July 31, 2019
By FRC's David Closson, Director of Christian Ethics and Biblical Worldview
A coalition of left-leaning church leaders recently launched a project "Against Christian Nationalism." In their statement they cite "Christian nationalism" as a "persistent threat to both our religious communities and our democracy." At best, the project is a solution in search of a problem -- at worst, it's an attempt to drive conservative Christians out of the public square.
According to the statement, "Christian nationalism seeks to merge Christian and American identities, distorting both the Christian faith and America's constitutional democracy. Christian nationalism demands Christianity be privileged by the State and implies that to be a good American, one must be Christian." As David Barton, president of Wall Builders, pointed out on "Washington Watch" Tuesday, the problem with this statement lies in how "Christian nationalism" is defined. Clearly, these left-leaning church leaders (which includes Jim Wallis who advised President Obama and Tony Campolo who advised President Clinton) are seeking to redefine nationalism in a way that implies something sinister about conservative Christians who love their country.
No one is seriously arguing that "to be a good American, one must be a Christian." This points to the insincere motives of this movement; simply put, theologically liberal Christians are fearful of the gains social conservatives have made in the last few years, and they are attempting to sideline faithful Christians by creating what Barton describes a "radioactive term" to sully their reputation.
But Christians who love their nation have nothing to apologize for; in fact, they should be emboldened to enter the political arena with the courage of their convictions. As David Barton points out, the vast majority of Americans do love their country and identify as Christian. In short, patriotism is a virtue, not a vice. As Barton notes, quoting one of the Declaration of Independence signers, "The Declaration says that patriotism is a religious and moral duty because if you love your country, you will want what's best for it. And if you want what's best for it, that's going to bless everyone who lives in the nation... loving your country and seeking what's best for it is a blessing."
However, a broader point about "Christian Nationalism" and the idea of America as a Christian nation is raised by this story which deserves further comment. Is belief that America is a "Christian nation" equivalent to Christian Nationalism? To answer this question, it is important to carefully define terms.
First, if by "Christian nation" we mean America was influenced by Christian principles at the founding, it is difficult to argue the reverse. Clearly, Christianity provided the principles of equal rights and human dignity that motivated the founders. Moreover, the majority of the Founding Fathers were Christians who generally believed in the truth of the Bible. Christianity remains the largest religion in the United States. Finally, Christian beliefs still provide the intellectual background for many of our cultural values such as respect for human dignity, the need to care for the disadvantaged, and respect for the rule of law. In all of these senses, America could be called a "Christian nation."
However, in another sense -- surveying the cultural landscape today -- we are not. Are the majority of Americans Bible-believing, born-again Christians? No. Do Christian values dominate the perspective promoted by the government, media, and universities in America? No. Does the government compel people to follow a Christian church? No, because this would violate the first amendment of the Constitution. Do people have to profess Christian faith to be citizens or have equal rights under the law in this country? No. Are Christian ideas welcomed and accepted by many in "elite" circles of public opinion? No. In these senses, America is not a "Christian nation."
The irony is that many of the activists behind this attempt to demonize conservative Christians participating in politics see an "evangelical bogeyman" under every rock, and still proceed to argue that Christians somehow overwhelmingly dominate the culture. The reality is far different.
Thus, in conversations about "Christian nationalism," it is important to define the terms. When someone alleges that America is or is not a "Christian nation" it is important to determine what they mean by the phrase. Clearly, America is indebted to Christian morality in significant ways.
All Bible-believing Christians reject "white supremacy" and "racial subjugation" which backers of the "Against Christian nationalism" campaign claim is inherent to Christian nationalism. However, this is a redefinition of terms and an attempt to drive patriotic Christians from the public square at a time when social conservatives are making tremendous gains on life and religious liberty at the state and federal level.
Christians ought to affirm God's providential working in history. The material blessings of the United States are not unconnected from the Christian morality that has undergirded our country, and Christians should continue to exert their influence at all levels of government, while allowing a free marketplace of ideas that allows for open debate and religious freedom.
Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.