The subject of “Christian nationalism” has again appeared in our political life, establishing residence in the Republican Party. It is nothing new, though, having taken many forms in the past, including Moral Rearmament, Prohibition, Christian Reconstructionism, Moral Majority, and the Christian Coalition.
In each incarnation, people have been told that something approaching Heaven on Earth can be accomplished through the political system and through a government led by folks who believe as they do. Each time the push has failed to achieve its stated goals.
Leaving aside for a moment the flaw in Christian nationalist theology, let’s apply some pragmatism to these movements, including the latest called “ReAwaken America,” led by former Donald Trump National Security Adviser (for 22 days), Gen. Michael Flynn (retired).
As the respected Pew Research Center has noted, “The decline of Christianity continues at a rapid pace.” That is reflected in the profile of people who are attending Gen. Flynn’s rallies. They appear to be mostly older and white, hardly the image of an America that will follow their generation. Several polls have shown that when asked their religious affiliation, millennials make up the highest percentage (32 percent) of “nones.”
According to Pew, “sixty-five percent of Americans” self-identify as Christians, but it is a diverse group. Among them are Mainline Protestants, who generally vote for Democrats. Among Evangelicals, there are also divisions, with some voting for Democrats and others favoring Republicans. Roman Catholics, too, are divided, especially on social issues such as abortion. They also pledge allegiance to competing political parties or identify as Independents.
The question then becomes: how does this minority within a minority within an even smaller minority expect to win elections in sufficient numbers to pass legislation that will reverse what they see as a moral and cultural decline? If it could be done, would it not have been done by the previously mentioned movements which enjoyed a larger percentage of like-minded people?
Oklahoma entrepreneur Clay Clark heads the ReAwaken America organization. An Associated Press story about a recent rally in Batavia, New York, quotes him: “I want you to look around and you’ll see a group of people that love this country dearly. At this ReAwaken America Tour, Jesus is King (and) President Donald J. Trump is our president.”
That comment sums up the attempted fusion of faith with politics.
This ideology, this misplaced faith that a fallen humanity can – or should – impose a worldview through government that a majority do not share goes back to at least the time of Jesus. In the Book of Acts, the Disciples asked Jesus, “Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?” (Acts 1:6 NLT). They were looking for an earthly kingdom with themselves in charge. They wanted to throw off the Roman occupation and “take over.” Make Israel great again!
Later, Jesus would respond to Pontius Pilate who asked Him if He was a king: “My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18:36 NLT). That statement is a powerful rebuke to those who seek a kingdom that would be as flawed as they are if it ever came to fruition.
I have always appreciated this observation from C.S. Lewis, which speaks to the current and past movements of “Christian soldiers” wishing to transform America into their image: “Aim at Heaven and you will get Earth ‘thrown in’; aim at Earth and you will get neither.”
Perhaps these well-intentioned but misguided Christian nationalists should obey the commands of the One they claim to follow (and I don’t mean Donald Trump). When that was the priority for Christians in the past, culture changed. A re-awakened America won’t come through politics and government no matter how strongly Christian nationalists wish for it.