Years ago, I read a book that challenged nearly every lofty ideal of American mythology I had imbibed since early childhood. My angry protestations, indelibly inscribed in its margins, display my then-offended sensibilities.
I could shelve the book, The Myth of a Christian Nation by Greg Boyd, but not its questions and claims:
Did Jesus say we should try to acquire the power of Caesar?
Did Jesus work to pass laws against the sinners he hung out with?
America has never looked remotely like Jesus.
A significant segment of American evangelicalism is guilty of nationalistic idolatry.
The book was written in 2006, and things have gotten worse since then. The downward spiral is evident in the rise of so-called “Christian nationalism” or, as I call it, “Americanity.”
The myth of a Christian nation emerges from an equally mythical “Christian nationalism.”
Why “mythical”? Let’s start with my definition of nationalism: Devotion to a heroic narrative of one’s country and its role in the world.
Nationalism is zeal for a story, not for a nation.
In this way, nationalism is very different from patriotism.
Patriotism is love and pride for one’s country, warts and all.
Nationalism is allegiance to an unblemished narrative about one’s country. No warts at all.
Thus, the “Christian nationalist” badgers school boards not over history but the narrative of history.
(This is one meaning of “myth”: a story that explains the way things are.)
Because “Christian nationalism” is loyalty to a narrative, not a nation, some “Christian nationalists” cavalierly call for civil war. They fantasize about destroying the actual country in which they live to create a fairytale kingdom that resides in their minds.
The enemies of “Christian nationalists” are their fellow citizens who don’t subscribe to their story.
It’s this despising of perceived enemies and devotion to false narratives that lead me to put scare quotes around “Christian nationalism.”
Don’t get me wrong. Nationalism is real. Christian nationalism is a myth. I no more believe in “Christian nationalism” than “Christian Nazism” or “Christian Marxism.”
“Christian nationalists” don’t love their country too much. They love it too little.
The Jesus way is the way of love, especially for one’s enemies. I say especially because Jesus said love for one’s family and friends is perfectly natural and in no sense meritorious (Matthew 5:46).
Therefore, Jesus’ followers are called to love their country. Truly, deeply love it.
Yet the Jesus way is also the way of the kingdom of God above all other kingdoms. This is antithetical to the “Christian nationalist” mantra of America first. (“America first” is not a reference to the actual country but to the nationalist’s fanciful vision of it.)
Jesus isn’t American, and his kingdom is not the United States of America.
I can think of no greater antithesis to the myth of “Christian nationalism” than the truth of Jesus’ teachings.
Steve Griffin is lead pastor of Bellwood Mennonite Church, Milford, Neb.