american nationalism

July 8, 2019

American Nationalism & Bad Evangelicals

Every July 4 in recent years there’s a flurry of online warnings against churches and Christians trumpeting patriotism too loudly. Reputedly many U.S. Christians are more American than Christian. “Christian nationalism” is of late a much critiqued social force.

Yesterday a prominent liberal Christian commentator enthusiastically tweeted a list of works as antidotes to Christian hyper patriotism. The list was titled “Against Nationalism -A Reading List for Christians,” and it was compiled by Englewood Review of Books, based at an Indiana church.

This list included contemporary neo-Anabaptist writers like Stanley Hauerwas, Greg Boyd and Brian Zahnd, who are pacifists who inveigh against “empire” while rejecting any Christian support for nation states, especially America. It included Mark Charles, an activist focused on the “Doctrine of Discovery” claiming medieval popes authorized the conquest of the Western Hemisphere. It included the late Catholic social critic Dorothy Day. And it included Frederick Douglass’s July 4, 1852 denunciation of slavery.

Douglass is an incongruent inclusion, as his speech hails the Declaration of Independence and Constitution as sacred charters of freedom. In contrast, Mark Charles in his speeches to Evangelical audiences denounces the Declaration as racist. Douglass admired Abraham Lincoln. Charles denounces him as racist. Douglass would raise troops for the Civil War, of which presumably Christian pacifists like Hauerwas et al would disapprove. Douglass denounced slavery as contradiction of American ideals, which he honored, but which most of the other commended authors reject as farcical and idolatrous.

Much of Christian elite opinion is increasingly in sync with perspectives of this book list. Patriotism and nationalism, rarely defined fairly, contravene authentic Christian faith, these elites insist. Ideally, worship should ignore nation states, especially America. Any recognition of July 4 is somehow displacing Christ from His throne.

No doubt there are Christians and churches who intermingle worship and patriotism inartfully. Sometimes the problem is more lack of historic liturgy than genuine idolatry. And no doubt there are some Christians who are more passionate about America than about the Gospel, just as there are many more ardent for their families, hobbies, professions and favorite sport teams. They need reminders about priorities. All of us do.

But the increasing propensity by Christian elites to denounce all or most patriotism as unChristian is theologically incorrect. God expects all to love and serve their communities, even America. This propensity is also counterproductive to its intent. Churches and Christian leaders that reject any acknowledgement of the nation will create a vacuum to be filled with potentially undesirable alternatives. The absence of Christian patriotism will invite secular and pagan versions that are truly idolatrous.

Much of the driving force against Christian patriotism is from post-Evangelicals angry with their flag-waving upbringing. They react against excess with their own absolutist extremes. There’s also cultural snobbery. Persons in Christian academia are embarrassed by patriotic Evangelicals in flyover country.

Disdain for Evangelical popular culture and its intrinsic patriotism are not helpful guideposts. And anti-Americanism is not a Christian response to religious patriotic enthusiasm. If Christians are called to love and serve the nations where God has placed them, then they should model godly patriotism.

There needs to be an alternative reading list on godly patriotism, contra the Englewood Review of Books. Frederick Douglass belongs on that list. What contemporary Christian authors belong? Perhaps new books need to be written. Who should write them?


18 Responses to American Nationalism & Bad Evangelicals

  1. David says:

    True patriotism is a concern for the people of this country. We are not a “nation” as there is no ethnic uniformity as in other places. False patriotism is a preoccupation with the flag, anthem, pledge, etc. Sadly, those of this second group are often opposed to the first. The Good Samaritan story is lost on them.

    • Lee D. Cary says:

      “We are not a ‘nation’ as there is no ethnic uniformity as in other places.”
      Really, David. So, the absence of ethnic uniformity is the absence of nation?

      I once lived in a S. Vietnamese village with four other US Army personnel. (A VC flag flew a half-mile away on a canal, 24/7/365)

      Me, an Anglo buck SGT; a Tlingit Indian CPT; an Anglo MAJ; and two Black SFC’s (senior sergeants). The last four were professional soldiers.

      I liked to be there when you told us we were not representing a nation, due to the diversity of our MACV Team. (But you wouldn’t want to be there long, David.)

      • David says:

        While many use “county” and “nation” interchangeably, they are not the same if you bother to look them up in a large dictionary.

        Nation: a large body of people united by common descent, history, culture, or language.

        By the way, I happen to live in the most diverse county in the US. 80% of the households do not speak English at home, but one of the 108 languages used here.

  2. Alan says:

    Yes. We need new books. New resources to build a proper political theology. Unfortunately, there is too much Anabaptist influence among evangelicals today. I’m a Southern Baptist. Our elites seem intent on retreat from the Culture War and even though many embrace Calvinism, they reject the magisterial Reformers political thinking.

