I found it! An online resource to help explain Benedict Anderson’s comprehensive text on nationalism. But I hesitate to click and hit enter. The website, titled “The Nationalism Project”, sparked my interest but also gave me a sense of dread. What if this site was pro nationalism to an extreme of white supremacy? I precipitously entered the site and was excited to learn “The Nationalism Project is one of the most widely used nationalism studies resources on the Internet and provides users with a clearinghouse of scholarly nationalism information including: leading definitions of nationalism, book reviews, web links, subject bibliographies, a bibliography of more than 2,000 journal articles, and much more.” Bingo, I win!
In our current political climate, we hear nationalism used as a negative, deprecating concept. According to the Christian Science Monitor article titled Trump’s nationalist vision: Does it promote or endanger peace?…“We heard the president praise a ‘great reawakening of nations’ – but that’s a recipe for going back to dark days in history when it was each country for itself – and when that hard nationalism led to centuries of war.”
A simplistic summary of Benedict Anderson’s text Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism is this – political nations are the creation of modern communication networks. Furthermore, a sense of history is essential for the concept of nationhood. In order to think of oneself as belonging to a nation, one must think of oneself as being related to others who share only the circumstance of living at the same time. Anderson idealistically believes that nationalism is a “positive force for integration and solidarity.” Unlike myself, he (Anderson) sees nationalism in a positive light, grounded in ‘horizontal comradeship’ (or a sense of fraternity shared by people who did not know each other and who shared the same notion of belonging to a nation despite the existence of inequalities and oppression between groups). Arnold suggests that despite inequalities and oppression, members of these “imagined communities” are even willing to die for the cause.
I will admit…I am struggling with Anderson’s positive rhetoric on nationalism. “In a globalized world that is struggling to grapple with migration, climate change, economic integration, refugees and displaced populations just to name a few, this debate on nationalism and the notion of ‘imagined communities’ remains relevant today 32 years after its publication.” Personally, I embrace globalization rather than reject it. We may believe the debate of the 21st century is liberal vs. conservative (left vs. right). Not so according to Dr. Jim Eckman. He claims the most significant debate of our society is globalism vs. nationalism. “Since the end of World War II, global integration and technological progress have fueled a new world order centered on free trade, open borders and interdependent economies. Goods, capital and people should be able to move freely across borders, which is actually the meaning of globalization.” I can safely say the economics of goods and capital in globalization are outside my realm of knowledge. However, the idea that people can move freely across borders is a direct correlation to my research on refugee resettlement. To complicate matters further, nationalists are frequently linked to Christianity. “Historians agree the roots of American Christian nationalism—including flavors that do insist on white supremacy—stretch back decades. Today’s right-wing preachers are hardly the first group to insist on a “Christian” America, or to heap praise on a “strongman” leader.”
Greg Ip of the Wall Street Journal argues that the intense backlash against immigration (and globalism) is “cultural, not fundamentally economic.” The voters for Brexit and for Trump “were bothered less by competition from immigrants than by their perceived effect on the country’s linguistic, religious and cultural norms.” He goes on to say “This is perhaps the most troubling aspect of this new nationalism—its penchant for xenophobia and for ethnic and religious exclusion.” And herein lies the rub to me – a sect of Christians embrace nationalism (or in my interpretation elitism and isolation) and yet Biblically we are called to love and accept people of all nations. This nationalist penchant for ethnic and religious exclusion is the impetus of Pope Francis’ strong directives when discussing refugees: “It’s hypocrisy to call yourself a Christian and chase away a refugee or someone seeking help, someone who is hungry or thirsty, toss out someone who is in need of my help,” he said. “If I say I am Christian, but do these things, I’m a hypocrite.” If the response of the American church to non-Christian refugees is one of fear, misplaced suspicion, and hostility, we will effectively reinforce their negative understanding of Christianity, while being unfaithful to the biblical commands to love our neighbor, to which we are bound regardless of their faith. The Bible goes even further in its teachings of helping others: “Never mistreat a foreigner living in your land. Foreigners living among you will be like your own people. Love them as you love yourself, because you were foreigners living in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.” Leviticus 19:33-34, GW. Even in the Old Testament, the Bible clearly sets forth a directive for Christians to love and accept “foreigners”. According to Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, a foreigner is defined as: “person from a different racial, ethnic, and linguistic group as in contrast to a “native” and the term foreigner is used to translate a Hebrew word that generally means an “outsider” from a different race, tribe, or family”.
So where do we go from here? If each church across the United States committed to loving and providing for refugees, lives would be transformed. “If they (churches) are living communities of the living God, then they are in constant contact with the wider world, both the great mass of the unevangelized as well as others who profess faith in Jesus Christ. No church is immune to the effects of this interchange, and it is faithless to suppose that in every case the result is tainting, compromise, or loss. Churches over time learn and improve, they also forget and fail. Sometimes the impetus is external and sometimes it is internal. It can be the result of social change, spiritual awakening, or intellectual exploration.” Church, it’s time for revival! It’s time to commit to social justice and to truly be Christ’s hands and feet in the world. Churches need to take risks, make themselves vulnerable and look for possibilities to serve and improve systems. There are local, national, and international opportunities. We are a global world. We are a global church. God is a global Lord.
 Wilson, Sarah Hinlicky. “Six ways ecumenical progress is possible.” Concordia Journal 39, no.4, pg. 327