God: Christian Nationalism in the United States (Oxford University Press, 2020), sociologists Andrew Whitehead and Samuel Perry offer an excellent, research-based analysis of this impactful, harmful reality.
Earlier this year, Whitehead served as a panelist on a webinar hosted by BJC (Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty), the Washington-based organization that helped launch “Christians Against Christian Nationalism.”
Christian nationalism, as Whitehead defined it in a slide presented at the webinar, is “a cultural framework that idealizes and advocates for a fusion of Christianity* and American civic life.”
While that definition is concise and correct, I took note of the asterisk applied to the word “Christianity.” It indicates the need for a more specific definition — or notes a redefinition apart from the common or original one.
And Whitehead gave that clarification: “Christianity to a certain population means ‘people like us’ (white, native born, culturally Christian).”
That is not his opinion, but a clear conclusion from significant research in which Christian nationalists stated their beliefs and values.
When doing the kind of research and analysis that Whitehead and Perry have done, it is important to define terms as clearly as possible.
While Christianity has no pure form when adhered to by imperfect people, the “Christianity” that is fused with American civic life to create “Christian nationalism” has unique qualities that differentiate it from the priorities and expressions more appropriately assigned to followers of Jesus.
So, the asterisk is properly applied — not in judgment of someone’s soul, but in clarification about what beliefs and values are associated with this perversion of the Christian faith. These include (among others) approval of authoritarian tactics, fear of minorities, a patriarchal structure, and distrust of scientific truths.
The asterisk-assigned “Christianity” of Christian nationalism, Whitehead explained, is a “cultural package” of myths and traditions that form a religious/political ideology.
Most often, it is more than a personal and passive embrace — but marching orders to enforce these beliefs and practices on others, by whatever means are necessary.
The improperly defined Christianity* of Christian nationalism “demands a tribal loyalty,” said Whitehead. “It’s about subduing others.”
Hence, there is a great need for all Christians — who still hold to the notion that Christianity calls for a primary allegiance to following Jesus — to openly and actively challenge the aggressive, destructive efforts of Christian nationalists.
Allowing Christianity to be redefined apart from Christ is not being a peacemaker or seeking “unity” — as if such Jesus-free nationalism is merely someone’s preferred choice from the wide Christian smorgasbord. It is being complicit in the abuse of the Christian faith for an improper purpose.
Discernment is needed to place an asterisk on much of what masquerades as “Christianity” in America today. In doing so, however, expect strong pushback from those who don’t like having their Christ-diminished forms of Christianity* exposed.
However, this has nothing to do with evaluating the state of anyone’s soul. So, hold the deflective “judge not” retort so often used to reject any criticism.
It is our responsibility, even divine calling, to “stand up, stand up for Jesus” whenever the term “Christian” is stolen for a political agenda at odds with his life and teachings.
Conflating the kingdom of God with a white national identity is neither patriotism nor Christianity. It is idolatry. And it deserves to be challenged and countered.
Let us keep a handful of asterisks with us to use whenever the “Christianity” label is slapped on efforts of discrimination and dominance — or when the name of Jesus and symbols of our faith are waved above rallies of hate-filled rhetoric or a deadly, domestic terrorist insurrection.
And remember, some asterisks can be applied to ourselves whenever we call ourselves Christians while acting in ways that do not resemble the Christ we claim.
During the webinar, Episcopal Bishop Michael Curry offered the antidote to Christian nationalism that must be spoken clearly, loudly and repeatedly: “Christianity must re-center itself on the teachings, example and spirit of Jesus of Nazareth.”
That vision and practice of Christianity should need no asterisk, just faithfulness to following the one who is the way, the truth and life.
Yet, if Christian nationalism is triumphant, due to our timidity, we may find ourselves using Christianity** to denote: “formerly defined the faith of those who heeded Jesus’ call to ‘follow me,’ and to love God and neighbor.”
Executive editor / publisher at Good Faith Media.