I’m scared of nationalism

I have to admit, one of the attitudes that frightens me most in the American church is nationalism. Not all nationalism is wrong. As some have pointed out, nationalism can be closely related to gratitude, which is a positive trait. Yet, like many passions, it can easily lead us into dangerous territory.

For example, I’ve observed something interesting when singing groups perform at Christian events. I’ve seen the same thing at so-called progressive events and those considered conservative. I’ve seen it in groups of young people and in groups where I was one of the young ones there. You’ve probably seen it as well. The group performs to an appreciative crowd, getting loving approval as they sing old hymns or modern praise songs (depending on the audience). Then they sing one song that brings everyone to their feet, yelling and cheering. Which song? “God Bless The U.S.A.”

We’ll applaud politely if you praise God. We’ll cheer raucously if you praise the U.S.A.

I’ve seen it in the visceral reaction I get when I touch certain topics. Suggest that Christians be cautious about participating in politics, and you’ll get a vigorous backlash. Question whether Christians should join the military, and you might get asked to leave the church! Point out sinful actions over the course of U.S. history, and people will suggest you move to another country.

Preachers take the command to pray for all leaders (1 Timothy 2:2) and tweak it to be “pray for our leaders,” meaning U.S. authorities. Suggest that we should pray for Donald Trump, and you’ll get an enthusiastic thumbs up. Encourage people to pray for Kim Jong-un or Valdimir Putin, and few will be interested.

I’m admittedly afraid of the role of any and every nation in our Christian life. I believe they all end up being rivals to God. They ask for allegiance, wanting to hold a role of lordship in our lives. They would tell us who to hate and who to love, who to protect and who to kill. They would take our children to use as soldiers for furthering the purposes of this earthly nation… even when those purposes go against the good of God’s Kingdom. They want us to define ourselves as earthly citizens first and heavenly citizens second (or preferably, not at all!).

If my writing all this makes you mad, well, that kind of proves my point doesn’t it? If it merely makes you concerned, wanting to gently correct my error… please do so. I want to grow and learn in this and every area.

8 thoughts on “I’m scared of nationalism

  1. Charles

    For too long our brotherhood has been moving toward the so-called “evangelicals,” and it needs to stop. We are not and never have been a Christian nation. Our mission is the gospel, not social issues.

  2. Rafael Sustaita

    I think Charles hit it on the nail and I appreciate you, Tim, pointing this out. We’ve become a nation where even the best intentions turn sour quickly and moderation is not on our menu.

  3. Craig Watts

    Thanks! The church in the US has been trained in nationalism for many decades. It has been introduced in worship. The primary symbol of the nation is present in the majority of worship spaces. All this undercut a truly Christian vision by blending national loyalty with Christian devotion. I have written on this for 35 years, most fully in my book Bowing Toward Babylon: the Nationalistic Subversion of Christian Worship in America. Hope you’ll check it out.

  4. Rafael Sustaita

    This is a great conversation and thanks to Tim for having the courage to broach the subject. For so long, so much of our Christianity has been more “Americanism” than New Testament discipleship. For years I have been concerned especially in the Spanish churches where the preacher feels obligation and loyalty to who writes the check and consequently “our spin” on New Testament discipleship as “Americanism” perpetuates itself.

  5. David

    … Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him. 1 Peter 3:21-22

    Why do the nations rage
    and the peoples plot in vain?
    The kings of the earth set themselves,
    and the rulers take counsel together,
    against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying,
    “Let us burst their bonds apart
    and cast away their cords from us.”
    He who sits in the heavens laughs;
    the Lord holds them in derision.
    Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
    and terrify them in his fury, saying,
    “As for me, I have set my King
    on Zion, my holy hill.”
    I will tell of the decree:
    The Lord said to me, “You are my Son;
    today I have begotten you.
    Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
    and the ends of the earth your possession.
    You shall break them with a rod of iron
    and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”
    Now therefore, O kings, be wise;
    be warned, O rulers of the earth.
    Serve the Lord with fear,
    and rejoice with trembling.
    Kiss the Son,
    lest he be angry, and you perish in the way,
    for his wrath is quickly kindled.
    Blessed are all who take refuge in him.

  6. Rob Marriott

    As an old Aussie, may I offer some reflections? Sixty years ago and in school, I was taught about mother England and it’s culture. We linked church and state and gloried in our heritage if not our power. Our churches were full and God’s word was a potent force in our country. Today, that is all but gone and the churches that promoted nationalistic fervour have gone through serious decline. Having once “married” a now irrelevant nationalistic model, many churches now try to communicate God’d word to empty pews while former church buildings are converted into commercial and domestic buildings. Missionaries from the US and other countries try to help but the Christian church is often peopled by an aging remnant. PLEASE DO NOT FOLLOW OUR LEAD. PLEASE UNCOUPLE CHURCH AND NATIONALISM WHILE YOU HAVE TIME. THE WORLD NEEDS CHRIST MORE THAN ANYTHING ELSE.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.