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Vol. 23, No. 3, 2024
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Robert J. Lewis
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christian nationalism and



Robert Lyon is a retired clergyman who divides his time between Guelph, Ontario and Melaque, Mexico. He taught high school English, Latin, Greek and science, and served as an officer in the Canadian Armed Forces Reserve, retiring in the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel. His latest book, Don’t Throw Out Your Bible, from which the essay below is excerpted, is now in print.


An American friend who has good personal reason to feel concerned about the influence of fundamentalism has asked me to write a piece about Christian nationalism.  Since we don’t entirely share identical views, I’m flattered that she sees me as a “rational Christian”, and I hope I won’t disappoint her. In fairness I should point out that most of my views lie moderately right of center, and that my being a Canadian limits my grasp of the nuances of American politics. So I’ll try to confine my remarks mainly to what I see as the relevant theological issues.

As I understand it, Christian nationalism is the desire to see America become (once again?) a Christian nation.  However, given the number of Unitarians among the Founding Fathers, one may doubt that it ever was such, nor was intended to be such, at least in the sense understood by present-day evangelicals.  Nevertheless, if one correctly understands the First Amendment, one may rightly call America back to its religious roots – those roots being the freedom of religion from government influence, not the freedom of government from religious influence.

For in a democracy, where political power derives from the will of the people, even(!) Christians have a right to vote, run for office, and make laws. And if Christians happen to be in the majority, those laws may very well reflect Christian values – assuming, of course, that Christians are agreed on political values. But given that Christians entertain not only various theological persuasions but also various political persuasions, it may be that the best we can achieve is, as the Catholic song says, to “guard each one’s dignity and save each one’s pride”.  That in itself would be an admirable goal.
Christian nationalism in various forms has been around for a long time, including the Catholic idea of the Holy Roman Empire and the early Reformation principle of cujus regi, eijus religio. But in our day it became prominent in the 1970s and 80s under the Reverends Rushdoony, Bahnsen, and North, who wanted to use the Calvinistic concept of the “cultural mandate” – the idea that the Creation story impies a duty to create a godly culture, which in itself is a good idea – to transform the culture of the nation. Although they did not intend to impose Christianity on the unwilling, they did intend to reintroduce Old Testament laws, like the death penalty for murder, homosexuality, adultery, lying about one’s virginity, witchcraft, idolatry, apostasy, public blasphemy, kidnaping, and bearing false witness in a capital case.  (See Wiki: Christian Reconstructionism). They believed they could achieve this objective– known variously as Reconstructionism, Theonomy, and Dominionism – by democratic means, not by insurrection. 

Though one hears little these days about Christian Reconstructionism, the Reconstructionist goal lives on in contemporary Christian nationalism. The problem with that goal is that it misunderstands the significance of Old Testament theocracy – which, as you will recognize if you have read the Old Testament, worked rather badly, human nature being what it is.  Though both Moses’ journey to the “promised land” and the Old Testament theocracy are historical events, their religious significance is metaphorical:  they signify God’s future intention for his currently wayward people.  The petition “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” is, significantly, preceded by “thy kingdom come”.  But Christian nationalism tries to put the cart before the horse. Meanwhile, the wheat and the tares grow together, and we’re told not to try pulling up the tares lest we pull up the wheat with them.   But we’re thick.  We just don’t get it.  For forty days after his resurrection, Jesus hung out with his disciples, explaining to them everything that was written about him in the Law and the Prophets and the Psalms (Luke 23).  But by the Day of Pentecost they still hadn’t got it.  They could not resist asking the irrelevant question: “Are you now going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”  Jesus might have replied,  “Didn't I tell you, ‘My kingdom is not of this world’” Instead, he told them it was none of their business.

This is the same Jesus who told Peter to sheathe his sword:  “Do you think I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26).  This is the same Jesus who told Pilate, “You would have no power against me unless it had been given to you from above.” (John 19).  This is the Jesus who told us to be “as wise as serpents, but as harmless as doves.” (Matthew 10).  
Christian Nationalism errs in assuming that we can somehow help to bring in the millennium, which is bad exegesis on several levels.  But more seriously, Christian Nationalism fails to recognize that, in the cause of the gospel, Jesus’ method is “leadership by vulnerability”, which though risky is both much less alienating and far more persuasive than leadership by power.  We must not be blinded by temptations to let Jesus and the gospel be hijacked to political ends, no matter how noble those ends may appear. 




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