Some liberal Protestants and Evangelicals are convening the “Lynchburg Revival” for April 6-7 to protest Liberty University’s Jerry Falwell Jr and other pro-Trump Evangelicals. They are especially targeting what’s become known as “Christian nationalism” that reputedly deifies the nation.
One revival organizer, Jonathan Martin, describes it this way:
We are not coming to condemn Falwell, Jr., but to counter the doctrine of “America First,” with the Christian message — that we cannot put allegiance to a nation-state ahead of our allegiance to the kingdom of God as taught by Christ, in which the last are first.
Obviously all orthodox Christians reject putting nation, or anything else, ahead of God. Almost certainly many who are described as “Christian nationalists” would disagree with their portrayal as idolatrous. More interesting is the question of whether the Lynchburg revivalists believe that any regard for nation is appropriate for Christians.
The answer for at least Martin seems to be firmly no.
Martin is a self-described “writer, speaker, and dreamer” serving at Sanctuary Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma, with degrees from The Pentecostal Theological Seminary and Duke Divinity School, and is the “product of the ‘Christ-haunted landscape’ of the American South, sweaty revivals, and hip-hop.”
In an editorial Martin chides the “problematic nature of the far-right Frankenstein’s monster that Falwell, Jr., has helped create out of Christianity: nationalism and civil religion.” He adds that America is in “need of nothing less than an exorcism from the principality of white supremacy and the distortion of Christian nationalism, proclaiming instead the radical witness of the kingdom of God.” For Martin and many others, nationalism equals racism.
In a video, Martin further explains that “nationalism and Christianity have competing claims,” “nationalism requires you to pledge allegiance to particular nation state,” when in contrast the “Kingdom of God transcends earthly borders.” “Nationalism promotes self-interest above that of our neighbor” plus “wars, violence, conquest, domination.” But the “Kingdom of Christ is submission and love, putting neighbor above selves.” These kingdoms intrinsically conflict, and “one is going to be subservient to the other,” as the nation’s claims are “so absolute” that Christians have “sublimated what they believed about Christ” to nationalism’s broader claims.
Often Christian critics of nationalism will contrast it with patriotism, which is more laudable and acceptable. But Martin specifically derides patriotism too.
“I don’t think patriotism is a Christian virtue,” Martin says in the video. He reluctantly grants that there are “innocent forms of patriotism:” “I don’t think it’s horrible to own a flag. I don’t think it’s terrible to celebrate 4thof July necessarily. But those things have no place in church.” And they “pull Christians towards idolatry.”
“Maybe it’s not the end of the world if the way you think about your country is the way you cheer about college football team,” Martin allows. But he warns of consequences if “patriotism means we show a kind of preference or deference to people who are more like us. Or justifies war. Or prioritizes somebody else’s children over our own. [Presumably he misspoke here and meant the opposite: your own children can’t be prioritized over others’ children.]
The Kingdom of God “does away” with borders, Martin says, and the Gospel is a “broad narrative that transcends the story of nations.” He warns: “America as chosen people or new Israel has been used to justify endless abuse. Native Americans slaughtered. Such reprehensible history.”
For Martin and other Lynchburg revivalists, America and nation states are evil. Special regard for them is chauvinistic and idolatrous. But why then express any concern about America if it is inconsequential and irredeemable? Again, according to Martin:
America is in need of nothing less than an exorcism from the principality of white supremacy and the distortion of Christian nationalism, proclaiming instead the radical witness of the kingdom of God. That is what the Lynchburg Revival is all about.
If America is intrinsically evil, then how can it be exorcized from these sins? Or why bother? Embedded in Martin’s assumption and in the outlook of Lynchburg Revival, even if unrealized, is a concern about the nation. They, no less than so-called “Christian nationalists,” want a nation conforming to God’s purposes, as they conceive them. And well they should.
America is our community where God has placed us. Of course we pray and work for it to be better. It’s silly to pretend or claim otherwise. Nations are comprised of people, capable of good and evil. God of course desires that nations, and people, do good. And simplistically deriding as wicked the very idea of nation as human community contravenes His desire to redeem all creation.
Elevating any persons or things above God is idolatry, but special love and service towards persons and communities is not idolatrous if rendered in ultimate service to Him. Let’s pray the Lynchburg Revival fully realizes the reality of its project and effectively seeks His purposes for an America that is just and good.