    We need balance. We need perspective. The likes of Wayne Grudem, William Lane Craig and the late Norm Geisler all have something to teach us about how Christians should interact with the state. Unfortunately, these deep systematic theologians and philosophers aren’t as well-known as lightweights like Russell Moore.

    We’ve got a lot of work to do.

  3. Kathy Bright says:

    “Your 7 Duties as a Christian Citizen “ by Bill Bright and Brad Bright is a great place for people to start. It’s a short booklet, non-partisan and Scripture based. I highly recommend it to any follower of Jesus who wonders what God expects of us as citizens of the United States of America.

  4. Clinton says:

    Amen….tired of being told to feel guilty for being American

  5. Michael says:

    If we are no longer a nation, it is because our education system has failed to teach the true history of the United States of America. Schools have placed too much emphasis on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) while providing less attention to Social Studies, US History, and Civics. Young people graduating from most public high schools in America today cannot tell you anything about our country’s Founding Fathers, when the American Revolution took place, or even why the colonies came together to fight for independence.

    Though it is written on our currency, most people living our country today cannot tell you the meaning behind E pluribus unum. Moreover, they cannot tell you when and why “God” was inserted into the Pledge of allegiance.

    If we are no longer a nation, it is because families no longer get their morals, values, and principles from their faith institutions but rather from an immoral Hollywood, who places pleasing ones self above everything and everyone else.

    However, I choose to still have faith in the Red, White, and Blue. I served her with honor and distinction for over 20 years. I have seen men at their worst and their very best! I have seen Americans go where others feared to go and achieve what others failed to do! I seen Americans provide hope to the hopeless, liberate the oppressed, heal the sick, and feed the needy. America is not perfect, but she is the best nation ever established!

  6. I believe that much of this confusion is due to Protestantism’s very weak view of common grace, especially among us Evangelical Protestants. At my Evangelical seminary I don’t remember spending even a whole class on common grace. Common grace is given a very constricted territory, just enough to make us human but little more. And among Calvinists it is given even less of a role. There is some writing on the Evangelical left, but it is a weak offering and slanted toward progressivism. Prevenient grace is simply non-existent. The phrase is used, but virtually without effect. Perhaps Abraham Kuyper’s “God’s Gifts for a Fallen World” is a help during this time. I am a retired Pastor who has given some years now to serious political involvement. I have become aware how little intellectual investment there has been in this area. Much of my reading has to be done in the context of Roman Catholic thought. “Soul winning” seems to suck up all the air in the room for Protestants. If I were starting all over again, this would an area of study and writing in which I would make a great investment.

    • Mark says:

      Protestantism’s weak view of “common grace,” especially among us Evangelical Protestants? I don’t know which seminary you attended and when; however, the three from which I hold separate degrees each teach the doctrine of common grace pertains to the sovereign grace of God bestowed upon all of mankind regardless of their election. In other words, God has always bestowed His graciousness on all people in all parts of the earth at all time. Therefore, I do not understand what you are implying when you Protestantism’s weak view of common grace.

      The Bible says, “The Lord is good to all; He has compassion on all He has made” (Psalm 145:9). Jesus said God causes “His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45) and God “is kind to the ungrateful and wicked” (Luke 6:35). We learn that Paul and Barnabas would later say the same thing: “He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; He provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy” (Acts 14:17). In addition to His compassion, goodness, and kindness, God also sheds His patience upon both the elect and the non-elect. While God’s patience for His own is undoubtedly different from His patience with those whom He has not chosen, God still exercises “longsuffering” toward those whom He has not chosen (Nahum 1:3). Every breath that the wicked man takes is an example of the mercy of our holy God. Therefore I ask you, is not this an example of common grace?

      Another example of common grace is the restraint of sin in the life of the individual and in society. Scripture records God directly intervening and restraining individuals from sinning. In Genesis 20, God restrained Abimelech from touching Sarah, Abraham’s wife, and affirmed it to him in a dream by saying, “Yes, I know you did this with a clear conscience, and so I have kept you from sinning against me. That is why I did not let you touch her” (Genesis 20:6). A further illustration of God restraining the wicked hearts of evil men is seen in God’s protection of the land of Israel from being invaded by the pagan nations on their border. God commanded the men of Israel that three times a year they would leave their plot of land to go and appear before Him (Exodus 34:23). To ensure the protection of God’s people from invasion during these times, even though the pagan nations surrounding them desired their land year-round, God promised that “no one will covet your land when you go up three times each year to appear before the Lord your God” (Exodus 34:24). God also restrained David from taking revenge on Nabal for scorning the messengers that David sent to greet Nabal (1 Samuel 25:14). Abigail, Nabal’s wife, recognized God’s grace when she pleaded with David not to seek vengeance against her husband, “since the Lord has kept you, my master, from bloodshed and from avenging yourself with your own hands…” (1 Samuel 25:26). David acknowledged this truth by responding, “As surely as the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, who has kept me from harming you…” (1 Samuel 25:34).

