The U.S. Heresy of “Christian Nationalism”
Christian pastors pray before the President signs the declaration of a national day of prayer in the White House September 2017. Note that no leader of any other faith community appears to be present.
“When Jesus heard him, he was amazed and said to those who followed him, ‘Truly I tell you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith’.” Mt 8:10
Fifty days from an election that has been called the most important in our nation’s history I’ve been thinking of Christians around the world who pray with us now about the outcome. I’ve been thinking of Christians who have survived years of political instability, coups d’etat, civil war and dictatorial rule. Thinking of how at this time they are praying for us, because they are aware how fragile is a political system of democratic rule by the people.
I’ve been thinking of Christians in Mexico and Congo where I’ve served with them for five years and how as they pray for us and the fate of our nation, we are threatened by the kind of civil unrest and rigging of the election that they have experienced in their own countries in an electoral season. “It’s not my brother, not my sister …..in Mexico, in Congo, in India, in the Philippines and China O Lord ….it’s me, O Lord, standing in the need of prayer!”
When they pray for us, I imagine they are praying that the Jesus who served among the poor and the scorned of his world will guide U.S. Christians in their political action now. I imagine they are praying that our nation’s values of “liberty and justice for all” will be upheld and strengthened by this year’s political process. I imagine they pray that “the heresy of religious nationalism” (in the phrase of Rev. William Barber of the U.S. Poor People’s Campaign) will be rejected by the citizens of the nation with the largest Christian population in the world.
“Islamaphobia” and the denigration of the faithful of other religions that characterizes U.S. Christians infected by “religious nationalism” is not an option in minority Christian nations like Egypt or India. At this time it is worth remembering that the Bishop of the Coptic Church in Egypt (the oldest Christian community in the world) declined to meet with Vice President Pence in January, 2018. Responding to the Vice President’s defense of the administration’s decision to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the Bishop said the decision had been made “at an unsuitable time and without consideration for the feelings of millions of people.” The Bishop’s dismay over the U.S. decision was shared by Pope Francis and the World Council of Churches.
“Religious nationalism” is on the U.S. election ballot this year. A belief that our nation’s policies and actions represent the will of God has inspired the current administration to spurn international treaties and agreements. As a result, we have been opposed by our allies and friends for rejecting collaborative global solutions to threats of pandemics, climate crisis, economic collapse and nuclear warfare. Our boundless “religious nationalism” has excluded us from participation in solutions agreed on by the overwhelming majority of nations. Can we doubt that the majority of the world’s Christians are praying we abandon our current position and rejoin the world’s nations as a responsible leader? Can we doubt they are praying we rejoin the majority of the world’s Christians in solidarity with the cause of of the poor and peace in our world.
The life and words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer have become more relevant since his execution 75 years ago by the Nazis. As the guards took the young German theologian to the gallows, Bonhoeffer asked a British fellow prisoner to give a message to his closest British friend. His final words, for the Bishop of Chichester, might have been addressed to us today, “Tell him, that with him I still believe in the reality of our Christian brotherhood which rises above all national interests and conflicts, and that our victory is certain.” May our actions as Christian citizens of the U.S. be guided by a love that “rises above all national interests and conflicts”. And may that love of God, of Jesus and of all humankind be the soil for growth of a faith which knows “our victory is certain”.
I am convinced that the future victory Bonhoeffer referred to depends on the recognition that the “our” who share in that victory does not exclude any nationality, class, or racial construct. The victory is certain only when and if it is claimed and enjoyed by all of humanity. When our own actions as individuals and those of leaders of all nations can be judged as contributing to the well being of us all, then and only then are we moving toward the “victory”.