What is Religious Nationalism?
The second question from the previous post that needs to be answered is, ” how have we, as Christians in America, come to expect, participate in, and be impassioned over church services that elevate man and his accomplishments/trials with that of Christ and His work?” While a lengthy lesson on the history of the church, especially in America, could illuminate and possibly eliminate several problems, it will be sufficient to answer the question by understanding religious nationalism and its background. In general, religious nationalism is the syncretism of both a religious belief system with its practices and nationalism or pride in one’s country/nation. In particular, for our purposes, religious nationalism is the syncretism of Christianity (think the nature and purpose of the church as mentioned in the previous post) and patriotism, specifically American pride. The blending of religion and national pride/commitment is not a new issue for the church, but the roots are from as far back as the Edict of Milan in 313 A.D. where the Roman Emperor Constantine established religious toleration and then later sought to Christianize the whole empire. For centuries Roman and Christian were seen as synonymous. Post-Reformation, as some faced persecution for their beliefs, they fled to a New World seeking religious freedom, but soon after their arrival they began to set up the very thing they had sought to leave behind, a state church. With the cry of liberty, the war for independence won, and the infamous promise of separation of church and state, the state churches began to fade. But with that departure another issue arose. The thought of the day was that America was God’s country. He had delivered them from their oppressors, blessed them bountifully and given them a land. Worship of God and praise of country were the constant themes in the government buildings as well as churches. A new form of state church had emerged even without their acknowledgment. It was one that was not recognized by the state but the churches began recognizing the state or, better yet, the country as one of its distinguishing marks. Church and state/country were members of the same family, but it is interesting that while the church has continually clung to the country, the country has been consistently abandoning the church, its beliefs and morals. This brings us to our state of affairs, religious nationalism.
What is the False Gospel of Religious Nationalism?
There are many in America today that see no difference in dedication to Christ and pride in or love of country. In fact some, if not all, of those people think they are one in the same. This is the essence of the false gospel of religious nationalism. I am not saying dedication to and love for Christ is mutually exclusive with thankfulness for and honoring the God-given freedoms we enjoy as Americans and those who have fought for those freedoms. They can both be true in the heart of every believer. What is mutually exclusive is the worship of Christ alone and the proclamation of His Word with the worship of man’s accomplishments or pride of country within the gathering of the church. As mentioned in the previous post, singing praises of our country, proclaiming the accomplishments of man in war and otherwise, reciting pledges, and the like do not align with the nature and purpose of the church, therefore they do not belong in the church as it gathers. The false gospel of religious nationalism proclaims that America is God’s country and if you are going to be right with him you have to not only be “Christian” (whatever that may mean in a person’s specific church context) but also patriotic. It is not necessarily that sin, judgment, grace and Christ are not preached, though that is becoming more the norm, but that alongside the true gospel is an expected and projected nationalism/patriotism. To neglect to commit to this additional aspect of the gospel of religious nationalism brings ridicule, scorn, and at times excommunication. Parishioners of this gospel are expected to not only accept Christ and be baptized but to pledge allegiance to country and sing its praises. Salvation is not only from the wrath of God but from the unthinkable miseries of living in another nation other than America. While the manifestations of this gospel are usually masked except for a few times a year, it is ever present. It only takes a certain song, video clip, testimony or national crisis to stir up the emotions that give it such a following.
So how should we think about these things? Is there a problem here? Is there any danger in a church knowingly or unknowingly proclaiming the false gospel of religious nationalism?
– Part 3