Please give Pierri’s article a read and see if you agree, or not.
Can Nationalism Really Be Christian?
During the siege of the Capitol, you didn’t have to look hard to see invading protestors carrying Bibles or waving “Jesus Saves!” signs. This was not an atheistic attack on democracy, but a religiously-motivated one. Yet the question remains: can this religion be rightly called Christianity?
I do not doubt that those who stormed the Capitol this past Wednesday earnestly believed they were fighting on behalf of democracy—and I also do not doubt they believed they were somehow fighting for Jesus.
In the Midwest, a group erected a cross in front of the Michigan Capitol in solidarity with the D.C. protestors. After seeing an image of the demonstration, a friend of mine messaged me, “And with that is the clear final nail in the coffin that holds what remains of my Christian faith.”
I won’t attempt to unravel the ways conspiracy theories, QAnon, “fake news,” and Trumpism have so tightly bound together Christianity and nationalistic fervor (others have already done this with much greater depth and clarity). This is not the first time Christianity and nationalism have been mixed—and it most certainly will not be the last.
A quick scan of history reveals other examples of followers of Jesus confusing the heavenly kingdom promised by God and the earthly kingdom promised by demagogues. (Let’s not forget that Nazism was birthed in the home country of the great reformer Martin Luther.) Yet the mixture goes back much further to the time of the apostle Paul.
Paul’s Religious Nationalism
Paul of Tarsus was an early Christian leader, missionary, and church planter who wrote most of the Christian New Testament. But his biography reveals a different starting point.
As a Jew, Paul believed that one day God would establish an earthly kingdom that would endure forever.¹ As time went on, this promise seemed less and less likely to be fulfilled. After a long period of exile, they were now living under the Roman Empire.
A group of Jews known as the Zealots believed that force and violence were sometimes necessary in pursuit of the establishment of God’s kingdom. They saw themselves in the tradition of Phinehas, an Israelite who had long ago purged evil from an Israelite camp by plunging a spear through two sinning people.²
Paul watched approvingly as his compatriots killed a Christian named Stephen, and then he began a Zealot-esque campaign himself: “Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison.”⁴ When his ancestors’ religion was threatened by this new Christian movement, Paul believed that violence was necessary to preserve the tradition.
Christian Nationalism Today
I cannot help but notice the similarities in the motivations of Paul and those who assaulted the Capitol.
If you believe that the election has been unlawfully stolen from a man that God has appointed to preserve the influence of Christianity in this country, then the threat isn’t small. To many, a Democrat-controlled government means increased abortions and forced lock-downs to cancel church services. And when every lawful political channel has failed to undo the perceived robbery, only one action remains. Someone zealous like Phinehas needs to step up and grab the spear.
And yet Paul’s story didn’t end with his violent zeal. Paul had a miraculous vision where the resurrected Jesus spoke to him directly. And the message completely re-framed Paul’s understanding of how God’s kingdom was established in the death and resurrection of Jesus. While Paul had been expecting a political kingdom that would free the Jews from the rule of Rome, Jesus brought a heavenly kingdom that freed humanity from the rule of sin.
When Jesus is on trial to be executed, he says, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.” Like Paul, Jesus could have used force to bring about the kingdom. But instead he chose to use love and humility.
How To Respond
Christians need to repent of ways we have looked to political powers to do what only God can do. We must label the actions of those storming the Capitol while carrying Bibles as “anti-Christian.” This is not the “no true Scotsman” fallacy, because “Christian nationalism” is an oxymoron. The growth or decline of the Christian kingdom is not dependent on who is in positions of earthly power and it cannot be achieved through force.
We must remember that any “persecution” we endure as Christians pales in comparison to what the early Christians experienced. They didn’t face social ostracization or the loss of church tax exempt status—they faced imprisonment and execution. If there was ever a time to invoke a “violence is sometimes necessary argument,” it was then. Yet they knew this was not the way of Jesus… and this is still true for followers of Jesus today.
¹ 2 Samuel 7:16
² Numbers 25:6-9
³ Galatians 1:14
⁴ Acts 8:1-3
⁵ Acts 9:1-19
⁶ John 18:36
See you next week for more Wisdom Matters!