My faith is political but not nationalist

Photo: Aaron Burden, Unsplash.

While Christian Nationalism has drawn criticism from Christians of various traditions, Anabaptists especially should stand in firm opposition. Our resistance to the merging of secular and religious authority is deeply rooted. 

Christian nationalism — which seeks cultural privilege and political power for a particular form of conservative Christianity — is on the ballot in the coming election, represented by the presumptive Republican nominee for president, Donald Trump. This gives our resistance a new urgency.

There is today an unprecedented embrace of this dubious set of ideas, as articulated by Stephen Wolfe in The Case for Christian Nationalism and Sen. Josh Hawley in the journal First Things. For Hawley, “Christian culture has been America’s common ground” and needs to be recovered. He argues that American values are rooted in Christianity and that we must return to a “biblical and Christian” moral order. His comments ignore the millions of citizens of other faith traditions or who are not religious.

Mike Johnson, Speaker of the House of Representatives, recently said on Fox News: “Someone asked me today, . . . ‘What does Mike Johnson think about any issue under the sun?’ I said, ‘Well, go pick up a Bible off your shelf and read it.’ That’s my worldview.” 

Well, it’s mine, too. I think my politics are rooted in the Bible, and they are much different than Johnson’s. The idea that there is a singular biblical ­vision for Christian political engagement is wrong. 

While I disagree with Hawley’s and Johnson’s political and religious views, I also believe it is unfair for opponents of Christian nationalism (who may be either liberal or conservative politically) to claim Christian nationalists are not Christian. They represent a portion of Christianity but do not speak for all of us. 

Anyone who heralds a singular political view as the only Christian one erases other expressions of Christianity and limits the possibility to reform and improve their own tradition by including and learning from others.

Hawley’s and Johnson’s politics are rooted in a regressive view of the world that burdens our most vulnerable neighbors. Christian nationalism tends to conflate Christian supremacy and White supremacy. With its idea that there is a singular Christian culture to preserve and advance, it denigrates people of other cultures and beliefs, many of whom are people of color. And that harms the Christian witness.

For 500 years, Anabaptists have resisted state-based legitimation of Christianity. Many of the founders of our tradition were martyred for their resistance. 

For Anabaptists to support a movement that oppresses those considered in some way “other” would be the ultimate reversal of values. The Anabaptist witness is one of nonresistance, service and humility. It does not seek secular power or call us to shape a government to claim our privilege. 

Christian nationalism played a key role in the 2016 election of Donald Trump, whose actions are the opposite of Christlike. He encouraged the violent mob that sought to overturn the results of the presidential election. His ideology diminishes civil and human rights and legitimizes hostility toward vulnerable people seeking refuge in the United States. It capitalizes on fear of immigrants, racial minorities and people of other cultures and faiths.

The response to Christian nationalism should not be to reject political participation but to engage in politics that disrupts nationalism. It would be naïve to think our faith is not political. But we practice a very different kind of politics. 

Anabaptist politics proclaims Jesus as Lord. Naming Christ as Lord is a political statement. The Messiah’s arrival on Earth was marked with political language. Jesus arrived as a new kind of king, one who stood in contrast to Caesar. Fearing a rival king, the Roman Empire executed him. 

When we bear witness to our Lord, we engage politically. When we serve and love the least of these, ease the suffering of the oppressed and care for orphans and widows, we not only bear witness to our Lord but engage in the politics of his incarnation, life, death and resurrection.

Jesus did not come to create a new political party. He came as Lord and Savior. Anabaptist politics is rooted in worshiping and obeying that Savior, not trying to install him, or a trumped-up representative of him, in a secular office.

Anabaptists must resist the project of turning the United States into a “Christian nation.” Indeed, we reject the idea that any nation-state can or should be Christian. For the sake of the church and democracy, we must oppose Christian nationalism and the politicians who espouse it.  

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