“Americans who most enthusiastically affirm Christian nationalist ideals seem to put political power above religion.”
I have noticed over the past several years that the task of preaching in the local church Sunday after Sunday has become more challenging. My seminary professors and ministry mentors all taught me the importance of good exegesis of the Biblical texts, while addressing the present needs of the day. In other words, to preach with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. My sermons often acknowledge important social or political issues, but I work hard to be non-partisan. Some might call me an “equal opportunity offender.” I would merely argue that I try to be as faithful to the Gospel as I can be.
But lately it seems that even the seemingly most innocent and innocuous sermon subjects are often received with reluctance. Listeners lie in wait for anything that sounds like a political stance, then rush to complain that the sermon was offensive, divisive, or too partisan. And there is not much conversation to be had to convince people otherwise. No one seems to care that it was quoting Jesus, and not Nancy Pelosi or Chuck Schumer, or Mike Pence or Mitch McConnell.
I have wrestled for several years with what feels like a growing divide in society as political identity becomes the primary way people are engaging with the world. This happens even in my own local congregation, which is the largest mainline Protestant church in my community. The membership ranges along the political and theological spectrum from ultra-progressive to centrist/moderate to extreme conservative. And it is not unusual at all, in my community or within my local church, to encounter people who wholeheartedly align with the strongest Evangelical advocates for Donald Trump and embrace decidedly American Christian nationalist ideals.
Andrew Whitehead and Samuel Perry’s “Taking America Back for God” is helpful in better understanding what is behind the current division in the United States, especially among Christian believers and their political affiliations. Their research identifies four types of American and how they talk about church and state: what they label as rejecters, resisters, accommodators, and ambassadors. A short summary describing the four categories: “Rejecters oppose declaring the United States a Christian nation or favoring Christian values in public policy.” Resisters tend to be more religious than rejecters, however, they too believe the government should not declare the country to align with any particular religion. Accommodators favor the value system taught in Christianity. They are “generally comfortable with the idea of America’s Christian foundation, and (are) amenable with the idea of a social where Christianity is conspicuous.” Finally, ambassadors believe the founders’ intentions were to establish the United States as an explicitly Christian nation, while stopping short of imposing any particular denomination as the national faith expression.
Paul Rosenberg believes this book will be helpful in defining and understanding what is currently happening in the United States for years to come. It was helpful to me simply to have language, even imaginary conversation partners along the spectrum. What promises to be uncomfortable and sticky conversations with members of the community and congregation can be practiced with people in the book in order to gain a better understanding.
However, as I read the book, I wondered just exactly how I might utilize the information. I feared it might not be as helpful in the conversations with those in my midst who would most align with the identity of “ambassador,” of which there are a great many in my community. As Eric Kaufmann revealed, “because Whitehead and Perry are sociologists, a discipline with essentially no ‘Christian nationalists,’ no one in their field thought to check the liberal prejudices that prevent flawed concepts such as Christian nationalism from being challenged and refined.” I think it is safe to say Kaufmann was not a rejecter or resister, but still, some insight is probably better than none, even if it helps to start the conversation.
What concerns me most in my desire faithfully to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ is that our faith begins with a declaration of the Lordship of Jesus Christ and that a Christian’s identity be first in Jesus. And where the bulk of my frustration can be found is in facing the reality that, at the end of the day, I feel this argument is losing. Even faithful, committed Christians, people I admire, have either made the choice or have been unwittingly swept up in a Christian nationalist identity and are no longer able (or willing?) to separate the teachings of their faith from their political views. They seem to be wrapping their faith around the flag, or vice versa.
I sincerely believe that following Jesus will make people better citizens. When we are seeking to live by the commandments of loving God and loving neighbor, we cannot help but make a positive impact in our communities and in our nation. And while I “resist” the idea of “taking America back for God” in terms of the United States claiming Christianity as the national religion, I can wholeheartedly advocate for those who practice Christianity to represent the life and teaching of Jesus in such a way that the Christian faith serves to influence in matters of public policy.
Jesus taught once about the impossible task of serving two masters. His focus in the moment was on choosing to serve God or material and worldly wealth, but perhaps US American Christians today face a similar choice. Is our religion merely a tool that serves our politics and national identity or is our religion that way of living and being around which our lives (and our nation) might be shaped?
 Andrew L. Whitehead and Samuel L. Perry, “Taking America Back for God: Christian Nationalism in the United States,” (New York: Oxford University Press, 2020,) 87.
 Ibid, 26-38.
 Paul Rosenberg, “Sociologist Andrew Whitehead: How Christian Nationalism Drives American Politics,” Salon.com, February 29, 2020, https://www.salon.com/2020/02/29/sociologist-andrew-whitehead-how-christian-nationalism-drives-american-politics/.
 Paul Kaufmann, “For God and Country,” washingtonexaminer.com, February 27, 2020, https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/eric-kaufmann-on-taking-america-back-for-god-by-andrew-whitehead-and-samuel-perry.