By Rhett Burns
Are you a Christian Nationalist?
This seems to be the talk soup of the day on Twitter, thanks to threads like this, so let’s weigh in on how to answer.
There are some questions that require nuanced and careful answers. For example, asking Are you a missionary? to a Western Christian living in the Muslim world requires tact, for the common association of missionary is a foreign intelligence agent sent to destabilze the governing regime. A young Baptist seminarian in the South needs a careful answer to the question Are you a Calvinist? because he thinks the term means one who believes in God’s sovereignty in salvation. The deacon board, however, takes it to mean an anti-missions fatalist who reduces people to robots and doesn’t think evangelism is necessary.
So, are you a Christian Nationalist? is one of those questions, right?
Not right now. In our current moment, the most appropriate answer is the Yes Chad meme.
Unlike missionary and Calvinist above, the label Christian Nationalist isn’t misunderstood, complicated by multiple layers of cultural history. It’s been deployed as a weapon against conservative, people-and-place-loving, Bible-obeying Christians.
You don’t reason with weapons pointed at your forehead. You don’t give sophisticated apologies. You neutralize the threat. In this case, you neutralize it by owning it. You’re a Christian Nationalist! is a slur designed to embarrass and shame. But if you give a trad Chad Yes answer, you take away their bullets.
O shame, where is thy sting?
This is a good strategy for at least four reasons.
First, the Bible is on our side. In the Great Commission, Jesus commands the church to disciple the nations, baptize them, and teach them to obey everything Jesus commanded, which would also include the command to disciple the nations. Nations are corporate entities with all the social, cultural, and political structures of that particular people. These corporate entities are what Jesus commands us to disciple. Or said another way, to make Christian.
Too many modern evangelicals re-interpret Matthew 28:19 to mean “make disciples from all nations.” But grammar matters, and nations is the direct object of the verb to disciple. Of course, we cannot disciple a nation without making disciples from that nation. But to settle for individual converts without teaching those same people to obey everything God commanded, including obedience at the corporate level as it pertains to all things social, cultural, and political, is to stop short. Our marching orders are to make the nations of the world Christian, including our own, which one could conceivably call Christian Nationalism.
Second, Christian tradition is on our side. Historic Christian (broadly) and Protestant (more narrowly) thinkers advocated for love to be ordered according to proximity and likeness. That is, we love all people, but we have a greater love for those closer to us and more like us. It’s worth pointing out in our racially charged society that “more like us” includes more factors than just “looks like us.”
This hierarchy of love is intuitive. No man goes home at the end of the day professing his love for all women, and the eighth commandment explicitly forbids him from expressing his love in certain ways with multiple women. No, it is good and right that the man professes his love for one woman, his wife, and expresses that love intimately only with her. For more on traditional Christian and Western thought about order in human relations see Acord and Dow’s Who is My Neighbor? or Stephen Wolfe’s Twitter feed.
Third, the truth is on our side. What is the intended sting of calling someone a Christian Nationalist? It is to imply they believe and cherish certain ideas, racism and theocracy chief among them. But calling someone racist doesn’t make him so. If the shoe doesn’t fit, don’t wear it. There is nothing inherently racist about wanting your nation, as a nation, to follow and obey Jesus. That goal is just not racist.
As for theocracy, we say two things. One, precisely no one that I know of is arguing for a church-run state. We believe in Kuyperian sphere sovereignty, which sees church and state as separate governments that both report to King Jesus. It’s simply not true that we want the pastor to be the potentate. Two, in a certain sense, theocracy is unavoidable. Every governing system will have a god, an ultimate authority that it appeals to and serves. The question is will the government serve the One, True, and Living God or some imposter. It’s not whether, but which. Religious neutrality doesn’t exist.
Fourth, positively owning an intended insult advances our mission. So many current controversies are progressives doing outlandish things and conservatives reacting. Answering the charge of being a Christian Nationalist with the Yes Chad meme makes the progressives react to us, which knocks them off balance and pulls them into our orbit where we can set the agenda and advance our mission.
If we are talking about Christian Nationalism—instead of simply dismissing people with the term—what are we talking about? We are talking about applying all of the Bible to all of life, including corporate life. This has the added bonus of moving us away from talking about applying all of Kendi to all of life. We are talking about obeying the commands of Jesus within all our social, cultural, and political structures. We’re going to talk about the actual common good and real justice. We’re going to have to teach and train our nation. You know, disciple it, like the commission says to do. And to get there, we’re going to have to proclaim a white-hot, no-holds-barred, leaves-nothing-untouched Gospel. This is all to the good.
Yet More Contemptible
Granted, some genuine bad actors, racists and all, have operated under the banner of Christian Nationalism. Some still do. I don’t deny it and I don’t support it. I just take it as a given that there are bad actors everywhere. I also take it as a given that my enemies are going to lump me in with the racists and the crazies anyway, no matter what. It’s just kind of what you do when you don’t have an argument. So when they offer me an insult that actually describes my mission, I might as well take it, define it, and redeploy it.
After all, I really do want to make the nations Christian, especially my own.
Does that make me a Christian Nationalist?
Now, let me make myself yet more contemptible than this (2 Sam 6:22). I am a Caucasion man. Does that make me a—Gasp!—white Christian Nationalist?
More of a beige, actually.
Rhett Burns (@rhett_burns) is an associate pastor and small business owner living in Greenville, SC with his wife and four kids.
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