I grew up in a white, conservative, Christian military town among the cornfields and dairy farms of western Wisconsin. We celebrated our veterans, waved American flags whenever we could, preferred white folk over people of color, were pro-life, and spoke frequently about God’s special blessing on the U.S.A.
In 1991, I viewed Operation Desert Storm through the lenses of seemingly trustworthy news sources. It was in the perspectives of news anchors and the politicians and pastors that they interviewed that I learned of the fusion of God and Country. Each seemed to celebrate our military might as they pointed to decisive and destructive victories as clear evidence of God’s special, preferential favor of America. Surely the American military was a messianic servant sent by God into the nations to rid them of evil and to point the way to democracy and, ultimately, to eternity.
I saved my allowance in order to purchase the complete set of Desert Storm trading cards. With camouflage borders, the cards portrayed Generals Norman Schwarzkopf and Colin Powell as international saviors who wielded the finest in military technology over Saddam Hussein and his seemingly inferior and very evil entourage.
The cosmic battle of good versus evil was being fought in Iraq and, thanks be to God and American G.I. Jesus, my team was winning.
I stood with tears in my eyes as the plane carrying our local soldiers broke through the clouds and landed on our local airstrip. My chest burst with pride when the plane doors opened and soldiers with familiar faces and names descended the stairs. Goosebumps the size of mountains formed on the skin of the welcoming community as “God Bless the USA” rang out over the loudspeakers.
God and Country. I didn’t know where one ended and the other began. While I thought I was Christian, I had, in fact, been discipled into what Andrew Whitehead and Samuel Perry refer to as Christian nationalism in their book, Taking America Back for God: Christian Nationalism in the United States.
While the authors do well to illustrate Christian nationalism in all of its various iterations, they define it succinctly as “a cultural framework—a collection of myths, traditions, symbols, narratives, and value systems—that idealizes and advocates a fusion of Christianity with American civic life.” Not synonymous with evangelicalism, white evangelicalism, conservatism, nor racism, Christian nationalism is a fierce fidelity to the nation-state that is baptized as Christian faithfulness. Or, as aptly stated by sociologist Philip Gorksi, “[Christian nationalism] is political idolatry dressed up as religious orthodoxy.”
Far from suggesting that every citizen of the United States adheres to Christian nationalism, the authors lift up for categories of US Americans who differ in their proximity and affection for its ideals. The four categories are Ambassadors, Accommodators, Resisters, and Rejecters. Rejectors “believe that there should be no connection between Christianity and politics” and utterly “repudiate the notion that the United States is a Christian nation.” Resisters are a bit less decisive than Rejecters. They lean toward opposing the idea that America was founded as a Christian nation and are uncertain about “allowing the display of religious symbols in public places.”Accommodators are very similar to Resisters with the exception that they lean toward accepting the idea that America was founded as a Christian nation and that this reality should, in some ways, shape our national ethic and politic. Lastly, Ambassadors wholeheartedly support Christian nationalism, believing without doubt that the United States “was founded upon Christian principles.”
Instead of lingering further on these four categories that are expertly woven together in Whitehead and Sperry’s research and writing, I want to explore in a bit more detail the very idea of Christian nationalism for, in the fusion of the two words, I suggest that we find a dangerous conflict.
Simply put, the two words do not belong together.
To be Christian, in the very simplest of definitions, is to be an imitator of Christ. To imitate Christ is to embody the posture of the cross on behalf of another. It’s a power-under approach to life, love, and leadership that ever sees and elevates the humanity, dignity, and image of God in another. It is a way of life marked by selfless sacrifice for the sake of another’s liberation, restoration, and transformation. This is a kingdom of God orientation.
Nationalism, in the very simplest of definitions, is one’s unquestioning allegiance to the values and ideals of the nation-state at the expense of others. The very idea of nationalism suggests a scarcity mentality and supports the accumulation and protection of power, abundance, and safety. It’s a power-over approach to life, love, and leadership that ever diminishes the humanity, dignity, and image of God in the self and the other. It is a way of life marked by greed, self-preservation, and violence for the sake of one’s own sense of well-being. This is a kingdom of this world orientation.
Understood as such, the two words, Christian and nationalism, do not belong together. The Kingdom of God orientation operates in a radically different way than that of the kingdom of this world. Take, for example, the moment in Gethsemane when pawns of the religious and political system come to arrest Jesus in Matthew 26:51-53. Likely influenced by upbringing and the intensity of the moment, Peter defaulted to a kingdom of this world strategy when we unsheathed a sword and swung it at his perceived enemy in an attempt to separate the man’s head from his body. In response, Jesus rebuked Peter and healed the severed ear of a beloved image-bearer. In so doing, Jesus exposed the illegitimacy of the power-over approach and revealed that the power-under approach rejects violence while prioritizing holistic healing, even of one’s enemy.
In these tumultuous times I find it troubling that Christian and nationalism are being fused together. The two words simply represent diametrically opposite kingdoms. I argue that no nation-state can be fundamentally Christian nor can a Christian identify as a nationalist. Thus, it seems important that we recognize that Jesus did not come to improve or tweak the kingdom of this world. He didn’t even come to offer a perfected vision of the kingdom of this world. Instead, those of Christian conscious would do well to recognize that Jesus came to offer an alternative kingdom. As Dr. Greg Boyd so aptly stated, “Jesus entered a power-over zone to plant a power-under Kingdom.”
The adventure that we’ve been saved into is to navigate the former with our allegiance to the latter.
 Whitehead & Perry. Taking American Back for God: Christian Nationalism in the United States. 10.
 Ibid., 20.
 Ibid., 21.
 Ibid., 26.
 Ibid., 29.
 Ibid., 31.
 Ibid., 31.
 Ibid., 33.
 Ibid., 35.
 See Ephesians 5:1-2.