No Christian tradition in the United States has escaped the grasp of Christian nationalism. For Anabaptists, I believe the root of the problem is historical and theological ignorance. A significant percentage of those in the pews each Sunday are unaware of what it means to be Anabaptist.
The presence of Christian nationalism in the three major streams of Protestant Christianity — Anglicanism, Lutheranism and Reformed Calvinism — as well as Roman Catholicism, does not surprise me. These are all magisterial traditions, historically aligned with a magisterium, or civil government, like the Church of England.
Anabaptism was never magisterial. With notable exceptions, historical Anabaptists did not try to establish Christian civil governments. Separation from the world was a core tenet of Reformation-era Anabaptist thought. To be involved with the world, such as civil government, entailed moral and ethical compromise. A responsible civil citizen would fail to live up to the rigorous code of ethics Jesus called for in the Sermon on the Mount.
Many modern Anabaptists either don’t know this history or have allowed their identity as Americans to eclipse their identity as Anabaptists and Christians. This ignorance or apathy has allowed Christian nationalism to saunter into our churches unopposed. The rural Kansas Mennonite Brethren church I grew up attending has an American flag in the sanctuary flanking the cross.
The solution to historical and theological ignorance is education. Our pastors and congregations must teach what it means to be Anabaptists. Let’s reconnect with historical Anabaptism and confront our deviations from it. In the U.S. Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches, where I am a member, I have known too many pastors who were not Anabaptists and showed no interest in Anabaptism.
To confront Christian nationalism, we must rediscover what it means to be Anabaptist. We must remove American flags from our sanctuaries. We should encourage our children to stop saying the Pledge of Allegiance. Perhaps our colleges and universities should cease playing the national anthem before sporting events.
And we should explain why we do these things. We don’t hate the United States; we just love God more. The kingdom of God will outlast all earthly kingdoms, and we don’t want to be left out in the cold when they fall. Our theological ancestors showed us another way, separate from the compromises of civil government, and paid for it with their lives.
Rejecting Christian nationalism allows us to welcome Anabaptists of all nationalities as equals and for them to do the same for us. Just as the Gentiles in the Book of Acts did not need to become Jewish and be circumcised before becoming Christians, no one must become American before becoming Anabaptist. Freedom in Christ does not require allegiance to any flag.
Harrison Wiebe Faber is from Hillsboro, Kan., and is a graduate of Tabor College and Denver Seminary. He lives in northwest Iowa with his wife and daughter.