Christian Nationalism

Jul 18, 2023

By Bishop Michael Rinehart

Christian nationalism is not Christianity.

What is Christian nationalism? Christian nationalism is a dangerous political ideology and cultural framework that distorts both church and state by attempting to merge American and Christian identities. It suggests that America is a divinely appointed nation instituted by God. Deifying the American state, it suggests that true Americans are Christians. If you are not Christian, you are not a true American. Seeking to create an Ethno-national identity, Christian nationalism does not point to Christ who transcends national boundaries and ideologies, but to a messianic political figure and ideology. Aligning Christianity with Americanism limits the global nature of the gospel. It also compromises the first amendment’s protection of the freedom of religion by attempting to establish an American state religion. Christian nationalism is a threat to religious freedom for all.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”

—First Amendment to the US Constitution

This ideology ignores the fact that the U.S. Constitution never mentions God, the Bible, or the Ten Commandments. Article 6 of the constitution prohibits religious tests for public office. Many proponents of Christian nationalism would be surprised to discover that our first president, George Washington, abstained from taking communion while president. While this is extreme, it conveys how seriously our founders took clarity on this matter. The founders of this country intentionally disestablished religion. They wanted a democracy, not a theocracy.

Church and state can and should talk to each other, but they must also recognize their differing functions. Luther would concur, based on his doctrine of the two kingdoms.

Isn’t patriotism a good thing? Indeed it is. Christian nationalism is not patriotism. Patriotism is a healthy love of country. Nationalism is an allegiance to country that demands a supremacy over all other allegiances.

My country’s skies are bluer than the ocean,
And sunlight beams on clover leaf and pine.
But other lands have sunlight too, and clover,
And skies are everywhere as blue as mine.
O hear my song, thou God of all the nations,
A song of peace for their land and for mine.

—”This Is My Song,” ELW 887 (Finlandia) Jean Sibelius

Sadly, Christian nationalism fosters and even encourages violence to accomplish its goals. One need only to consider the tree of life synagogue in Pittsburgh shooting in 2018, the deadliest antisemitic attack on US soil. Or remember the 2015 killing of nine people at Mother Emmanuel AME in Charleston, perpetrated by a young man raised in a Lutheran church. One of the people killed was Pastor Clementa Pinckney, who received his master of divinity from the Lutheran Theological Seminary of the South in Columbia, South Carolina. Christian nationalism has resurfaced after years of being a fringe movement, getting not so subtle support in mainstream culture. One cannot miss the incongruity of people on January 6, 2021, carrying “Jesus saves” signs while pummeling police officers, threatening public officials, and vandalizing the capital. This is not Christianity but misguided political power.

What you can do:

“Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, ‘Athenians, I see how extremely spiritual you are in every way…’”

—Acts 17:22

As a bishop and a patriotic U.S. citizen, I believe that being a faithful Christian does not mean putting down or marginalizing those of other faiths. If anything, it draws us all together in conversations about spirituality and the hope that we share. We live in a society that values freedom of religion. We are surrounded by those of other faiths. The stories of Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well (John 4) and Paul’s dialogue at the Areopagus in Athens (Acts 17) have much to teach us about interfaith dialogue. Fruitful dialogue begins with mutual respect and genuine curiosity. We begin by recognizing that all people of all nationalities and all faiths are created in the image of God and are loved with a love that is stronger than the grave.