On Sunday, President Donald Trump joined a Las Vegas church service where a pastor said that God told her Trump would receive a “second wind.” The pastor introduced the president against a backdrop of dancers waving American flags with the Statue of Liberty on them. On Tuesday, televangelist Pat Robertson said God told him Trump would win re-election, and it would set off a series of events ushering in the End Times.
Christian nationalism is alive and well in America.
We see signs of Christian nationalism in the way we center American Christianity within our society. We see it in prominent displays of American flags within our sanctuaries, worship services centered on the 4th of July that glorify U.S. military might, and End Times theology that vilifies groups of people, countries, or political parties. Christian nationalism preaches that American exceptionalism is divinely brokered by God, and that Christendom is best manifested through governmental control, legal mandates, and state-sponsored enforcement.
We see this play out in an overemphasis on “submitting to government authorities” but downplaying Christ’s commands to love your neighbor and help all people who are oppressed. Christian nationalists don’t just want prayer in schools, they want only Christian prayer in schools. They don’t just want freedom of religion, they want the state religion to exclusively be Christianity — and their specific brand of it. Its leaders appeal to populist phrases and ideals like “a love for country” and “divinely appointed Christian leaders.”
When we see this type of fusion between some forms of Christianity with strong American identity, it brings to mind the historical connection between Christian nationalism and fascism. While that may sound hyperbolic to some, whether someone believes fascism is an urgent danger is largely a reflection of their privileged circumstances.
Hundreds of thousands of people are currently in legal limbo, waiting to see if they’ll be deported or locked in detention centers. Countless Americans worry about being arrested, incarcerated, and brutalized by police. Millions of citizens face systemic racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, and bigotry. Many are legally prevented from voting. Numerous people are living paycheck to paycheck, or without health care, without a home, or are sick, hungry, abused, and facing the added burden of a global pandemic.
In a recent interview on NPR's All Things Considered, Jason Stanley, author of How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them and a professor at Yale University, defined fascism as “a cult of the leader who promises national restoration in the face of humiliation brought on by supposed communists, Marxists and minorities and immigrants who are supposedly posing a threat to the character and the history of a nation. … The leader proposes that only he can solve it and all of his political opponents are enemies or traitors.” Fascism is characterized by extreme nationalism and anti-pluralism, the dehumanization of particular people groups and adherence to social hierarchies, order achieved through law-and-order tactics, and a refusal to follow — or accept the result of — democratic laws and electoral processes.
It all comes down to power: Various forms of Christendom have denied Christ for the sake of political power. In the Bible, of all the things Satan could’ve chosen to tempt Jesus, it was the use of scripture — with promises of political power.
Like Jesus, we must deny and condemn such offerings.
Christlike love is often the antithesis of state-sponsored and partisan agendas. Its allegiance is to the kingdom of God rather than any earthly government, and its hope is in Jesus instead of any president or politician. Paul describes this love as being “patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8).
Jesus proclaims that the two greatest commandments are to love God and to love our neighbors (Matthew 22:35-40). Our words and actions should reflect these two important proclamations, and we can strive to be like Jesus by trying to do what he says is important, remembering that “whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12).
During times of political, economic, and societal uncertainty, leaders spew all sorts of rhetoric, and as followers of Jesus we must renounce all forms of Christian nationalism and fascism. As Christians, our political purposes should coincide with our divine ones: to do whatever is the most loving toward God and others — to love our neighbor as we would ourselves. God help us.