We’ve been hearing more about “Christian Nationalism” recently. I read a lot of articles about how intersections of faith, politics, and culture happen in our nation and it’s obvious to me that some of these connections are healthy and helpful while others are decidedly unhealthy and unhelpful.
We are fortunate in this nation that the Framers of our Constitution spoke quite clearly about this issue in the First Amendment. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . .”
Thank goodness, religious freedom for us citizens is protected. We may practice any religion however we choose or we may choose to be non-religious. We may speak our mind in public and express our beliefs freely. We may attempt to persuade others to agree with us. Personal religious freedom is pretty much sacrosanct in our laws and in society.
But while we people are guaranteed these expansive rights, the other side of the First Amendment coin explicitly limits the power of government. The federal government and all state governments (since the Fourteenth Amendment) are prohibited from forcing upon us citizens any particular religion with its dogmas and practices.
However, some disagree with the way our society is organized because some people in the United States always have thought Christianity should be privileged. In recent years, because of the changing demographics in this country, the influence of Christianity has declined and now some are terrified by this shift. This panic has produced a new wave of “Christian Nationalism” (Note how I use scare quotes. My preferred way to speak of this danger is to call it christianist nationalism since I believe this is not at all a version of authentic Christianity.)
“Christian Nationalism” is a perversion of both wholesome Christianity and healthy patriotism. It’s an unholy union of a particular way of doing religion with a specific belief about what kind of nation America should be. In this way of thinking, governmental power would force citizens to live within a narrowly defined framework of religion, ethics, and morality. Only adherents of this specified religious nationalism would be counted as properly “religious” and appropriately “patriotic.”
I saw this mindset demonstrated recently by a member of my community in a column in our local newspaper. In light of our Constitution, his recommendations are breathtaking.
“Here is a sample for public schools (K-12 and Paris Junior College): first, start daily with the Lord’s Prayer, second is the Pledge of Allegiance to the USA, Texas and Christian flags. Post on the main entrance wall The 10 Commandments, Cross of Christ and the 49 Commands of Christ that identify 49 character qualities of Him for us to identify with. Have boys taught by men, girls taught by women . . .”
This agenda may be appropriate for a private Christian school and the writer is within his First Amendment rights to advocate in the public square for what he believes. By the same token, I am guaranteed my right to protest his proposal and advocate strongly against it.
Responsible citizens must consider what is healthy or unhealthy about how we organize our societies. We religious Americans must ponder the various helpful and unhelpful ways personal faith should intersect public policies.
And those of us who wear the name of Christ must be very careful (and prayerful) about what kind of witness we offer to the world. We must love our neighbors enough to give them the same freedoms we desire for ourselves.