In my last Stop & Think, I made seven observations about how Christian nationalism has become such a powerful force in Evangelical Christianity around the world. This week, I’d like to look very briefly at ten pillars of Christian nationalism itself.
As always, this essay is an invitation to stop and think — not necessarily to think like me. But I’ll suggest that each of these ten pillars should be carefully analyzed and fiercely opposed by followers of Jesus. The reason is because each pillar harbors a deep dishonesty that creates (1) blindness toward ourselves, (2) broken relationships with others, and (3) a blasphemous pride toward God.
Rejecting Christian nationalism is one of the most exciting and challenging opportunities for Christian conversion and witness around the world today. When we abandon these pillars, an idolatrous temple can fall and a new freedom for God’s presence opens up between us. Humility is strength not weakness.
Yours with gratitude,
10 Pillars of Christian Nationalism
“We are good people, and our history is glorious. Our fathers built this great nation. The traditional narrative of the past doesn’t need to be revised; it needs to be strengthened and celebrated.”
This pillar of Christian nationalism denies our human need for repentance and the reality of systemic evils in our history like racist slavery and imperial domination. (Imagine being enslaved. Imagine having your home violently taken away.) In this way, it denies how “God” has been repeatedly distorted and manipulated for human power, which is the heart of prideful idolatry.
“Our history and identity have been given a bad name by a few bad apples in our group. They were largely following the values of their time anyways, so strongly criticizing them is anachronistic and unimportant.”
Self-defense fails to prioritize humility. It scapegoats responsibility onto others. And it miniaturizes reprehensible evils that destroy(ed) the lives of hundreds of thousands or millions of people.
“The bad parts of the past are behind us now and irrelevant. In fact, if we could return to the unity and virtue of the past, everything would be better like it was then. Structural injustice isn’t real and shouldn’t play a role in how we interpret our problems today or why others want change.”
Nostalgia blatantly denies the ongoing role of historic evils in contemporary society. It hankers for a past that meant bondage, terror, and death for many of our neighbors. And this makes our neighbors feel invisible or nonexistent, which is itself an ongoing expression of these historic evils. This attitude to the past is, again, a failure of humility and repentance before God’s holiness and God’s will for all people to flourish.
- Equal But:
“Obviously, all people are created equal. Racism is terrible! We are not racists! But our leadership is needed to restore our greatness and save our nation.”
This exceptional “equality” contains a deep fear that if others are allowed access to leadership, “our culture” and “civilization” will be lost. This shows that what we call “ours” is not truly inclusive. And thus it harbors the seed of a supremacist mindset, which is (1) a form of self-deception, (2) a sin against God, and (3) destructive for democratic society.
“We see the facts and know the truth. If you could only see from our sources, everything would be obvious, and you would know we are right. Trust us!”
Hyper-naivety blinds itself to the reality of complexity, the commonness of human self-deception, the appropriateness of self-suspicion, and thus the importance of humble listening and dialogue with others across deep disagreements. It also idolizes itself by selfishly ignoring the fact that others embrace sources that they trust just as much as we do ours. What if they simply said, “We’re right; trust us!”? This double-standard is a blatant rejection of loving our neighbors as ourselves.
“They have succeeded in completely twisting reality and masking their real purpose. They are masterful wolves in sheep’s clothing, and everything they say and do must be decoded. Never trust them!”
Again, this pillar harbors deep hypocrisy, because it can be easily reversed and work exactly the same way: “Never trust them!” Hyper-conspiracy creates a zero-sum game of blind faith and total suspicion. This mindset fuels extremism, enemy-making, and violence. It arrogantly denies that truth is often more complex or simply larger and different than all of us assume, and thus that we need each other to see a great honesty and truthfulness under God.
- Siege Mentality:
“They are trying to destroy our faith and nation. We are under systematic persecution. The claim that we are privileged is just another lie and tool of their hidden agenda to overtake our nation.”
The siege mentality is deeply connected to 1-3 above (which is ironic, because Christian nationalism itself is ultimately founded in war/siege). It refuses to acknowledge historic privileges and systemic evils, and thus it automatically perceives increasing equality and democratic representation as persecution. This mindset refuses to think through how minority neighbors might feel and exist in one’s society, and thus it continues to harbor the supremacist, “equal but” mindset. What if “they” are your neighbors and actually have something vital to contribute?
“If they win, everything sacred and civilized will be lost. We will be replaced, and our historic decency and prosperity will disappear. Our cause is salvation or damnation.”
This pillar is inherently polarizing: it divides society into “us” vs “them.” It re-denies “our” share in the evil and suffering in our society, and thus it depends on the dishonesty of moral innocence. And it makes God’s salvation into a cultural project ultimately determined by human power and money, which is a blatant form of idolatry, as if God’s will is contingent on one group and its culture.
“God is on our side. God providentially guided our history (“His-Story”), and God is sovereign today. Our cause is God’s cause.”
This ninth pillar is what makes this ideology a form of “Christian” nationalism. It is also what makes this ideology radically idolatrous. Once again, it denies the evils of history. It denies that God stands above us and calls us to repent of our sins now. And it makes God into a tribal deity that serves one group’s purposes. Whenever God is turned into a tool of human culture, God has become “god,” and we discover that we worship ourselves. This is one of the basic reasons why Jesus was crucified: he refused to use God like this, and people found it intolerable.
“We will always prevail!”
This pillar rejects the humble truth that no society is eternal. It denies the fact that God stands in judgment of every nation, including one’s own. And it subtly opposes God’s ultimate will for us to see ourselves as mortal pilgrims who hope in a new creation beyond our current world in which every language, tribe, and nation will be fully at home:
“But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.” Apostle Paul (Philippians 3:20)
“Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul.” Apostle Peter (1 Peter 2:11)
“After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” Revelation 7:9