Any attempt to apply the fullness of the gospel to Christian Nationalism must begin confessionally. Although Christian Nationalism is not Christianity, those of us who are confessional Christians need to be honest about how our faith has been appropriated throughout history for un-Christlike ends. By tolerating, if not directly encouraging, expressions of Christian Nationalism, we have been complicit in a project that has betrayed our faith and damaged our neighbors, Christian and non-Christian alike.
And yet, despite our failures, I am convinced that, in the gospel of Jesus Christ, we have the resources necessary to meaningfully engage the threat of Christian Nationalism. This gospel is not a reductionist version whittled down to personal salvation alone. Such a gospel has little to say to a movement that has co-opted Christian language and symbolism for the pursuit of power. We need a bigger gospel, like the one Al Tizon describes in Whole and Reconciled,
The good news of the reign of God heralds the incarnated truth that God has set in irreversible motion the reconciliation of all things. The reign of God has a boundless and all-encompassing effect on the whole of existence, from the domain of the human heart to the cosmos and everything in between.
This is a gospel vision comprehensive enough to push back the destructive lies of Christian Nationalism.
Given what we have identified thus far, I want to suggest some practical ways to apply this holistic gospel with fruitful impact:
First, we should recognize that we are unlikely to reach the Ambassadors, those who’ve rooted their identities in this ideology. Though we can bear witness to the gospel to even the most entrenched Christian nationalists, we should choose to focus our efforts on the Accommodators. This group is less decided when it comes to the core beliefs of the ideology and will be more open to movement away from extremes. This means we will engage less with the most notorious expressions of Christian Nationalism and choose, instead, to seek out those who are less strident in their convictions. It’s likely that some of these men and women are in our churches. Long-established and trusting relationships will provide opportunities to share how the reconciling gospel is incompatible with the racialized vision of nationalism. Long-established and trusting relationships will provide opportunities to share how the reconciling gospel is incompatible with the racialized vision of nationalism. Click To Tweet
The second thing we can do is keep in mind the three core characteristics of Christian Nationalism: power, boundaries, and order. The gospel that is proclaimed and demonstrated to Christian nationalists needs to address these instincts. So, for example, while the pursuit of power can justify unsavory means to the Christian nationalist, the gospel calls believers to follow the way of humble and self-giving love as modeled by Jesus and summarized by Paul in Philippians 2:5-8. (“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who . . . emptied himself” [NRSV].) These gospel notes need to be sounded clearly and regularly so as to disrupt the nationalist’s warped theological assumptions. It’s possible that the gospel will be rejected despite these direct appeals, but at least it will be the gospel itself that is rejected rather than a reduced and syncretized version that has been appropriated for ungodly ends.
Third, while our attempts to proclaim the gospel to Christian nationalists shouldn’t be unnecessarily combative, we must boldly confront any attempt to co-opt the good news for nationalistic purposes. In this we are helped by remembering what Jemar Tisby calls “the patriotic witness” of the Black church. After all, it has been these sisters and brothers, across generations of American Christianity, who have most faithfully lived a gospel at crosscurrents to the many false gospels inculcated in this racialized society. The voices of saints like Frederick Douglass, Ida B. Wells, Fannie Lou Hamer, Fred Shuttlesworth, and many others will keep us from the temptation to excuse the sinful tendencies of Christian Nationalism in our efforts to win the Christian nationalist.
Fourth, we must recognize the captivating story told by Christian nationalists. The story is untrue, but it has a coherent arc and a desirable end. This is where our need for a holistic gospel is especially evident. By reducing the good news to a plan for personal salvation, we leach the power from the incredible story of how God is bringing shalom to the universe. By reclaiming the beautiful and saving story of Jesus fulfilling Israel’s vocation as a blessing to the world, we can expose the gospel of Christian Nationalism as the deceptive, predictable, and dull story it actually is. By reducing the good news to a plan for personal salvation, we leach the power from the incredible story of how God is bringing shalom to the universe. Click To Tweet
Finally, we must prioritize whole-person discipleship. Not only is Christian Nationalism not Christianity, according to the research conducted by Whitehead and Perry, participating in the traditional practices of Christianity makes one less susceptible to Christian Nationalism. In other words, the beliefs held by Christian nationalists are generally not picked up in church. What Eddie Glaude writes about our racial habits in Democracy in Black can be applied to the habits of Christian Nationalism. “We hold them because we have grown up in a country that values white people more than others. We learn this not by way of overt racism but through the details of daily life.”
Many of the members of our churches have been discipled into Christian Nationalism by the powerful formation of social media, talk radio, and cable news. Rather than thinking that we need to reinvent our churches to combat nationalism, we should instead look to the tried-and-true discipleship practices of the church—holy communion, worship, service with our neighbors, etc.—and look for ways to apply these to the deforming allure of Christian Nationalism. Many of the members of our churches have been discipled into Christian Nationalism by the powerful formation of social media, talk radio, and cable news. Click To Tweet
The nature and history of Christian Nationalism requires that Christians, and white Christians in particular, take responsibility for bringing the gospel to those under its sway. This will be no easy task; the deceptive narratives of Christian Nationalism are deeply entwined with how many imagine themselves as Americans and Christians. But the gospel still has the power to save, and it’s time that we apply this truth to such a terrible lie. The nature and history of Christian Nationalism requires that Christians, and white Christians in particular, take responsibility for bringing the gospel to those under its sway. Click To Tweet