The current cultural fixation with the concept of “Christian nationalism” will not lead to needed discussions about the role religion should play in public life for one simple reason: There is no common consensus about what characterizes a Christian or political consistency with which “nationalism” is defined.
A recent Associated Press story claimed scholars characterize Christian nationalism by “a fusion of American and Christian values, symbols and identity” as well as the the belief that God “has destined America, like the biblical Israel, for a special role in history” and that the country “will receive divine blessing or judgment depending on its obedience.”
Those features sound ideologically neutral, but most journalists and political liberals frame Christian nationalism as a white, conservative, patriarchal theonomic enterprise. They have created a religious avatar that, to quote one prominent historian of religion and society, is embodied by the contorted theology of Jesus and John Wayne.
These same critics fail to acknowledge any version of liberal Christian nationalism characterized by the appropriation of religion in service of Jesus and Elton John.
Their definitions of Christian nationalism do not include Cory Booker quoting the biblical text “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” at a political rally before telling the crowd they need to put their faith into action to “bring this nation back to life.” It also would not include Maxine Waters telling a church in Los Angeles that she had a divine mandate to oppose President Trump or the long history of Catholic Democrats, from Nancy Pelosi to President Biden, who cite their faith as a driving force in their approach to public policy.
Defining “nationalism” is an equally difficult task because the term carries a negative connotation when used by liberal academics, journalists, and elected officials to describe the conservative belief that American domestic and foreign policy should prioritize this country’s citizens and interests over those of any other nation.
Democrats see nationalist immigration policy as xenophobic fear of a “browning” populace and nationlist energy policy as the rejection of international efforts to fight climate change, while conservatives see both as the exercise of American sovereignty over who enters and what powers the country.
The inability to define basic terms regarding Christian faith or national character is unsurprising. Conservatives and liberals who identify as Christian often approach their respective interpretations of the Bible and the Constitution in the same ways.
The Christian right believes the words of both documents should be interpreted according to their original meaning, based on the intended message of the authors. They readily acknowledge the difference between a Bible made up of books written by multiple authors over centuries — all inspired by an infallible, eternal, omniscient God — and a constitution created by mortal, fallible men seeking to create a national government.
They would readily admit that while the Bible and the Constitution are vastly different documents, their interpretation should adhere to the same basic principle: The designer is also the definer.
That means the author of creation writes the rules about what constitutes right and wrong and serves as the sole authority to judge human conduct. The definitions of male and female, the inherent value of human life, the definition of a marriage, and the blessing of children all flow from the scriptures.
It also means the founders determined the form and function of our federalist system of government, the rights of citizenship, and a built-in process for updating our Constitution to reflect changes in how the nation understands the boundaries of state power and protection of individual liberty.
The Christian left takes a very different approach because it sees both the Bible and the Constitution as “living documents” that should evolve – both in meaning and application – as times change. For theological liberals, the designer is acknowledged, but individuals and the people who wield the most influence in a particular context define each aspect of creation and determine its purpose.
To the extent politicians on the left invoke scripture in discussions of public policy, they treat these passages as allegorical tales, an ancient mash-up of Aesop’s fables and Mesopotamian mythology.
They take clear and consistent biblical teaching about the composition and purpose of marriage, sprinkle “love is love” dust on the text, and out pops a completely new definition of the institution defined in Genesis 2:24.
They apply the same formula in other areas. The scripture speaks to the intricate design and inherent value of human life in Psalm 139, but “pro-choice pastors” like Senator Raphael Warnock argue that the life of a child is conditional on his mother’s economic condition and whether she wants him.
On a range of issues, the left uses the words of scripture to change the definitions clearly communicated in the Bible. They reject the scripture as the ultimate source of authority with respect to Christian doctrine, even when it comes to clear, unambiguous teaching.
We understand the rights of designers quite clearly in other contexts.
My iPhone is the physical manifestation of Steve Jobs’ ideas about how humans can use technology. Everything about it, from its physical shape to its features, was designed with intention. Like every designer, Jobs had an intended purpose in mind with every intricate detail. I degrade his handiwork whenever I use it as a coaster, paperweight, frisbee, or any other function that “works” for me but rejects his purpose for his creation.
The designer is the definer.
I believe a nation that acknowledges God in its policies, principles, and pulpits will be better off than one that doesn’t. I believe that politicians who operate in wisdom while acknowledging the limits of their power and knowledge govern more effectively than those who think they are all-knowing and all-powerful.
I believe a nation that embraces natural, moral, and social order will always produce better outcomes than one that is characterized by chaos and disorder.
One of the primary threats to order is the practice of twisting language to obscure changes to cultural norms that would otherwise be resisted if described in plain language.
The worldview that treats gender differences – in both form and function – as arbitrary and insignificant yet treats race, especially the fusion of skin color and sin nature characterized by “whiteness,” as baked into human nature has no chance of understanding the complex relationship between spiritual conviction and public life.
People who cannot define the word “woman” should not be in charge of defining the characteristic features of a God-honoring nation.
The two most important issues at the root of every debate about the application of morality to civil government and culture are the standards we use to judge good and evil and the entity that decides those standards. How we resolve both will determine the future of our nation.