      This particular view of common grace not only includes God’s restraining of evil but also His sovereignly releasing it for His purposes. When God hardens the hearts of individuals (Exodus 4:21; Joshua 11:20; Isaiah 63:17), He does so by releasing His restraint on their hearts, thereby giving them over to the sin that resides there. In His punishment of Israel for their rebellion, God gave “them over to their stubborn hearts to follow their own devices” (Psalm 81:11-12). The passage of Scripture best known for speaking of God’s releasing of restraint is found in Romans 1 where Paul describes those who suppress the truth by their wickedness. God “gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another” (Romans 1:28). So, again, I ask, is this a weak view of common grace?

      The final point of common grace I would like to address deals with the “civic righteousness by the unregenerate.” This means that God, without renewing the heart, exercises such influence that even the unsaved man is enabled to perform good deeds toward his fellow man. As Paul said of a group of unregenerate Gentiles, they “do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law” (Romans 2:14). The necessity of God restraining the hearts of the unredeemed becomes clear when we understand the biblical doctrine of total depravity. If God did not restrain the evil that resides in the hearts of all men, hearts which are “deceitful and desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9), humanity would have destroyed itself centuries ago. But because He works through common grace given to all men, God’s sovereign plan for history is not thwarted by their evil hearts. In the doctrine of common grace, we see God’s purposes stand, His people blessed, and His glory magnified.

      Lastly, what do you mean prevenient grace is nonexistent? By definition, every theological system that affirms the necessity of God’s grace prior to a sinner’s conversion teaches a type of prevenient grace. The Reformed doctrine of irresistible grace is a type of prevenient grace, as is common grace.

  7. Dan W says:

    Waving a red, white and blue flag. Dressing in those same colors. Cheering, singing, marching, all to celebrate your patriotism and love of the U.S.A.

    How are those things different than waving a rainbow colored flag? Dressing in the colors of the rainbow? Cheering, singing, marching to celebrate PRIDE month, PRIDE parade, PRIDE fill-in-the-blank?

    Before you complain about the red, white and blue flag in your neighbor’s yard, check the gi-normous rainbow banner blocking the sun from your neighbor’s garden!

  8. Dudley Sharp says:

    Mark:

    In history, is there a country that has spent more capital (human and financial) to stop slavery, than the US, per capita and gross?

  9. Donald says:

    I get soooo tired of these high-tower elites who benefit from the sacrifice of generations who have protected this country from aggression and welcomed more immigrants and spent more national treasure in direct and indirect relief of suffering world wide than any other country.

    I continue to look for the website where I can donate to send them to the country of their choice since these folks typically threaten to leave if ‘so-and-so’ is elected to some office. I wish they would follow through on their ‘threat/promise.’

  10. James says:

    Donald, I agree with you completely. If you find that website let me know and I will donate also. I am also tired of those immigrants who come here for some reason and then want to change the United States to the same type of place they fled. There is no country on earth throughout history that has done as much to improve the living conditions of mankind throughout the world as the United States of America. It was founded on Christian principles yet insured freedom for all beliefs. I am not ashamed of my patriotism. God bless the United States of America!

  11. Mark Tooley: “No doubt there are Christians and churches who intermingle worship and patriotism inartfully. Sometimes the problem is more lack of historic liturgy than genuine idolatry.”

    This depends on how patriotism is defined. And today’s patriotism (that is, the promotion of the biblically adverse Constitutional Republic born of the biblically seditious Constitution) is in fact idolatry.

    Idolatry is not so much about statues as it is statutes, such as what considers the supreme law of the land. Case in Point: Article 6 of the Constitution.

    For evidence, Google free online book “Bible Law vs. the United States Constitution: The Christian Perspective,” in which every Article and Amendment is examined by the Bible.

    Then find out how much you *really* know about the Constitution as compared to the Bible. Take our 10-question Constitution Survey in the right-hand sidebar and receive a free copy of the 85-page “Primer” of “BL vs. USC.”

  12. Michael Giere says:

    Really nice piece Mark, on a important subject. In my interactions with some of the left evangelicals, I’m struck how far they have to bend over backwards to disregard the plain meaning of Scripture. Nor can you even get them to admit that the Founding was a unique event that changed the course of human freedom – God’s freedom – for the good
    They also easily embrace alien gods sneaking them into the conversation in the name of equality. I fear the battle of the Gospel has turned a corner, just as our Master said it would.

  13. James Daffron says:

    Another excellent article Mark.

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