Christian nationalism has become one of the biggest cultural hot topics of the last 5 years. This buzz reached a fever pitch on the recent anniversary of the events of January 6, 2021 – the so-called “insurrection” that spawned a million think pieces on the issue of Christians and government.
Those think pieces seem to almost take it as a matter of course that Christian nationalism is obviously wrong. The term has joined the ranks of smoking cigarettes and texting while driving, almost instantly drawing a negative response any time the topic comes up. “Oh no, that’s bad,” all seem to agree.
Somebody has to be the guy to ask, so I guess it’ll be me – ok, why?
Even if this is news to you and you’ve read nothing of these debates, this is relevant to all Christians because it pertains to our understanding of politics and government. Even saying “I don’t want anything to do with politics” is to assert a belief on the matter.
So, what should we believe about Christian nationalism? Is it as bad as advertised?
We’ll have to start by looking at what nationalism is, then examine what a Christian flavor of such an ideology might look like.
We’ll let Merriam-Webster define it for us: “a feeling that people have of being loyal to and proud of their country often with the belief that it is better and more important than other countries.” 
When looking at that definition, it’s pretty clear to see how nationalism could go wrong. The nationalism of Nazi Germany is, of course, the best known example. In their regime we saw how viewing one’s own country as “better and more important” could yield some awful outcomes. This version leads to trampling on others out of one’s own sense of specialness and entitlement.
When given a religious twist, this is what most are referring to when they condemn Christian nationalism. The belief (more or less) that America is God’s favorite country, uniquely chosen by Him, would fit this definition. Here we can once again point to First Baptist Dallas as the “what not to do” example as every year they go viral for their flag-waving, patriotic Independence Day “worship” service (a common practice I wrote on here).
That, of course, is bad. It elevates national pride to the sacred and equates it with the practice of our religion. Singing “How Great Thou Art” and “It’s a Grand Old Flag” together in a time of worship both brings God down to a level He should never be placed on and elevates the nation and one’s citizenship to a level of importance far above what it is due.
Having said all of that, that’s not the only thing “Christian nationalism” can mean.
Revisiting the definition of nationalism, it’s not wrong to be loyal to or proud of one’s country – so long as those feelings do not outrank one’s Christianity when they are at odds. (I make the case for this point here.) As to whether one can view their own nation as more important than others, in a sense that’s our natural state. If you’re more well-versed in the politics of the US than those of Italy or Laos, you view the US as “more important” in this way. If you believe the US government’s duty is to protect and be a benefit to the American citizens, you believe the US is “more important” in this way as well.
That’s a pretty hard point to argue. The duty of elected politicians Biblically, Constitutionally, and commonsensically is to their own people, not to all people. The governor of Texas should be concerned with building a livable social climate for the people of Texas. It would be weird for him to spend time trying to figure out how to do so for the people of Illinois. The same principle is in place for the president of the US in relation to his own people versus those of all other countries. In the same way God has charged elders with the keeping and feeding of their flock and not the church in the next town, and husbands to lead and provide for their home and not every home, God expects the government to tend to their own people, not all people. That’s how His authority structures work.
Applied to our politics, this view is commonly stated as “America first,” and I feel it has quite a case. In a country with tens of millions of abortions on its ledger, an opioid crisis, all manner of public health issues, an oncoming economic downturn, and numerous other internal problems, why would our officials be focused anywhere but here first? Why should our government be policing the world (especially when we’ve proven so bad at it)? Why, when the overwhelming majority of couples cannot own a home and raise a family on one working class income, should a country be looking to provide and care for everybody else?
If my children aren’t eating and my house is a wreck, I shouldn’t be trying to feed all of the other kids in the neighborhood. This kind of nationalism is simply a logical conclusion as to how a nation should govern. So, nationalism is not an inherently wrong idea. It has a good and proper application and an improper application, just like any other idea.
Now, let’s discuss the Christian part of this second brand of nationalism.
The Christian is not to put the nation first in all matters, to be sure. This is merely in the realm of politics, and even within that realm our first allegiance is clearly to the kingdom, and when the interests of the two collide our identity in the church must be a clear winner. But there’s nothing wrong with expecting the government to pursue the interests of its own people first. We should expect our officials to create an environment in which the good are rewarded and the evil are punished (Romans 13:3-5). We should be praying for them that they provide us a “quiet and peaceable” way of life (1 Timothy 2:2).
Neither is the Christian a theocrat, expecting the government to make everybody be a Christian or follow all of the Bible’s laws. Having said that, the idea we hold today that governing authorities must be neutral on these matters doesn’t really have any Biblical backing. God expects all rulers to “kiss the Son, lest He be angry” (Psalm 2:12) and “serve the Lord with fear” (2:11). They will either be submitted to Christ, or in rebellion to Him and under His judgment.
Seeing as we don’t want anyone to be under His judgment, it’s not wrong to encourage our officials to bow the knee to Christ and submit to Him in their decisions. That’s not the token “God bless America” presidents say at the end of their speeches. Nor would the laws of a nation submitted to Christ be a copy and paste of Biblical commands. Rather, they would reflect a reverence for Him and submission to what He sees as right and good. This would give us room to evangelize and lead to the good of our fellow citizens (lest anyone tell you there’s only one political way to love your neighbor).
So, this brand of Christian nationalism says the leaders of a nation should look to protect the good of their own citizens and that their best way of doing so would be to “reward the good and punish the wicked” according to Jesus’ standards of good and wicked.
I don’t know about you, but I have a very hard time finding a problem with that.
Here’s the real irony of the matter, though. The people who are most vocal in their opposition to what they term “Christian nationalism” tend to also be the most vocal in their support of critical social justice, open borders, occupying countries like Afghanistan to provide education to their girls, and even socialist economics. To endorse such beliefs they appeal to “loving your neighbor,” “caring for the least of these,” “the Good Samaritan,” and other dubiously utilized Scriptures they see as reasons why Christians should get behind such policies.
In other words, they aren’t as opposed to bringing the Bible into the halls of government as they would have you believe. They are rather opposed to certain policies and have found a way to criticize Christians for holding them, not by debating the policies themselves, but by arguing that holding such policies conflates God and government. But in a way that (apparently, somehow) their views do not.
Everybody agrees that nationally-mandated Christianity is wrong, and most everybody agrees that turning Sunday into worship of nation rather than worship of God is wrong. Not everybody agrees that nations must have unlimited immigration or socialist policies. But, to dispute the latter is played up as rejection of the former. So, everybody who doesn’t favor unlimited immigration or socialist policies is also “making an idol out of the country” and “putting country before God” and in full agreement with the buffalo-headed goofball who stormed the Capitol. This is called a Motte and Bailey fallacy and totally sidesteps any real debate on the matter.
Argued only on its own merits, the idea that governments are duty-bound to their own people and not those of all the world is correct. The idea that governments are expected to be in submission to Christ is also correct. The idea that Christians would be in favor of such policies and the candidates who hold them, then, is correct as well.
Christian nationalism is not the boogie man some would have you believe.
 Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Nationalism. Merriam-Webster. Retrieved January 11, 2022, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/nationalism